By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah
27 May, 2015
(Published exclusively on New Age
Islam with Permission of the authors and publishers)
The word Taqwa and its noun form, Muttaqi,
and other root words appear in hundreds of Qur’anic verses with the connotation
of heeding God, as well as His guidance. Scholars have translated it varyingly
as: fearing God, heeding God, being conscious of God, preserving oneself from
evil, guarding against evil, warding off evil, and piety. However, based on the
Qur’anic versatile usage (as indicated in this work), its meaning may be best
expressed by the opening verse of the second chapter (Surah al-Baqarah):
“This is the Book, in which nothing is
doubtful: it has guidance for the heedful (Muttaqin)” (2:2).
In other words, those who follow the
guidance of the Qur’an are imbued with Taqwa, or are Muttaqin. (sing. Muttaqi)
Thus, heeding God, without heeding His commandments; or heeding the physical
book or cassette containing the Qur’anic text or audio-recording, but ignoring,
or even defying its guidance, can hardly meet the Qur’anic criteria for Taqwa.
8.1. Universal notion of Taqwa (Heedfulness)
The Qur'an offers a universal connotation
of this word in scores of its verses, many of which appear in this work: it is
best captured in the verse 49:13 from late Medinite period, which states:
“O People! We have created you as male and
female, and made you into races and communities* for you to get to know each
other. The noblest among you near God are those of you who are the most heedful
(Atqakum). Indeed God is All-Knowing and Informed” (49:13). *[Lit.,
The Qur’an also describes some of the
‘People of the Book’ (Christians and Jews), as Muttaqin (3:113-115).
“They are not the same: among the People of
the Book is an upright community: they recite God’s messages through the hours
of night as they bow down before Him (3:113). They believe in God and the Last
Day; enjoin the good, and forbid the evil and hasten to good deeds - it is they
who are among the righteous (114). Any good they do, they will not be denied it
as God knows the heedful (Muttaqin)” (3:115).
Thus, in a broad sense, the term Taqwa and
its other roots denote heedfulness of one’s universal social, moral and ethical
responsibilities, with faith in God and the Last Day.
As the broader Qur’anic message is
virtually centred around the concept of Taqwa – as underscored by its lead
verse (2:2 above), we have indicated the Qur’anic exhortations to Taqwa in the
listed verses in this book by showing its transliteration in bracket alongside
Universal Brotherhood of Humanity
In a verse dating from the Medinite period,
the Qur'an declares:
“Believers (Mu’minun) form a brotherhood;
so reconcile your brethren, (whenever they are at odds,) and heed God, so that
you may be graced with Mercy” (49:10)
Muslim scholars often cite this verse to
claim a brotherhood of all Muslims, though strictly speaking, this verse is
suggestive of the brotherhood of all believers in one God (Mu’minun).
However, the Qur’anic universal notion of Islam (root – SLM) and Taqwa as
reviewed in the preceding chapters (Ch. 7 and 8) and its pronouncements
relating to (i) racial divergence, (ii) religious tolerance, (iii) plurality of
faiths and (iv) the divine criteria of judgment, as explored below clearly and
conclusively indicate its vision of a brotherhood of entire humanity - who are
collectively appointed as God’s deputy on earth (2:30/Ch. 5.1).
9.1. Diversity of Race, Colour and
The Qur'an recognizes the diversity of
human race, language and colour (30:22)1 and declares that if God willed, He
would have made humanity into one community (10:19, 11:118),2 guiding them all
(6:149).3 It further affirms that humanity was initially one community, but
later people differed (10:19).4
(O Muhammad!): ‘With God (lies) clear argument. If He so willed, He would have
guided you all’” (6:149).
“Humankind was but one community, but
(later) they differed. Had it not been for an earlier decree from your Lord,
their differences would have been settled between them” (10:19).
“If your Lord so willed, He would have made
humankind into one community – (but He did not will so); so they will not cease
to differ” (11:118).
“Among His signs is the creation of the
heavens and the earth, and the diversity in your languages and your colours.
There are signs in this for those who know” (30:22).
9.2. Religious Tolerance
The Qur’an forbids any compulsion in
religion (2:256, 50:45, 88:21/22), and asks the Prophet not to compel people
because if God so wished, everyone on earth would have believed (10:99).
“(There is) no compulsion in religion.
