بسم لله الرحمان الرحيم
In the name of Almighty God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. All praise be to God, the lord of all that exists. We give him our praise, we seek His guidance, we seek his forgiveness, and we seek refuge in him from the evil within ourselves and within our deeds. No one whom the Almighty guides can be misguided, and no one who He allows to go astray can be guided. I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Alhamdulillah, we are now in the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the most blessed time of the year. We should all thank Allah (swt) for the opportunity to live to see this Ramadan, and we should all put fourth our best effort to take advantage of all the blessings and opportunities for forgiveness that this month offers.
Allah (swt) says in the Qur'an, "O those who believe, the fasts have been enjoined upon you as were enjoined upon those before so that you be Al Muttaqun" . Now this word here Muttaqun means "ones who have taqwa". What is taqwa? Taqwa is a word that we hear often in Islamic discourse. Often times it is translated as having fear of God. However these translations often cause a great deal of confusion. In some versions of the English translation of this verse, they translate Al Muttaqun as "self restraint". Some translate it as "God fearing". Some translate it as "the pious". All of these translations give a piece of the puzzle so to speak, to the meaning of taqwa, but none of them truly embody the meaning of this word. Like many words that Allah (swt) uses in the Qur'an, the word taqwa is a very difficult word to render into English. However Allah (swt) makes it clear in this verse that the whole point of fasting, is to create this taqwa. So it is imperative that we come to a clear understanding of it, and know how to more accurately explain it.
Firstly let's take the most common translation of the word taqwa, "fear of God". This often creates a lot of confusion for native speakers of the English language because the word "fear", indicates a sense of terror, and apprehension. Most people associate "fear" with negative things, such as the fear of being attacked, or the fear of an enemy, or maybe the fear of disaster or the fear of failure. So when taqwa is translated in this way, it tends to put a negative connotation in people's minds. This is not really what the word taqwa means. It can be related to fearing the punishment of Allah for our sins; this is true. We should fear for our akhirah that we do not taste the punishment of the hellfire. However this still does not truly embody the meaning of the word taqwa.
Let us look to other passages of the Qur'an that refer to taqwa. In Surat Al ‘Imran Allah (swt) says, in the English translation, “And march forward in the way which leads to forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Paradise as wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who have taqwa, Those who spend what Allah gives them both in prosperity and in adversity. Who repress anger, and who show forgiveness to their fellow man. Verily Allah loves those who do good.” In another place, in Surat al Baqarah Allah (swt) also says,
“It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the east or to the west, but righteousness is the one who believes in Allah, the last day, the angels, the book, the prophets, and gives wealth in spite of their love for it, to their family, to the orphans, and to the poor, and to the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and to free the slaves. It is the one who performs regular prayer, and gives the Zakat, and who fulfill their oaths when they make them, and who are patient in extreme poverty and ailment and at the time of battle. Such are the people of the truth and they are Al Muttaqun”.
These verses clearly tell us what it is to have taqwa. But notice that Allah (swt) says that it is not righteousness, or in other words it is not taqwa, that you turn your face to the east or the west. It is not taqwa that you dress a certain way, or that you talk a certain way. A person who has taqwa, as these verses tell us, is one who prays regularly. They are those who keep promises they make no matter how inconvenient. They are those who spend their wealth on those who need it, and they give regardless of whether or not they are in a time of prosperity or adversity. They are those who have patience when facing poverty, or when facing disease, or when facing the enemy on the field of battle.
Taqwa as we see here is not only our deeds; it is not only in the rituals that we perform; it is not only the beliefs that we hold in our heart; it is in fact all of these things put together.
People who have taqwa first and foremost, obey what Allah (swt) orders of them, and they avoid whatever Allah forbids them. The lack taqwa in today’s world is very evident. There are so many issues that Muslims today try to question. Many Muslims today spend a lot of time trying to find loop holes in Allah’s commands in the Qur’an, and to try and find ways to make some of the evil influences of the secular world, permissible in Islam.
One example of this is the issue of the hijab. Allah (swt) is very clear in the Qur’an, “walyudhribna khumurihinna ‘alaa juyubihinna”, or as it means in English, “draw their headcoverings over their upper torso”. This verse is very clear and explicit as to what Allah (swt) orders of the Muslim women, yet today there are countless people who try to pick apart every little detail and nuance of the verses of the Qur’an to try to find a way that it can be interpreted differently in order to fit modern and secular ideas of women’s dress. We should remember the extent of the taqwa of the sahabah, where in this particular case, Aisha (ra) said in an authentic hadith that when these verses were revealed, that the sahaba women tore pieces off their garments to cover their head, neck, and upper torso. In fact many of them, in their sense of taqwa, covered themselves completely. They obeyed the words of Allah immediately, and without question. This is true taqwa.
