People often translate “Taqwa” as “fear of Allah.” Not so. Linguistically it means “to protect” or “to shield”, as in to protect oneself from wrongdoing. The root word is Waqa (spelled with the Arabic letters wow qaf ya) which means to preserve something, to take good of something, to be cautious, to protect, prevent, obviate a danger, or to preserve a thing against any harm or injury.
The meaning of the root wow-qaf-ya ? ? ? is demonstrated in Quran 16:81, where garments are mentioned as a means for protection from heat, and coats of armour for protection in fighting.
In the Shari’ah, Taqwa refers to consciousness of Allah. It describes a state of awareness of Allah in everything you do, and letting that awareness guide your actions and shield you from harm.
Allah often tells us in the Quran to “Ittaqoo-(A)llah”, which is generally translated as, “Fear Allah.” By understanding the linguistic meaning of the root word, we can grasp that the phrase more accurately means, “Take Allah as your Protector.” Or it could mean, “Guard yourself against the consequences of violating Allah’s commands (by obeying Him).”
Fear of Allah is a component, but it is balanced with love of Allah, gratitude to Allah, hope for Allah’s mercy, and remembering Allah’s infinite blessings on us. It also includes patience, forgiveness, acceptance (reda), generosity and treating people with love.
Taqwa is also not just a matter of ritual. As Allah says in the Quran:
“It is not taqwa that you turn your faces toward East or West, but it is taqwa to believe in Allah 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 fulfill the contracts you have made; to be firm and patient, in pain and adversity. Those are the truthful and those are the muttaqun.” [Qur’an 2:177]
Taqwa is achieved by following Allah’s guidance, staying on the Sirat al-Mustaqeem (the Straight Path), worshiping Allah, and cultivating an awareness of Allah as our Creator, Sustainer and Lord.
One who has Taqwa is a muttaqi. The plural is muttaqeen or muttaqoon. Some of the characteristics of Muttaqeen/muttaqoon mentioned in the Quran are:
- Those who believe in Al-ghaib (the unseen), establish salat, and keep open for the welfare for others what Allah has bestowed upon them [2:3]. Those who believe in Allah’s Revelations and Al-Akhira [2:4]
- Those who keep their wealth open for mankind in favorable as well as in adverse circumstances. They divert and sublimate their anger and potentially virulent emotions to creative energy, and become a source of tranquility and comfort to people. They pardon people gracefully. Those who quickly correct any wrong or indecency that has occurred from them, they remember Allah, and protect themselves from trailing behind in dignity. They refrain from willfully persisting in error. [3:133-135]
- Those who stand in awe of their Lord even in privacy, and fear the approaching Hour of accountability [21:48-49]
- Those who are the doers of the good; who rarely fall asleep at night (without reflection); who heartily seek to be guarded against their imperfections. Those in whose wealth is the Divine Right of the requester and the deprived [51:15-19]
- Those who keep on guard and when a visitation from Shaitan comes, they become mindful [7:201]
- Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and struggle in the way of Allah with their lives and their wealth [9:44]
- Those who give away their wealth [92:17-18]
Sometimes it seems to me that Islam is vast, and incorportes so many beautiful spiritual concepts. It seems that achieving a single Islamic “concept” such as Taqwa could be a lifelong journey. I think this is a good thing. Men and women should always have something to strive for.
In Quranic verses 2:2, 3:138 and 5:46, it has been stated that the Quran is huda(n)-lil-muttaqeen (a guidance for those who have Taqwa). The Quran teaches us how to protect ourselves against the perils of this life, and how to preserve ourselves against the punishments of the aakhirah (the Hereafter). Ayah 39:28 also explains that the purpose of the Quran is Taqwa (of those who would follow it). So the Quran is a guide to becoming muttaqeen.
A basic practice that helps to build taqwa is reciting the Quran with contemplation of its meaning and message. Let us make time to implement that today, even if only for ten minutes, and see how it strengthens our spirits and shines a light on the path ahead.