Question: What does taqwa mean and what needs to be done to achieve it?
Taqwa is having the due high regard for God Almighty. And those who adopt it as their life philosophy and accordingly adjust their feelings, thoughts, and deeds are called muttaqi. To live a life of sincere taqwa it is important to follow a certain discipline by avoiding extremes in all aspects of one’s life and to maintain a straight path. Putting forth some compelling criteria beyond the prescribed framework and trying to put them into practice may turn one’s life into an unbearable experience.
People should not be forced to practice what is voluntary as if it is compulsory. Instead of forcing people to do things, it is better to give good advice. In the case of a Muslim, for instance, the importance of supererogatory prayers like tahajjud should be emphasized. Muslims should be told that turning towards God, the Creator of the heavens and earth, in the darkness of the night when no one else is around may seriously help the faithful on their spiritual progress. It should be advised that we pray a great deal to the One Who showers us with His blessings – even if we do not deserve them – and enables us to accomplish more than we have the power to accomplish. Such blessings and benevolence require us expressing our gratitude verbally and in attitude. Therefore, it should be considered everyone’s essential duty to emphasize supererogatory prayer for a life of taqwa.
Before giving advice to others, it is important to practice additional prayers oneself; otherwise, your words will ring hollow. One’s own sincere practice makes a big difference, especially when it is to the point of losing one’s pleasure for anything when missing any such prayers.
One of the basics of piety that needs attention is the matter of a believer’s care with respect to what is permissible and what is not. I do not believe those who are not careful in observing what has been allowed and what has been prohibited, regardless of how insignificant the issue may seem, can attain taqwa or piety. Even if such people read the Holy Qur’an, for instance, they cannot feel the expected sense of awe in their spirit. The Holy Qur’an is a book that leads the pious to guidance (2:2). The basic characteristic of a pious person is escaping the unlawful and fulfilling compulsory obligations.
It can be said that one’s worldview also plays an important role in attaining the level of true piety. Yes, the world has two faces that lead people to both good and evil. In the words of a hadith, the world is “a prison for believers and a heaven for non-believers.” In another description it is called a ploughed field for the afterlife. Yes, a person comes to this world once and harvests in the afterlife what he has sown here. So we should appreciate the blessings we have been given here like youth, health, wealth, life, and time; and we should evaluate these blessings before we lose them. For these are like credit cards with which we can possess the worlds.
However, even though they possess all these blessings, there are those who are like fish in the ocean who are unaware of the water’s value. Yes, in spite of everything, a person should always live in awareness that there will be another life to come.
Another important matter for achieving piety or attaining new dimensions of faith is being able to escape from daily tasks and become busy with things that will provide metaphysical tension. A person should live such periods to the fullest and then during his new period of duty he can profitably work with enthusiasm. Yes, time set aside for this purpose, and the foundation laid and activities made during it, are indispensable dynamics for this world and the next.
Closing this section, I would like to mention a characteristic of people who have attained piety based on a statement in the Qur’an:
They remember and mention God (with their tongues and hearts), standing and sitting and lying down on their sides (whether during the Prayer or not), and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth. (Having grasped the purpose of their creation and the meaning they contain, they conclude and say): "Our Lord, You have not created this (the universe) without meaning and purpose (3:191).