The Meaning of Taqwa…

Peace, one and all…

This piece is taken from a study circle that some friends of mine will be holding soon, insha Allah.  It’s nothing too fancy, just some people trying to learn about God, the Exalted.  An online study circle would be good too: any takers? 

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim 
Inna al-Hamda lillah, nahmadahu wa nasta`eenuhu wa nastaghfiru wa nu’minubihi wa nuwakkalu alaih.  Wa na`udhoo billahi min shoroori an fussina wa min sayi`ati `amalina.  Fa man ya hadh illahu fa la mudhilala wa ma yudhilu fa la hadi Allah.  Wa nashadu an la ilaha ill Allah wahdahu la shareekala wa nashadu anna Muhammadun `abduhu wa rasulu (sall Allahu alaihi wa

Ama b`ad…

 In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful 
Indeed all praise is for God.  We praise Him, we seek His aid and ask His forgiveness.  And we believe in Him and rely upon Him.  And we seek refuge with Him from the evil of our souls and from the evil results of our actions.  Whoever God guides, then none can lead astray and whoever God leaves to stray, then none can guide.  We bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped except God, without partner, and we testify that Muhammad is His servant and messenger (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him).    To proceed… God says in the Quran:

‘O Humanity, worship your Lord who created you and those before you that you may become God-conscious’ (al-Baqarah 2:20).  In his book, The Secret of Secrets, Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani writes: 

‘You should know that all men are included in one or another of two classes: the class of people who are at peace, content and happy, doing good deeds in a state of obedience to Allah, and those who are in a state of insecurity, doubt and misery in their rebellion against the prescriptions of Allah.  Both the quality of obedience and that of rebelliousness are present in each human being.  If the purity, the sincerity and the good in one are dominant, one’s selfish characteristics are transformed into spiritual states and one’s rebellious side is overcome by one’s good side.  On the other hand, if one follows the low desires of one’s flesh and the tendencies of one’s ego, one’s rebellious character dominates that which is selfless and obedient in one, and one becomes a rebel.  If both the contrary characteristics are equal, the hope is that the good will overcome, as is promised: He that does good shall have ten times as much to his credit (al-An`am, 160).  And if Allah so wishes, He may even further increase His favours’[1]. 

One of the most important concepts in the entire Islamic tradition is taqwa.  Taqwa is difficult to translate into English and is usually rendered as ‘the fear of God’ or ‘God-consciousness’.  Linguistically speaking, the word is derived from the root wa qa ya which means ‘to guard against, preserve, shield and prevent’.  The verbal noun (waqaya) refers to a shield or barrier.  In a religious sense, taqwa is thus a means of guarding against those things which bring Allah’s displeasure.  The ulama (scholars) have defined taqwa in the following manner: 

‘Following of the commands of Allah the Exalted and avoidance of His prohibitions outwardly and inwardly with a sense of the glorification, reverence, awe and fear of Allah’ 

Imam al-Haddad expands on this definition: 

‘That which comprehends all goodness and serves as a foundation is taqwa in private and in public, secret and openly.  Taqwa is the attribute which gathers for its possessor the good of this world and the next.  Because of its importance in religion and its great worth in the eyes of the learned, scholars begin their sermons exhorting people to taqwa, and include it in their counsels.  Because it comprehends all good, it suffices as the obligatory counsel that must be included in the Friday prayer sermon [khutba].  Often, great men of God, when people request formal counsel from them, confine their counsel to enjoining upon them the fear of God’[2]. 

Given its centrality, the term is found throughout the entire Quran, in a wide range of contexts.  However, all of these uses underline this basic meaning.   

‘And fear Allah to Whom you shall be gathered back’ (5:96) 

In this verse, the Quran points out that we all need to be conscious of God, as one day we will all have to meet with Him and account for our lives on earth.  In other words, take account of your actions in this life now and recognise their possible consequences: 

‘Fear the fire, which is prepared for those who reject faith’ (3:131) 

Ultimately, the consequence of turning away from God could be the penalty of the fire (and we all seek refuge with Allah from that end).  

Imam al-Ghazali divides taqwa into three levels: 

‘Taqwa in the Quran has three meanings.  First is fear and a sense of awe.  The second includes obedience and worship.  Third is freeing the heart from sins, which is the reality and essence of taqwa.  In summary, taqwa is to guard oneself against the anger of God and His punishment by fulfilling His commandments and abstaining from what He has prohibited.  The reality of taqwa is that your Lord never sees you where He has forbidden you to be, nor does He miss you where He has commanded you to be’[3] 

In short, then, taqwa could be described as an attitude or orientation towards God, the Glorified and Exalted, at all times and in all places.  Indeed, the Prophet himself (peace be upon him) has said: ‘Fear God wherever you are and follow up a bad deed with a good one and it shall erase it; and behave toward people in a gracious manner’. 

