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What is Birr?


Background

The Holy Qur-aan uses two words to described righteousness and piety: Taqwa and Birr.

The attitude and approach of a Muslim towards affairs of life that distinguishes him from a non-Muslim is called Taqwa. It is a paradigm shift resulting from continual awareness, remembrance and consciousness of Allaah brought about by true faith in Allaah (Eeman).

As was discussed in the commentary for the second verse of Al-Baqarah, Taqwa is an attitude of keeping one’s duty to Allaah and a paradigm of care, caution and avoidance in the following sense:

  • Being willing, eager and careful to fulfill one’s duties to Allaah as His slaves.
  • Being conscious of our accountability to Allaah and being mindful that He is well aware of all our actions, intentions, thoughts and behaviours.
  • Being cautious not to get involved in anything that may be disliked by Allaah.
  • Being particular about living in a way that will avoid disobedience, displeasure or punishment of Allaah.

As per the paraphrased discussion between Ubayy Bin Ka’ab and Umar (may Allaah be pleased with them) Taqwa is: Living one’s life as carefully as you hold your clothes closer to your body while passing through a dense jungle of thorny bushes so as to avoid your clothes being caught in any of the thorns.

To capture all these aspects in translation is difficult. Hence, different translators have translated Taqwa as being God conscious, keeping duty to Allaah, or fearing Allaah. Actually, Taqwa is all these things.

Birr is the pious behaviour resulting from Taqwa. The person who has Birr can be called a loyal believer, a pious person or faithful.

In Islam, Birr (piety or righteousness) is not a matter of fulfilling certain religious rites. But it is living a life that is deeply characterized by Taqwa and that is wholly solely dedicated to the Islamic mission of creating an ideal, peaceful, just and caring Islamic society which has so much power and authority in the world that it establishes and maintains fairness, equity and justice of Islam as the dominant world order. When the prophets or messengers of Allaah were sent, their followers adopted that kind of piety. However, as a result of degeneration of religious performance and satanic influences over time, people would lose this comprehensive concept of Birr (pious behaviour).

After this degeneration in perception, most people think pious behaviour is limited to the mechanical performance of ritual acts of worship or ritual manifestations. Words like righteousness, piety and Taqwa, conjure in their minds merely the image of religious rites and customs that are considered formal acts of worship. Religiosity of a person is measured in terms of the observance of those rituals. The emphasis is on form and appearance, not substance. The spirit and intent of the acts of worship is not given much consideration. The mission is completely forgotten. The knowledge is considered to be mastery of intricate rules and regulations about the rites and formats of worship – the rules that create divisions and sects, but are devoid of missionary spirit. Respectable scholars are considered to be the Fiqh experts who dazzle the people with their command of a petrified body of hair splitting regulations and thus reinforce the inertia of the Ummah. The revolutionaries who follow the footsteps of the prophets in initiating the movements to establish an Islamic system of life and who are imbued with the spirit of the Islamic mission are disregarded and disrespected. The concept of a dynamic Islamic movement becomes a strange idea. Continuous lifelong Jihaad (hard work to create an atmosphere of obedience to Allaah, peace and Justice), which is vital obligation of faith, is abandoned. Rather, the concept of Jihaad is relegated to Qitaal (fighting and war) and that is considered unnecessary in the current circumstances, hence abandoned. Even the most religious persons and those who dedicate themselves to Allaah cop out of the difficult way of Jihaad and opt for heretical, but easy way of asceticism (Sufism).

This was the condition of Jews at the time of prophets Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them. When called upon to accept Islam with its revolutionary and dynamic flavour, they opposed it vehemently and remained clung to their preoccupation with the hairsplitting intricacies of ritual regulations or their heretical asceticism.

When Qiblah was changed for Muslims from Jerusalem to Holy Ka’abah in Makkah, many people with the ritualistic mentality, especially the Jews of Madeenah, used the change to unduly attack Islam and tried to sow the seeds of discontent in the minds of Muslims. They reacted as if the crux of the worship was the direction itself, not the obedience to Allaah who can command Muslims to face whichever way He wants. Although the acts of worship are only tools to strengthen the spirit of obedience and servitude to Allaah and to organize and mobilize the mission-inspired believers, their reaction demonstrated the mentality where the form, rules and appearance of ritual acts become the objects of worship in themselves.

