Ramadhan Ruminations Lesson 2: The Good End is for the God-conscious by Syaikh Hamza Yusuf
In the last short reflection, I’ve talked about taqwa and the idea of taqwa being one of the fundamental principles that Qur’an is constantly reminding us. What I’d like to do is to define taqwa first and foremost, and then look at the idea that al-‘aqibatu lil muttaqin or wal ‘aqibatu lit taqwa, i.e. the end affairs is always for taqwa or for the people of taqwa.
Taqwa itself, said Ibnu Asyur one of the great Moroccan scholar, is imtisal, i.e. to obey the commandment of God and ijtinab, to avoid the prohibition. So there are awamar and nahi in the Qur’an, i.e. things that Prophet SAW was commanded to tell us or prohibited or disliked or discouraged; and there are things that he was commanded to tell us that something is obligatory or recommended. So the idea of taqwa essentially is that the people of taqwa is the people that do what they were commanded and avoid what they were prohibited. They do it through disciplining of the soul. So there is act of disciplining the soul that occurs through your life, through practices. One of the things about practice is that practice is what enable us to incrementally get better at something. For instance, people who learn a new skill, initially it is very difficult for them. But over time, as they continue to practice, it gets easier and easier. This is the process of habituation. There is saying that everything is habit, even devotion (ibadah). In fact, the great Greek philosopher Aristoteles said, virtue is basically the habituation of the soul to a virtuous practice. In another word, you have to habituate overtime through constant practice and discipline of the soul yourself to a virtuous practice until it becomes a second nature.
Thus basically what taqwa is practicing these things (commandment and prohibition); and because of the glory of God, because people will always fall short in their practices, it becomes very difficult as times to be consistent in it, we have what is called taubah, which is in Greek, they call metanoia, which is a very nice term, which means to change your mind. Taubah is literally means to turn or repent so that it’s going back to God. Thus the people of taqwa when they fall short of the expectation upon them, they repent, they turn. If you’re driving down the road, going the wrong way, you have to make a U-turn. So you might see a sign that says something so that you realize I am going the wrong way. You have to do U-turn. In the road of life, you are going to sometimes make the wrong turn. Then you’re going to get signs that tell you that you’re on the wrong path. Now unfortunately, what a lot of people do, they just ignore the signs. In the end, those are basically road to hell. There will be hell in this life, because the nature of sins is just it creates a lot of misery. So when the Qur’an tells us, wal ‘aqibatu lit taqwa, it’s telling us that in the end, the victory is for the taqwa. Victory is for piety, for consciousness. An example of that, there is a great poet who said, “Truth forever on the scaffold and wrong forever on the throne. Yet, the scaffold sways the future and beyond the dim unknown, stand the God among the shadow keeping watch above his own.” What he meant by that, for instance, the scaffold in Arab is what they build to hang people. So truth has always been a strung up. For instance, if you look at the Qur’an, many of the prophet are actually not successful. They are actually completely attacked by their own people. But there is a success in their conveying of the message despite the fact that they’re killed, despite the fact that they’re turned upon. Ibrahim AS with Namrud with his people, he was not successful in turning them back to God. He was successful in conveying the message. This is the meaning of truth forever on the scaffold and wrong forever on the throne. So Pharaoh chases Moses out of Egypt. Moses has to flee for his life. But the point is that the scaffold squeezes the future, that the moral art of the universe is bend towards justice. This is what we have to be consistently be reminded of that, i.e. al-aqibatu lil muttaqin and wal ‘aqibatu lit taqwa We have to consistently remind ourselves, no matter how dark it gets, we believe that the end is for taqwa; the end is for piety; the end is for people of consciousness. This is an extremely important thing to keep in mind.