According to Tafsir ibn Kathir, the root meaning of taqwa is to avoid what one dislikes. It was reported that Umar bin Khattab asked Ubay ibn Kaab about Taqwa. Ubay said, "Have you ever walked on a path that has thorns on it?" Umar said, "Yes." Ubay asked, "What did you do then?" to which Umar replied, "I rolled up my sleeves and struggled." Ubay said, "That is taqwa, to protect oneself from sin through life’s dangerous journey so that one can successfully complete the journey unscathed by sin."
Ibn Abbas said about verse 2:2 in the Quran, هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ hudā lil-muttaqīn "guidance for the Muttaqin", that it means, "They are the believers who avoid shirk with Allah (swt) and who work in His obedience." He also said that Al-Muttaqin means, "Those who fear Allah's (swt) Punishment, which would result if they abandoned the true guidance that they recognize and know. They also hope in Allah's (swt) Mercy by believing in what He revealed."
Taqwa and the Qur'an
According to Erik S. Ohlander in his study on "Fear of God (Taqwa) in the Qur'an," taqwa is used in the Qur'an over 100 times. In a Quranic context, taqwa refers to fear of God in terms of protecting oneself from displeasing God.
Sura 5:10 is concerned with etiquette and the washing of oneself before one prays: "And remember God's blessing upon you, and His compact which He made with you when you said, 'We have heard and we obey.' And fear you God; surely God knows the thoughts in the breasts."
The 10th-century Sufi scholar Al-Qushayri in his Epistle (Risala) writes about three parts of taqwa: "full trust in God with respect to what has not been granted to him; full satisfaction with what has been granted to him; and full patience with respect to what has eluded him."
In Sufism, taqwa has several degrees. The first degree or rank is that of the common people. This rank shuns anything associated with God. In other words, the common people participate in taqwa by simply avoiding shirk. The second degree or rank of taqwa are the elect who shun sins. The final rank is that of the prophets who avoid attributing acts to anyone other than God- "in other words, their fear comes to them from Him and is [directed] to Him." The highest rank are those who distance themselves from everything that separates them from God, for one of the main goals in Sufism is to get closer to God because being separated from God is equivalent to that of hell.
The master-disciple relationship is one of great importance within Sufi practice. Taqwa is greatly valued within this relationship. God-fearing piety is seen as great religious devotion because it allows for "unhesitating obedience for the order's superior." In other words, if one can blindly follow his master, then he should be able to blindly follow God. Taqwa then leads to a lack of questioning authority, for the disciple submits to those with greater power than him. This submission reminds the disciple of God's power making the disciple a more devout worshipper of God.
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- Nanji, Azim. "Islamic Ethics," in A Companion to Ethics, Peter Singer. Oxford: Blackwells,n(1991), pp. 106–118.
- Ohlander, E. S. "Fear of God (taqwa) in the Qur'an: Some Notes on Semantic Shift and Thematic Context." Journal of Semitic Studies 50.1 (2005): 137-52. Print.
- 5:10. Arberry, Arthur J. The Koran. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks, 1998. Print
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- Ambros, Ames; Stephan Procházka (2004). A Concise Dictionary of Koranic Arabic. Reichert Verlag. p. 294. ISBN 3-89500-400-6.