Inculcating Taqwa In Our Lives

Verily all praise belongs to God [known as Allāh in the Arabic language] – thus do we praise God, seek God’s Divine aid, seek forgiveness and repent our sins to and from God, and in God do we place our trust. We seek protection in God from the evil whisperings of our own souls as well as from blameworthy actions and deeds.

For the one God has chosen to guide, there is no misguider for him. And as for one whom God has misguided, there is no guidance. And we bear testimony that there is no god but God, Allah, One is He, with no partner, Lord of lords, Causer of all causes, the Fashioner of the Seven Heavens, Creator of all that is. We also bear witness that Muhammad, the Unlettered Prophet, is His slave and messenger, Seal of the Prophets and most noble of the Messengers. May God send peace and blessings upon him, his family, his wives, his companions, his helpers, and his progeny. Surely God and His Angels send blessings upon the Prophet therefore O’ you who believe!, send prayers and blessings upon him abundantly.

Let it be said that responsibility is one the primary charges leveled at the human being. Not a responsibility to provide for his or herself, but rather the responsibility each and every one of us has towards the Creator, so long as each one of us is a sane and capable human being. Let us take to heart the supremely wise words of the Almighty in the Qur’ān, as a guide and a warning for us to help sculpt our thoughts and actions:

إن ربهم بهم يومئذ لخبير

“Surely, on that day, their Lord shall be well-acquainted with them.” [Q: 100:11]

More importantly, reflexes should be seen as a self-defense system and it is from here, the idea of self-defense, is where we will look at and examine taqwā.

Let us take a look at the history and meaning of taqwa as it has moved from the pre-Islamic time up and into the time of the Revelation. It goes without saying that taqwa was not unknown in the Jahiliyyah. Indeed, as al-Tabrizi demonstrates in his commentary on the poetry collection, al-Hamasah, we have a very concise definition of taqwa as it was known to the Arabs:

الإتقاء أن تجعل بينك و بين ما تخافه حاجزا يحفظك

“Taqwa is the idea that you [A] place something [C] between yourself and that which you fear could destroy you [B].”

What al-Tabrizi is demonstrating to us  is that taqwa, in a sense, is a type of self-defense or self-preservation system or technique to ward off destruction by placing something between yourself and that impending doom. We will see shortly how this ties into the Qur’an’s definition and the Sunnah’s definition of taqwa.

Let’s take a quick look at taqwā in few lines of Jāhiliyyah poetry. In the Mu’allaqah, Zuhayr states boldly:

و قال سأقضي حاجتي ثم أتقي * عدوي بألف من روائى ملجم

“I will satisfy my vengeance [on my brother’s killer by taking his life!], then I will defend myself from their reprisal with a thousand horses, all bridled in support of my cause!”

What al-Tabrīzī is demonstrating to us  is that taqwa, in a sense, is a type of self-defense or self-preservation system or technique to ward off destruction by placing something between yourself and that impending doom. We will see shortly how this ties into the Qur’ān’s definition and the Sunnah’s definition of taqwa.

Zuhayr’s use of the word taqwa confirms its use as a means of self-defense/preservation. In this particular case, from a physical foe. You have to love the jahili spirit! But taqwa was not restricted to only a physical barrier, but also had more philosophical uses as well. Let’s see how ‘Amr bin al-Ahtam’s utilizes taqwa:

كل كريم يتقي الذم بالقرى

“Every noble man guards himself against blame by showing hospitality”

In this instance “blame” is a non-physical threat [the idea of being stingy or unable to provide and be magnanimous was of great importance to the Arabs at this time – it is how they demonstrated their power]. Rather it is also a means of warding off an outside threat – shame or blame. Both cases from the Jāhiliyyah illustrate that taqwa is a barrier between an outside threat.

What we can take away from the word taqwa, is that it is demonstrating a need to be observant: to recognize an imminent danger and take actions to ward off that danger by placing something between one’s self and that destruction. What about danger that is not so tangible? In modern times, especially those of us who have “kept the wolf away from the door”, we think we are in no danger at all and are free to live “good lives” – that we can self-suffice what is good/bad without the need for a higher authority [Allah/Sunnah]. In the second khutbah, we shall examine the Qur’an’s take on this as well as examples from the Sunnah.