The Fruits Of Taqwa
As we have seen, the Quran strongly emphasises the importance of God-consciousness and extols its fruits.  In Surah al-Tauba, for example, we read: ‘Surely Allah loves those who have taqwa’ (9:4).  Elsewhere, in Surah al-Ma’idah, we learn that taqwa brings acceptance from God: ‘Surely Allah accepts from those who have taqwa’ (5:27).  The Quran also tells us that: ‘Surely Allah is with those who have taqwa’ (al-Nahl 16:128).  Furthermore, taqwa of God brings honour: ‘Surely the most honoured of you has the most taqwa’ (al-Hujurat 49:13).  Knowledge and the ability to learn are also given to those with taqwa: ‘Alif Lam Meem.  This is the Book in which there is no doubt, a guidance for those who have taqwa’ (al-Baqarah 2:1-2).  And again: ‘Fear God and God will teach you’ (al-Baqarah 2:282). 

The blessings of taqwa are received in this life and are a way out of every difficulty: ‘Whoever has taqwa of Allah, He will provide for him a way out and provide for him from where he could never imagine’ (al-Talaq 65:2-3).  This point is further reinforced: ‘Whoever has taqwa of Allah, He will make their affair easy’ (al-Talaq 65:5). Taqwa brings its reward in the Hereafter too: ‘And Allah delivers those who have taqwa to their place of salvation.  Evil does not touch them and they do not grieve’ (al-Zumar 39:61).  And again: ‘We will deliver those who have taqwa’ (Maryam 19:72).  And once more: ‘And the Garden will be brought close for those who have taqwa’ (al-Shu’ara 29:60). 

Prophetic Hadith on Taqwa
It is perhaps no surprise to find that the Prophet (peace be upon him) had a lot to say on the subject of taqwa. 

‘Fear God wherever you are and follow up a bad deed with a good one and it shall erase it; and behave toward people in a gracious manner’. 

‘I enjoin upon you the fear of God and to hear and obey, even if you are given a slave for a ruler’. 

‘Fear God, even with half a date, if you possess not even that, then with a gracious word’ 

‘O God, I ask of You guidance, Godfearingness, continence, and freedom from needs!’ 

‘There is no superiority for a white man over a black man, nor for an Arab over a non-Arab, except the fear of God.  You are all from Adam and Adam is from dust!’ 

‘[The most honourable of people] are those who fear God most’  The poet al-Hafi recited: ‘The death of the God-fearing is endless life.  Some have died but are still among the living’. 

Serving God is the Key
The aim, then, is to serve God, both secretly and openly, in all phases of our lives.  The famous poet Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi underlines this cardinal point in his Mathnawi: 

‘The interpretation of a sacred text is true
If it stirs you to hope, activity and awe;
And if it makes you slacken your service,
Know the real truth to be this:
It’s a distortion of the sense of the saying,
Not a true interpretation.
This saying has come down
To inspire you to serve –
That God make take the hands
Of those who have lost hope[4]. 

Wa akhiru da’wana an il hamdu lillahi rabbil alameen 

And our last prayer is in praise of God, the Lord of the Worlds 

Subhanak Allahumma wa bihamdik ash hadu an la ilaha ill Ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilaik 

Glory to You O God and praise be to You.  I testify that none has the right to be worshipped except You.  I ask Your forgiveness and repent to You.  This last prayer is called the Kaffarat al-Majlis (the Expiation of the Meeting) and is usually said at the end of a gathering.

Ma’as salama,
Abdur Rahman

[1] The Secret of Secrets, p. 58[2] Imam al-Haddad, Mutual Reminding & Good Manners, p.4[3] Quoted in Imam al-Haddad, Mutual Reminding & Good Manners, p.6-7

[4] Mathnawi, V.3125-3130

15 thoughts on “The Meaning of Taqwa…

  1. salaam. wow totally a nice dakwah. hehe. insyaAllah when i have the time i will come back visit again. jazakallah khair~

  2. Taqwa mean in totality pleasing Allah , The word though difficult to understand is not at all difficult to practice if you desire to please Allah subahnawatala , in Arabic it mean shielding our self from displeasure of Allah , It also mean practising the art of fearing Allah , obeying Allah , worshipping Allah as desire by Allah
    Taqwa is so closely near the word taking care from displeasure of Allah . Thankyou may Allah bless you for your sincere effort

  3. lot to do to get in state of heart,Allah”s whole book is for that.
    and Allah is closer than juguler vain.he is our guide and yes Prophet Mohammad was sent for us.

  4. al-salamu alaikum Falguni

    Yes, the explanation is better in Allah’s own word. This was merely an attempt to connect some ideas together. And yes, there is a lot to do to get our hearts in the right state. Allah have mercy on us all. Welcome to my online home…..

  5. The plural used for everything in
    Khutbah except Shahada. As bearing
    witness is an individual duty.The
    Foundation or core of our Dheen
    of Islam

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