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Islam and Spiritualism ( 21 Sept 2017, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Reflections on Qur'anic Message - Part-9: The Distinction and Overlap between Moral Uprightness (Taqwa) and Prayer (Salah) In Islam

By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam

22 September 2017

(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009.)

The caption follows up on the closing remarks of the preceding Reflection: whether prayer (Salah), which is unquestionably the bedrock of Islamic spirituality and a disciplined, impassioned, decreed and the Prophet’s way to glorify God automatically invests a devotee with Taqwa and makes him a Muttaqi and earns him a place in the paradise (13:35, 47:15, 51:15, 52:17, 54:54, 77:41).

As Taqwa is a technical term that the Qur’an defines as the restraining impulse or instinct against evil (91:8, Reflection 7), it is first necessary to translate it into popular language for the readers to grasp this short but critical probe.

The word Taqwa and its noun form, Muttaqi, and other root words appear in hundreds of Qur’anic verses. Muslim Scholars have translated it varyingly as heeding God, as well as His guidance, fearing God, being conscious of God, God consciousness, preserving oneself from evil, guarding against evil, piety – etc. according to the context and personal vocabulary In broad sense, Taqwa denotes heedfulness of one’s universal social, moral and ethical responsibilities [1] as God has entrusted man with – or, in one word Moral Uprightness as the captions uses.

The object is to probe the relation or connection between Salah and Taqwa. This is of utmost significance for the Muslims as they place singular emphasis on Salah, but there is no express emphasis on attaining or excelling in Taqwa or doing good and righteous deeds that stem from Taqwa (Reflection 7, Concluding statement).

There is no denying the fact that prayer instills the fear of God among great many devotees and restrains them from evil and thus imbues them with Taqwa (29:45), but there are many others who take Salah no more than a routine duty to God without the awareness that just reciting Qur’anic verses and assuming the postures of prayer without any conscious effort to exercise or cultivate Taqwa falls grossly short of the stated objective and solicitation of Salah as summarily argued below:

Based on the declarations in Surah al-Fatiha, Salah is not restricted to glorification of God alone as can be readily seen from the following rendition of this Surah, which is virtually the crux of Islamic daily prayer (Salah).

  1.  “In the name of God, the Gracious and the Merciful,

  2. All praises are for God, The Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds,

  3. The Gracious and the Merciful,

  4. The Master of the Day of Judgment.

  5. You alone we worship and from You alone we seek help.

  6. Guide us to the Straight / Upright (Mustaqim) Path (or the true guidance),

  7. The Path of those whom You have favored, not of those who have incurred (Your) wrath.”

The first three verses are dedicated to glorification of God.

Verses 4 and 5 acknowledge man’s ultimate accountability to God, his obligation to serve or worship Him and to seek His Assistance.

The crux of the prayer lies in the verses 6-7. Having glorified God (1:1-3) and acknowledged His Supremacy and his own humility, the devotee pleads to Him to show the Upright path (Sirat al Mustaqim) or true guidance.

The Qur’an responds to this supplication in its very next passage: the opening passage of Surah, al-Baqara, which declares: “This is the Divine Writ, in which nothing is doubtful: it has guidance for the Muttaqin (2:2).” In other words, it is the Muttaqin – or those imbued with Taqwa that can find guidance in the Qur’an and therefore are on true guidance from their Lord” (2:5) or on Sirat al Mustaqim.

The Qur’an is thus introduced as the source of true guidance or the roadmap for Sirat al Mustaqim and only those imbued with Taqwa can follow it.

In a number of other verses illustrated below the Qur’an refers to its tenets of guidance or revelation as its Sirat Al Mustaqim:

“By the Qur’an, full of Wisdom (36:2),You (O Muhammad) are indeed among the Messengers (36:3), on an Upright Path (Sirat al Mustaqim) (36:4) (laid out in the Qur’an) which is sent down by the All-Mighty and, the Merciful (36:5),that you may warn a people whose ancestors were not warned, and who are therefore heedless (of divine guidance)” (36:6).

“And those who have been granted knowledge know that it (the Qur’an) is the truth from your Lord (O Muhammad), and they believe in it and their hearts humbly (open) to it. Indeed God is the Guide of those who believe, to an Upright Path (Sirat al Mustaqim)”(22:54).

Thus the Islamic prayer (Salah) is not merely a source of spirituality, but it is also a constant pledge to follow the guidance of the Qur’an-the Sirat Al Mustaqim.

The prayer thus binds the devotee to exercise or internalize Taqwa and heed the guidance of the Qur’an in all his daily activities and interactions with others.

Therefore, the Muslims who are so singularly devoted to Salah must understand that what they seek in the Salah– the Sirat al Mustaqim is nothing but the Qur’anic guidance and they need to cultivate Taqwa to follow it.

Hence there is an urgent need for the Muslims to realize that unless they complement their Salah with a conscious effort to cultivate or exercise Taqwa and pursue the guidance of the Qur’an, they remain oblivion to what they pray for. They may feel spiritually elated and be overwhelmed with the feeling of standing in the presence or adoration of God but heedless of the divine guidance, they solicit in their prayers and God sent down to them in the Qur’an.

[1] Essential Message of Islam, Chap. 8.2

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.

Link to Part Eight:  Reflections on Qur'anic Message - Part-8: Universal Notion of Taqwa in the Qur’an – A Level Playing Field Of Self (Nafs) - Dictated Moral Imperative for All Humanity


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