Allaah used this opportunity to set aright the concept of Birr (piety and righteousness) and restore it to its comprehensive reality.

The Real Piety

Piety{footnote}The word Birr literally means a person’s quality of fulfilling his/her obligations with loyalty. It can be translated as piety, faithfulness and loyalty.

{/footnote} is not turning your faces towards East or West in prayer. But piety is an all-encompassing attribute of a person who: Believes in Allaah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book and the prophets; gives his favourite{footnote}It is favourite because he himself needs it and loves it.

{/footnote} assets{footnote}Includes money and all kind of possessions.

{/footnote} out of love for Him to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, to those who ask, and to free the subjugated{footnote}Slaves or people subjugated financially or socially.

{/footnote}; establishes Salaah and pays Zakaah; is one of those who are very particular about fulfilling their promises when they promise; and, is of those who are outstanding in perseverance during adversity, suffering and war. Such are the true believers and such are the people who have Taqwa.

Al-Baqarah 2:177

Commentary

Through this verse, we are being told that pious, faithful behaviour is not just performing some ritualistic exercises such as turning one’s face to this Qiblah or that. It is much more than this. It is in fact a matter encompassing the whole personality and lifestyle of a person. All affairs and dealings of a person must be imbued with the love of Allaah. A person’s behaviour in all aspects of life should be characterized with utmost care because of fear of Allaah’s displeasure. It must also go beyond individual actions. The person must be concerned about the collective behaviour of the community he lives in. He must also play an active part in the establishment and maintenance of a well-organized community of believers. The verse imparts this comprehensive meaning of piety by negating the ritual concept of piety and then describing the salient features of a personality characterized with Birr (piety). Accordingly, if someone has the characteristics described in the following paragraphs, that person can be counted among those who have pious behaviour. Otherwise, he has neither Taqwa nor piety, regardless of the appearance and religiosity of that person.

True Faith

It is the same attribute as the first requirement for salvation mentioned in Al-Asr. The essentials and implications of believing given in Al-Asr’s commentary equally apply here. In this verse, however, Allaah SWT has detailed the essential elements of the faith in a logical order: belief in Allaah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets.

True belief in Allaah leads people to believe in the Last Day when Allaah will hold everyone accountable. That day, He will administer perfect justice on non-Muslims, demonstrate His boundless Mercy on sincere believers and ensure that every victim of a crime or injustice in this world is fully compensated. The belief in Allaah and Last Day also leads to the belief in angels as they are the main workers who perform the work Allaah assigns to them – especially in relation to keeping the record of the actions of people and delivering the Justice and Mercy of Allaah on the Day of Judgement. Angels also are the vehicle for transmitting Allaah’s commands and revelations to the prophets and messengers by which people will be judged. The belief in angels, in turn, leads to the belief in the Book that archangel Jibreel (Gabriel) has been bringing to the prophets. Notice that The Book is mentioned here, not books. It reminds that guidance from Allaah for human beings has been consistent and constant, originating from one source -- The Book. The Holy Qur-aan contains The Book. The mention of The Book leads into the belief in the prophets through whom The Book was presented to people and demonstrated in action – especially the last prophet, Muhammad, whose life was exactly according to The Book.

Generosity

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a faithful person is sharing whatever he has with fellow human beings for the love of Allaah. They do so even if they do not have much to share and even if whatever they have, they themselves are in dire need of it. In Soorah Al-Hashr, their quality is mentioned in the words,
They prefer others over themselves even if they are particularly in need. Al-Hashr 59:9

A similar level of generosity was specified when the Prophet was once asked what is the best charity. He responded, “a poor man giving from his little income to a relative who harbours animosity towards him.”

This kind of devotion to giving for the sake of Allaah is a required quality for a person to be at the right level of Birr (piety, meeting Islamic obligations). This is directly described later on in Soorah Aali Imraan, “You cannot attain Birr (appropriate level of piety) unless you spend from what you love.” {footnote}Soorah Aali Imraan 3:92

{/footnote}

People love to accumulate wealth and resources. Some of their possessions are especially dear to them. But a pious Muslim’s love for Allaah is so strong and so real that he donates his most needed, favourite or valuable possessions for the sake of Allaah. A person cannot be pious without this kind of generous aptitude.

