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THE REALITY OF PIETY

In the Light of Ayat-ul-Birr

The Reality of Piety and the Qur’anic standard of Taqwa in the light of Ayat-ul-Birr (Ayah # 177 of Surah
Al-Baqarah)

‫ب َوَلِكّن اْلِبّر َمْن آَمَن ِبالّلِه‬


ِ ‫ق َواْلمَْغِر‬
ِ ‫شِر‬
ْ ‫س اْلِبّر َأْن ُتَوّلوا ُوُجوَهُكْم ِقَبَل اْلَم‬
َ ‫َلْي‬
‫ي َوآَتى اْلَماَل َعَلى ُحّبِه َذِوي اْلُقْرَبى‬
َ ‫ب َوالّنِبّي‬
ِ ‫َواْلَيْوِم الِخِر َواْلَملِئَكِة َواْلِكَتا‬
‫صلَة َوآَتى‬
ّ ‫ب َوَأَقاَم ال‬
ِ ‫ي َوِفي الّرَقا‬
َ ‫ساِئِل‬
ّ ‫سِبيِل َوال‬
ّ ‫ي َواْبَن ال‬
َ ‫ساِك‬
َ ‫َواْلَيَتاَمى َواْلَم‬
َ ‫ضّراِء َوِح‬
‫ي‬ ّ ‫صاِبِريَن ِفي اْلَبْأَساِء َوال‬
ّ ‫الّزَكاَة َواْلُموُفوَن ِبَعْهِدِهْم ِإَذا َعاَهُدوا َوال‬
‫ك ُهُم اْلُمّتُقوَن‬
َ ‫صَدُقوا َوُأوَلِئ‬
َ ‫ك اّلِذيَن‬
َ ‫س ُأوَلِئ‬
ِ ‫اْلَبْأ‬
In the course understudy the first class was based on Surah Al-Asr. The second class is on Ayah Birr
which is the 177th ayah of Surah Al-Baqarah. Before we talk about the important introductory points lets
first go over the translation of the ayah.

True piety is not only that you turn your faces towards the East or West; but the truly pious is the one
who believes in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; and spends
of his substance- however much he loves it- for his near of kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the
wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; and is constant in prayer, and practices
regular charity; [and truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise ; and
(especially those) are firm and patient, in poverty (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods
of war. It is they who have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of Allah.

Keeping this translation in mind let’s now move to some introductory points:

1. First of all, this is one ayah whereas the first lesson in this course was based on an entire Surah;
but in terms of length this ayah is much longer. In this context please bear in mind that Qur’anic
ayaat may be long or short. There are ayaat based on one word, “Wal-Asr”. There are ayaat
constituting of just huroof-e-muqata’aat (the disjointed letters) while there are some which are
as long as the one under discussion. Similarly surahs are small as well as long, like surah al-asr is
small and Surah Al-Baqarah is 286 ayaat, and spread over 2 and a half juzz (parts). These
characteristics are called “tawqeefee”. Meaning no logical or grammatical rule determines
these. These things are known to us by the knowledge given to us by the Prophet (SAW) and no
grammatical or logical laws are employed here. So as they are dependent on the information of
the Prophet (SAW). All these characteristics are called Tawqeefee.

2. Secondly, as far as the topics that are covered under this ayah, on close comparison it becomes
obvious that they are very similar to those of Surah Al-Asr. Remember that Surah Asr gave us a
minimum criteria of 4 attributes necessary for Salvation and Success:

a. Iman

b. Aml-i-Salih

c. Tawasi bil Haq

d. Tawas ibis Sabr

Now let’s relate that to this ayah.

One comprehensive term used in Surah Al-Asr was Iman—Here 5 constituents of Iman are
mentioned:

َ‫ب َوالّنِبّيي‬
ِ ‫َوَلِكّن اْلِبّر َمْن آَمَن ِبالّلِه َواْلَيْوِم الِخِر َواْلَملِئَكِة َواْلِكَتا‬
This is like a flower yet to blossom; it has the petals but they are hidden. When it blossoms and
matures the petals become visible. Similarly all these constituents were present in the word
Iman but in Surah al-Asr they were like the closed flower. In this ayah we see that that flower
blossomed and the five petals revealed themselves. So what is Iman? Iman is that in Allah, in the
angels, on the Last Day, on the books, and on the Prophets.

The second comprehensive term employed in Surah al-‘Asr was ‘Amali Salih. That finds
expression in this ayah under three sub-headings:

1. Community Service—i.e. to give up a portion of your hard earned wealth, in spite of love
for it, to alleviate the sufferings of some of your fellow beings.

