Taqwa means protecting the heart from anything other than Allah or anything that distances one from Allah so that the heart becomes a mirror of beautiful manifestations. Taqwa is when the believer seeks refuge in the protective security of Allah and meticulously preserves himself from things that will give harm and pain in the hereafter and distances himself from sins in order to embrace good deeds.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), stated in an address to Abu Dharr that taqwa was the sole standard of any worth and acceptance in the eyes of Allah:
“Know that you are above neither the red person nor the black person. It is only taqwa that makes you superior” (Ahmad, V, 158)
The Blessed Prophet (pbuh) said:
“I am the most God-fearing amongst you”.(Bukhari, Iman, 13; Muslim, Siyam, 74). He acted with the standards of taqwa at every stage of his life. This is why it is necessary to comply with the sunnah  of the Messenger of Allah in order to be a God-fearing believer.
The Prophet Jesus u has beautifully described taqwa as follows:
Somebody once came to Jesus and asked him:
“O teacher of goodness and righteousness! How does the slave become a possessor of taqwa in the sight of Allah Most High?”
“Easily. By loving Allah Most High as He deserves to be loved, with your heart and soul, and by performing righteous deeds to the best of your ability in order to please Him, and by showing mercy and compassion to all of the sons of Adam just as you would show for yourself”.
Then he said:
“Never do to another what you do not wish to have done to yourself! Then you will be a person who has proper taqwa of Allah”. (Ahmad, Az-Zuhd pg 59).
One day Omar asked Ubayy bin Ka’b to define taqwa. Ubayy bin Ka’b answered him:
“O Omar, have you ever walked along a prickly path?”
When Omar answered “Yes I have” he then asked him:
“So what did you do?”
“I lifted up my garments and concentrated all my efforts into preventing the thorns from harming me”.
Upon this Ubayy bin Ka’b said:
“That is taqwa” (Ibn-i Kathir, Tafsir”ul Qur’an al Azim, Beirut 1988, I,42).
The essence of taqwa is to flee from unbelief and associating partners with Allah as one would flee from fire. The sign of this is that one performs the obligatory tasks properly and refrains from all sin.
The Blessed Prophet (pbuh) said:
“Fear Allah wherever you happen to be, and perform a good deed after a bad one so that it erases it. And behave with good character towards people” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 55/1987)
The peak of taqwa is when the servant protects his heart from everything that will make it heedless of Allah and turns towards Him with his entire being, the degree of which has no limit. This last stage is the true taqwa that is commanded in the following verse:
“O you who have attained to faith. Be conscious of Allah with all the consciousness that is due to Him and do not allow death to overtake you before you have surrendered yourselves unto Him” (Al’i Imran, 3: 102)
In order to reach the peak of taqwa one must avoid doubtful things at all costs. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:
“The slave of Allah cannot reach a degree of true taqwa unless he abandons things that are not objectionable out of fear that he may do something objectionable” (Tirmidhi, Qiyama, 19/2451; ibn-Maja, Zuhd, 24)
Abdullah ibn Omar warns us of the following:
“A person cannot attain to a true level of taqwa without abandoning the things that make him uncomfortable and that trouble his heart”. (Bukhari, Iman, 1)
In order to gain taqwa the slave must constantly take his soul to account. This is because it is only possible to strengthen one’s taqwa by resisting the intense desires of the evil-commanding soul, which is the greatest enemy of the heart, and protecting it from its deceptions.
