Taqwa is so important in Islam because it is the source of all virtues and goodness. It is the catalyst that reforms a person from the inside. Once a person adopts the attitude of Taqwa, he embarks upon a path of continuous self-improvement. He monitors his own thoughts, motives and actions in order to ensure that they remain pure and aligned with the guidance and objectives of Islam. He becomes motivated, eager and enthusiastic to do good in his ethics, morals, dealings, human relations, and every aspect of his conduct in day-to-day life. He tries his best to avoid any bad behaviour in any of the affairs of life. Good actions please him. Mistakes give him anxiety, in which case he immediately repents, seeks Allaah’s forgiveness and makes up for them by doing more good. He loves Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala’s creations and cares for them. He becomes generous, gracious, forgiving and kind. He becomes a champion for the rights of the weak, neglected, disadvantaged and persecuted people of the society. He courageously stands up and struggles for the establishment of justice, fairness, equity and equality of all people. He dedicates himself selflessly, never expecting or accepting any thing or any benefit in return because his goal is attainment of Allaah’s pleasure, mercy and forgiveness.
Because Taqwa influences behaviour so strongly, some people think of Taqwa as if it is an action or a combination of actions. The fact that it is an attitude or mental disposition is indicated by the following:
…They are those whose hearts Allaah has tested positively for Taqwa…
And whoever reveres symbols of Allaah’s glory – indeed, it is from Taqwa of hearts.
Muslim reported from Aboo Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allaah, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “Taqwa is right here.” And he pointed to the chest.
When talking about Hajj, Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala commanded:
And take provisions for the journey, and the best of the provisions is Taqwa.
When educating about the role of modest dress, the Qur-aan reminds people that in addition to following the commands about dress, a person’s being enveloped in the attitude of Taqwa is the most important thing to ensure proper behaviour whether in matters of dress or purity of behaviour:
And the garment of Taqwa is the best.
Taqwa is such an important aspect of Islamic personality that it is the sole determinant of evaluating people from Islamic perspective. Although we should not judge people in general, we do need to evaluate people for some important matters in life such as business partnerships, extending credit, marriage proposals, and electing someone for a position of leadership or trust. For such selections or elections, Muslims must be evaluated solely on the basis of Taqwa. Absolutely no consideration should be given to such matters as friendship, ethnicity, mother tongue, geographical origin, clan, caste, physical features, religious sect or affiliation, etc. Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala has said clearly:
The most honourable of you in the sight of Allaah is the person who has the strongest Taqwa.
The Messenger of Allaah, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam said:
“People can only be one of two kinds: A person with piety and Taqwa and, thus, honourable in the sight of Allaah; and a person disobedient, hard-hearted and, thus, dishonoured in the sight of Allaah.”
But how do we know who has more Taqwa if Taqwa is a condition of heart, a state of mind and an attitude?
The pious behaviour that results from Taqwa is called Birr. To evaluate Taqwa, we need to see if the person’s life is characterized with Birr or not. Unfortunately, many people look at the appearance of people to evaluate their level of Taqwa. If a person wears a certain kind of dress or “looks like a Muslim”, they think he has Taqwa. The absurdity of this criterion is so obvious that it does not need any comment. Some others judge people on the basis of their Ŝalaah, Sowm and other acts of worship. Although these are good acts, they are not complete as criteria of Taqwa according to Allaah and His Messenger, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam. The reason is that the acts of worship are only a part of our duties to Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala, while Taqwa impacts the whole life, not some actions only. Unless the characteristics of Islamic personality are also present in all other aspects of life along with acts of worship, proper level of Taqwa is absent. Consider the following:
Piety  is not turning your faces towards East or West in prayer. But piety is a descriptor of a person who: Believes in Allaah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book and the prophets; gives his favourite assets out of love for Him to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, to those who ask, and to free the subjugated; establishes Ŝalaah and pays Zakaah; is one of those who are very particular about fulfilling their promises when they promise; and, is of those who are outstanding in perseverance during adversity, suffering and war. Such are the true believers and such are the people who have Taqwa.
This verse categorically denies that fulfilling certain religious rites can be regarded as Birr (piety or righteousness) in Islam. It defines piety in terms of the attributes of Islamic personality and ends with a statement that those who have these qualities are truthful and have Taqwa. Thus, only those who possess all the qualities mentioned in this verse are true in their claim to be Muslims and to have Taqwa.
