Ramadhan Ruminations Lesson 1: Taqwa (God-consciousness) by Syaikh Hamza Yusuf
Insyaallah, I hope to do a series of reflection on very short verses or statements from the Qur’an that will help us better understand some of the fundamental or foundational principles (qawa’id) of the Qur’an. One of the extraordinary aspects of the Qur’an is that because it is a non-linear book when you read it, unlike, for instance the bible or previous dispensation that have come to people, it is constantly pulling you back into the core virtues. So, there are verses that will come in different ways, again and again.
One of the most important concepts in the Qur’an is the idea of taqwa. This is why it is foundational. In fact, the very first verses that gives a command in the Qur’an is that we are told in surah Al-Baqarah, “O mankind! Worship your Lord (Allah), Who created you and those who were before you so that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious)” (QS Al-Baqarah: 21). So worship your Lord, humanity, and know that He created you and those before you, so that you don’t think that you are in infinite regress or circular type of reasoning. There was a beginning to all this. There was the first parent, Adam and Hawa. So, it reminds you that you have a beginning; your species have a beginning. You come from your parents, that have parents, that have parents, all the way back to Adam. Thus no infinite regress or circular feedback. There is ultimate cause, as Allah SWT reminds us. Once you’re determined; once you understand that you have a Lord, you have to worship that Lord. And the purpose of that worship is to achieve what the Qur’an called, la’allakum tattaqun, that’s perhaps you may gain piety.
Taqwa is a difficult word to pin down because it has semantic view that gives nuances of meaning. But primarily it has to do with prevention. Its root word wiqaya is prevention. When you ward off something, you ward off something harmful. The word in Arabic for a believer, i.e. mu’min, means the one who secures. Al-Mu’min is also one of the names of God because God secures us. Aamana means to secure something, from amina-ya’manu, which means to be secure. How do you secure something is amantu billahi, i.e. I’ve secured myself through God. In another word, through God I found security. This is the essence of taqwa, that is a way protecting yourself from harm through your devotion to your Lord. Thus no matter what comes to you, you will be in a good situation. For instance, when we read the Qur’an, in a very interesting hadits about the latter day in which Sayyidina Ali heard the Prophet SAW said that the calamities, civil strives, sedition, and fitnah would continue and become so constant that eventually it would become a portion of black dark night. This is certainly the case in some places in the world right now. There are Muslims in some part of the world whose life has become a portion of dark night. When Prophet said that, Sayyidina Ali said to the Prophet SAW, “what’s the way out of that? How do we get out of that situation?”. This is one of interesting things about companions (sahaba). They always ask the right question. If you see hadits where they ask question, they always asked the right question. In this hadits, he (Sayyidina Ali) didn’t say, o how terrible that day is. In fact, he wants to know what’s the right way out. The reason that he asked that question in my estimation is because he knew a Qur’anic principle: wa man yattaqillaha, yaj’al lahu makhraja (QS At-Talaq: 2), i.e. whoever has taqwa of God, God will always gives him an exit strategy. God will always gives him a way out from the situation. Always. This is a promise. This sentence is known in Arabic as jumlah syarqiyah, or a conditional sentences. If you fulfil this condition, then this is the result. And so if you have taqwa, you will have a way out. The Prophet said the way out is the book of Allah. The Qur’an tells you what happened in the past and gives you insights about what’s going to happen in the future. What that means is there are many stories in the Qur’an, that are sacred history. While we can’t prove them in some historical account that are archaeologist go through, we believe them to be true because they have been revealed. But the historical nature of them is not what’s important. It’s the lessons that are important. And that’s why it is a sacred history. So we could never prove the garden of Aden or what happened to the garden of Aden, but we know that it is a sacred history in order for us to understand the lesson of the beginning of our species. The most constant story that we find in the Qur’an coming in different ways with different nuances is the story of Pharoh and Moses. This conflict between good and between evil; between humility and between arrogant; between the divine revelation and the between one’s own independent thought, free of revelation; the difference between those who exalt themselves and those who exalt their Lord; difference between those who serve others and those who have others served them. This is the fundamental problem on this planet. And the people of Prophetic tradition, the Mosaic people, the Jesuit, the Mohammedan people SAW, and peace be upon all of the Prophets, these are the people of service. And that’s why when you look at the religious iterations that exist today, the people that take their religion seriously, are the people of service, whether they are Christian, Jews or Muslim. This is fundamental hallmark of religious people, i.e. they serve others, they don’t themselves. The reason they are serving others is because they’re serving their Lord. But the reminder of the Qur’an is al-aqibatu lit taqwa, that the end affairs is for taqwa.
Insyaallah in the next session I will talk about taqwa and its meaning.