Taqwa (Afzalur Rahman) Once the Holy Prophet Muhammad defined taqwa in these words: “A man, who is passing through a thick forest of thorny bushes, tries to protect himself from the thorns all around him. He endeavours to keep off the thorny bushes from him. Sometimes, he moves to this side and sometimes to the other to guard himself from the probable injury that he might otherwise suffer from the thorns. This action and carefulness on the part of this man in the thorny forest to protect himself from the thorny bushes and trees is taqwa. This is how a muttaqi should lead his life in this world, which is full of the thorns of evil and corruption. Prayer is prescribed to develop protection, a kind of immunization, in the form of taqwa in a believer to guard him from the onslaught of evil from within and without. And the best of men in the eyes of God is the one who has His taqwa in his heart: “O Mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the eyes of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you” (49:13). This is addressed to all mankind and not only to the Muslim brotherhood, though it is understood that in a perfect world the two would be synonymous. As it is, mankind is descended from one pair of parents. Their tribes, races and nations are convenient labels by which we may know certain differing characteristics. Before God they are all one, and he gets most honour who is most righteous. The Quran here points to the great error that has always been responsible for corruption and inequity in society in all ages, i.e., prejudice based on difference of race, colour, language or nationality. This discrimination is not based on any rational ort moral principle but on the accident of birth. In the above verse of the Holy Quran, three important principles are explained. First, that you all are born of one pair of parents, one man and one woman, and all the races and nations that are found in the different parts of the world are, in reality, offspring of the same original pair. There is, therefore, no logical, rational or moral basis for graduation between you. You have One God Who created you from one pair of parents and from the same substance. TAQWA 39 Second, that in spite of one origin, your distribution in tribes and nations is natural. Obviously, all mankind cannot be, in a narrow sense, one family or one nation. With increase in population, it was inevitable, that many families should come into existence and, from those families, tribes and nations. Likewise, with movement of people to different regions and parts of the world, differences in their language, colour, features and culture were bound to occur. This would also create vast geographical divisions and distances separating different habitations. But this natural difference and division between various nations does not warrant gradation between man and man or between one nation and another, that one nation should feel superiority over another one, or that people of one colour should regard people of another colour as inferior to them, or that people should differentiate in matters of human rights between different nations, etc. The reason God has created mankind in tribes and nations is because this is the natural way for their mutual introduction, acquaintance and cooperation. In this way, people of one family, one tribe and one nation can work together and form one culture and cooperate with one another in social matters. It was but sheer ignorance that what was only a means of recognition and acquaintance with one another was made a means of pride or hatred among people. Third, that if there is any basis of distinction or superiority between man and man then it is by moral excellence, virtue or piety. All men are equal as far as birth is concerned because their Creator is One, the substance and method of their creation is one and the same and their ancestry goes up to one pair of parents. Besides, the birth of any man in one nation, family or country is merely accidental, and his own will, choice or effort has no part in it. Therefore, there is no rational or logical reason for giving preference to one over the other. The real thing which can make one excel the other is this: that he fears God more than others, avoids evil and treads the way of goodness and piety. Such a man, whatever nation, tribe or country he belongs to is an asset to any society for his personal excellence. And the one showing opposite characteristics is a man of low grade, whether black, white, brown, from the East or from the West. The Holy Prophet explained the same principle in his address on the occasion of the victory at Makkah: “Thanks to our Lord Who has removed from you the evil of ignorance and its pride. O People; all mankind is divided only into two parts. The one righteous and muttaqi, who is honoured in the eyes of God, and the other wicked, shameless and damned, who is despised and contemptible in the eyes of God. Otherwise all men are offspring of Adam and God Created Adam from dust.” On the occasion of his Last Pilgrimage, the Prophet said. “O People; Beware, you all have One God. No Arab has preference over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab, nor a white over a black, nor a black over a white except from taqwa (piety). The most honoured among you in the eyes of God is the one who is most pious. 40 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS There are many traditions of the Holy Prophet which stress this point, what that really gives distinction to a person is his taqwa. The Holy Prophet said, “you are all descendants of Adam and he was created from dust. O People, leave boasting of ancestry, otherwise they will be more despised than an ordinary insect in the eyes of God.” On another occasion, the Prophet said, “On the Day of Judgement, God will not ask you of your ancestry. The most honoured among you in the eyes of God is the one who is most pious.” And he also said, “God does not see your faces and your wealth, what He sees is your hearts and your deeds.” In short in Islam, there is no distinction of colour, creed, or nationality; all men are equal in the eyes of God. They are all one before Him and only those are honoured who are most righteous and pious (muttaqi). Even other forms of ibadah, such as pilgrimage and fasting, help in the growth of taqwa in individuals: “O ye who believe; fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn taqwa” (2:183). And with regard to pilgrimage, it is said: “And whatever good you do, (be sure) Allah knows. And take a provision (with you) for the journey, but the best of provisions is taqwa” (2:197). Cultivate Optimism Always look on the bright side. Learn to smile. When you speak to people-smile. It is a wonderful thing when you meet some one and they just instinctively smile and say, “I am very glad to know you.” There is power in a smile. Smile and you are immediately happy. Cultivate optimism, and always look on the bright side. (Henry Knight Miller)

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