The real meaning of ‘TAQWA’

The word ‘taqwa’ occurs in the Quran many times yet it a term which many Muslims find hard to understand/explain. Some claim it is ‘God-fearing’, others that it is ‘piety’  with many nuances offered in between.

 

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For its true meaning, we must look to the Quran itself to see what Allah has told us about it and subsequently why it is so important.

 

1). Taqwa is the opposite of forgetting Allah

 

Surah Al Hashr (verses 18 & 19):

 

يأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ اتَّقُواْ اللَّهَ وَلْتَنظُرْ نَفْسٌ مَّا قَدَّمَتْ لِغَدٍ وَاتَّقُواْ اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ – وَلاَ تَكُونُواْ كَالَّذِينَ نَسُواْ اللَّهَ فَأَنسَـهُمْ أَنفُسَهُمْ أُولَـئِكَ هُمُ الْفَـسِقُونَ

 

18. O you who believe! Have taqwa of Allah and let every person look to what he has sent forth for tomorrow, and have taqwa of Allah. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what you do.

 

19. And be not like those who forgot Allah, and He caused them to forget themselves. Those are the rebellious.

 

So, verse 19 informs us that Taqwa is the opposite of forgetting Allah – it involves remembering Allah.

 

2). Taqwa is acquired by worshipping

 

(Surah Al Baqarah, verse 21)

 

يَـأَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اعْبُدُواْ رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِىْ خَلَقَكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

 

O mankind! Worship your Lord (Allah), Who created you and those who were before you so that you may acquire Taqwa.

 

In other words, you worship Allah and a by-product is taqwa. Worship is everything Allah has told us to do.

 

3). ‘Taqwa’ is something Allah gives.

 

In Surah Muhammad (verse 17), Allah states:

 

وَالَّذِينَ اهْتَدَوْاْ زَادَهُمْ هُدًى وَءَاتَـهُمْ تَقُوَاهُمْ

 

And as for those who accept guidance, He increases them in guidance and bestows upon them their Taqwa.

 

4). Allah defines the qualities of those who have taqwa in Surah Al Baqarah (verse 177):

 

لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّواْ وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَلَـكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ ءَامَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الاٌّخِرِ وَالْمَلَـئِكَةِ وَالْكِتَـبِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ وَءَاتَى الْمَالَ عَلَى حُبِّهِ ذَوِى الْقُرْبَى وَالْيَتَـمَى وَالْمَسَـكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالسَّآئِلِينَ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَوةَ وَءَاتَى الزَّكَوةَ وَالْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَـهَدُواْ وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِى الْبَأْسَآءِ والضَّرَّاءِ وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ أُولَـئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَأُولَـئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ

 

It is not Birr (righteousness) that you turn your faces towards east and (or) west; but Birr is the one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the Prophets and gives his wealth, in spite of love for it, to the kinsfolk, to the orphans, and to Al-Masakin (the poor), and to the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and to set slaves free, performs As-Salah, and gives the Zakah, and who fulfill their covenant when they make it, and who are patient in extreme poverty and ailment (disease) and at the time of fighting (during the battles). Such are the people of the truth and they are Al-Muttaqun.

 

So, here Allah tells us those who have taqwa believe in Allah, the Day of Judgement, angels, books and prophets and then this is coupled with action – namely, giving in charity, freeing slaves, prayer, zakah, keeping promises and having patience.

 

Using these verses, the meaning of ‘Taqwa’ becomes clear:

1). It is remembering Allah.

2). It is acquired through worshipping.

3). Allah increases your taqwa when we do the right actions.

4). Those who have taqwa have the correct beliefs and carry out good deeds. 

 

The best word in the English language for a concept that is based upon remembering Allah, making sure you have the correct beliefs and making yourself worship Allah would be ‘vigilance’, a higher level of awareness.

 

 

Taqwa’ then, is to be ‘vigilant’, not physiologically (as you would if you feared a physical danger) but, in a spiritual/psychological sense.

 

Now, once we understand ‘taqwa’, we also realise its significance.

 

Imagine the case of someone we will call ‘Ahmed’. Ahmed thinks he will worship more and become a better Muslim once he has a higher lever of eemaan. This goes against what Allah says about taqwa. In fact, Ahmed must make himself worship more and when he does the good deeds, Allah will increase his level of taqwa. Taqwa is in fact the cornerstone of eemaan.

 

Now, ‘Ramla’ is a Muslim who believes but doesn’t really worship much. She believes those who are better worshippers or ‘more practising’ are that way because Allah has chosen them and given them stronger eemaan. Again, this is not the correct understanding. Ramla needs to make herself worship more and Allah will increase her in taqwa and subsequently, eemaan. It is a cyclic process – the more you do, the stronger a Muslim you become and the more you will keep doing.

 

In conclusion, ‘Taqwa’ is mentioned so many times in the Quran. It is the cornerstone of our belief in Islam and to understand it correctly is vital. We now know that in order to gain it, we must be vigilant of Allah and this vigilance makes us worship better. By way of that worship, Allah will increase our ‘taqwa’ (vigilance) and we will continue with the cycle of doing good.