Truth stands out clearly from falsehood; so whoever rejects false deities and
believes in God, has grasped a firm handhold, which never breaks. (Remember,)
God is All-Knowing and Aware” (2:256).
“If your Lord so willed, everyone on earth
would have believed, all together. Will you then compel people until they
become believers” (10:99)?
know best what they say; but you (O Muhammad,) are not to force them. So remind
with the Qur'an those who fear My warning” (50:45).
“So remind (them, O Muhammad) – for you are
one who reminds (88:21); and have no power over them” (88:22).
The Qur’an’s position on religious freedom
is amply demonstrated in a verse (60:11) dating from the Medinite period
allowing pagan women to leave for Mecca, if they did not opt to convert to
Islam along with their husbands:
“And if any of your wives should go over to
the pagans, and then you have your turn (as many converted wives of the Meccan
pagans left their pagan husbands and came over to Medina), then pay to those
whose wives had left the equivalent of what they had spent (on their dower).
And heed God in Whom you believe” (60:11).
9.3. No Discrimination against Non-Muslims
The Qur’an also commands Muslims not to
discriminate against non-Muslims (4:94), nor to insult those whom they invoke
besides God (6:108).
“You who believe, whenever you campaign in
God's way, be discerning and do not say to anyone who offers you peace: ‘You
are not a believer’ - seeking worldly gains (by exploiting him), for there are
plenty of gains with God. (Remember,) you were like them before - till God
favored you. Therefore be discerning. Indeed God is Informed of what you do”
“Don’t insult those whom they invoke
besides God, lest they ignorantly insult God in enmity. Thus We have made their
action seem pleasing to every community; then their return is to their Lord,
and He will tell them what they had been doing” (6:108).
9.4. Plurality of Faiths
Towards the concluding phase of the revelation,
when Islam was established as an historical reality and the pagans and the
native Jews and Christians did not pose any threat the Qur’an expounds its
message on the plurality of faith (49:13/Ch. 8.1; 5:48):5
“We have revealed to you this divine Writ (Kitab)
setting forth the truth, confirming (whatever) remains of the divine writ (sent
earlier), and determining what is true in it. Therefore, judge between them by
what God has revealed, and do not follow their whims after what has come to you
of truth. For each of you We have made a (different) code (Shir‘ah), and an
open way (of action) (Minhaj). If God so pleased, He would have made you
(all) into one community. Therefore vie (with each other) in goodness (so that)
He may test you by what He has given you. (Remember, you) all will (eventually)
return to God, and He will tell you in what you differed” (5:48).
This is a critical verse that needs
i. The Qur’an supplements the word (Shir’ah,
or Shari’ah) with Minhaj (an open way), thereby adding a far broader
dimension to the combined expression Shir‘ah wa Minhaj than to the
rulings of the regional schools of Islamic law (Shari’ah laws) of the post
Prophetic era (Appendix, 1.4/1.7).
ii. Since by definition, the term Minhaj
(open way) incorporates a freedom of choice, a scope to choosing the best way
and changing the course of things to meet the exigencies of life, the combined
expression Shir’ah wa Minhaj has a dynamic connotation. In other words,
the Shari’ah of Islam enjoins a dynamic system of law, and code of life, that
is accommodative of change with space and time - a priori encapsulated in the
Qur’anic pronouncements on the need to change for the upliftment of human
society (8:53, 13:11/Ch. 2.5)
iii. The Qur’an claims to represent the Shari’ah
of Islam (45:18) revealed to Muhammad as insights for humanity (45:20).
iv. The Qur’an gives basic principles for a
way of life individually and collectively (Ch.2.3), but leaves detailed laws
for people to evolve to meet the exigencies of their lives according to time,
place and needs.
v. While the verse does not spell out the
differences in divine law (Shir’ah) and the way of action assigned to the
divergent communities, it stresses on the common ground: the divergent communities are reminded to
‘vie (with each other) in goodness’ (2:148/Ch. 16). This, together with its
emphasis on good deeds as reviewed below brings across the Qur’anic principle
of unity in diversity and its acknowledgment of the plurality of faiths.
Good Deeds as a Common
Criterion for Divine Approval
The Qur’an repeatedly declares that the
divine approval is contingent to doing good deeds with faith, regardless of
one’s religion (2:62, 5:69, 22:17).6
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews,
and Christians and Sabians - and (in fact) any who believe in God and the Last
Day, and do good deeds - shall have their reward with their Lord. There will be
no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve” (2:62).
