The principal objective of fasting is to inculcate in the believers the concept and the practice of Taqwa, “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn and practice) Taqwa.” [2:183]
Taqwa is a very loaded Quranic concept. It boils down to the ability of the believers to have an inner compass and light that defines and enlightens the path towards their goal. In this way, the believers feel protected and in control, a condition that is consistent with the linguistic and etymological root of the word, Taqwa.
A deep and analytical reading of Quran reveals that its vision is to build societies on the foundation of high values such as mercy, justice, dignity, freedom, etc. Such values do not exist in a vacuum but have to be realized and practiced by real human beings. Quran refers to them by different labels based on their attributes and characteristics such as: Al-Mo’minoon, Al-Mosalleen, Ashab al-Yameen, Ibad-Rahman, and also Al-Muttaqeen. These groups have become classes or layers in the society that have equal opportunity membership. Anyone can join these classes regardless of his/her gender, color, race, or socioeconomic status. The mission of these highly ethical and mannered groups is to protect the society from disintegration and decline.
How did the class of Al-Muttaqeen evolve?
Quran started talking about Taqwa from the early period of its revelation in Mekka. The Prophet modeled himself and those who accepted his message on the concept of Taqwa. It took a lot of caring and nurturing to establish the class of Al-Muttaqeen over the period of thirteen years in Mekka. As the Prophet and his companions moved to Medina, Quran would address Al-Muttaqeen as a group detailing their attributes in Surah Al-Baqara, the first Surah revealed in Medina: “This is the book; in it is guidance, without confusion, to Al-Muttaqeen.” [2:2]
As a distinguished group, Al-Muttaqeen pray regularly, and share their provisions with others. “Steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them.” [2:3]
Later in Surah Al-Baqara, the verses of fasting and pilgrimage were revealed and also were connected with the objective of Taqwa. “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn and practice) Taqwa.” [2:183]
“And take a provision for the journey, but the best of provisions is Taqwa.” [2:197]
As you can see; prayer, giving and sharing, fasting and pilgrimage are the tools to strengthen in the believers the concept of Taqwa. In fact, they represent excellent simulation centers to remind them of what they learned about Taqwa. Prayer and giving are daily simulation stations, Friday prayer and sermon constitute a weekly one, fasting is an annual training center, and in Al-Hajj the training is done at its largest scale. Al-Muttaqeen are supposed to emerge from these simulation stations more prepared to practice Taqwa in their daily life. Today, simulation is the most effective component of the educational infrastructure and the basis for research and new inventions in medicine, computer sciences, or aviation.
The movement from Quran “as words” to Quran “as practice and implementation” is referred to as taaweel تَأْوِيل. An integral part of this process is the ability to predict the future and to reflect on the consequences of actions taken. If we want to live our life forward, Taqwa becomes the strategy.
How does Taqwa help us live our life forward?
Quran says, “When they are told to protect themselves of that which is before you and that which will be after you, in order that you may receive mercy.” [36:45]
So, what were Al-Muttaqeen, as a class, protecting themselves and the society from?
Immediately after describing Al-Muttaqeen, Surah Al-Baqara starts talking about Kufr and Nifaq. One can infer that Al-Muttaqeen as a group was diligently raised and prepared to face two major social diseases: Kufr and Nifaq.
Kufr is openly covering up the truth to the point of bringing the human journey into a halt or into a dead end. In essence, Kufr is Death: “Woe to man, what has made him reject Allah?” [80:17]
Nifaq, on the other hand is an underground movement, aiming at destroying the society from within. Those who join this organized and dangerous movement operate secretly and in the tunnels. The mission of Al-Muttaqeen is to confront that movement not by force but by creating a different environment where Nifaq finds it difficult to grow and spread. Let me give you a glimpse of that strategy: When the Munafiqoon say “Spend nothing on those who are with the Messenger of Allah.” [63:7
Quran, in the same Surah, urges the believers to give and share. “And spend out of the sustenance which We have provided for you.” [63:10]
The same way we have centers that predict for us the weather and warn us of a coming storm, or a hurricane, or a flood; the same way we have centers that monitor the behavior of diseases and provide us with the right vaccines against them; we also need centers that monitor for us social diseases and advises us of the appropriate measures to avoid them before they happen. This is at the institutional level. At the individual level we can also exercise social Taqwa to prevent serious social problems. It is not a secret anymore. The Islamic World and in particular, the Middle East is on the brink of chaos and long-term conflicts. Al-Muttaqoon must exercise their responsibility today more than ever. The unity of the people along their wide religious and political spectrum must remain a priority. Let us pay lot of attention to our rhetoric and advise our brothers and sisters to rise above their differences and the artificial walls of division that humans have created for themselves in the first place.
By Dr Walid Khayr