What Is Taqwa?
The Arabic word taqwa used in a not-necessarily-religious sense means “forbearance, fear and abstinence.”
Some descriptions of the term from Islamic sources include:
- “God consciousness … piousness, fear of Allah, love for Allah, and self restraint”.
- “God-consciousness or God-fearing piety”, “virtue”, “wariness”.
- Fear of Allah, “being careful, knowing your place in the cosmos”.”Proof” of Taqwa is the “experience of awe” of God, which “inspires a person to be on guard against wrong action” and eager to do thing which please Allah.
- literally “to protect”. In general, to protect yourself “from the Wrath of Allah” by not “indulging in things that Allah forbids”.
- “a high state of heart, which keeps one conscious of Allah’s presence and His Knowledge.” Taqwa motivates the person who possesses it “to perform righteous deeds” and avoid forbidden activities.
According to Tafsir ibn Kathir, the root meaning of taqwa is to avoid what one dislikes. It was reported that Umar bin Khattab asked Ubay ibn Kaab about Taqwa. Ubay said, “Have you ever walked on a path that has thorns on it?” Umar said, “Yes.” Ubay asked, “What did you do then?” to which Umar replied, “I rolled up my sleeves and struggled.” Ubay said, “That is taqwa, to protect oneself from sin through life’s dangerous journey so that one can successfully complete the journey unscathed by sin.”
Taqwa and the Qur’an
According to Erik S. Ohlander in his study on “Fear of God (Taqwa) in the Qur’an,” taqwa is used in the Qur’an over 100 times. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Islam, Taqwa and its derivatives appear “more than 250 times” in the Qur’an. In a Quranic context, taqwa refers to fear of God in terms of protecting oneself from displeasing God.
The Quran mentions a number of virtues that cultivate taqwa or that taqwa cultivates in a person: Q.2:283 mentions the keeping of trusts (amana); Q.3:76 faithfulness (al-wafa); Q.3:186 patience (al-sabr).Q.7:96, Q.10:63-64, Q.39:10 relate taqwa to the good life (hasanat) on this earth besides reward in the hereafter. Q.65:3 relates taqwa to material ease in this life even where the believer does not expect it.
The imperative form of taqwa is found in the phrase Ittaqullah (“fear God” or “be aware of Allah”), which is in a number of verses.
Taqwa and fiqh
In at least one popular work of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), the “Book of Taqwa”, (i.e. the section on taqwa) deals with “knowledge of what is Haraam (forbidden), Makruh (discouraged) and doubtful” in an assortment of matters beyond “the pillars of Islam”. These include: foods, dress, things having to do with sex (“private matters”), kinds of sporting contests, music, gossip, bad mouthing, bad company, beard trimming, etc.
Taqwa is an important concept in Sufism.
The 10th-century Sufi scholar Al-Qushayri in his Epistle (Risala) writes about three parts of taqwa: “full trust in God with respect to what has not been granted to him; full satisfaction with what has been granted to him; and full patience with respect to what has eluded him.”
In Sufism, taqwa has several degrees. The first degree or rank is that of the common people. This rank shuns anything associated with God. In other words, the common people participate in taqwa by simply avoiding shirk. The second degree or rank of taqwa are the elect who shun sins. The final rank is that of the prophets who avoid attributing acts to anyone other than God- “in other words, their fear comes to them from Him and is [directed] to Him.” The highest rank are those who distance themselves from everything that separates them from God, for one of the main goals in Sufism is to get closer to God because being separated from God is equivalent to that of hell.
The master-disciple relationship is one of great importance within Sufi practice. Taqwa is greatly valued within this relationship. God-fearing piety is seen as great religious devotion because it allows for “unhesitating obedience for the order’s superior.” In other words, if one can blindly follow his master, then he should be able to blindly follow God. Taqwa then leads to a lack of questioning authority, for the disciple submits to those with greater power than him. This submission reminds the disciple of God’s power making the disciple a more devout worshipper of God.
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- Taqwa explained by Haq Islam
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- Ohlander, E. S. “Fear of God (taqwa) in the Qur’an: Some Notes on Semantic Shift and Thematic Context.” Journal of Semitic Studies 50.1 (2005): 137-52. Print.
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- “Taḳwā.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. Augustana. 26 April 2013
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