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Islamic Ideology ( 17 Jun 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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What Does Taqwa Mean

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam


18 June 2019


Strangely, I find Islamic scholars struggling to give the meaning of Taqwa although; the Quran gives the meaning directly as follows:


ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ


(2:2) This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to the Muttaqin.


The above verses says that the Quran is a Book of certain guidance for the Muttaqin and the verse below says that whoever listens to the Word or command of Allah, and then follows the command in the best possible manner, are the ones whom Allah has guided, or in other words these people are the Muttaqin.


الَّذِينَ يَسْتَمِعُونَ الْقَوْلَ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ أَحْسَنَهُ ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ هَدَاهُمُ اللَّـهُ ۖ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمْ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ


(39:18) Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best thereof: those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding.


Taqwa is therefore to follow the commands of Allah in the best possible manner. The Quran also makes clear how to obey the important commands of Allah in the best possible manner.



Taqwa in Salat


For example, if it is Salat, then, it is performed facing Kabaa (2:149 and 150), celebrating “Allah´s praises in the manner Allah has taught you, which ye knew not before” (2:239). The obligatory Salat must be performed in Jamaat or congregation “bow down with those who bow down in worship” (2:43, 3:43).  Obligatory prayers are to be performed at stated time (4:103). Wudhu or Tayammum need to be performed before Salat in the manner described in verse 5:6 or in 4:43 respectively.  Most importantly, one must stand before Allah in a devout (frame of mind) while performing Salat (2:238) and never miss performing an obligatory Salat even when traveling or even while fighting in a war (4:101 to 103) and 2:239.


Taqwa in Zakat


Give zakat freely what is in excess of one’s needs to the needy (2:215), without miserliness or niggardliness (4:37), with a kind word and without injury or insult, and without making it a show to be seen of men, seeking nothing but the countenance of Allah (2:262 to 264).


Taqwa in the Treatment of One’s Parents


Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. (Quran 17:23) And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: "My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood." (Quran 17:24)


The commandments for the Islamic way of life describe vividly the best way to follow the commands. The command describes the body language that is appropriate (lower the wings of humility) – once such a posture is assumed, can a person misbehave? The command says that even the expression of impatience such as saying uff (just a sound emitted which means the equivalent of “Oh No!”)is to be avoided at the mistakes the elderly often make. It says that only words of honour are to be used with parents such as “beloved father/mother”. And how beautiful is the prayer that is taught! "My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood". The prayer reminds us of how our parents cherished us in our childhood which primes us or puts us in the frame of mind to behave towards them in the same kindly manner overlooking their infirmities, follies, forgetfulness, repetitiveness, sensitivity and many other afflictions of old age that require our constant attention, love, care and patience.


Following a command but without Taqwa


(2:27) Recite to them the truth of the story of the two sons of Adam. Behold! they each presented a sacrifice (to Allah): It was accepted from one, but not from the other. Said the latter: "Be sure I will slay thee." "Surely," said the former, "Allah doth accept of the sacrifice of those who are Muttaqin.

Here it means those who sacrifice willingly and in the best possible manner and not in the manner described below:

(2:67) And remember Moses said to his people: "Allah commands that ye sacrifice a heifer." They said: "Makest thou a laughing-stock of us?" He said: "Allah save me from being an ignorant (fool)!"

(68) They said: "Beseech on our behalf Thy Lord to make plain to us what (heifer) it is!" He said; "He says: The heifer should be neither too old nor too young, but of middling age. Now do what ye are commanded!"

(69) They said: "Beseech on our behalf Thy Lord to make plain to us Her colour." He said: "He says: A fawn-coloured heifer, pure and rich in tone, the admiration of beholders!"

(70) They said: "Beseech on our behalf Thy Lord to make plain to us what she is: To us are all heifers alike: We wish indeed for guidance, if Allah wills."

(71) He said: "He says: A heifer not trained to till the soil or water the fields; sound and without blemish." They said: "Now hast thou brought the truth." Then they offered her in sacrifice, but not with good-will.

The number of questions asked itself is an indicator of unwillingness to obey the command under the pretext of lack of clarity. Notice that with each question, their task becomes more difficult. If they had Taqwa, or desire to obey the command of Allah, they would have sacrificed willingly without asking any question, and could have sacrificed any heifer and not one answering to the exacting specifications.

The Meaning of Taqwa As the Quran Teaches Us

Let us go back to the verse:

(2:2) This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to the Muttaqin.


From the discussion above, we know that Muttaqin in this verse means that the Quran is a guidance without doubt, to those who read/listen to the Quran in the best possible manner. What is reading/listening in the best possible manner? It is reading/listening paying full attention to every word and its meaning. Even if an enemy of Islam does that, the Quran becomes a guidance to such a person. For example, Hazrat Umar was one such enemy of Islam for whom listening to a few Ayats of the Quran became guidance to accept Islam.

The Story of Umar’s Conversion

Hazrat Umar (RA) before his acceptance of Islam was a cruel and prominent persecutor of Muslims and a bitter enemy of Islam and Muhammad (pbuh). When the faith kept growing despite the persecution, the leaders among the persecutors decided to assassinate Muhammad. Umar volunteered to do the job.

The story of Umar’s conversion is recounted in Ibn Ishaq's Sīrah. On his way to murder Muhammad, Umar met his friend Nua'im bin Abdullah who had secretly converted to Islam. When Umar informed him that he had set out to kill Muhammad, Nua'im said, “why don't you return to your own house and at least set it straight?"