It deals with faith, acts of worship, ethics and morals, money matters and financial affairs, social and political set up, Islamic mission and war all in one breath. It gives an unequivocal message that human life is one entity. It cannot be compartmentalized into secular and religious sections. Piety does not belong only to formal acts of worship. It pervades life as a whole. In addition, this description of people with Taqwa and piety (Birr) clearly indicates that they are the people who not only have transformed their whole life according to Islamic ethics, but also have dedicated their resources and lives for the sake of Allaah to live like an organized Muslim community, to establish an ideal Islamic society and to strive for making Islam the dominant way of life in the world. In this way it is a fulltime, lifelong commitment to a collective mission rather than a matter of performing some individual good deeds.
There are no short cuts to attaining Birr and complying with the demands of Taqwa. Those who have assumed that requirements of Taqwa and Birr are fulfilled by performing a few religious rites and donning a certain type of clothing or appearance are deluded. It is a tough arduous road of a continuous Jihaad that starts with faith, which is validated by good actions such as generosity for the love of Allaah, personal relationship with Allaah through Ŝalaah, establishment of the Islamic society on the basis of Ŝalaah and Zakaah, fulfilling of all promises made including the promise to Allaah for the establishment of His Deen, and, while living this missionary life, demonstrating the highest level of perseverance in any circumstances. Only those who consistently try to perform at this level of dedication are being recognized in this verse by Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala that they are truthful in their claims of being Muslims and that they are the people with Taqwa.
When the prophets or messengers of Allaah were sent, their followers adopted that kind of piety. However, as a result of degeneration of religious performance and satanic influences over time, people lose this comprehensive concept of Birr (pious behaviour). That is why Muslims have been reminded that pious, faithful behaviour is not just performing some ritualistic exercises such as turning one’s face to this Qiblah or that. It is much more than this. It is in fact a matter that must encompass the whole personality and lifestyle of a person. Accordingly, if someone has the characteristics listed in this verse, that person can be counted among those who have Taqwa. Otherwise, he has neither Taqwa nor piety, regardless of the appearance and religiosity of that person.
Forgiving, fulfilling promises and covenants, practising justice, calm and steadfast obedience to leadership are all natural results and indications of Taqwa:
— If you relinquish your share, that is most compatible with Taqwa.…
Yes, who fulfills his promise and adopts Taqwa, then indeed, Allaah loves those who have Taqwa.
Practice justice that is most compatible with Taqwa.
Except those Mushriks who entered into a treaty with you and then did not fall short in any respect and did not ally with anyone against you, then complete your treaty with them for the treaty period. Verily, Allaah love those who have Taqwa.
Remember when the disbelievers filled their hearts with pride, the pride of ignorance, and Allaah sent down tranquility on His Messenger and on believers, and kept them on the attitude of Taqwa, of which they were most deserving and eligible.
The commitment to Deen is not fulfilled until there is a strong desire to spread goodness and a dedication to race towards goodness in all matters of life:
They all are not the same. Among the people of the Book is a group that stands by their covenant. They spend nights reciting the Book and prostrating. They believe in Allaah and the Last Day, enjoin what is good, forbid what is bad, and race to win in doing good things. They are the righteous. And whatever good they do, they will not be denied its rewards. And Allaah knows those who are Muttaqeen (who maintain Taqwa).
A person cannot become a good servant of Allaah just through performing acts of worship, unless he is particular about avoiding all matters prohibited by Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala including lying, cheating, breaking promises, back-biting, abusing or hurting people, etc:
The Messenger, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam asked, “Who would like to learn a few points from me and act upon them or teach others to act upon them.” When Aboo Hurayrah responded positively, he mentioned five things; the first of which was: “Stay away from all that Allaah has prohibited, you will be the best of the worshippers.”
A person mentioned, “O Messenger of Allaah, there is a woman very famous for abundance of her Ŝalaah, Ŝowm and charity, but she troubles her neighbours with her abusive talk. The Messenger said, “She will be in Fire.” Then he mentioned of another woman, “She is known for little Ŝalaah, Ŝowm and charity. She gives some pieces of cheese in charity, but does not trouble any of her neighbours with her words.” The Messenger said, “She will be in Jannah.”