In order to refrain from falling for all of the formidable allurements that were laid before him, the prophet Joseph u showed that the only cure was to seek refuge in Allah with a high degree of taqwa. And this shows that taqwa is a must if one wishes to engage divine help.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would supplicate to almighty Allah and ask for taqwa to be bestowed upon him:
“O Allah! Grant piety to my soul, purify it as Thou art the best to purify it and Thou art its Guardian and Master”.(Muslim, Zikr, 73)
“O Allah! I ask you for guidance, piety, chastity and wealth of the heart”.(Muslim, Zikr, 72)
The most superior person in the eyes of Allah is the one who possesses the greatest degree of taqwa or piety. Allah Most High loves his pious servants and is always with them. He has promised the pious ones Paradise as wide as the heavens and the earth. Almighty Allah bestows upon his pious slaves the ability to distinguish between good and bad and He forgives their sins. He shows them a way out in moments of distress and provides for them from where they would never have expected. He makes their task easy, forgives their evil and grants them great reward.
According to a narration by Abu Darr the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:
“I know a verse. If people held tight to it, it would be enough for them”.
His Companions asked him:
“What is that verse, o Messenger of Allah?”
Allah’s Messenger recited the following from the Holy Qur’an:
“…Whoever has taqwa of Allah – He will facilitate for him a way out”(Talaq, 65: 2) (ibn Majah, Zuhd, 24)
Those who have piety are the ones who are closest to the Prophet spiritually. Muadh bin Jabal states the following:
“When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) sent me to Yemen as governor, he escorted me all the way to the outskirts of Madina to bid farewell to me. I was on my mount while he was walking. After he had given me some advice he said:
“O Muadh! It may be that you will not see me again after this year. It is possible that when you next come to visit this mosque of mine you will find my tomb in its place”.
Hearing these words I started to cry out of the sorrow that comes from parting from a friend such as the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). The Messenger of Allah said:
“Do not cry o Muadh!”. And then turning his face to Madina, he said:
“Those who are closest to me are those who have piety before Allah wherever they happen to be”(Ahmad, V, 235. Haysami, Majmua’z-Zawaid, Beirut, 1988, IX, 22)
The Prophet also said:
“Undoubtedly my friends are the pious ones”.(Abu Dawud, Fiten, I/4242).
A heart that has attained to taqwa is honoured with being under the providence of the Divine, and becomes the site of the manifestation of divine wisdom and mysteries.
Scenes of Virtue
The true scholars and friends of Allah such as Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafii’, Ahmad bin Hanbal lived their lives with the standard of taqwa. One time as Imam Abu Hanifa was trying to clean a tiny stain on his garment, he was asked:
“O Imam! According to a fatwa you have given, this tiny stain is not an obstacle to the prayer; so why are you trying so hard to remove it?”
Abu Hanifa replied:
“That is fatwa, this, on the other hand, is taqwa”…
As can be seen taqwa is to display the greatest degree of meticulousness and care in the face of Allah’s commands and prohibitions.
The following story is very telling in showing the piety of a woman who, when she spoke, spoke nothing but verses from the Qur’an out of fear of falling into sin:
Abdullah bin Mubarak narrates:
One time I had set out with the aim of performing the hajj at Allah’s Sacred House, the Kabah and visiting the tomb of the Prophet (pbuh), when I saw something black in the middle of the road. I looked carefully and saw that it was a woman with a cloak made of wool on her back and a veil of wool over her head… I greeted her:
“Salamu alaykum wa rahmetullahi wa barakatuhu (May the peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you)”.
She replied from chapter Yasin of the Qur’an:
“Peace!” A word from a Merciful Lord”.
“May Allah bring you good! What are you doing here?” he I asked.
She replied with the 186th verse of Chapter A’raf:
“If Allah misguides people, no one can guide them”.
I realised that she had lost her way. So I asked her:
“Where do you want to go?”
She replied with a portion of the first verse of Chapter Isra:
“Glory be to Him who took His slave on a journey by night from the Masjid al-Haram to the Masjid al-Aqsa”.
I understood that she had made the pilgrimage and wanted to go to Jerusalem. I asked her:
“How many days have you been here?
She replied with the 10th verse of Chapter Mariam:
“For three nights despite the fact that you are perfectly able”.
“Don’t you have anything to eat” I asked her
She read the 79th verse of the chapter Shu’ara:
“He who gives me food and gives me drink”.