Nuaimal Hakim told him to inquire about his own house where his sister and her husband had converted to Islam without Umar’s knowledge. Upon arriving at her house, Umar found his sister and brother-in-law Saeed bin Zaid (Umar's cousin) reciting the verses of the Quran from sura Ta-Ha. He pounced on his brother-in-law and began beating him. When his sister came to rescue her husband, he also hit her. They kept on saying "you may kill us but we will not give up Islam". Upon hearing these words, Umar slapped his sister so hard that she fell to the ground bleeding from her mouth. When he saw what he did to his sister, he calmed down and asked his sister to give him what she was reciting. His sister refused saying "You are unclean, and no unclean person can touch the Scripture." He insisted, but his sister refused and asked him to first purify himself by bathing. Umar did so and then began to read the verses that were: Verily, I am Allah: there is no God but Me; so serve Me (only), and establish regular prayer for My remembrance (Quran 20:14). He wept and declared, "Surely this is the word of Allah.” He then went to Muhammad (pbuh) and accepted Islam.

 How did the reading of a few verses from the Quran become a source of guidance for the violent Umar who was till recently a bitter opponent of the Prophet and Islam? Did he read the verses with the fear of Allah in his heart? No, he simply read it out of bewildered curiosity and the need to know what had transformed his sister. He wanted to better understand so that he could better oppose it. He did not read with the intention of becoming a Muslim. He was however in a heedful state as he very much wanted to understand its appeal to the people who would not give it up even when persecuted. When he read the verses, he was not in a state of fear or awe. After the reading and the reading turning into guidance, he was filled with awe and subsequently fear of Allah when he reflected on his past and the dark deeds he had done in his ignorance of the Deen of Allah.

 The Quran is a guidance to every heedful reader/listener who pays careful attention to its meaning. Who can deny it? It is not a source of guidance for the heedless. Who can deny this? One may read the Quran a thousand times in a heedless state. It will not benefit the reader. A person may like a single verse so much, that he may spend all night reading the verse again and again in a heedful state filled with awe, wonder, humility and gratitude. Such a reading will transform the reader.

The Prophet (pbuh) spent all night reading:

 إِن تُعَذِّبْهُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ عِبَادُكَ ۖ وَإِن تَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ فَإِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ 

 (5:118) "If Thou dost punish them (the Christians who venerated Jesus as son of God and Mary as Mother of god), they are Thy servant: If Thou dost forgive them, Thou art the Exalted in power, the Wise."

The verse contains the intercession of Jesus (pbuh) for his Ummat. In the verses that follow, Allah does not reject the intercession. How subtly Allah informs us that even such Christians, who worshiped Jesus and Mary, can also hope for His forgiveness! The Prophet wept all night reading this verse again and again because this single verse reflects several of Allah's attributes such as Al Lateef, Al Rahim, Al Rehman, Al Rauf, Al Karim, Al Ghaffar, Al Qaabidh, Al Halim, Al Hakam, Al Ad'l, Al Ali, Al Kabir, Al Qadeer, Al Muqtadir, Al Hasib, Al Jalil, Al Mujib, Al Hakim, Al Wadud, Al Majeed, Ash Shaheed, Al Wakil, Al Wali, Al Muhsi and Al Hamidu. This is the most beautiful verse of the Quran. However, this verse is beyond the understanding of our Ulema, who consider the Christians as Kafir destined for Hell. They are heedless of the Quran and heedful of the secondary sources which clouds their minds preventing them from understanding.

To obey a command of Allah in the best possible manner, what is required is to pay heed/attention to every requirement and detail. For example, while offering Salat, paying attention to every detail and requirement described before.

The word heedfulness contains all the other meanings given to the word Taqwa and its derivatives besides also meaning ‘in the best possible manner’ or ‘most sincerely’. One can be heedful from:


1. Sheer curiosity to acquire correct knowledge as Hazrat Umar did when he first listened to a recitation of the Quran.

2. Fear of Allah

3. Reverence of Allah

4. The desire to please Allah

5. Love of Allah

6. The desire to see the countenance of Allah in the Hereafter

7.  The desire to excel

8. The urge to gain piety

9. The urge to gain righteousness

10 To gain nearness to Allah

11 To gain the Inam of Allah.


The methodology that I have followed to derive the meaning of Taqwa was to let the Quran teach me its meaning. This is the methodology that I follow for all my articles. To the best of my knowledge and belief, no other person has derived the same meaning of Taqwa, because no one else follows the same methodology with the same Taqwa or intensity. They follow it loosely, or without adequate Taqwa, which is why their meanings do not fit well the usage of the word in the Quran. For example, this is how Yusuf Ali and many others translate verse 2:2


(2:2) This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah;


To fear Allah, one must believe in Allah and know His attributes which means that one must already be on true guidance. The verse then becomes a tautology –The Quran is a guidance without doubt to those who are on true guidance! This is clearly nonsensical. The word and its derivatives have been used 239 times in the Quran and a mistranslation plays havoc with the correct understanding of the Quran. While piety or righteousness are not incorrect translations of Taqwa in other verses, these words are less meaningful and effective than heedfulness. We can understand the requirement to be painstakingly heedful of every detail, but what does it mean to be pious or righteous?


Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to




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