The origin of the word Taqwa is from the Arabic root letters wa’ ka’ ya (meaning shield) and its verb is from the word “Ittaki”. Ittaki means to be careful or to be protected or to be cautious. Taqwa is an internal compass on the path that leads towards Allah. The broader meaning and character of Taqwa is to develop one’s behaviour, so as to be cautiously aware in the worship of Allah and attain nearness to Him and in so doing, perfect oneself.
This consciousness and fear of Allah is understood as a protection and a shield against wrongdoing. The abstention of evil through this fear, consciousness and establishing a cautious awareness of Allah, ultimately develops one’s love of Him.
The universal principle of submission to the Divine Will is beautifully expressed in the character of one who is a servant of Allah, known as an “Abd-Allah” which is an ideal state of Taqwa.
Abu Darda (R) said: “From the completion of Taqwa is that the servant fears from His Lord even with regards to things, the weight of an atom.” Abu Darda’s advice for servants who wish to accomplish a character of Taqwa should fear to commit the smallest of sins.
The messenger of Allah said in a Hadith, reported in the Sahih Muslim that, “Taqwa is here”, and he pointed to his chest.
Taqwa is profoundly explained in a discussion, between Umar (R) and Kaab (R) who were companions of the Prophet (S) of Islam. Umar (R) asked Kaab (R), the meaning of Taqwa as he was renowned for his deep understanding of the Qur`an Al Kareem.
Kaab (R) then inquired from Umar (R), whether he had walked through a thorny bush path with his cloak. Umar (R) replied that he had done so on numerous occasions. Kaab (R) asked Umar (R) to describe his movements through this thorny path. Umar (R) replied that he moved very cautiously, so as not to tear his clothing. Kaab (R) said that was the description and the meaning of Taqwa.
The path that inculcates and embraces a character of Taqwa is one that must be carefully and cautiously treaded. On this path one must be completely aware of oneself and one’s surroundings, to be disciplined with the correct action and behaviour which will achieve one’s closeness to Allah.
Taqwa is one of the most profound concepts in Islam. It is an avenue by which Muslims relate to one another in society and a means to channel actions for the pleasure of Allah. Possessors of Tawqa are called Al-Muttaqun or Muttaqeen.
The following verse of the Qur`an Surah 2 Al Bakarah, Verse 183 confirms that Taqwa is for everyone and not for a select group:
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, so that you may attain Taqwa.”
This verse confirms two points. Firstly, that fasting is for everyone and secondly, that the development and attaining of Taqwa is an essential part for all who aspire for tranquillity and a contented heart. To establish Taqwa is for the rich and the poor, the knowledgeable and the uneducated, the leader and the follower, the ruler and the ruled, the old and the young, the man and the women. All must develop and enhance Taqwa.
The most honoured in the sight of Allah is the believer with the most Taqwa, i.e. the most conscious and aware of Him.
The Glorious Qur`an illustrates this in Surah 49 Al Hujurat (the Inner Apartments), Verse 13:
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you (Muttaqi). And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”
The ideal Islamic society is a Taqwa conscious society, conferring its highest respect on those considered to be high in Taqwa.
Though Taqwa is a state of the heart, we cannot judge the Taqwa of others, but many aspects of Taqwa will have a reflection in their character and behaviour. The Qur`an though, prohibits anyone from claims of self-purity.
In Surah 53 An Najm (The Clans), Verse 32 reminds us that:
“Hold not yourself purified. Allah knows best who has Taqwa.”
In Islam there is only one Shari’ah (Divine Law) and one scale of righteousness for everyone and that is measured through a character of Taqwa.
The word Taqwa has been mentioned 151 times in the Noble Qur`an. Allah has taken us through the various aspects of His Guidance and Blessings in the Glorious Qur`an. The Qur`anic descriptions of Taqwa are so precise and distinct that it is an indication of the importance of the involvement of this concept in the life of Muslims. These numerous verses elaborate the different dynamics and dimensions of inner meanings of Taqwa that enables Muslims to be an ideal and a living example as a vicegerent of Allah.
The four verses in Surah 2 Al Bakarah Verse 2-5 summarises the guiding principle in the Noble Qur`an for the people of Taqwa:
2. This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear (or are conscious) of Allah (Taqwa).
3. Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them;
4. And who believe in the Revelation sent to you, and sent before your time, and (in their hearts) have the assurance of the Hereafter.
5. They are on (true) guidance, from their Lord, and it is these who will prosper.
The Muttaqun are those that believe, fear Allah and look to what He has ordained in carrying out His actions to avoid His displeasure and sadness. These people are involved and active in his/her life with the Ummah (the Muslim community), concerned with the affairs of humanity, whilst at the same time praying , fasting, spending in Allah’s cause, having good morals, are forgiving and just. All these descriptions can be attributed to a person who has Taqwa and will be assured and successful in the Hereafter.
Hence, for the moral development and correct behaviour of a good Muslim it necessary that he strictly analyse and establish his Taqwa, but never claims to be a possessor of it.