Taqwa: Reflections on Its Spiritual and Material Connotations

By Mohammad Ali, WordForPeace.com

Taqwa is an essential Islamic concept which translates into God-consciousness. It implies that man wards off all evils and guards himself against the baser instincts and mundane whims. Man is held accountable in both walks of life—spiritual and material.

However, there is an imbalance in the common understanding of spiritual and material scheme of things. Generally, the two things are regarded as binary oppositions; indulging in one is considered as an automatic abstention from the other. But in the Islamic viewpoint, the two aspects of life virtually complement each other.

Taqwa is one of the most important themes the Quran emphasizes upon. Man is supposed to dedicate his entire life to attain it. However, the holy month of Ramadan is considered as an opportunity especially given by God to strive for attaining this noble goal. He says that man should fast and guard himself against evil, or attain taqwa. (Quran: 2, 183)

Since 622 AD, when fasting during Ramadan was made obligatory, Muslims have been observing this month with great enthusiasm throughout the years. They fast in the daylight hours and give charities to the needy. While having fast, they are supposed not to eat and drink anything, not to indulge in sex, and not to use bad language or show bad conduct.

I have been fasting ever since I was only 7 years old. At that initial period, I was taught that fasting during Ramadan does not only mean to abstain from eating and drinking, it requires us to refrain from using abusive language, backbiting, hurting somebody as well. Even I was told to protect my eyes and earsfrom evil things or else it would harm my fast.

In many Muslim cultures, sharing food with neighbours is considered as an act of piety. The level of God-consciousness and religiosity boosts up even among the least educated and civilized Muslims in this month.Undoubtedly, the month of Ramadan brings about an immediate transformation in Muslim societies, but unfortunately, it disappears as quickly as it occurred with dissolving of the moon of this month.

Muslims claim, and God Himself, too, that by observing fast and other prescribed things along with it they attain taqwa, or God-consciousness. In Islamic tradition, the concept of taqwa grew dynamically to the extent that it includes all the definitions of pious and good conduct for the sake of God’s will. It floated over the intellectual discussions and contestations in the history. That was the history, but what this tradition means to the modern world. Let me quote the words of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, the great Islamic scholar, who has rightly defined what Ramadan means to the modern world. He considers Ramadan as, ‘the month of heightened God-consciousness, of attaining piety and training ourselves to be the best possible human beings’. Yes, the modern understanding of taqwa should be directed towards this goal: ‘to be the best possible human being’, which is not possible until man does not cultivate empathy for humanity.

Taqwa is not something abstract, spiritually hidden in the good intentions of the pious men, or in their devotion towards God. Taqwa requires cultivation of noble values and good conduct towards humanity and the universe. Professor Ebrahim Moosa, once answering to my questions, has defined a value, or khulq, as something that has worth, and that must be the goal, while ethics, Muslims call it adab, are pursued for achieving it. Taqwa blooms in a man when he embodies such lofty values as kindness, generosity, empathy, and willingness not to hurt any human or non-human beings. It illuminates the spiritual self, which, then, reflects in the material one. By it both selves get connected.

Therefore, evidently, one cannot attain taqwa in isolation. How can a person who walks away from society ignoring his responsibility towards it prove his sincerity for attaining taqwa? Man needs to remain amongst the humdrum of the society and try to attain taqwa by cleansing his spiritual and material self, i.e. acquiring good values and, then, establishing good conduct with the other fellow human beings and care for the whole creation.

The author is a doctoral scholar at the department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He is also associated with the Madrasa Discourse, an extensiv

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