The history of the first generation of Muslims has an amazing record of acts of generosity. When the verse about spending what one loves was revealed, Aboo Talha gave his favourite, the most valuable and the most productive orchard as charity in the way of Allaah. Uthmaan gave his whole caravan of goods during a period of grain shortage in charity for the love of Allaah when the traders were offering him highly attractive prices for the same. Aboo Bakr used to support a person financially. When that person became very active in spreading false rumours about his daughter, Abu Bakr continued the support. Later on, Aboo Bakr donated everything he owned at the time of the Tabook expedition. History is replete with examples of the generosity of those noble souls.

Generosity is given so high an importance because it is the key characteristics of the society Islam wants to establish -- a society where human propensity towards greed and selfishness is replaced by the spirit of sharing and taking care of all members of the society. Just this one paradigm shift in the society removes major causes of injustice, conflicts, and transgressions. It creates a loving and peaceful environment where the whole humanity is considered one huge family.

The people who deserve sharing of resources from a believer, in the order of priority, include: close relatives, orphans, poor, displaced people, those who ask for charity and to free up people under any kind of bondage or subjugation.

The Holy Qur-aan usually includes travelers in the category of legitimate recipients of charity. Although a traveler may be rich at home, the circumstances of travel may put him in a situation where he needs help. In this day and age of hotels, banking cards and electronic fund transfer facilities, it may not seem important but in the old days, travelers in trouble had nowhere to go for help except the people of the locality he was passing through. Besides, the lack of hotel facilities required that the locals host the travelers who happen to be in their neighbourhood. Even nowadays, it will be an excellent idea to host and entertain visitors to your locality. This will go a long way to create a friendly, loving society Islam wants to create. However, the people who are displaced by disasters or violence will definitely deserve help, as did travelers in early days of Islam.

Separate mention of those who ask for help indicates two things. Firstly, the orphans and poor should be proactively cared for and helped. They should not have to resort to asking. Secondly, those who ask should be given whatever we can afford without worrying about whether the requester is deserving or not. Obviously, we should not keep our eyes closed if it is blatantly clear that the person asking for help is not deserving or that he is abusing the system. However, we should not refuse charity because we do not know how deserving a requester for help is.

Encouraging Muslims to financially help those who want to free themselves from bondage was one of the many ways Islam achieved an end to slavery. That is why slavery was finished in the Islamic world long before any other civilized people could get out of it. And unlike other nations, it disappeared from Muslim society very peacefully in the normal functioning of the society, without any civil war or social upheaval. The category, however, is still valid to help people who may come under other kinds of bondage, such as excessive, crippling debt or foreign occupation.

We must keep in mind that this generosity and spending is over and above the obligatory Zakaah which is expressly mentioned in this verse later on. A Muslim’s duty does not end with paying Zakaah but continues beyond it to share one’s resources as mentioned in this verse and others like it.

Organized Living in an Islamic Polity

The next attribute of faithful people listed in this verse is that they establish Salaah and pay Zakaah. While discussing establishment of Salaah in the commentary on the first part of Al-Baqarah, it was mentioned that establishment (Iqaamah) of Salaah is a comprehensive term and includes many personal, communal and political dimensions. It is both a vehicle for establishing a close personal relationship with Allaah as well as the foundation for organizing the Islamic society into a coherent socio-political entity.

As a vehicle for building a close relationship with Allaah, establishment of Salaah requires attentive glorification and remembrance of Allaah, heartfelt intimacy with Him, and utmost humility and submissive surrender of one’s whole self in front of Him.

As the foundation for organizing Muslims into a dynamic and vibrant socio-political entity, establishment of Salaah requires that it be offered in Jama’ah (Congregation) with all the disciplines that go with it: timeliness, straightening of lines, changing positions in unison, listening and following Imaam, not pre-empting Imaam, manner of behaving when Imaam makes mistake, etc. In this regard, Salaah is the drill of the soldiers of Allaah that trains them in social discipline, communal etiquettes, organizational regimentation like a military unit, acting in unison in an integrated manner, co-ordinating activities, taking orders, obeying commands and becoming a cohesive group of functionaries dedicated to the establishment and maintenance of the Islamic state. Thus, the congregational Salaah (Salaatul-Jamaa’ah) becomes the single most important instrument of knitting Muslims into an Ummah (Jamaa’ah). This drill performed five times a day joins the hearts and minds of the members of the community and serves as the mortar that binds the community of believers together. Most importantly, it provides the basic set up to politically organize the community at local, municipal, regional and state level through daily Salaah, Salaatul-Jumu’ah and Salaatul-Eed and Hajj.