“How can you perform the ablution in this dry desert?” I asked her
She replied with the 43rd verse of Chapter Nisa:
“(If) you cannot find any water, then do tayammum [cleanse yourself] with pure earth”.
“I have something to eat with me. Would you like to eat?” I asked. She responded with a part of the 187th verse of chapter Baqara:
“…then fulfil the fast until the night appears”.
“This is not the month of Ramadan” I said. She answered with a portion of the 158th verse of chapter Baqara:
“If anyone spontaneously does good, Allah is All-Thankful, All-Knowing”.
“To break the fast is permissible when you are on a journey” I said. She responded with a part of the 184th verse of chapter Baqara:
“But that you should fast is better for you, if you only knew”.
“Why don’t you speak to me in the way that I am speaking to you?” I asked her. She answered by reading the 18th verse of chapter Qaf:
“He does not utter a single word, without a watcher by him, pen in hand!”
“Shall I let you mount my camel and take you to your tribe” I asked her. She replied with a portion of verse 197 from chapter Baqara:
“Whatever good you do, Allah knows it”.
I got my camel ready for her to mount it. She read a part of the 30th verse of chapter Nur:
“Say to the believers that they should lower their eyes”.
While she climbed up onto the camel, she read a portion of the 13th and 14th verses of chapter Zuhruf:
“Glory be to Him who has subjected this to us. We could never have done it by ourselves”.
When we started moving she read from the 20th verse of Chapter Muzemmil:
“Recite as much of the Qur’an as is easy for you”.
Inspired by the 269th verse of chapter Baqara I then said:
“He who has been given wisdom has been given great good”.
I said to her:
“You have been given much good”. She finished this verse:
“But no one pays heed but people of intelligence”.
At last we reached her caravan.
“Here is your caravan. Who do you have in it?” I asked
She read from the 46th verse of Chapter Kahf:
“Wealth and sons are the embellishment of the life of this world”.
I understood that she had sons in the group. I asked:
“What is their role in the pilgrimage group?
She read the 16th verse of chapter Nahl:
“As well as other means of orientation; for it is by the stars that men find their way”.
I understood that her sons were the guides of the caravan. Indicating the tents and I asked her:
“Which of them are your sons? She answered:
“Allah took Ibrahim as an intimate friend, and Allah spoke directly to Musa. Yahya, take hold of the Book with vigour”.
I then shouted to the caravan:
“O Ibrahim, O Musa, O Yahya”. Three young men radiant as the moon came out. When they came and sat down, their mother recited to them from the 9th verse of Chapter Kahf:
“Send one of your number into the city with this silver you have, so he can see which food is purest and bring you some of it to eat”. (Kahf, 50:19)
One of the young men went to purchase something to eat and placed it in front of them. The women read the following verse from Chapter Haqqa:
“Eat and drink with relish for what you did before in days gone by!”(69:24)
I said to the sons of the woman:
“May your food be unlawful for me if you do not inform me of your mother’s state”.
Upon this the young men said:
“For 40 years now, this here our mother has spoken nothing but verses from the Qur’an out of fear of falling into error before Allah, the Most Merciful”.
I then read from Chapter Jumu’ah:
“That is Allah’s favour which He gives to whoever He wills. Allah’s favour is indeed immense”(62:4)
A requirement of taqwa is that one abandons that which is doubtful and even lawful, out of fear that one may commit the unlawful. An example of this is as follows:
Sultan Abdulaziz Han, who brought his army and its fleet to a highly impressive rank, obliterating internal conflicts with adept political skill, and who was subsequently able to raise the position of the government to its former prestige, had attracted the attention of the entire world. As a result the Sultan was invited to France and England.
Abdulaziz Han, who was the most religious of sultans, took with him chefs from Bolu, thinking that the food of Europeans would be doubtful under shariah (Islamic legal standards).
