“It is not Birr that you turn your faces towards east and (or) west; but Birr is the one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the Prophets and gives his wealth, in spite of love for it, to the kinsfolk, to the orphans, and to Al-Masakin (the poor), and to the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and to set servants free, performs As-Salah (Iqamat-As-Salah), and gives the Zakah, and who fulfill their covenant when they make it, and who are patient in extreme poverty and ailment (disease) and at the time of fighting (during the battles). Such are the people of the truth and they are Al-Muttaqun (the pious)“ [Qur’an; 2:177]
“But yes, whoever fulfills his commitment and fears Allah – then indeed, Allah loves those who fear Him.” [Qur’an; 3:76]
“…And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.” [Qur’an; 4:1]
“And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.” [Qur’an; 5:2]
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah and be just witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety, and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Well-Acquainted with what you do.” [Qur’an; 5:8]
“Said [the former], ‘Indeed, Allah only accepts from the righteous [who fear Him].'” [Qur’an; 5:27]
“And if only the people of the cities had believed and feared Allah, We would have opened upon them blessings from the heaven and the earth; but they denied [the messengers], so We seized them for what they were earning.” [Qur’an; 7:96]
“Their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you. Thus have We subjected them to you that you may glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and give good tidings to the doers of good.” [Qur’an; 22:37]
“…Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you…” [Qur’an; 49:13]
“O you who have believed, fear Allah. And let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow – and fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.” [Qur’an; 59:18]
“Does he not know that Allah sees?” [Qur’an; 96:14]
On the authority of Abu Dharr Jundub ibn Junadah, and Abu Abdur-Rahman Muadh bin Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him), that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: Have taqwa (fear) of Allah wherever you may be, and follow up a bad deed with a good deed which will wipe it out, and behave well towards the people. [Arba’oon An-Nawawi]
An-Nawwas bin Sam’an (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Piety is good manner, and sin is that which creates doubt and you do not like people to know of it.” [Muslim]
“Whoever is pleased with Allah as (his) Lord, and Islam as (his) religion, and Muhammad as (his) Prophet, then he has tasted the sweetness of faith.” [Tirmidhi]
How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is better for him”. [Muslim]
Wabisah bin Ma’bad (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: I went to Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and he asked me, “Have you come to inquire about piety?” I replied in the affirmative. Then he (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Ask your heart regarding it. Piety is that which contents the soul and comforts the heart, and sin is that which causes doubts and perturbs the heart, even if people pronounce it lawful and give you verdicts on such matters again and again.” [Ahmad and Ad- Darmi]
“A woman is married for four things, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be a losers.” [Sahih Bukhari]
“The whole world is a provision, and the best object of benefit of the world is the pious woman.” [Sahih Muslim]
Sayings of the Companions and Scholars
Abdullah ibn Dinar said, “One day, I accompanied Umar ibn Al-Khattab to Makkah. On the way, he asked a shepherd to sell a goat to him and he said, ‘I am merely a servant.’ Umar said to him, ‘Tell your master that a tiger has eaten your goat.’ The servant said, ‘Where is Allah?’ At this, Umar began to weep. The next morning Umar went to his master, purchased him and set him free saying, ‘This word of yours has set you free, and I hope it will give you salvation in the next world.'”
It is also reported that Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Take account of your actions before you are taken account of, and weigh your actions before they are weighed.”
The Arabic word that is used for piety is “taqwa“. This word comes from “wiqaya” and refers to being cautious and guarding one’s self from danger. In the Islamic context, it refers to taking precaution not to fall into anything that could endanger one’s life in the Hereafter.
At the heart of piety is the awareness that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) is Ever Watchful over us and we cannot leave His dominion and move to a different dominion upon which to displease Him.
