Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem
As some of you know, I am taking a class on Classical Islamic History and we had a paper due awhile back on something of our choice, but it had to be centered around the Qu’ran. I chose the idea of Quranic Revelations and the Concepts of Taqwa. The reason I chose this subject was if I was going to explore the Quran, I wanted to look at a subject that would give me a deeper understanding of the book that I believe is a direct message from Allah (SWT).
All citations and the bibliography is located at the end. This paper is not for use for any class or to be claimed as your own work, if you wish to use any part of this, a citation will be sufficient.
Disclaimer: I am not a scholar or one who is qualified to give an opinion, this is based on extensive research and reading.
Quranic Revelations and the Concept of Taqwa
There is a difficulty that lies with the main language of Islam being Arabic, in which the relation of an idea or concept relating to one simple word does not transmit properly at times and can leave a non-Arabic speaking audience feeling confused. Many times, words in Arabic will not only have a definition but a deeper more spiritual connection that is often not recognized, and instead of being a word it is a concept that cannot easily be defined as a sentence. One of those words is “taqwa,” often translated or defined as “God fearing or consciousness” or “Piety.” Taqwa is a concept closely tied to the Quran and is taught through stories relating to trials and tribulations of the Prophets and Messengers sent by God to different people.
Based on the Encyclopedia of Islam the definition of ‘taqwa’ is established as: in religion and mysticism, fear of God or godliness, devoutness, piety, pious abstinence, etc.[i] However within the realm of the Islamic world both academically and religiously there is no such thing as an actual definition or translation of the word. Within the actual word lies an abstract complex concept rather than a definition or a translation. In order to understand the concept, the history and context of the word must be explored.
Taqwa dates back to usage in pre-Islamic period and is defined as: a self defensive attitude of a living being, animal or man, against a destructive force coming from outside. Significantly, the word was generally not used in a religious sense[ii]. With the advent of Islam, through the revelation of the Holy Quran ‘taqwa’ was introduced in a manner that redefined its status and intention, essentially reinventing the context of the word. In Surah al-Hujurat, verse 23 it states:
Oh mankind, we created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another. Surely the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most Godfearing of you. God is all-knowing, all-aware. (A.J Arberry)[AB1]
In this verse, the derivation of ‘taqwa’ is placed in contrast to the derivation of the word ‘kareem’. During the times of Jahiliyya ‘kareem’ was considered to be a person of noble heritage and blood, as well as someone who was considered to be generous to the point of almost being a squanderer. However, what this verse did was transform the meaning of both concepts, instead of nobility resulting from the status of one’s birth, it was a result of one’s ‘taqwa’[iii]. This is critical in the explanation of the concept because it gives a purpose as to why taqwa is so important, it repeatedly reminds the reader of the Day of Judgement where they will be held accountable for all their actions by the most just of all the Judges, God Himself. This image causes men to earnestly lead lives of purpose and drive towards pleasing the All-Mighty God and the constant image of the impending Day of Judgement is “particularly strong in the Meccan period.[iv]”
A relation from Al-Tibrizi equates taqwa to placing between oneself and something one is afraid of something, which protects one by means of something[v]. Dr. Towqueer ‘Alam Falahi confirms this idea with describing taqwa as a means for the extermination of evils and corruptions, essentially providing a protection[vi]. And within the realm of spirituality, having a close relation to the Quran itself is considered a path to strengthened taqwa.
If a person has not fulfilled the requirements of the Law upon himself and has not searched for the interpretation from God through faith, practice, and godfearing (taqwa), he has no basis upon which to understand the text [i.e. the Qur’an] [vii].
[AB2] Based on this, one can safely establish that in order for a Muslim to understand the Sacred text of the Quran to it’s fullest potential one must strive to increase the taqwa within themselves. Having taqwa within one’s heart offers a condition for making their spiritual and religious education meaningful and effective in order to bring a “graceful change” in the life of an individual and a society[viii]. As one can see repeatedly, the Quran and the concept of Taqwa are so closely intertwined that it is difficult to separate the two. In order to have a genuine encounter with the Quran it is necessary to encounter the Quran as a whole and involves a response that is “at the same time personal, moral, literary, and aesthetic.” To even understand the concept of Taqwa one must turn to the stories of the Prophets and Messengers sent to various peoples over time to understand that it comes through striving through trial and tribulation.
