Taqwā: Unique Self-Measurement and True Self-Awareness

Author: Prof. Zainab Alwani, Ph.D

Transforming the Self, Family and Society through a Qur’anic Ethos.D

Taqwā is derived from waqā, which literally means to preserve, protect, safeguard, shield from, and keep safe from. Taqwāmeans “forbearance, fear, abstinence, and piety, as well as “being careful, knowing your place in the cosmos.” This characteristic is seen when one experiences the awe of God, which “inspires a person to be on guard against wrong feeling and action, and eager to do the things which please God.”

Being devout, pious, and mindful of God is a state of the heart, a state that keeps one always conscious of God’s presence. Taqwā helps one maintains self-evaluation, which is the ability to examine oneself internally as regards his/her intentions, beliefs, feelings, attitudes, behaviors, habits, and relationships. This critical self-evaluation allows people to filter and cleanse their inner self based on their level of taqwā. This motivation enables the person who cultivates it to draw closer to God by remaining steadfast on the Straight Path and protects her/him from deviation. As taqwā in habits the heart and only God knows what it conceals, no human being can judge another person’s level of taqwā . Cultivating taqwā is a lifelong process that requires constant personal effort. Muslim scholars have exerted tremendous effort in analyzing and explaining taqwā and how to achieve it.10The Qur’an mentions taqwā and its derivatives over 250 times, and in every verse, it teaches new meanings. Sūra al-Shams (91:8) mentions it in contrast with moral failings (fujūr). Tracing these two concepts, namely moral failings (fujūraha) and God-consciousness (taqwāha) (91:8), throughout the Qur’an helps one understand the inner process and how it impacts the person’s perception, worldview, actions, and, finally, the end result of her/his actions. The basis of the Qur’anic concept of human psychology is outlined in these four verses:

By the soul and the One Who fashioned it and inspired it with (moral failings) [in another translation (its own rebellion)] (fujūraha) as well as with consciousness of God (taqwāha). Successful indeed is the one who purifies their soul, and the one who corrupts it fails! (91:7-10).

By the soul and the One Who fashioned it and inspired it with (moral failings) [in another translation (its own rebellion)] (fujūraha) as well as with consciousness of God (taqwāha). Successful indeed is the one who purifies their soul, and the one who corrupts it fails! (91:7-10). The position of every word in the Qur’an has a function and specific purpose, just like each star in the sky. Verse 8 (fa-alhamahā fujūrahā wataqwāhā)reveals that the human being(insān) is designed with a dual nature, for only such a reality allows one to choose good or evil. Moreover, this allows them to deal with all of the other creations that live on and in the earth. However, this dual nature and ability gives him/her an unlimited scope within him/herself. The verse portrays this unique inner scene with two critical terms: fujūrahā and taqwāhā. Fajjar means to dig up the ground and create an outlet so the water can flow out; to break out of, erupt, or burst; and to cause to explode (explosion), both literally and in the sense of a violent emotion or a situation that arises or develops suddenly. Fajara also means to overflow, descend suddenly, break out, rush in, and ignite. The Qur’an uses fajara and tafjīr for creating an outlet so water can flow out  to act immorally, lie, sin without caring, increasing one’s sins and delay in repentance, deviate from the truth and wrong oneself. All of the above encompasses the depth of fujūrahā, which describes a human being’s inner nature. In this verse, fujūrahā is specifically contrasted with (taqwāhā), for God wants people to look inward, instead of blaming others, for choosing to act on these desires instead of strengthening their shield of taqwā. 

Al-Muttaqūn: Truth Seekers 

Tracing these two concepts throughout the Qur’an reveals that fajār and its derivatives are used in the context of the Day of Judgment. Each sūra guides people to contemplate their future and think of the consequences of their actions.

Therefore, the person who is constantly mindful of the Creator’s presence, practices self-awareness, searches for the truth even if it is against her/his opinion, is among the‘abrār. This status indicates the high level of someone who has attained taqwā and acts according to God’s will. As a result, ˹“And they will be told,˺ “All this is surely a reward for you. Your striving has been appreciated” (76:22). Therefore, the Qur’anic concept of birren compasses all the righteous deeds with full understanding of its objectives and impacts. The Muttaqūn, identified as the “patient, true, obedient in worshiping God, spend (in the Way of God), and seek forgiveness in the last hours of the night” (3:17), can control their anger, manage their negative feelings, practice forgiveness, and be grateful. These people, aware of the source of sin (i.e., Satan), remember God, seek refuge in Him, and turn back to Him quickly, after which they remain steadfast and correct their mistakes.