It is for these benefits{footnote}Naturally, all these benefits cannot be realized the way our Masaajid and our congregations are organized nowadays and the way those who come for Salaah behave. The current system we see in our mosques where president is different from Imaam is the product of an un-Islamic Western system that requires separation of religion and politics. In Islam, as you know, life is not segmented but is treated as a whole. There is no division between secular and spiritual life. Similarly, there is no separation between religious leader and socio-political leader. Imaam of the Salaah and the Ameer (Leader, President, Chairman, etc.) of the community must be one and the same; and, thus, must be capable of fulfilling both roles. The elected Ameer of the local ward is supposed to be the Imaam of daily Salaah. The Ameer elected to lead the town is responsible for establishing and leading Friday Salaah and delivering the sermon. The regional Ameer is the one responsible for establishing and leading Eed Salaah. Hence, the person chosen to lead the community as the Ameer must also be the person best suited to lead the Salaah. That requires Muslims to elect the most capable person to serve as Ameer – the one who is relatively more learned, but definitely the most dedicated in words and actions to the Islamic mission and is at the same time, the most practical, the most dynamic and the most visionary from among the local community. This job cannot be served by the graduates of religious schools imported from abroad who are stuck in the ruts of a static unIslamic religious paradigm and who are employed by a politicized board of directors whose whims and desires are the greatest gods he has to worship.

{/footnote} and its role in the establishment of a Muslim community (Jamaa’ah) that the Messenger SAAWS emphasized congregational Salaah so highly that individual Salaah is deemed to be unacceptable where congregational Salaah is possible. In fact, the Prophet severely warned those who miss congregational Salaah.{footnote}It is reported in Muslim that he expressed his anger by saying that he feels like burning them along with their homes.

{/footnote} Also, the reward for the congregational Salaah is raised to 27 times the reward for individual Salaah.

Salaah is not established unless and until all of the above mentioned dimensions of its establishment are fulfilled.

While Salaah provides the structure to the Islamic society, Zakaah provides the basis for the financial system of that society. It provides the foundations for an economic system that is based on care and growth of the community rather than an interest-based economy based on selfishness and personal greed. The essential aspect of Zakaah is that it must be centrally collected by the Islamic leadership in public treasury (Baytulmaal) and officially distributed according to the guidelines provide in Soorah At-Towbah.

Thus, the Salaah and Zakaah are the two pillars of the Islamic state. Even if all Muslims offer Salaah five times a day and pay Zakaah individually every year, the requirement is not met without establishing a political system that is based on Salaah and that collectively takes care of the Zakaah. It is for this basic role that both of them are mentioned together in the Qur-aan and highly emphasized. It is because of this aspect of Salaah that the prophet said that establishment of Salaah leads to the establishment of the whole Deen while neglecting the structure of Salaah demolishes the whole Deen.

Fulfilling the Promises

This is a very special quality of the faithful. The earlier three qualities were mentioned by using a third person singular verb; i.e., he believes …, he gives …, and he establishes Salaah and pays Zakaah. For the attribute of fulfilling promises, instead of saying, ‘he fulfills …’, it has been mentioned by using a plural attributive noun “Moofoon” (Keepers of promise). According to Arabic literary usage, this change in style highlights the significance of this quality. It also indicates that fulfilling promises is their permanent quality, not a good deed they perform when the circumstances warrant. Then, the attribute is further emphasized by adding the words, ‘when they promise’. This stresses that once a word (promise) is given, it is kept despite the implications or cost of keeping it.

The first generation of Muslims had set an unparalleled record in fulfilling the promises. The Prophet himself was famous for always keeping his word even before his prophethood. He once stayed three days at a place because he had given a word to a person that he would wait for him there. The person forgot to come back but the prophet did not leave that spot until that person happened to pass by that place three days later. At the time of the battle of Badr, when every adult Muslim was needed to defend against the invasion of an army three times their size and far more well-equipped, the prophet did not allow two Muslims to take part in the battle because when they were intercepted by scouts of the invading army, they had given their word to the interceptors that they would not take part in the fight. Although the Muslims wanted to join the battle and although the enemy might not even realize it, the principle of keeping one’s word was too sacred to be violated for any expediency. This strictness in fulfilling promises continued among Muslims for the longest time. One commander of a Muslim army withdrew an operation from a locality when he found out that one of his soldiers, though without his permission, had given word to the inhabitants that they will be spared. Muslim history is full of such examples.