In some of the initial verses of the Qur’an, Allah revealed:
ذَٲلِكَ ٱلۡڪِتَـٰبُ لَا رَيۡبَۛ فِيهِۛ هُدً۬ى لِّلۡمُتَّقِينَ (٢) ٱلَّذِينَ يُؤۡمِنُونَ بِٱلۡغَيۡبِ…
“This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah – Who believe in the unseen…” [Qur’an; 2:2-3]
The importance of imbibing piety may be gleaned from the regular reminder given to the community at every Friday prayer (Jumuah) via the following verses:
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ ٱتَّقُواْ ٱللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِۦ وَلَا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلَّا وَأَنتُم مُّسۡلِمُونَ
“O you who have believed, fear Allah as He should be feared and do not die except as Muslims [in submission to Him].” [Qur’an; 3:102]
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ ٱتَّقُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَقُولُواْ قَوۡلاً۬ سَدِيدً۬ا (٧٠) يُصۡلِحۡ لَكُمۡ أَعۡمَـٰلَكُمۡ وَيَغۡفِرۡ لَكُمۡ ذُنُوبَكُمۡۗ وَمَن يُطِعِ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۥ فَقَدۡ فَازَ فَوۡزًا عَظِيمًا (٧١)
“O you who have believed, fear Allah and speak words of appropriate justice. He will [then] amend for you your deeds and forgive you your sins. And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly attained a great attainment.” [Qur’an; 33:70-71]
Piety involves continuous vigilance over one’s self, to check for faults and areas of improvement. Vigilance leads to repentance from bad deeds and proper observance of the laws and rules of good deeds.
One who is conscious of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) will change his course of thought and deed upon spotting a spiritual danger. In this sense, having piety can be compared to one who finds himself walking a path strewn with thorns and gathers his clothes around himself to prevent them from being ripped by the thorns.
Ibn Al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) says:
“If we consider the results of abandoning sins, we would cease to commit sins. Abandoning sins will result in raising one’s magnanimity, protecting honor, keeping glory, and preserving wealth, which Allah makes for our benefit during this worldly life and the Hereafter, having the love of creatures, judging between them, a good way of living, granting relief to the body, strength to the heart, relief to the soul, joy to the heart, delight to the chest, being safe from dangers of dissoluteness and wantonness, having only a little sadness, grief, and distress, honoring the soul by not accepting humiliation, protecting the light of the heart by being turned away from the darkness of sin, showing the way to the heart which cannot be seen by disbelievers, providing subsistence from sources that we could never imagine, making easy whatever is hard for the disbelievers, helping him to obey, aiding he who is learning, and increasing others’ supplications for him………”
Levels of Piety
- Protecting the soul from punishment in the Hereafter by avoiding evil and doing good
- To abstain from objectionable or doubtful deeds in addition to abstaining from sin
- Guarding the heart from that which is displeasing to Allah, in addition to guarding the body
Some Ways to Attain Piety
- Realising that one is answerable in the future, and preparing for it.
- Realising that Allah is Ever-Watchful and that the angels are constantly recording.
- Realising that piety bring about safety and benefit even in the present life.
Birr and Taqwa
Righteousness is referred to as birr and piety is referred to as taqwa in Arabic. It should be noted, however, that when either of the two terms is mentioned, the other is implied because righteousness carries the meaning of piety and vice versa. When they are used together, each of them carries a distinctive meaning.
Righteousness is the excellence sought in an object, as well as the virtue and goodness present in it. A good person is described as barr (fulfilling his promises) or barr (dutiful and kind). Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) describes the angels as being honourable and bararah (righteous), and those entering Paradise as abrar (righteous). The term birr, therefore, comprises all forms of goodness and perfection expected in a human being.
The opposite of birr is ithm, which is a term that comprises all evils and defects for which a person would be blameworthy.
“Righteousness is good behaviour, and sin is what fluctuates in your chest, and you would hate that the people discovered it about you.” [Tirmidhi]
Birr is used to describe the heart, and to indicate whether it possesses the true taste and sweetness of faith (iman). Faith, in turn, produces in the heart serenity, soundness, satisfaction, strength and delight. It instills in the heart delight, sweetness, and pleasure.
Taqwa involves obeying Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) with iman (faith) and ihtisab (counting on Allah’s promised rewards for a given deed) in regard to His commands and prohibitions. Thus one would obey Allah’s commands, believing in them and in His promised rewards, and would also avoid His prohibitions, believing in them and fearing His retribution.
Every deed requires an origin and a goal. A deed would not count as an act of obedience that brings one closer to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) unless it originates from iman (faith). It must spring from pure faith and not from custom, desire, pursuit of worldly praise or status, etc. In addition, the goal for that deed must be attaining the reward and acceptance of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). [Source: At-Tabukiyyah]