Next, let us dive right into the Book of Allah, and see how al-Hakim uses the word:

و اتقوا يوما لا تجزي نفس عن نفس شيئا و لا يقبل منها شفاعة و لا يوخذ منها عدل و لا هم ينصرون

“Defend yourself against a day that will come where no soul shall be of assistance to another whatsoever – nor shall it put forth an intercessor in its place – no compensation will be taken from it – nor shall there be anyone to come to its aid.” [Q: 2:47]

Similarly, Allah states in the Qur’an:

و إن كنتم في ريب مما نزلنا على عبدنا فاتو بسورة من مثله و ادعوا شهدائكم من دون الله إن كنتم صادقين – فإن لم تفعلو و لن تفعلوا فاتقوا النار التي وقودها الناس و الحجارة, أعدت للكافرين

“And if you still harbor doubts as to what we revealed to our slave then simply produce a single surah of its ilk, calling upon whatever witnesses you may have other than Allah, if you are true to your word! But if you are unable, and you most assuredly are unable!, then protect yourself from a blazing fire, whose fuel is men and stones, lying prepared for the ingrates!” [Q: 2:22]

The articulation that Allah gives us here is in line with the jahili version, only now instead of an outside enemy, we’re dealing with permanent, Divine Chastisement. Perhaps if we were to reflect upon ourselves, our deeds and actions, we would see that Allah is giving us the chance to come clean and put our affairs in order before it is too late. In other words, taqwā is a preemptive technique for staving off Divine Chastisement and Punishment. However, unlike the techniques of Zuhayr and all his horses, they will do us no good in the grave if we have not put something substantial between ourselves and the Reckoning of Allah.

In order for us to begin inculcating taqwa and internalizing its understanding, we’ll need to make some adjustments in our behavior. For a simple example, let us look to the animal world. Wild animals seldom ever afford themselves the luxury of inattentiveness [ghaflah]. Like them, we too must become aware and take stock of our environment if we are to have any hope of holding off the ‘adhab of Allah.

To begin, let us be mindful of what situations we put ourselves in. To help concretize the argument, let us look to a short hadīth from the Prophet [s] will demonstrate for us, with perhaps even a bit of humor, another aspect of taqwa:

عن عبد الرحمن بن علي, يعني ابن شيبان عن أبيه, قال, قال رسول الله, صلى الله عليه و سلم:
من بات على ظهر بيت ليس له حجار فقد برئت منه الذمة

On the authority of Abdur Rahmān, also known as Ibn Shaybān, stating that his father said that the Messenger of Allah said: “Whoever spends the night on the roof of a house that has no stone balustrade, then by all means, Allah’s responsibility towards him has been absolved!”

In other words, what the Messenger of Allah is saying is do not act recklessly as a fool and still expect Allah to pull you out! This is what is meant but having awareness and responsibility and a spiritual maturity.

It is here that we see the importance of following a mature outlook that the Quran, the Sunnah, and the Muslim intellectual tradition attempts to inculcate within us: take responsibility for your actions while you can. You must use your brain and yet, not rely solely upon it as the only source of validation.

As for attaining taqwa, here are some possible measures we can take:

عن مالك, أنه قد بلغه: أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم, بعثت لأتمم حسن الأخلاق

Related to us from Imam Mālik’s Muwatta’: Mālik heard the Messenger of Allah [s] state: “I was sent for the perfection of character.”

Our character [akhlaq] is one of the primary things we can foist up as a barrier between the Fire and ourselves. By engaging in habitual actions that build character we will continue to build weight on our Scale on That Day.

عن صفوان بن سليم, أنه بلغه أن النبي, صلى الله عليه و سلم, قال:
أنا و كافل اليتيم, له أو لغيره, في الجنة كهاتين, إذا اتقى
و أشار بإصبعيه الوسطى التي تلي الإبهام

Mālik relates to us on the authority of Safwan Bin Sulaym that he heard the Messenger of Allah [s] say: “I and the one who guarantees the orphan, whether for himself or someone else, will be like these two in the Paradise, when he has attained taqwa.”

This is a beautiful example of three major points coming together that God willing, we can memorize and put in our hearts:

  1. The Prophet [s] is stating that whoever commits this action will be like the middle finger and the index finger. Who would not desire this?!
  2. Social responsibility! Taking responsibility for the orphan, even if you are not his primary ward, shows a consciousness and awareness that Allah is always watching. It is also a beautiful act of generosity that will help encourage us to other acts of kindness as well as the societal responsibility we have!
  3. This act of generosity, this “good dead” is the self-defense/preservation act that will be a barrier between us and Allah on the Day of Judgment.

A closing du’ah, one which we should say every day, from one of the Companions of the Prophet [s], Mālik, where he stated:

للهم اجعلني من أئمة المتقين

“O’ Allah, make me from amongst the People of Taqwa!”
“Allahumma, ij’alniy min u’immatil mu’taqiyn!”

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