Fulfillment of promises is so critical in Islam that the Prophet said, “A person who is not honest has no faith and a person who does not keep his promise has no Deen.”{footnote}Mishkaah, part of a sermon of the prophet reported by Anas.

{/footnote} This is a clear warning to those who claim to be Muslims but do not keep their promises. They give their word without meaning it. Some of the Muslims, especially so-called religious ones, play with the words of Allaah. They make a promise without having any intention of fulfilling it and say ‘Inshaa Allaah’. They think that they will not be held accountable for such promises. Little do they know that this is a blatant deception they practise. ‘Inshaa Allaah’ absolves from accountability only in those situations where the person had a full and sincere intention of fulfilling his promise, he attempted his best to keep it but some emergency totally beyond his control transpired which kept him from fulfilling it.

The requirement applies to every promise whether made by an individual or the state, and whether made to people or to Allaah. Every word given, promise made or pledge undertaken must be honoured. In addition to the expressed promises, it also covers implied commitments including the commitments implied by the norms of the society if they do not conflict with Islam or commitment to Allaah. That encompasses all the rights and obligations implied under the social contracts in a society.

Fulfilment of human commitment to Allaah is particularly important because it is the foundation of honouring all other promises. A person who does not fulfil his commitment to his Master and Owner can hardly be expected to be faithful to anyone else.

The context indicates that the special subject matter of this attribute here is the promise the Muslim Ummah makes to Allaah through their pledge of obedience to strive hard for establishing His Deen in this world. In return for this continuous Jihaad, Allaah promises the believers Leadership{footnote}“Allaah has promised to those among you who believe and act righteously that He will definitely grant them authority in the land as He granted to those before them; that he will surely establish dominance of their religion which He has approved for them; and that He will substitute their fear with peace and security.” An-Noor 24:55

{/footnote}, status and authority on the earth and Jannaah in the Hereafter. In the Holy Qur-aan usually that is the promise or pledge generally mentioned for both our Ummaah and the Ummah before us (Banee Israaeel). For example:

And fulfill the covenant of Allaah. Al-An’aam 6:152
And fulfill the promise you have made to Allaah. An-Nahl 16:91

Also, referring to the Muslims’ pledge of fighting to their death for Allaah and His messenger, Allaah said,
And whoever fulfills his promise to Allaah, Allaah will soon grant him a great reward. Al-Fat’h 48:10

It is also the promise mentioned in At-Towbah,
Verily, Allaah has purchased from the believers their lives and their resources in exchange of their Jannah. They fight for the cause of Allaah, so they kill and are killed. It is a true promise binding upon Him through Towraat, Injeel and Qur-aan. And who is truer to his covenant than Allaah. At-Towbah 9:111

And in Soorah Al-Ahzaab, Allaah SWT referred to those who showed weakness in fighting against the allied armies of disbelievers as follows:
And yet they had already promised Allaah not to turn their backs. And the covenant with Allaah will surely be asked about. Al-Ahzaab 33:15

For the believers who stood fast in that battle, they were mentioned as such,
Among the believers are men who have been true to what they promised Allaah. Of them, some have completed their vow (to the death) and some still wait, but they have not at all changed their determination. Al-Ahzaab 33:23

Because of this covenant of dedication to the mission of Islam, Israelites were given leadership. This was the promise for which Allaah said to Ibraheem,
My promise does not extend to the transgressors. Al-Baqarah 2:124

When they did not fulfill it they were condemned. And they were told,
You fulfill your promise to me, I will fulfill mine to you. Al-Baqarah 2:40

It is this kind of promise to Allaah that demands the kind of steadfastness which is mentioned next.

Perseverance

This attribute has again been specially emphasized by changing the grammatical style of mentioning it. As a normal statement, the Arabic word for the steadfast should have been in the form of Saabiroon like Moofoon (keepers of promise). To emphasize that they are especially strong in steadfastness, it has been given the form of Saabireen. This is to highlight that perseverance is the most outstanding quality of the faithful.

