More than a billion people today say “La Ilaha Illallah”, yet many of us would agree that the Muslim ummah as a whole will be quite possibly missing out on additional mercy and blessings of Allah unless we start living by those words in our lives. Many among us either don’t know how to live up to those words or simply don’t find it necessary to do so. To them, recognizing a deity called “Allah” is all that is needed to be categorized as a “believer”. As we shall see later, Quran tells us that it may be nothing short of a sign of hypocrisy.
The fact is that those who call themselves “Muslims” need to infuse their hearts with “Taqwa” if they want to be viewed by Allah as true believers. In the English language, “Taqwa” has been translated and interpreted in various ways so that it may mean piety, righteousness, fearful of Allah, being God conscious, and so on. But we know that, similar to other words in the Quran, it is difficult to get a corresponding one word translation. Instead, some Quranic words pack more detailed concepts that must be elaborated on when translated into other languages.
After the first Surah (Al-Fatihah), which is mostly considered as a Dua, the Quran continues with Surah Al-Baqara (verse # 2) as follows:
“This is the Book (the Quran), whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqin (People of Taqwa).” (Sura Al-Baqarah:2)
This verse thus makes Taqwa a prerequisite for seeking guidance from the Quran (a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun, i.e., who have Taqwa). Tafsir ibn Kathir states: “Hidayah – correct guidance – is only granted to those who have Taqwa.” He went on to point out that “the guidance in it (Quran) is only granted to the righteous (people with Taqwa in their hearts), just as Allah said,
(O mankind! There has come to you a good advice from your Lord, and a healing for that which is in your breasts (disease of ignorance, doubt, hypocrisy and differences), a guidance and a mercy for the believers (Surah Younus:57).
What is Taqwa? Rather than coining our own definitions, let’s look at how various scholars have defined Taqwa (Reference 2). Abu Darda (R) said: “From the completion of Taqwa is that the servant fears from His Lord even with regard to things, the weight of an atom."
Sheikh Muhammed Tantawi says: “The word ‘Muttaqoon’ is the plural of ‘Muttaqi’. ‘Muttaqi’ is the gerund from the verb ‘Ittaqa’ (acquired protection). ‘Ittaqa’ is from the root verb ‘Waqa’ which means he protected himself from that which harms him.”
One of the more complete definitions and explanations was provided by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah. He states that Taqwa “includes doing everything that Allah has enjoined whether it is waajib (obligatory) or mustahabb (recommended), and avoiding all that He has forbidden, whether it is haraam (forbidden) or makrooh (disliked).” [Reference 1]
A heart infused with Taqwa is, therefore, an attitude that one adopts about following Allah’s teachings. It provides us the filter to get a renewed perspective regarding how we live various aspects of our lives because we become aware of Allah’s pleasure and displeasure in all our affairs.
It is Taqwa that gives meaning to our simple worship rituals that otherwise would be nothing without it. Haven’t we pondered what would the physical actions of salat (prayers) such as bowing and prostrating mean without a heart infused with Taqwa? What makes the hunger and thirst (when fasting) of a believer different from the same actions of a non-believer? How would the physical acts of going between the two mountains of Safa and Marwa (in Hajj and Umrah) become valuable in the eyes of Allah? It’s the Taqwa in our hearts that provide these simple physical rituals a special meaning in the eyes of Allah. For example, when mentioning the ritual of sacrificing animals (in Allah’s name) in the Quran, Allah says, “It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is Taqwa (piety, etc.) from you that reaches Him. Thus have We made them subject to you so that you may glorify Allah for His guidance to you…” (Surah Al-Hajj: 37).
Let’s ensure, therefore, that our worship is not limited to empty acts but is rather adorned with Taqwa. Again, as the verse states, “…but it is the Taqwa (piety) from you that reaches Him.”
Where do we fall related to our Taqwa and the guidance from Allah? If we read the first few verses of Surah Al-Baqara (almost the beginning of the Quran), we would note that Allah describes three types of people related to guidance.
The first group: In the first few verses (verses 2 – 5), He clearly explains that the Quran is a guidance for those who have Taqwa in their hearts and this guidance causes them to be successful. The people described in these verses are those who:
(1) Believe in the unseen (e.g. Allah, angels, the holy books that Allah revealed but got changed, prophets, day of resurrection, and Al-Qadr)
(2) Perform salat
(3) Spend for Allah’s causes from what Allah has provided to them
(4) Believe in what Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad
(5) Believe in what Allah revealed to the prophets before Muhammad, and
(6) Believe in the hereafter.
The second group: The second group (described in verses 6 and 7) falls on the other end of the spectrum, and are the disbelievers. In describing them Allah says that it is the seal on their hearts and ears as well as a covering in their eyes that has caused them to disbelieve.
The third group: Finally, the Quran uses more verses (verses 8 through 18) in describing those regarding whom Allah says, “And of mankind, there are some who say: "We believe in Allah and the Last Day" while in fact they believe not” (verse 6). Some of the attributes that Allah points out in those people (in those verses) are the following:
(1) They think they are deceiving Allah and the believers but in fact they are deceiving themselves.
