Taqwa: Definition, Discovery and Disposition ~ By Sidi Yousaf Seyal
As we enter final ten days of Ramadan, the meaning of taqwa continues to entertain my mind, reflecting on why God has mandated an entire month of fasting to attain God-consciousness. After all, isn’t taqwa a constant state that should be upheld throughout the year, let alone one’s lifetime?
This year, while I traverse the road of Ramadan for the fifteenth time, I believe that I have finally come to an understanding of taqwa, although I may need to undertake many more journeys to fulfill this objective. Stemming from the Prophetic hadith, “Whoever knows himself knows His Lord,” I believe that the root of taqwa stems from knowledge of the self, yourself.
The more that you come to know the vices of your lower-self, the ego, by contemplation and confession, is the same route that should lead you to turning to your higher-self, the heart, connecting you to the Creator and leaving you in a continuous state of consciousness in Him. Taqwa.
Up until now, scholars and saints continue to quote the verse of fasting, “O ye who believe, fasting has been prescribed upon ye as it was prescribed upon those before ye, in order that ye may attain taqwa [2:183],” extracting legal rulings and spiritual insights for the abstainer.
Just a few days ago, I learned that the linguistic meaning of taqwa comes from waqa, meaning to shield. Thus, the pre-Islamic Arabs would refer to taqwa as the blocking of a blow, such as in a duel, yielding off any external injury. According to ibn Ata’, taqwa is categorized in two parts: external form and internal matter. Its external form is the preservation of crossing boundaries and its internal matter is intentionality and sincerity, ikhlas [al-Risala al-Qushayriyya:Taqwa].
Growing up, I was always exposed to new definitions of taqwa, only to realize that interpretations need to be internalized through a perpetual state of personal growth. Hence, the levels of fasting correspond to the levels of piety, the final being the abstinence of everything but God Himself. Although the words of the wise are never to be ignored, today, I hope to move beyond meaning to an embodiment of this virtue, a mystical ascension to my Lord. Taqwa.
When I look back and hear the voices of the righteous before me, I fail to find my place in the pages of history, confused and unable to identify whether my presence is worthy of the time that God has granted me.
When so many people around me seem deserving, dedicated, and disciplined, I ask, “God, why have you given me another Ramadan when You know that I am undeserving of Your grace?” Perhaps, the only explanation that I have is a single verse, found in the middle of four verses related to fasting, “And if My servants ask you about Me, then I am near, answering the cry of the caller when he calls upon Me. So, let them respond to Me and believe in Me in hopes that they may attain guidance [2:186].”
God is calling each and every one of us to actively engage in communicating with Him during this month. In fact, this is why God says in a Divine tradition, “Fasting is for Me, and I alone reward it,” excusing the angels from their task of recording the deed. Rather, God makes this act so intimate that, not only is it hidden from the external world, Satan himself cannot interfere with the intentionality that the servant commits to God, leaving the abstainer to couple with his Lord in filling his heart with His, a union that crosses the boundaries of time and space to a metaphysical meeting with God. Taqwa.
When Satan is removed from the universe and chained in the chambers of Hell, the doors of Paradise are opened to those who wish to enter it, Janna al-Rayyan, the level of Paradise promised for the abstainers. Yet, even this opportunity is a material one, reflecting the ultimate opening which emanates from God upon the willingness of the servant to erase his ego and embrace the mercy of His Lord.
Once this bond is established, the servant is able to listen to the hymns of the angels, urging him to good, while the whispers of Satan evaporate, purifying the seeker of God. In reality, as the veils between him and God are removed, he will begin to hear himself, his past, wrongdoings and mistakes, urging him to sell himself to his self — a battleground between gratification and God.
A few days ago, one of my teachers said that Ramadan is the best time to get to know yourself, because even Satan cannot be blamed for the discourse that one has within himself, rooted over the past eleven months. However, especially during Ramadan, displeasing thoughts and unpleasing urges can be viewed as an opportunity to detect the faults that we have so arrogantly avoided since last Ramadan. Once we dedicate ourselves to discovering ourselves, identify the vile traits within us, and abandon the nasty habits disclosed from us is when we can hear the calling of our Lord, “And learn, for indeed, the best form of provision is taqwa [2:197].”
Taqwa is a process that begins with a definition but does not end there. After all, definitions are merely signs which signify meaning, accomplished through self-discovery, uncovering the defects of the self. Once a person begins to identify the veils that have so long distanced himself from God, he can than begin to remove those barriers, advancing towards God and retreating from Satan.
This development can and does take place over the year, but it is best traversed during Ramadan, a month in which the heat of Hell is heated for Satan and the breezes of Heaven are blown into the earth, enveloping those who embrace it. This Ramadan, I can claim that, for the first time, I have taken this month seriously, hearing the embedded whispers of Satan within me while struggling to listen to the voice of God, the call to taqwa.
It is during this time that God allows us to connect with Him on an intimate level, so much so that Satan is restricted from direct intervention, leaving the servant to chose between God and his ego. Hence, the Prophet said, “Taqwa is here,” pointing to his heart three times, signifying the function of the heart, and indicating that the purer the heart, the greater one’s knowledge of himself, enabling him to know God. Taqwa.
~ Sidi Yousaf Seyal, MicroMolvi