Whether it is standing by your faith, living according to your beliefs, sharing your wealth with others, establishing an Islamic community organized around Salaah and Zakaah, fulfilling promises in general, or any other good action, it takes much resolve, determination and sacrifice to perform these actions constantly and consistently. Soorah Al-Asr told us that the successful people persevere regardless of the circumstances they encounter. This verse cites three situations where faithful Muslims are expected to demonstrate their fortitude, patience and steadfastness without uttering a word of complaint or disenchantment.

The toughest times when even committed people get tired and give up or give in are: during financial hardships, while physically not well and when facing aggression and war -- especially when any of them continues for long periods. This verse tells us that the faithful remain steadfast in all those situations even if they all happen to befall together and continue throughout one's life span.

These testing situations really arise when Muslims are dedicated to the fulfillment of their covenant to Allaah that they will dedicate their resources and their lives in constant Jihad for conforming all of their dealings and behaviour to Islamic expectations, for the establishment of the Islamic society and for the supremacy of the Deen of Allaah. Since Shaytaan does not want them to succeed, he and his disciples all over the world are bent on not to let it happen. They work together and unleash every imaginable terror against the dedicated Muslims. Muslims are financially deprived through boycotts, sanctions and outright cheated out of their wealth. They are physically persecuted, imprisoned and tortured. They are continually victimized through aggressive acts of war. The propaganda machine of the enemies blames them for every despicable act they themselves inflict on Muslims.

The Muslims persevere for the sake of Allaah. They know that going uphill is difficult and fraught with dangers, but that is the only way to reach to the top. They understand that great objectives are achieved only by working under conditions of peculiar difficulties and discouraging hardships and that journey on the High Road is not without bumps but the destination is worth the effort. Although it is easy to get discouraged, they recognize that this is part of journeying on the Highest Road.

While coping steadfastly with the circumstances, they enjoy the peace of mind and tranquility in their heart because they know they are the ultimate winners as long as they remain committed to Allaah and His Deen. It is very soothing to know that their reward with Allaah is secure and success is theirs in the eternal life. Since they repose all their affairs in Allaah’s care and devote everything for His pleasure, they are content with what comes their way in that path. Allaah’s pleasure is their pleasure. Their trust and reliance on Allaah’s help and support keeps their spirits high. No atrocity or animosity can crush their spirit. The heavy stone on the chest of Bilaal on burning sand could not do it. Depriving Khabaab routinely of his legitimate remuneration for his work and usurping his lifelong earnings did not do it. Two and half years of boycott and strict sanctions against the Prophet and his family did not do it. Continuous war-like situation and frequent attacks on Madeenah did not do it. The biggest army from all the Arab tribes against a tiny state of Madeenah did not do it either.{footnote}Rather the believers’ reaction was: “And when the believers saw the allied armies, they said, ‘this is what Allaah and His messenger had promised us, and Allaah and His messenger spoke the truth.’ And it only increased them in faith and submission.” Al-Ahzaab 33:22

{/footnote}

Those who want to be counted among the faithful must be ready to dedicate their life and resources to constant Jihaad and persevere in the manner of the Prophet and his companions.

This attribute is closely related to the requirement of fulfilling promises and commitments which preceded it. Only those who are sincere and strict in meeting their commitments go through these kinds of tests and tribulations. Both of these attributes were mentioned with special emphasis and both were mentioned in plural form indicating that these commitments need to be fulfilled by Muslims as a community and as an Ummah. The message of this verse is loud and clear that Muslims are expected to dedicate themselves wholly and solely to the Islamic mission fulfilling their commitment to Allaah and persevering for His sake through all the troubles they encounter. Without these special attributes, thinking of being counted among true believers, among pious or among those who have Taqwa is wishful thinking.

Conclusion

This verse deals with faith, acts of worship, ethics and morals, money matters and financial affairs, social and political set up, Islamic mission and war all in one breath. It gives an unequivocal message that human life is one entity. It can be compartmentalized into secular and religious sections. Piety does not belong only to formal acts of worship. It pervades life as a whole.

