Piety in Islam

SHAFAQNA - Generally, piety is defined as a negative program i.e. refraining and avoidance from sins and other transgressions. It is interpreted that with being pious, participation in social affairs is very difficult rather impossible. Because, naturally, human-self is inclined towards sinning and in case of acceptance of social responsibilities, one will be forced to indulge into sins. Therefore, either one should acquire piety or must refrain from acceptance of social responsibility.

Or, one must accept social responsibilities and should renounce the piety, because, they are not compatible with each other and their combination is not possible. The inevitable result of such thinking is that –the more one lives an isolated and monastic live the better he will be prepared to acquire piety.

But piety in some Qur’anic verses, traditions, and in the Nahjul Balagha has been defined as a positive quality and not a negative virtue. Piety, not only means renunciation of sins, rather it consists of possessing an internal energy and power of self-restraint, which are achieved because of undertaking continuous rigorous self-discipline, whereby self acquires a super strength, which makes him obedient to God’s Commandments.

The self acquires such strength that he shows resistance and steadfastness against unlawful whims and passions. Also, the meanings of piety in the dictionary includes the similar aspect.

The phrase piety (taqwa) is derived from the Persian word (waqaya), which means protection and defense. Piety means self-restraint and self-control which is a positive quality bestowing an immunity upon the pious, and not a negative act or program. It means commitment of a human being to obey the religious commandments.

Every act of abstaining from sinning is not called as piety but the power of self-restraint and self-control responsible behind this abstaining is called piety; which has been described as the best provisions of journey for the Hereafter, and naturally making provisions for a journey is a positive act and not a negative one. Here, it would be appropriate to quote few narrations from the Commander of the Faithful Imam ‘Ali (a.s.), in this matter, as follows:

قال على (ع): اوصيكم عبادالله بتقوى الله فانها الزمام والقوام فتمسكوا بوثائقها واعتصموا بحقائقها تؤول بكم الى اكنان الدعة واوطان السعة ومعاقل الحرز ومنازل العز.

“O creatures of the Lord! I advise you to be afraid of Him. I advise you to adopt piety, because, piety is the safest way to salvation and the best support for religion. Keep yourself attached to it and never forsake it. It shall lead you to places of safety, to positions of honor and pursuits bringing you peace and contentment.”

And said:

قال على عليه السلام: فان التقوا فى اليوم الحرز والجنة وفى وغد الطريق الى الجنة مسلكها واضح وسالكها رابح ومستودعها حافظ.

“Piety will act as your shield and defense and in life and Hereafter as your guide to Heaven. Its ways are clear and simple. Those of you who espouse it will be benefited by it. And the one who has imposed it upon you will guard it and will guard you.”

And said:

قال امير المؤمنين عليه السلام: اعلموا عبادالله ان التقوى دار حصن عزيز والفجور دار حصن ذليل لا يمنع اهله ولايحرز من لجا اليه الا وبالتقوى تقطع حمة الخطايا.

“Know O Creatures of God! That piety is strongly forfeited and a respectable Heaven, and sinful and vicious life is such a undependable refuge that it can neither protect nor guard those who take shelter there. Remember that fear of God can protect one against the evils of sins.”

And said:

قال على عليه السلام: فان تقوى الله حمت اوليا الله محارمه والزمت قلوبهم مخافته حيت اسهرت لياليهم واضمات هو اجرهم.

“Oh people! Piety prevents good people from indulging in sins and vices; it makes them God fearing, it persuades them to spend their nights in His Worship, and to pass their days in fasting.”

And said:

قال امير المؤمنين عليه السلام: ان التقوى عصمة لك فى حياتك وزلفى بعد مماتك.

“The same piety is shelter for you in this world, and will be a source of prosperity and salvation in the Hereafter.”

As could be seen that the piety in the above mentioned narrations has been introduced as a positive virtue, a powerful force introducing restrain and immunity and an important preventing factor. It should be compared to a bridle used for training a mulish horse for riding or restraining and controlling the whims and passions of a rebellious-self.

It is like a formidable fortress and firm fortification which protect a human being from the devastating attacks of internal enemies i.e. the unlawful selfish whims and passions and Satanic whispers. It is like a shield 13 which protects a struggler in the battle-field from the piercing of poisonous arrows and other Satanic devastating blows.

Piety frees a person from the imprisonment of whims and passions and cuts off the chains of greed, prejudice, lust, and wrath wrapped around his neck. Piety is not a limitation, but on the contrary it bestows the mastership and being in control of one’s own-self. It bestows upon a human being prestige, honor, nobility, power, dignity, and steadfastness.

It protects the heart from Satanic assaults, thus, making it readied for the descent of God’s angels, illuminating him with Divine-Light and bestowing upon him peace and tranquility. Piety for human being is like his home and clothing which protects him from natural calamities, cold and hot temperatures. God-Almighty, in Holy Qur’an said:

وَلِبَاسُ التَّقْوَىٰ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ

“But the best raiment is the raiment of righteousness. (7:26)

Therefore, piety is a virtue, excellence, provision for the Hereafter, and is not a negative quality .Of course, in the Holy Qur’an and in traditions piety has also been used in places of fear and avoidance of sins but these are the requirements of piety -and not piety itself.

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