2. Huqooq Allah (Rights of Allah)— from which Salah and Zakah have been mentioned.

3. Interpersonal dealings— all our interpersonal dealings; business, trading or those


between employer and employee, are based on contracts. Similarly marriage is a social
contract. Such that all interpersonal dealings are based on contracts. Therefore if
fulfillment of promises and contracts becomes a second nature in a people of a society
then the human relationships are streamlined and our collective affairs would be
rectified. If the people in a society fulfill their promises and contracts then their
interpersonal relationships are streamlined and interpersonal problems would be
rectified.

If we use an analogy of a tree then the Amli-Salih term that comes in Surah Al-Asr, is like a stem
and the 3 branches are a) Community service, b) Worship and Rights of Allah, and c)
Interpersonal relationships based on the fulfillment of oaths.

Towards the end of Surah Al-Asr Tawasee bis Sabr is mentioned, and this ayah finishes on

ِ ‫ي اْلَبْأ‬
‫س‬ َ ‫ضّراِء َوِح‬
ّ ‫صاِبِريَن ِفي اْلَبْأَساِء َوال‬
ّ ‫َوال‬
Like we had for Amli Salih, Tawasee bis Sabr also has three branches: The first of these is “Al-Ba’saa’”
i.e. poverty, hunger and tight circumstances in general. Second is “Ad-Ddaraa’” which is from Ddarar
which means harm; this can be a physical pain or psychological trauma. And of course the greatest test
of patience, perseverance and steadfastness is in the battle ground where a human being puts his life on
the line.

Therefore the subjects of this ayah have a close relationship with Surah al-‘Asr which is why it has been
included as the second lesson in this syllabus.

The second point that needs to be looked into is the main subject of this ayah? The ayah starts with,

ِ ‫ق َواْلَمْغِر‬
‫ب‬ ِ ‫شِر‬
ْ ‫س اْلِبّر َأْن ُتَوّلوا ُوُجوَهُكْم ِقَبَل اْلَم‬
َ ‫َلْي‬
Meaning, “True piety is not to you turn your faces towards the east or the west…” So it begins with the
negation of a limited understanding of piety. And after this a complete and comprehensive perspective
of piety is presented. And this is the subject matter of this ayah:

‫ي َوآَتى‬
َ ‫ب َوالّنِبّي‬
ِ ‫َوَلِكّن اْلِبّر َمْن آَمَن ِبالّلِه َواْلَيْوِم الِخِر َواْلَملِئَكِة َواْلِكَتا‬
‫اْلَماَل …َعَلى ُحّبِه‬
“but the truly pious is the one who believes in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and
the Messengers; and spends of his substance- however much he loves it…”

The importance of this subject


Now first up we need to understand the importance of this topic. Humans have a material form, which
requires basic necessities like food and water, without which it is impossible for this existence to
continue. Similarly, there is an immaterial part of a human being for which it is important that its “ego”
and “self” remain functional. And for that functionality it is essential that a human has a perspective of
piety and via that he satisfies his inner conscious, even though he may be a horrible person in other
aspects of his life. Therefore it is compulsory for a human that he has this “pious” side to himself to
satisfy his conscious; in spite of all his bad habits he can remind and coax his self with certain good
deeds that he does. Furthermore he justifies and rationalizes his bad deeds by telling himself that I am
forced to act that way because of the compelling circumstances. So much so that even those people in
our society who are considered to be the lowest in terms of character like dacoits, pick-pockets, and
even prostitutes have retained some avenue in their lives for attaining good deeds.

This was about the people of whom nobody has a good opinion. Let’s move now to the noble people of
the world amongst whom we’ll find three different opinions regarding the piety. For example you have
the traders and businessmen of our society. These are religious people. They are in the forefront in acts
like Prayer, Charity, Fasting, Pilgrimage, and serving the madaris and ulama. But, barring few, you will
find that most of these people are involved in defaulting tax, black marketing, smuggling, hoarding, and
involvement in interest based contracts. Similarly you would find those who are regular in prayer etc but
in their dealings they would be insensitive and callous towards others. So they appear to be very
religious and pious in certain aspects of life but in others they act incredibly inappropriately.

Then you have a second category of people from the educated class. They will tell you that true piety is
that you fulfill the rights of your fellow humans. As for prayer, fasting etc then that is a private affair. If
somebody does it then fine otherwise it’s his personal. An exact opposite of the previous category of
people we just spoke about.