(2) In their hearts there is a disease (of doubt and hypocrisy).
(3) When Allah tells them to believe by modeling themselves according to the prophet and the true believers, they say, “Shall we believe as the fools have believed?” Allah then responds by saying that “Verily, they are the fools but they know not.”
(4) They mock the believers in turn and then Allah says: “Allah mocks at them and gives them increase in their wrongdoings to wander blindly.”
(5) Allah remarks about these people: “These are they who have purchased error for guidance, so their commerce was profitless. And they were not guided.”
The above (based on verses 2 – 18 of Al-Baqara) should be sufficient to move our hearts to the core and should create the urgency to associate ourselves with the first group (the ones with Taqwa). While a majority of us believers will associate ourselves with the first group, our behaviors and attitudes may instead make us appear to belong to the third. Let’s, therefore, ensure that our actions (not just words) disclose that we are people who have Taqwa (as mentioned in verse 2).
On the road to inculcate Taqwa Once we say “La Ilaha Illallah”, we should take a few steps to lodge Taqwa (piety, righteousness, humbleness, fear, God consciousness, etc.) in our hearts. Some of the steps we can take include the following:
Know as a believer that it’s Allah’s (our creator and sustainer’s) right to be obeyed: Let us never forget that it is Allah’s right to be obeyed. Ibn Qayyim said: "A benefit of understanding Allah’s right over the servant is that it opens the door of humbleness in front of Allah and closes the doors of conceit. It allows one to realize that salvation is only through Allah’s grace and mercy. It is Allah’s right that He should be obeyed and not disobeyed: that He should be remembered and not forgotten and that He should be appreciated and not unappreciated . . . Many people think about their rights over Allah and do not about His rights over them. This is how they are detached from Allah and deprived of the desire to meet Him. This is the epitome of ignorance of their Lord and of themselves" (Ighathatul lahfaan 1/99-101; secondary reference).
Audit yourself: From time to time we should pause and assess the condition of our hearts. If we do that with full introspection, it wouldn’t be difficult to determine whether our hearts are filled with piety and fear of Allah (Taqwa), or have remnants of hardness and a carefree attitude about Allah and His teachings. Allah says in the Quran: “O you who believe! Fear Allah and keep your duty to Him. And let every person look to what he has sent forth for the morrow (tomorrow), and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what you do” (Surah Al-Hashr:18). Ibn kathir says that the phrase ‘let each soul see’ or “let every person look” in the above verse means to take an account of one’s own actions before being audited (by Allah) (Tafseer of Ibn Kathir: 4/346). Omar bin Khattab wrote to one of his employees: “Audit yourself in prosperity before the auditing of adversity. Whoever does this will be pleased and envied. Whoever is distracted from this by his life and fantasies, will face remorse and loss.”
Reflect your Taqwa in your deeds: Once you build the Taqwa in your heart (become cognizant of, and fear Allah in all your affairs), you should start practicing it in your actions. The sahaba and salaf used to exert themselves in ensuring that their actions reflected the Taqwa in their hearts. It’s said that Ibn Omar used to stay awake the whole night if he missed a prayer in congregation (because he knew (through the Taqwa in his heart) Allah’s pleasure associated with one praying in congregation). Imam Ghazali mentioned that we let ourselves (our nafs) off the hook when it (our nafs) is our biggest enemy and is more likely to rebel against our own selves (Ihya’ul ulum al-din, 4/381). About ensuring that we bring Taqwa in our actions, Abu Dhar reported that the Messenger of Allah, said: “Fear Allah wherever you may be; follow up an evil deed with a good one which will wipe (the former) out, and behave good-naturedly towards people” [Al-Tirmidhi].
Condition yourself to inculcate Taqwa: We have to condition ourselves to fear Him by observing and reflecting more about our existence, our vulnerability as humans in this ocean in which we are journeying, and about the end that each one of us will meet soon. We should also become avid learners about what pleases Allah and what displeases Him and take that seriously. This observation and learning will enable us to learn new truths that can help us condition our states and hearts to inculcate the required Taqwa in our hearts.
Parting Words Let’s ponder over Quran’s last verse that was revealed to the prophet (agreed to by many scholars, including ibn Kathir). It says: “And be afraid of the Day when you shall be brought back to Allah. Then every person shall be paid what he earned, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly (Surah Al-Baqara: 281).”
Remember, we are what we are – with the rewards and punishments from Allah and His mercy on us – based on the level of our faith in Him and the Taqwa in our hearts. Sometimes we forget the connection between how our lives turn out to be and the One who makes it all happen. Once you remind yourself of that, remember the power bestowed by Allah on you as regards “free will” and how you can use it to influence the quality of your own lives. As long as you respect the limits that He has set for us (through the Taqwa in your heart), you can earn the blessings that He has promised for you, both in this life and in the hereafter.
We should, therefore, not delay to take a strong decision to increase our Taqwa. As Allah says in the Quran: “Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa” [al-Hujrat 49:13].