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews,
and Sabians and Christians - (in fact) any who believe in God and the Last Day,
and do good deeds - there will be no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve”
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews,
and Sabians and Christians and Magians, and those who associate (others with
God) - God will judge between them on the Day of Judgment. Indeed, God is
Witness to all things” (22:17).
9.6. God May Pardon Those Who Had No Means
The Qur’an promises forgiveness to those
people who were deprived of any true guidance because of their mental,
physical, psychological or social conditions, or because they lived in mortal
terror and were totally helpless in life (4:97-99):
“When the angels will take the souls of those
who wronged themselves, they will say: ‘How were you?’ They will reply: ‘We
were helpless on earth.’ (The angels) will say: ‘Wasn’t God's earth wide enough
for you to flee somewhere (for refuge)?’ As for those, the abode will be hell -
an evil refuge (4:97); except those among men, women and children, who are
helpless, have no means (for any guidance), and are not guided on (the right)
way (98). Those God may pardon, for God is Most Forgiving and Pardoning” (4:99).
9.7. Brotherhood of Humanity
Pieced together, the foregoing verses and
those in the last two chapters bring across the Qur’anic vision of a universal
brotherhood of humanity that will allow people of diverse faith, culture, colour
and language to live together, to know each other and to assist each other to
make life easy and peaceful for all human beings.
Some Muslim scholars, however, advocate
that the non-Muslims (in its present day sense), who do not believe in the
Prophet Muhammad, will not qualify for God’s mercy. They interpret the generic
word Islam (submitting/ orienting oneself to God, Ch. 7) in the verse 3:85
(underlined below), in its popular restrictive sense as the religion of the
followers of the Prophet Muhammad. This is misleading as the preceding verses
(3:83-84), demonstrate the generic character of the word Islam appearing in
“Do they seek any (religion) other than the
din (religion) of God, to whom all in the heavens and on earth have submitted,
willingly or unwillingly, and to whom they will all be returned (3:83)? Say:
‘We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us, and in what has been
revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, and to Jesus and
Moses and (other) prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any
of them; and surely to Him do we all submit (Muslimun)’ (84). If anyone
seeks other than Islam as a din (religion), it will not be accepted of him, and
in the hereafter he will be among the losers”(3:85).
The foregoing argument also holds for the
identically worded verses 9:33 and 61:9 (Note 162/Ch. 3), some scholars quote
to claim exclusivity of Islamic faith:
“He is the One who has sent His Messenger
with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam - submission to God), that he
may distinguish it from all religions, however the pagans detested this”
(9:33/61:9).[48:28 is identically worded except for the underlined remarks.]
To leave no doubts about the universality
of its message, the Qur’an warns those who take a restrictive view of their
faith that their desires will not prevail and that whoever does evil will be
“Neither your desires, nor the desires of
the People of the Book (can prevail): whoever does evil will be requited
accordingly, and he will not find any protector or helper besides God” (4:123).
9.8. The Case of Apostasy
There is a general belief that Islam
prescribes capital punishment for apostasy. This is incorrect. The Qur’an does
not recommend any temporal punishment for apostasy. It deals with the subject
on several occasions, illustrated below, and makes it clear that apostates will
be punished after their death (2:217, 16:106).7
“…Their deeds will be of no avail in this
life, or in the hereafter; and they will be the inmates of hellfire and they
will remain there” (2:217).
“…On them is the wrath from God and theirs
will be a dreadful punishment” (16:106).
The Qur’an offers further illustrations
against any temporal punishment for apostasy:
It does not prescribe any punishment for a
person “who believes, rejects faith and then believes (again), and again
rejects faith, and goes on increasing in unbelief.”8
It does not prescribe any punishment for
the women who left their Muslim husbands during the Medinite period, and went
over to the disbelievers renouncing their faith.9
It assures Muslims that “if anyone abandons
his religion, God will replace him with others whom He loves and who love
Thus there is no Qur’anic basis to
legislate capital punishment, or, for that matter, any punishment for apostasy.
In the historical perspective, apostates
joined the enemy and conspired against the Muslims, thus committing high
treason; so the punishment for apostasy was in true sense the punishment for
treason rather than for abandoning faith.
2:213, 21:92, 23:52.
4:124/Ch. 2.4, 64:9, 65:11.
Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and
a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the
Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the
referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif,
Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and
authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana
Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.