Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is Taqwa (تقویٰ)?

Dear Self:

You asked me, what is Taqwa (تقویٰ)? 
Answer: Taqwa is the art of managing one's rightful space on Earth.

Listen closely. 
The key words of this definition are: 
  • art of managing
  • one's (own)
  • rightful space on Earth
"Art of managing" implies that it is a constant, active job. It is not achieved once and for all, to be used up later in life from stored supplies. One needs to practice it all all living moments. One can, thus, act like a mutaqqi متقی (one who has attained to taqwa) in one moment, and unlike so in another. It is a living act and it is exhibited through action. It is not sufficient to understand or know a verbal definition of taqwa -- just as it is not sufficient to note down the recipe of a chocolate cake. The real task is to do it; just as the real task is to bake the cake. 

It is true, however, that one can develop an understanding of what taqwa is in stages. And it likely that once one has attained a degree of understanding, their practice will begin to reflect that. The practice may still falter, for it is a matter of choice. Yet one can evolve their understanding of the matter -- which in turn will improve the practice. 

"One's (own)" [place] is just that: one's own. Not another's. This is a key concept of taqwa. The person who entangles themselves into the affairs of the other with the belief that they can change the heart of the other does both themselves, the other, and all universe great harm. One cannot change hearts, hearts change themselves. One only has power to say, do, or enable the right thing, according to one's strength and domain. 

The one who aspires to attain to taqwa is one who is primarily concerned with managing one's own self, and of participating in enabling an environment where one's own self can practice taqwa (and others may do the same). Indeed, if one strives to create an environment for one's own taqwa, one will find that one has also enabled an environment in which others can attain to taqwa. This is because the environment is outside one's self, and thus larger. The example of it is this: if one plants a tree to purify one's breathing space, one also helps others breathe in a purified space, as the tree serves others, too. 

"Rightful space on Earth" is the heart of taqwa. This is related to accountability. Who is one accountable to? What determines one's rightful space? What is the key to managing one's rightful space? Who or what determines rightful space?

What faith or belief you have, whatever religion you belong to or not, understand this: the Earth is round, and your body is populating it with other bodies. No matter what the beliefs or lack of beliefs the people of the planet have, this fact is the common denominator of all humans. The Earth has a limit, and that limit can be exhausted. 

If one looks at the Earth and sees that one is here to take from the Earth, all Earth and the solar system would become insufficient. For there is no limit to "more", to "taking". This also immediately puts one in competition with the other. More so, one becomes accountable to the other. The person with such a way of seeing things will need to falsify their belief every now and then as existence will come to compete with and overpower such a person -- and this person will need to lie to survive. 

This way of seeing the Earth also establishes an outside-in ethic, where one is compelled by many. The person with this vision will be overwhelmed with choice because as far as his eye travels, he will wish to take. This will make him a poor decision-maker. 

To see the world this way is to become a slave of the world, even if "taking" and "more" appear to be a kind of freedom. One becomes accountable to many. Know that the definition of "god" is: "that which the self is ultimately accountable to". A person with an inclination to take, to have more will have many gods--- whether those gods be physical, emotional, or conceptual.

There is no limit to which this person is accountable or manipulable, for he wishes to overtake a planet full of billions of people. 

If, however, one looks at the Earth and sees that one is here to give, to contribute, then the extent of that person's accountability immediately shrinks to one, and that one is their own self. Giving is limited to the extent to which a person can give. Therefore, such a way of seeing automatically establishes a parameter for each person to operate within. 

The ethic of a person with this perception is an inside-out ethic. This means that such a person is introspective, aware of their being, and that their task is to live their own potential. This person is concerned with a constant refinement and cleansing and improvement of the self, aimed at becoming a worthier contributor to the world. 

Focus and enhanced decision-making is the outcome of this way of being. This is because this person deals with one unit of existence that is their own Self. Such a person is collaborative, and is able to discern their part of the larger task of life & the universe. 

This person's wants and needs have limits, for this kind of a person wants "less". While "more" has no limits, "less" has limits. Having less than a certain limit can cause hunger and death of the Self, therefore an automatic, rational limit is set. This person, then, also understands the very concept of rights. 

What are the rights of one who wants less? And how do they compare with the right of the one who wants more? 

The rights of one who wants less are essential rights, and they are also elegant. The best example of this is found in traffic. What kind of traffic behavior results from a mindset of wanting all the space? What kind of traffic behavior results from managing one's rightful space? There is only as much space a vehicle can take -- and it cannot go any less than that. So the one who maintains rightful space will use the space with elegance. There is no limit to running one's vehicle all over the space if one is focused on taking space. Anything can happen when a person decides to over-speed, under-speed, zig-zag, or otherwise attempt to snatch others' rightful space. It is chaos, while rightful space leads to organic design. 

The one who is answerable and accountable to their own self has only one God. This experience is only possible through one's own self. 

Finally, "the art of managing one's rightful space on Earth" implies that the one who practices taqwa is a being with an inner strength. By way of asserting only rights that pertain to the self, this person is also rightful, for what they wish for themselves, they can wish for the world.  


So this, my dear self, this is what taqwa is. 

I pray that may you attain to taqwa -- may you know and practice the art of managing your rightful space on Earth. Amen.

- END -

A backgrounder note for the uninitiated reader: 

Taqwa is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. It is the only basis of differentiation and nobility amongst humans. Islam asserts that people are honorable not on the basis of their wealth, physical beauty, social status, pedigree, popularity, children, race, accumulations, ability to speak and overwhelm -- but on the basis of taqwa. The word is often translated in English as "piety". Its meaning is often said to be "fear of Allah". One must ponder, though, what is this 'fear' of Allah?

One of the statements that Qur'an makes it: "Wherever you turn, there is the Face of Allah." (Chapter 2: Verse 115). 

Must Man fear whichever way he turns? Yes, if he is looking at it with a view of taking it -- for it will take Man out. Those who attain to taqwa fear transgression beyond their limits. If wherever one turns is the Face of Allah, then to stop oneself from transgressing upon it all is the fear of Allah. 

It is thus that one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him explained Taqwa thus with an example: "If one is walking through a forest where there are many thorns, one walks carefully so as not to get pricked or get one's clothes torn."

Finally, it is said that Islam is not a religion, it is a way of life. (There is a parallel with "the Tao" here.) Islam refers to 'the way' of being and how to conduct oneself in the world. The fundamental of this way is 'taqwa'.

You are advised to do further exploration on your own, and consult your own heart and innate sense on this matter.  



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