Another imbalance is visible in the situation in which people have a keen and critical eye on the outward
and ritualistic aspects of religion. And about these they are extremely sensitive; intolerant to the
slightest deviation. But they are oblivious to the essence of the religion which is the real taqwa, the real
compassion. You will be able to see all these in the society around you.

This last category that I just mentioned is what this ayah starts with. There is an exterior form of prayer;
in it you are required to stand facing towards the Qibla. This is one of the essential components of the
exterior form and has its own rightful place. When only the importance of the outward remains for
certain people, and the real spirit of prayer disappears, an unacceptable imbalance results which was
never the real goal. As Iqbal says:
If my prayer is not led by my desire for you

My prostration is a veil, my standing is a veil

And,

Mind, heart and sight are all guided by love

If there’s no love then laws and religion are but imagination!

So it is this concept of piety that is being refuted before the actual reality of piety is established. This is
similar to our kalimah which also begins with a categorical denial before establishing the reality. In other
words it begins with a negation, “la ilaha” and then goes on to affirm “illallah”. Similarly this ayah begins
with “Lais-al-Birra” as the negation and “wa laki-al-birra” to “humul muttaqun” is the affirmation.

The linguistic understanding of Birr


Now let us focus on the word “Birr” which we have so far rendered as “Piety”. What is the real essence
of the word? What does it have to do with piety? This requires some deep contemplation.

The root letters are “Ba-Ra-Ra”; from this we get birr and barr. Barr in Urdu means khuski i.e land. First
let us briefly mention the similarities between birr and barr.

A sea voyage can get really uncomfortable, there is a constant fear of a sea storm and man is always in a
state of unrest. He doesn’t feel that peace and serenity that the land has to offer, and once his feet
touch the ground he immediately experiences this feeling of peace and serenity. This peace and serenity
is the essence of this word. We said before that the actions that give a person heart-felt satisfaction,
tame the biting conscious, and give inner peace are the actions we term pious. The poem “Charity” gives
this perspective beautifully:

Charities that soother and heal and bless,

Are scattered over the feet of men like flowers,

No mystery is here no special boon,

For the high and not for the low,


The smoke ascends as high from the hearth of a humble cottage.

As from that of a haughty palace.

Any act of righteousness or good results in a strange feeling of calm and satisfaction to the individual.
This is how birr and barr are similar.

The mutual relationship between Iman and Piety


Now contemplating over this ayah the first thing that requires our attention the fact that Iman is being
mentioned foremost in the description of real piety? It might seem a little different from what we hold
of the term piety. We associate piety with action what does faith have to do with it? And not just that
but also all branches of Iman are being talked about and not just Iman in Allah! What is the relationship
between these Iman with the act of piety?

Everyone knows that the morality is a very important branch of sociology. Furthermore there are 2
fundamental questions in morality.

1. What are moral values? And are they constant or do they change with the changing times and
circumstances?

2. More importantly, what is that inherent driving force in a human that pushes him to do good
even though he may suffer a loss or get harmed because of it? Confronted with an opportunity
to do evil what inner force compels a man to restrain? Committing the evil act might result in
immediate delight and reward yet he resists. Lying might result in immediate benefit yet by
nature man is compelled to tell the truth. Why?

As far as the first question is concerned the Qur’anic philosophy says that there is an inherent faculty of
discernment in a human being. Just like man has been endowed with external faculties like hearing sight
etc he has also been endowed with this inherent ability to tell right from wrong. Allah Ī says in Surah As-
Shams:

‫س َوَما َسّواَها‬
ٍ ‫َوَنْف‬
By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it;

‫جوَرَها َوَتْقَواَها‬
ُ ‫َفَأْلَهَمَها ُف‬
And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right;-

For the same reason there is a frequently used term for the act of piety in the Qur’an i.e “Ma’roof” i.e
that which is known to be good and a bad deed is known as “Munkar” i.e something foreign that is not
acceptable to the human nature. The Qur’an recognizes these as perpetual values. To speak the truth
has always been known to be a pious act and lying has always been recognized as something abhorred.
And the conscious of a liar realizes that he is doing wrong, even though he might end up convincing
himself otherwise by some excuse, but he would still recognize deep down that he is wrong. This is
therefore a perpetual and persistent value. As Iqbal says:

Times and conditions may change, societies and cultures may evolve but these innate realities are
unchangeable and perpetual.

Now for the second question we raised as to what is the driving force that causes a person to act good
when acting evil might be apparently beneficial? For this I will refer the reader to a Western
Philosopher, Kant. He wrote a book, “Critique of Pure Reason”. In this he proved that whatever logical
arguments logicians had provided to prove the existence of God, logic itself refuted them. But after this
he wrote a second book, “Critique of Practical Reasoning”. In this book he very vehemently brought
forth this point, that there is no basis for human morality until and unless he believes in God; without
this morality has no foundation. So if man has to adopt a moral character he has to believe in God.
Without this belief man cannot achieve a moral character.

This is that reality inherent in the human that this ayah is talking about; Iman in Allah and Iman in
Aakhirah provide that driving force to encourage pious acts and refrain from evil. Qur’an tells the human
to be pious because Allah loves the pious. Hadith says that the whole of creation is like the family of
Allah so whoever seeks the pleasure of Allah should indulge in serving humanity at all times. In short—
for an act of piety the source and driving force is the Iman in Allah. Let this be very clear that this is a
positive driving force because love is a positive force and Iman in Allah begets love of Allah.

But everyone knows that not all human beings are equal in terms of intellect and consciousness. There
are people who have not been endowed with that sense of love. For them there is a need for another
driving force:

That driving force comes from Iman in Akhirah i.e. the realization that there will be accountability for
every action we do. This can be classified as the negative driving force because its basis is fear of
accountability.
Actions are judged by intentions
The logical conclusion of all the aforementioned points is that if an act of piety is not driven by the two
driving forces we talked about, no matter how pious it may appear, it is not an act of piety rather there
is a hidden agenda for some worldly gain. No worldly gain is to be sought with an act of piety; if it is then
as according to the Qur’an all of them will be rejected. In religious terminology this is phrased as, “no
action is acceptable in the court of Allah if it is not accompanied by sincerity and purity of intention.” So
much emphasis has been laid on this axiom that reading some of the hadith on this subject make a
person shudder. The most comprehensive of these is the one related by Umar ē, with which most
Muhadithin (compilers of hadith) begin their compilations, in which the Prophet Ē said that:

“Actions are based on intentions- every human will receive according to his intention.”

So if somebody does an good act with an evil intention then his act will be considered evil and result of
that action will also be evil. (However, to say that if a person does an evil act with a good intention then
he is justified in doing so and should be rewarded for it, then that is wrong. This is so because the
hadith uses the word A’amaal which indicated A’amal-i-salih (righteous acts). If the word was af’aal
then that could have been used to mean both good and bad deeds. Furthermore Allah judges the
intention and we in this world judge on the basis of appearance. However we can adopt a lenient
attitude if the person acted out of compulsion and there was no other way out). So this is the
relationship between Iman billah and Iman bil-Akhira with an act of piety.

Iman bir-risalat and uswa-e-hasana


The remaining three articles of faith mentioned in this ayah (faith in angels, divine books and prophets)
can be bracketed in the term Iman Bir-Risalah (Prophethood). With the angels bringing the revelation to
the prophet and the record of that revelation is in the form of a book and the people who were the
primary recipients were the prophets. So if you gather all these under one term that would be risalah.
So what does iman in risalah have to do with an act of piety?

A human being has different urges and emotions within him. One of these is piety. And like all other
urges and emotions are blind and have the tendency to transgress limits, piety does too. So the urge for
piety has the potential danger in it that at some point it becomes so overwhelmingly vibrant and
traverses balance so as to become evil rather than piety. For example somebody can be so
overwhelmed by his urge for piety that he leaves the world and goes to the mountains and just loses
himself in the remembrance of his Lord. Monasticism resulted from this transgression of balance by the
urge for piety. Now it’s obvious that this is against human nature. This is a battle against the other urges
in a human. Human nature and basic human desires can overwhelm the human being. As a result there
is a reaction. The buried bodies of illegitimate children in the basements of Christian monasteries are
living proof of this reaction; even though originally monasticism started off as a result of a transgression
of an urge to be pious.
Monasticism has been negated very vehemently and clearly in one hadith. It is related that during the
life of the Prophet Ē 3 people came to the Ummaaht-ul-Mo’mineen Ė (Mothers of the believer- wives
of the Prophet Ē). They asked about the supererogatory acts of the Prophet in terms of prayer and
fasting. The life of the prophet was an open book; wiithout exaggerating the wives of the prophet told
the men the truth as it was. These sahaba Ė told themselves that the Prophet Ē is free from sin and he
doesn’t even have to do whatever worship he is doing anyway. The sinners that we are, this cannot be
sufficient for us, so we have to do more! One of them said, “I will pray all night without a break,” the
other said, “I will fast forever without break,” and the third one said he wouldn’t marry at all, rather
focus all his energies on strengthening his relationship with Allah Ī away from all such distractions .
When the Prophet heard of this, against his nature he became upset. He called them and said, “I am the
most God-fearing of you, but I sleep at night and pray as well. I keep supererogatory fasts and take
breaks as well. I married and have a number of wives.” Then he said:

“Whoever detracts from my Sunnah does not have anything to do with me”

In the Messenger Ē we learn the perfect standard of piety.