In addition, this description of people with Taqwa and piety (Birr) clearly indicates that they are the people who not only have transformed their whole life according to Islamic ethics, but also have dedicated their resources and lives for the sake of Allaah to live like an organized Muslim community, to establish an ideal Islamic society and to strive for making Islam the dominant way of life in the world. They are constant and steadfast in their struggle and bear whatever circumstances they face. In this way it is a fulltime, lifelong commitment to a collective mission rather than a matter of performing some individual good deeds.

There are no short cuts to being faithful, attaining Birr, and complying with the demands of Taqwa. Those who have assumed that requirements of Taqwa and Birr are fulfilled by performing a few religious rites and donning a certain type of clothing or appearance are deluded. It is a tough arduous road of a continuous Jihaad that starts with faith which is validated by good actions such as generosity for the love of Allaah, personal relationship with Allaah through Salaah, establishment of the Islamic society on the basis of Salaah and Zakaah, fulfilling of promises including promise to Allaah for establishment of His Deen, and, while living this missionary life, demonstrating the highest level of perseverance in any circumstances. Only those who consistently try to perform at this level of dedication are being recognized in this verse by Allaah SWT that they are truthful in their claims of being Muslims and that they are the people with Taqwa.

Parallels to Al-Asr

As you can see, the contents of this verse correspond exactly to the plan of action that was given in Al-Asr and the virtuous qualities listed herein are parallel to the elements of success mentioned in Al-Asr. The only difference is the level of detail. Al-Asr just identified the elements of success that ensure safety from loss. This verse gives some essential details of those basic elements. After introducing components of faith, it mentions the most important of the good deeds expected of the Muslims. Then, as a part of fulfilling promises, it alludes through context to fulfilling the commitment to stand up for Truth for the sake of Allaah, which is the essence of exhorting truth. It then provides the three challenging situations that test a believer’s patience and steadfastness to the limit. Thus, the plan that was outlined in Al-Asr is being filled with some details by this verse.

This parallelism underscores three things: The significance of these four elements for Islamic behaviour; the consistency of the Message of the Qur-aan; and the fact that the Qur-aan explains itself. This is an example of how those matters that the Holy Qur-aan mentions briefly in one place, are explained at another place. More of it will be evident through some of the selections from the Qur-aan discussed subsequently. You will see that all the elements named in Soorah Al-Asr will be gradually detailed further and further until they are fully explained. Hence, the most important rule for understanding the Qur-aan is that any word, concept or matter mentioned at more than one place in the Holy Qur-aan must be understood in the light of its details given at all places.

Relevance of this verse to the Jews

Considering that Jews of Madeenah were at the forefront of using the change of Qiblah for propaganda against Islam, the question is how did they fare against the criteria of piety put forth by this verse? It is noticeable that they were lacking in all of these essential areas despite their reputation of religiosity and being very meticulous about religious rules. So, they were being shown a mirror to remind them what was expected of them and what they had actually become.

Their concept of God had deteriorated to belief in a racist God who loved the Jewish race regardless of their wicked behaviour. The belief in the Hereafter was corrupted with the idea that they would not suffer any punishment because of they were the chosen people of God. Even if any of them faced punishment, it would be for a few days only. Among angels, they had become enemies of Jibreel, the holy and trusted spirit. They would recite the book they thought was from Allaah but would not practise it. They had corrupted it with their scholar’s words and explanations, and, in effect, had abandoned it in favour of their books of traditions and Fiqh. So much so that when the real Book (the Qur-aan) was presented to them, they opposed it instead of willingly adopting it. Among the prophets, they had discriminated and refused to believe in Jesus and Muhammad. Hence, they were deficient in every aspect of the faith.

When it came to actions, they were extremely averse to spending even a little bit in Allaah’s way. They would rather ridicule the commands for spending in the way of Allaah and show their annoyance for the calls to spend. Although they still used to go to their synagogues for prayer, the establishment of Salaah in its true sense had been abandoned for a long time. It was hard for them even to fathom the comprehensive concept of Salaah beyond a ritual act of worship. Zakaah had also become a mere bit of charity for rabbis and their institutions.

They were extremely negligent in fulfilling their commitments and keeping their words. The most important covenant for which they had been chosen to be the dedicated Islamic missionaries was not even talked about. In particular, they had completely violated their covenant to Allaah about supporting and helping the Last prophet – Muhammad in his Islamic mission.