 

May Allah (Glorified be He) make you, dear reader of the Al Muttaqqeen.

 

Due diligence when translating the word of God

I recently had discussions with a group of people who don’t study the Quran. They only rely on their scholars. Their reasoning is that “the Quran admits to its own ambiguity”, and “only a chosen few can correctly understand it”.

I was in utter shock at this assertion. Where, I enquired, does the Quran “admit to its own ambiguity?”

“Why, in Surah Aal-Imran verse 7, of course” was the confident reply. “This verse further states that only Allah and those well-grounded in knowledge understand the interpretation of many verses in the Quran” was their claim.

Someone showed me the translation of this verse. Lo and behold, that’s what the translation stated!!! I quickly whipped out my phone, fired up my browser, and searched for the verse (see it here). Most English translations (I’m surprised at how many English translations now exist) use words such as allegorical, ambiguous, unspecific,  unclear,  and metaphorical to describe Allah’s verses. Out of the approximately 40 translations I looked at, only 4 used the word “similar”, which by the way is the correct translation, to describe the verses.

I could see why this group that I was having discussions with, after having read these translations, felt that using the Quran as evidence is problematic – because, according to them, the verses are allegorical and open to interpretation.

Please answer 3 questions

I would like to ask you, dear reader, to answer 3 questions that you’ll find addressed to you throughout this article. I’d like to understand what your thoughts are about my explanation of the meaning of this verse.

How to understand the Quran

Allah says:


(وَلَقَدْ جِئْنَاهُم بِكِتَابٍ فَصَّلْنَاهُ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍ هُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ (7:52


We have come to them with a book which We have explained with knowledge – a guidance and mercy for people who believe.

So Allah has made sure that He Himself provides explanations for the verses in the Quran. This message has been repeated elsewhere in the Quran as well, e.g. 11:1 and other places.

So the best way to understand the Quran is to compare verses with other verses. When you reconcile verses with other verses, you arrive at the truth.

Two additional principles

You also need to:

  • Look at verses in full – looking at a partial verse shows that you’re not trying to really understand it but maybe trying to twist its meaning. It’s OK to quote partial verses for brevity only if you have studied the complete verse. 
  • Look at verses that occur before and after the verse you’re looking at – this will help set up the context of the verse you’re looking at.

So here is question #1 for you, dear reader. Do you agree that the first thing to do to understand the Quran is to reconcile verses with other verses, look at verses in full and establish context by look at verses occurring prior and after a particular verse?

I understand that ahadith need to be referred to as well but the first step is to do what I have described.

My sources

To ensure that my explanations don’t contain glaring errors, I have corroborated them with Tafseer At-Tabari, Ash-Shanqeetee’s tafseer and the author of www.iconoclast.online.

Correct translation of verse 3:7

هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ

He is the One that sent down upon you the book. From it are established verses – these are the foremost of the book. And others [verses] are similar to each other. So as for those in whose hearts is deviance, they follow what is similar of it – wanting to cause trials of faith and wanting the unfolding of its events. And no one knows of the unfolding except Allah. And those well-founded in knowledge say, “We believe in it [the book]. It is all from our Fosterer.” But no one reflects except the steadfast.

Whoa!!! :mindblown:

This is obviously very different from all the currently available English translations. The translations out there are a case of “the blind leading the blind”. They aren’t following the correct principles as I explained above.

Key concept

Muhkam is not the opposite of mutashaabih (the words are in bold in the Arabic text above). Muhkam describes some verses and mutashaabih describes the rest of the verses.

Let me give you an example. I might say the following about Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

Many parts of Covey’s book are very insightful. The rest of the book is very engaging.

Insightful and engaging don’t have to be opposites of each other. They’re just different adjectives used to describe Covey’s book.

Anyway, Allah says about His book:

(ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهِ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ(2:2

That is the book in which there is no doubt. A guide for the very vigilant.

He also says:

(الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَىٰ عَبْدِهِ الْكِتَابَ وَلَمْ يَجْعَل لَّهُ عِوَجًا(18:1

All praises are for Allah, the One Who sent down on His slave the book and did not put in it any crookedness.

I know that I won’t find any allegorical verses which are open to interpretation. On the contrary, I can use the correct principles to understand God’s explanation of His own verses.

What is Allah saying to us in verse 3:7?

Our questions are:

    • Are there other verses with a similar meaning?
    • What is verse 3:7 conveying to us?

We find the same concepts and themes mentioned in 2:26, 74:31, 22:52-55 & 9:124-125.

When we look at all these verses together, we see the main themes that Allah talks about are:

  • Allah sends down verses.
  • Some people don’t believe in these verses for various reasons and are misguided.
    • These people try to create doubts in other people’s minds and try to misguide them.
  • Yet other people believe – no matter what – and these are the guided.

Breaking it down

Let’s look at the meaning of the most pertinent words in verse 3:7 :

1. مُّحْكَمَاتٌ

This word occurs twice more in the Quran.

وَيَقُولُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَوْلَا نُزِّلَتْ سُورَةٌ فَإِذَا أُنزِلَتْ سُورَةٌ مُّحْكَمَةٌ وَذُكِرَ فِيهَا الْقِتَالُ رَأَيْتَ الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَيْكَ نَظَرَ الْمَغْشِيِّ عَلَيْهِ مِنَ الْمَوْتِ فَأَوْلَىٰ لَهُمْ 47:20

 

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ مِن رَّسُولٍ وَلَا نَبِيٍّ إِلَّا إِذَا تَمَنَّىٰ أَلْقَى الشَّيْطَانُ فِي أُمْنِيَّتِهِ فَيَنسَخُ اللَّهُ مَا يُلْقِي الشَّيْطَانُ ثُمَّ يُحْكِمُ اللَّهُ آيَاتِهِ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ 22:52

It is mind-boggling to see people translate muhkam as “clear” in 3:7 whereas in these other verses, it is translated as “established” (I’ll let you look up the translation yourself). In the Arabic language, muhkam doesn’t mean clear. I’m not going into linguistics here. I’m saying that it’s abominable to take a word and translate it to something not supported by the language AT ALL. Would you like it if I said that although your name is, for example, “Raheem” I’ll translate it to “clear”? I know that Raheem is derived from ra-ha-ma but I’ll still translate it to “clear”. That’s preposterous! The word مُّحْكَمَاتٌ is derived from the word ha-ka-ma. When has ha-ka-ma ever meant clear?!!

When you look at related verses, you understand the meaning of this word. The correct translation would be to use words like established, fixed, firm, permanent, commandment etc. Verses become established because Allah sends commandments down in them and once Allah sends a command, there is NO WAY of escaping the command and no changing it in any way.

This is question #2 for you, dear reader. Reading this, do you think muhkam means clear?

2. مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ

This word occurs in 2:25, 2:70, 2:118, 4:157, 6:141, 13:16, and 39:23 in addition to 3:7. How can it mean allegorical in any of them?

2:25 – Is fruit allegorical?

2:70 – Is a cow allegorical?

2:118 – Are hearts allegorical?

4:157 – Was Jesus’ situation allegorical?

6:141 – Is pomegranate allegorical?

13:16 – Is Allah’s creation allegorical?

This word never means allegorical. You can’t just make up translations!

In 39:23 Allah describes the majority of the Quran as mutashaabih. To understand this, you have to look at 2:25 and you’ll realize what this means. “The Quran is mutashaabih” means that when you read a passage of the Quran, you think to yourself, I’ve come across this before. Yet it’s not the same, but similar, because there’s always a different lesson and different details contained in passages that seem like they’re the same. That’s the meaning of mutashaabih.  

3. تَأْوِيل

This word occurs approximately 17 times which you can find by using the link here:

https://www.alfanous.org/en/aya/?sortedby=score&recitation=14&query=تأويل&fuzzy=True&translation=en.transliteration&page=1&unit=aya&view=default

Ash-Shanqeetee says: “We have already mentioned that the meaning of this word is: The truth of a situation to which it arrives. And that is the meaning of this word as it is used in the Quran.

Let’s look at some of these verses to see why he asserts that this is the meaning of the word:

7:52-53 are the most important verses in understanding the meaning of ta’weel because in these verses Allah explicitly talks about the ta’weel of the Quran.

Allah says:

‘We have come to them with a book which We have explained with knowledge – a guidance and mercy for people who believe. They don’t wait except for its [the book’s] unfolding (ta’weel). The day that its unfolding (ta’weel) arrives, the ones who ignored it before will say, “Our Fosterer’s messengers came with the truth. So do we have any intercessors so that they can intercede for us? Or can we be returned so that we can do actions other than the actions that we used to do?” They have caused a loss to themselves and what they used to fabricate went astray from them.’

Allah says that the day of the ta’weel will arrive. It does not mean “the day of the interpretation”. It means the day when its events will unfold. That’s how Allah always describes it – the day when, what people didn’t believe in, will actually happen. It does not mean – the day when it will be interpreted.

Now we understand why Ash-Shanqeetee asserted what he asserted.

Where does the full-stop/period go?

People have divided themselves into two camps with regards to whether to pause when reciting this verse. Do I pause after “And no one knows of the unfolding except for Allah”? Or do I recite it as ” And no one knows of the unfolding except for Allah and those well-founded in knowledge”?

If you understand that ta’weel means unfolding of events, you know where the period/full-stop goes –  only Allah know of the unfolding.

So here goes question #3. Having read the above, would you pause after “And no one knows of the unfolding except for Allah”?

Due diligence

It seems like it takes a lot of effort to explain every verse and every word within a verse in the manner that Allah intended. But once you follow the correct principles, it is very easy to understand Allah’s words.

Those who take it upon themselves to teach people the Quran, or translate it for them, have an obligation to strive in a manner as is Allah’s right upon us. Due to the negligence of many translators, there are now groups of people who think the Quran is mainly allegorical and unclear. That’s blaspheming against our Creator and contradicting many verses.

I would love to hear your comments. I ask Allah to show us all the right path and bless us with the strength to follow it instead of outsourcing our religion to others.