A person who has Taqwa in his heart is never going to cause harm to the life, property or honour of a Muslim or abandon him when he needs help in his needs or in protecting his life, property or honour:
“A Muslim is a brother of a Muslim. He does not do wrong to him, does not abandon him, and does not disgrace him. Then pointing to the chest, he repeated three times, ‘Taqwa is here.’ It is bad enough for a person to humiliate his brother Muslim. A Muslim’s blood, possessions and honour is Ĥaraam (inviolable) for another Muslim.”
Dedication for spreading knowledge and understanding of the Deen is more in line with Taqwa than Nawaafil (additional) acts of ritual worship:
The Messenger Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam was asked about two persons from Banee Israaeel. One of them was a scholar who offered the obligatory Salaah and sat down to teach people good things; the second used to fast during the day, and stand up for salaah all night; which of them was better. The Messenger said, “The scholar who sat after obligatory prayer to teach people good things was so superior than the worshipper who fasted during days and stood for salaah during nights as I am superior to the most ordinary person among you.”
“Teaching each other Islamic knowledge for one hour at night is better than night-long worship.”
It is not humanly possible to keep an appropriate level of Taqwa at all times. There will certainly be ups and downs in our life. As long as we continue to come back to Taqwa and continue to develop it further, Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala kindly appreciates our efforts:
There is no blame upon those who believe and do good deeds concerning what they have eaten (in the past), if they now adopt Taqwa and believe and do good deeds; then continue to maintain Taqwa and faith; and while maintaining Taqwa, they excel. And Allaah loves those who excel.
The focus of Taqwa is on conscious care and caution in avoiding Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala’s displeasure and active seeking of His pleasure. That degree of paradigm shift – the adoption of the attitude of Taqwa — is the minimum requirement of faith. The stronger the Taqwa, the better the quality of faith. When Taqwa becomes so strong that a believer tries to excel in seeking Allaah’s pleasure and in avoiding His displeasure, it is called Iĥsaan.
Iĥsaan is the epitome of the paradigm shift that results from a well-understood, sincere, conscious faith. It represents excellence in servitude to Allaah so that a person performs his servitude to Allaah as if Allaah is right in front of him keenly observing his performance. Naturally, when we perform in this world with a consciousness that we are being observed by Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala, our performance is going to be the most sincere and the most excellent just as people perform better when they are being watched by those in whose good books they want to be in e.g. a supervisor or best friend.
When the Messenger of Allaah, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam was asked what Iĥsaan is, he responded:
“You serve Allaah as if you are seeing Him, because even though you do not see Him, He is watching you.”
Iĥsaan is the most desirable level of commitment to Allaah’s pleasure and His deen and should remain our target to achieve through constant continuous improvement efforts.
And who can be better in Deen than he who submits completely to Allaah, practices Iĥsaan (excels in performance) and fully follows the millah (paradigm) of Ibraaheem, upright?
However, Iĥsaan (emphasis on achievement of Allaah’s pleasure) is not something separate from Taqwa (emphasis on avoidance of displeasure). Rather, it is a stage of excellence in both achievement and avoidance, and both go hand in hand:
For those of them who practice Iĥsaan and maintain Taqwa, there is a tremendous reward.
If you practice Iĥsaan and maintain Taqwa, then indeed Allaah is fully aware of what you do.
Certainly who maintains Taqwa and remains steadfast, then indeed Allaah does not waste the reward of those who practice Iĥsaan.
Allaah is with those who maintain Taqwa and those who practice Iĥsaan.
 The Arabic word “Birr” that has been translated here as piety literally means a person’s quality of fulfilling his/her obligations with loyalty. It can be translated as piety, faithfulness and loyalty.
 They are “favourite” because he himself needs them and loves them.
 Includes money and all kind of possessions.
 Slaves or people subjugated financially or socially.
 This is about Nafl (extra) Ŝalaah, Ŝowm and charity, not the Faraaidh (obligatory).
 In other narrations, instead of “serve Allaah”, the word used is “fear Allaah” or “Act for Allaah”, indicating that Iĥsaan is an attitude that pervades a person’s living style in general.
(Excerpt from the Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam’s speech at the last pilgrimage as reported by Baihaqi and Tirmidzi)
(Reported by Aboo Hurayrah in Tirmidzi)
(Reported by Ahmad Bin Hambal from Aboo Hurayrah)
(Reported by Muslim from Aboo Hurayrah)
(Reported by Daarimi from Ĥasan)
(Reported by Daarimi from ‘Abdullaah Bin ‘Abbaas)
(Reported by Aboo Hurayrah in Bukhaaree and Muslim)