The lowest element in their character was their lack of patience and steadfastness. They had become a nation of whiners and complainers who would not even bear a little bit of hardship. They had started loving the life and possessions of this world so much that they would not take even a bit of pain for an important mission. Rather than taking trouble for it, they had forsaken their promise to Allaah for dedication to the Islamic mission and for helping the prophets.

Despite lacking all the essential attributes that are required for piety and success with Allaah and that indicate the truth of one’s faith and Taqwa, they still dreamed of Allaah’s favours in this world and the Jannah in the Hereafter. They hoped that growing of locks on their heads, covering their heads with special caps, growing their beards long, dressing in their traditional garbs, reciting their Torah with fervour and physical motion, attending their synagogues, celebrating certain important days and nights of their calendar, and revering the remnants of their holy temple in Jerusalem was enough to be pious. Some of them were even more dedicated. They would perform special acts of worship taught by their ascetic (Sufi) orders. They even had great scholars of Fiqh who had become petrified in traditions, lost in the maze of mind-boggling rules devoid of dynamism and spirit. They thought that was what was required of them from their religion. But Eesa AH termed this kind of religiosity as “straining mosquitoes while devouring camels”.

Without lifelong dedication to the Islamic mission and reformation of their affairs and dealings according to the requirements of this verse, they were like an army whose attention was so concentrated on the rules of the drill and perfection of the uniform that they forgot all about fighting skills. They spent all their attention on physical posture in the drill, measuring the length of the steps in the parade, the position of the feet, the crease and fall of their pants, shape of their hats, colour of their berets and exact style of wearing them. But when it came to training on armaments, battle readiness and to the real fighting on the front, they had neither time nor willingness.

Alas! Despite all their religious fervour, Allaah cursed and condemned them because they lacked the essential attributes He valued! None of their religiosity was of any avail without these attributes. But instead of changing themselves, they continued in their religious ruts and rejected those who tried to call them to reformation. Then, when the anger of Allaah SWT would come down on them, they would wonder, “Why are we disunited, persecuted and dishonoured” and “Why does not Allaah help us”?

Relevance to the Contemporary Muslims

Unfortunately, the situation with the majority of Muslims is not any different from the Jewish profile highlighted above!

Muslims have followed the Jewish footsteps precisely. Just like them, our religiosity now revolves around ritual acts beset with debates and fights over rules of Fiqh. These things take precedence over the Book of Allaah. Like them, we recite the Book of Allaah with fervour but ignore the demands it makes. In many aspects we do exactly opposite to what the Qur-aan wants us to do. Just like them, we have abandoned the Islamic mission and given up our dedication to it. We have completely forgotten the concept of piety that permeates all our dealings and actions. We are spending all our energies on petty issues of form and appearance, clothing style, length of the beard, cap and turban. And just like them, we are being punished through other nations of the world for our negligence and mixed up priorities as they were punished through Greeks, Romans and Germans. Their caps, locks, beards, long coats, recitation of Torah, prayers and attendance of the synagogues, wailing at their Temple’s only remaining wall, etc. could not save them from Allaah’s curse and His anger. Our caps, Amaamahs, beards, recitation of the Qur-aan, attendance at the Masjid and long Duaas in Witr are not going to save us either. Filtering mosquitoes while devouring camels did not help them and it is not going to help us either.

The only way out of our miserable position in this world and punishment of Allaah in the Hereafter is that we change our lifestyle so that all our affairs and dealings are in line with the Islamic spirit, we dedicate to the Islamic mission the way the prophet and his companions did, we strive to establish the caring society as was established in Madeenah and organize it on the basis of Salaah and Zakaah as it was done by Khulafaa Ar-Raashidoon. Once a majority of Muslims commits to that kind of comprehensive concept of piety, Allaah will fulfil His promise and give us success as well as award us blessings for our caps, Amaamahs, beards, recitation of the Qur-aan, and attendance at the Masjid and long Duaas in Witr. Without drastic changes to our whole lifestyle and dedication to the mission in conformity to this verse under discussion, all these things are as useless as the uniform and parade of soldiers who shine their brass, sing battle songs but avoid handling arms and refuse to fight.

If we are true in our faith in Allaah, we must realign our priorities and dedicate ourselves to the Islamic mission cultivating in us all the attributes Allaah SWT expects. That is what our Taqwa demands. That is what will ensure our success.

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