In The Footsteps of the Prophet, Tariq Ramadan begins the book with the Quranic story of Abraham and states that the Abrahamic experience shows the essential dimension of the faith in the One. When presented with a difficult decision Abraham’s faith lies with trust in God and he answers to the tests presented despite the suffering he endures and never ceased to invoke God and rely on Him[ix]. By establishing this paradigm of faith in the One, Ramadan makes an important point in that when Abraham is presented with a test of faith it’s a process of acceptance in that, [AB3] “Questions with one’s mind, to understand with one’s intelligence, and to submit with one’s heart.[AB4] ” This is establishes that taqwa does not come from a blind acceptance of what is placed in front of a person, but rather an educated, committed response to that which that person must in endure. It takes a conscious, thought out decision to spiritually commit oneself to the decree of God and to act upon it because, “Trials of faith are never tragic in Islamic tradition.[x]”
Ramadan further explores this idea when Abraham was ordered to slaughter his son and was battling between the love for God and the love for his son. When Abraham confesses to his son, his son responds:
“And when the son reached the age of serious work,
He said: “O my son I see in a vision that I offer
Thee in sacrifice; Now see what is thy view!” (The son)
said: “O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou
will find me, if God so wills one practicing, patient and
constancy!” (Al-Saffat, verse 102)[AB5]
This response is considered to be a comfort and confirmation to Abraham that God has not abandoned him. These types of signs are expressed at the heart of the trial have a express purpose in the role of the experience of faith, they are a method and way to connect and shape the relationship between the Creator and the subject[xi]. At this root of all this is the foundation of Taqwa, for without the connection with the Creator, a Muslim cannot embody taqwa. Abraham doubted himself and his faith, yet never doubted God that in turn establishes a sense of “humility and recognition of the Creator.[xii]”
This type of comfort offered within a trial is also seen in the trials and tribulations experienced by Muhammad, the final Prophet. There was a period of silence after the first Messages had been revealed to him where the Prophet feared he had angered God in some way a revelation came down to reassure Muhammad; Surah al-Duha was revealed and established that he had not angered or displeased his Lord[xiii]. It states:
By the morning brightness, and by the night when it is still, thy Lord
Hath not forsaken thee nor doth He hate thee, and the last shall be
Better than the first, and thy Lord shall give and give unto thee,
And thou shalt be satisfied. Hath He not found thee an orphan
And sheltered thee, and found thee astray and guided thee, and
Found thee needy and enriched thee? So for the orphan, oppress
Him not, and for the beggar, repel him no, and for the bountiful
Grace of thy Lord, proclaim it!
At first glance the passage is a reassurance during a test, which is a common theme that has been established through Abraham’s story. There is an interesting concept of parallelism found in sections of this passage. God first swears by the morning brightness and the quietest part of the night before it establishing two polar opposites setting a tone for the following verses. The next set of verses eases all of Muhammad’s fears and establishes that he has not be abandoned or incurred the anger of his Creator; rather he is told that his end will better than his beginning and he will continue to have favours bestowed upon him. God goes on to remind Muhammad of all that he had endured already as an orphan, as one who was spiritually lost, and then in a needy state; all these different states refer back to the first verses that God is not angry with him, his current state was better spiritually than when he first started, and Muhammad had many blessings bestowed upon him when he was found to be needy and needed to be enriched. After God establishes all of these ideas, it is expected of Muhammad to be unto others as God has been on him. The purpose of all this is to establish a relation between the Creator and form an appreciation for His favours upon the servants that are most true to their faith.
The Quran and its stories of trials and tribulations experienced by the Prophets and Messengers establish the concept of taqwa. Without a close relation to the Quran a Muslim cannot understand truly what the meaning of ‘taqwa’ is and without taqwa a Muslim cannot truly appreciate and be inspired by the Quran. A Muslim aspires to follow the example as established by the Prophet Muhammad and he was considered to be a “walking Quran” according to A’isha, the wife of the Prophet and the daughter of Abu Bakr. The Quran causes the believer’s heart to create a close relationship to the Creator through the belief that there will always be communication through signs, inspirations and a very “intimate presence of the One.[xiv]” The Quran and Taqwa cannot exist each on its own, they are not mutually exclusive and do not make sense without the other. That is why “taqwa” cannot be defined by a translation or a simple sentence, it is a concept that embodies a Muslim, defines their being and the relationship with their Creator. [AB6]
[i] (Encyclopedia of Islam: New Edition 2006)
[ii] (Izutsu 1964)
[iii] (Izutsu 1964)
[iv] (Izutsu 1964)
[v] (Izutsu 1964)
[vi] (Falahi 2006)
[vii] (Chittick 1989)
[viii] (Falahi 2006)
[ix] (Ramadan 2007)
[x] (Ramadan 2007)
[xi] (Ramadan 2007)
[xii] (Ramadan 2007)
[xiii] (Lings 1983)
[xiv] (Ramadan 2007)
Chittick, William C. The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.
Encyclopedia of Islam: New Edition. Vol. Glossary and Index of Terms. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2006.
Falahi, Dr. Towqueer Alam. The Quranic Directives for an Ideal Society. New Delhi, India: Kanishka Publishers, 2006.
Izutsu, Toshihiko. God and Man in the Koran. Keio University, 1964.
Lings, Martin. Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources. Rochester: Inner Traditions International, 1983.
Ramadan, Tariq. In the Footsteps of the Prophet. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
[AB1]Quotations should be indented five spaces on each side
[AB2]No new paragraph if following in the same idea
[AB3]These two clauses don’t make sense together, clarify
[AB5]Again, no indentation. You only indent for long quotations, over 5 lines.
[AB6]Grade [A-] very nice job. Well written and perceptive. Good research as well. Some formatting issues and proofreading, but overall great work.