Abdulaziz Han was a righteous person and led a very religious and ordered life. He had so much piety that throughout his life, he only drank zamzam and never drank normal water. He would perform his prayer in the most ordered of fashions and he would read the Qur’an frequently. When he was brutally martyred, a Holy Qur’an opened at the Chapter Joseph, was found on the top of a small table in his room. This Holy Qur’an, which was stained with his blessed blood is preserved in the Topkapi Palace.
It is said in a hadith of the Prophet:
“A person dies upon the state that they lived in, and they will be resurrected upon the state that they died”.
Another historical personality who lived following highly sensitive standards of taqwa was Sultan Abdulhamid II He used to order that he be woken up if anything urgent arose, at whatever time of the night it happened to be, and was never content to leave the task to the following day. His scribe, As’ad Bey, narrates in his memoirs:
“One night at midnight I knocked on the door of the Sultan to ask him to sign a most important document, but he did not open the door. I waited for a while before I knocked once more, but again he did not answer. I became anxious and wondered if the call of Allah had come to the Sultan. I knocked again a little while later and the Sultan appeared at the door with a towel in his hand. He was drying his face. He smiled and said:
“My son! I realised that, at this hour, you must have come for something very important. I had woken up at the very first knock but I was late in answering the door as I went to take my ablution. This is because I have never signed any document for my people without having first taken my ablution. Bring it to me and let me sign it…” and pronouncing the Basmala, he signed the document”.
The wife of Abdulhamid II narrated the following as an illustration of the degree of his sensitivity:
“Abdulhamid Han always left a clean brick tile at the foot of his bed. When he got out of bed he used to perform tayammum with the tile before he went to the basin to perform his ablution with water in order to avoid stepping on the ground without his ablution. One time I asked him the reason for this. He responded as follows:
“As the Caliph of so many Muslims, if I am not careful about the standards of applying the sunnah, then the community of Muhammad may be harmed because of this…”
His life of piety made him a genius in the realm of politics too. His foresight has been recorded in world history due to his rule during the most difficult and dangerous of years.
In short, taqwa is at the head of those virtues that are the essence of the religion and that beautify one’s spiritual life. The greatest capital that one can possess in order to attain to happiness in the next world is taqwa. A life without taqwa is full of peril. A life that is not lived upon the principles of taqwa will result in misfortune at the last breath and thus eternal loss, as is indicated by the hadith “However you live, that is how you will die”. (Munavi, V, 663) – and may Allah protect us. In order to protect ourselves from the evil of our carnal desires in this temporary world, it is vital that we live as meticulous and careful a life as we would if we were walking through a minefield.
Wars are fought and come to an end at particular times and in particular places. Whereas the struggle for taqwa against the evil-commanding soul must continue uninterruptedly for a lifetime. It is stated in a verse from the Qur’an:
“And worship your Lord until what is Certain (death) comes to you”.(Hijr, 15:99).
May Almighty Allah bestow upon us a lifelong servanthood based on taqwa and a continued state of vigilance in the face of “heedlessness” which opens up the doors to the trickery and deceptions of our lower self.
. The sunnah are the collection of practices of the Prophet Muhammad (translator’s note).
. See al Hujurat, verse 13
. See Al’i Imran, verse 76
. See an Nahl, verse 128
. See Al’i Imran, verse 133
. See Al Anfal, verse 29
. See al Talak, verse 2-5
. A fatwa is a legal ruling regarding the practices of Islam given by a qualified scholar (translator’s note).
. Tayyammum is a form of purification in cases where no water is available. It is performed by wiping one’s hands and face over clean earth, or some similar substance (translator’s note).
. Zamzam is water from a well located in Mecca, found by Hajar, the wife of Abraham (translator’s note).
. See Muslim, Jannah, 83; Munawi, Fayzu”l Qadir, Beirut 1994, V, 663)
. The basmala is the oft-repeated phrase by Muslims uttered before beginning anything and means ‘In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate’