Misconceptions among Muslims about Taqwaa

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint. [al-Baqarah 2:183] Translation: Yusuf Ali

What is Taqwaa?

In the above translation by Yusuf Ali, Taqwaa has been translated as self-restraint. Other translations include: God-fearing or God-conscious. But none of these translations bring out the true root meaning of Taqwaa.

The root of Taqwaa means to steadfastly remain vigilant in practicing Allah’s commands and, because of this, to be protected from all kinds of evil, corrupt, and destructive forces. In other words, the cornerstone of Taqwaa is developing a strong character by following the principles laid down by Allah in the Quran. A person who has developed such a character and which is reflected in his/her actions is a Muttaqi in the eyes of Allah.

Current Misconceptions Among Muslims

Many Muslims today who claim to fear God or to be God- conscious firmly believe that they are among the Muttaqoon based on their performance of certain rituals. According to this belief, which of the following category of Muslims would qualify to be Muttaqoon?

1. Would the rich, who pray regularly, fast the entire month of Ramadan, give the 2-1/2% charity from their wealth, and perform pilgrimage (Hajj or Umra) on a regular basis qualify as Muttaqoon?

2. Would the current, so-called Muslim governments and the Muslims working for them qualify to be among the Muttaqoon?

3. Would Islamic scholars and leaders of various religious parties and their followers who demand governments to implement the so-called Shariah qualify?

4. Would professionals like doctors, engineers, professors, lawyers, etc. - who initially work very hard to build and establish their careers and later turn to Islamic activities on a voluntary basis - qualify?

5. Would Sufis who spend most of their adult life in zikr (remembrance) of Allah in mosques or in solitary confinements, unconcerned with what goes on in the world outside, qualify as Muttaqoon?

6. Would those who leave behind the poor, the orphans, and the widows in their own communities and go to far-off places, for several months at a time, inviting people to Islam, qualify?

7. Would the professional Imams who lead prayers in mosques and give sermons about Islam qualify as Muttaqoon?

8. Would the poor, who pray regularly and fast the entire month of Ramadan but cannot afford to perform the pilgrimage, qualify to be Muttaqi?

9. Would the millions of average Muslims who struggle all their lives to meet the basic needs of their families and who try to pray and fast but do not have the time or resources for anything else, qualify to be Muttaqi?

How many of the 1.2 billion or so Muslims fall into categories 1-7 and how many into categories 8-9? No doubt, 99% of Muslims fall into the latter. Will they be excluded from being Muttaqoon because they cannot perform all the five pillars? Or, should we say that all Muslims are Muttaqoon? No controversy, no discussion, no problem? Every Muslim, by virtue of being Muslim, is bound for Heaven anyway, sooner or later.

Quranic Definition of Muttaqoon

A very comprehensive definition of Muttaqoon is given in the following verse:

It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in God and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing (muttaqoon). [al-Baqarah 2:177, Translation: Yusuf Ali]

This verse puts in perspective the ritual-based Islam that we practice versus the substance and goal-based Islam, which the Prophet (PBUH) and the Sahaba (R) practiced.

Proponents of the ritual-based Islam would have us believe that once the rituals are done properly, meticulously, and sincerely we are guaranteed salvation in the Hereafter. The Quran clearly rejects this view of Islam in this verse. The Quran says that these people are misguided, have fabricated a Shariah, and have mixed it with the Book of Allah and which they proclaim to be Divine (2: 176).

According to verse 2:177, the essential purpose of Islam is not fulfilled by a mechanical performance of rituals, e.g., turning eastward or westward during prayer, but requires instead:

1. 100% conviction, Iman, in Allah; in the law of requital; in the life Hereafter; in the forces created by Allah for our benefit, Malaa-ikaa; in all the Prophets (PBUT); and in all the Books revealed to them; and

2. The establishment of a system in which resources are made available to help those who (a) are left without protection or support in society; (b) lose their means of livelihood or are incapacitated to work; and (c) cannot earn enough to meet their needs. This system will also provide assistance to those outsiders, who, while passing through its territory, become indigent, as well as arrange for the liberation of slaves from bondage.

According to this verse, Muslims are required to establish a system wherein members of the society adhere to the Divine code of life voluntarily - this is a requirement of Iman -and the means of development are provided to all who need them. Muslims must honor their promises and commitments. If hostile forces confront them, they must face them with steadfastness and fortitude, and must not let fear and despair weaken them.

Only those who follow this path unswervingly can claim to be true believers and they only can rightfully claim to be Muttaqoon.

by: Dr. Mansoor Alam