The verses that I quoted earlier also make a lot of references to how someone with taqwa spends of their wealth. This is also important because someone with true taqwa realizes that nothing that they have as far as wealth, really belongs to them. It is only in their possession by the permission of Allah (swt). Allah (swt) is the Lord of all that exists, and that includes your house, your car, all of your possessions. All that any of us have, belongs to Allah. The one who has true taqwa, is always aware of this, and this is why they spend from their wealth on those who don't have as much, not only out of kindness, but because this is what Allah (swt) orders them to do.
Taqwa is also that you treat others as Allah tells you to treat them. In one of the verses I quoted earlier Allah (swt) says that those who have taqwa, “repress anger, and show forgiveness to their fellow man”. I heard it said once that to serve God, one must serve humanity. This verse makes it clear that having taqwa is not just about your relationship with Allah (swt), but it is also about your relationship to your spouse, to your children, to your parents, to your brothers and sisters in Islam, and to all human kind, the children of Adam. We as servants and slaves of Allah (swt) are called to be a shining light of peace, love, mercy, and justice to all peoples of the world. We are called to defend those who are oppressed even if they may be our theological or spiritual enemy, and even if the oppressors are fellow Muslims. We are called to enjoin good and forbid evil. In one verse of the Qur’an Allah (swt) tells us that we are not forbidden from showing kindness to those who do not do us wrong. As I have said in many previous khutbahs, the best form of da’wah that any of us do, is simply by being a good and upright example of the deen of Islam. Taqwa in addition to our worship and our firmly held beliefs, is also rooted in how we treat others. This is another area where the Muslim Ummah has fallen far short of the standard. Today Muslims around the world oppress others, insult the beliefs of others, deface the symbols of others peoples, and yet we act so shocked and surprised when someone insults us or our religion. We demand people respect our faith yet we have no respect for theirs. We demand to be treated as equals in society but often times Christians, Jews, and other religious groups in Muslim countries are harassed and abused, and in many countries aren't allowed to practice their religion at all. Many Muslim countries don't allow Christian missionaries and other people like this because they don't want them poisoning the minds of Muslims and leading them away from Islam. However, if the leaders of these countries had true taqwa, and enjoined on their people true taqwa, the words of these missionaries would have no effect. In fact, most likely, it would be the missionaries who would see the truth and beauty of Islam, and embrace it, and take it back to the countries they came from.
In all reality, the best definition of taqwa that I can come up with is to be in a constant state of "God consciousness". It is to be constantly aware of your being a slave and servant of Allah (swt). Taqwa, is seeing Allah's will in everything we do from the most menial things like mowing the grass or using the bathroom, to the most profound things like making Hajj. Why do we pray five times a day? The prophet (sws) compared the five daily salaat to bathing five times a day. If you took a shower five times a day, would you ever be dirty? No. But what the five daily salaat really do, is that they don't allow us to forget about Allah (swt). If you are praying five times a day, you don't have time to forget about Allah. One of the first verses in the Qur'an related to alcohol, khamr, was that Allah said, "Do not approach the prayer when you are drunk". Well if you are praying five times a day it doesn't leave a whole lot of time to get drunk. So you see, the five daily prayers create taqwa in us, because they keep us constantly reminded of our position as slaves of Allah (swt). Likewise, the Zakat creates taqwa by insuring that always remember that our wealth first and foremost belongs to Allah. The Hajj certainly creates taqwa by reminding us of our past as the human race, our present state as a nation, and our future in the akhirah, where we will stand before Allah without any of our worldly possessions to be of any benefit to us; this of course represented by the state of ihram that we enter upon making Hajj or Umrah. Also, fasting definitely creates taqwa. Just like the five daily prayers don't allow you to forget about Allah, fasting does the same thing, but on an even higher level, because in this case it's not only when it's time to pray that you remember your servanthood to Allah, but you remember every time you feel a hunger pain, or struggle to maintain wetness in your mouth. Fasting keeps us in an even bigger state of God consciousness, or taqwa.
To conclude, I'd like to end with an excerpt from our beloved prophet's first khutbah in Medina (sws). Prophet Muhammad (sws) said,
"Whoever obeys Allah and His messenger is wise and whoever disobeys them is astray, wasted, and has lost his way far from the true path. I advise you to fear Allah and be conscious of Him. Be conscious of what Allah warned you of Himself. There is no better advice than that or a better reminder. It is a shield for those who follow this advice carefully and cautiously and it is an aid, and the truth that will get you what you aspire for on the Day of Judgment. Whosoever establishes a good relationship between him and Allah, secretly and openly, only to seek the pleasure of Allah, will benefit in this life and be saved in the afterlife when he will be in dire need of the good deeds he earned before death. Man will then wish that there were a great distance between him and anything else other than taqwa."
...And Allah Knows Best...