We as humans are in need of a perfect example, an ideal, and a frame of reference in whom all acts of
piety are perfectly balanced. We can make that a yard-stick against which we measure all our virtuous
acts to see what they’re worth. And Iman Bir-Risalah fulfills that requirement. We find this in the
examples of all the prophets; and the best of the best is our beloved Prophet Muhammad Ē. The Perfect
Role Model; if you want to see all good, all piety and all righteousness present in the perfect balance in
one human being then that would be the Messenger Ē.

So in short morality has a deep relationship with these three articles of faith. Do not take this to be a
mere coincidence that they ayah is arranged like this, neither is it to add to the prose and rhyming
scheme and nor is this just a “by the way” mention.

After this detailed elaboration on the reality of piety, we need to now understand how this inner form of
piety translates into the practical life of a human? How and in what order does the Qur’an portray this?
For this it is appropriate that we re-look at the translation of the ayah:

True piety is not only that you turn your faces towards the East or West; but the truly pious is the one
who believes in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; and spends
of his substance- however much he loves it- for his near of kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the
wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; and is constant in prayer, and practices
regular charity; [and truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise ; and are firm
and patient, in poverty (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of war. It is they who
have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of Allah.
We already discussed the relation the five articles of faith have with piety. Let’s see how this reality of
piety, once it etches itself on the heart of a human, manifests itself in the character, personality,
dealings and actions, and attitude of an individual. This can be termed the “Practical manifestations of
piety according to the Qur’an!”

Insani hamdardi (Empathy)

First practical manifestation of piety mentioned after articles of faith is serving the creation and
empathy towards humanity. You may have heard, and it’s true, that after the kalima shahadat (the
verbal attestation of Unity of Allah and Prophethood of Muhammad Ē) the first and the most important
pillar is that of Iqamat As-Salah (Establishing the Prayer) which is also rendered as ‘Imad-ud-Din (The
Pillar of Deen). In this ayah, however, Iqamata As-Salah is mentioned after strong emphasis has already
been laid on the spending of wealth for the alleviation of other people’s problems and fulfilling their
needs.

Such is the importance of this matter that wherever there is a mention of the reality of piety the order
of priorities will be that as it appears in this ayah. However, wherever there is a mention of the pillars of
religion then the order will be the one as related in the hadith:

“Islam is based on five pillars : Kalima Shadat, Salat, Zakat, Sawm of Ramadan, and Hajj.” (Agreed upon)

Here because we’re being told about the reality of piety the expression of “Human Empathy” gets
precedence over all else. The degree of emphasis that Qur’an lays on this can be understood from the
92nd ayah of Surah ali-Imran:

‫حّبوَن َوَما ُتْنِفُقوا ِمْن َشْيٍء َفِإّن الّلَه ِبِه َعِليٌم‬


ِ ‫َلْن َتَناُلوا اْلِبّر َحّتى ُتْنِفُقوا ِمّما ُت‬
003.092 By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love; and
whatever ye give, of a truth Allah knoweth it well.

Implying that you are not to give that which you don’t like or is old and worthless rather give that which
you hold dear to yourself. If you cannot give from that which you love, i.e. your wealth, to alleviate the
pains and sufferings of your brethren then realize that you cannot consider yourself amongst the God-
conscious and Pious!

Every word or term has a connotation from which it cannot be separated; especially words which
become terminologies have a definitive connotation. For example if we say that so and so is a scholar
then the word “scholar” has a connotation in that statement. Similarly if we say that so and so is a
worshipper or an ascetic then both these terms hold a separate connotation. So it’s quite possible that
someone is a scholar, or a worshipper or an ascetic but according to the Qur’an he cannot be labeled as
a pious person unless he exhibits the empathy for his fellow beings and the zeal to alleviate their
problems.

This subject of empathy has been dealt with in different places in different ways in the Qur’an. The
Qur’an says in Surah Al-Layl,

‫شّتى‬
َ ‫ِإّن َسْعَيُكْم َل‬

092.004 Verily, (the ends) ye strive for are diverse.

And then 2 different ends are mentioned as,

‫َفَأّما َمْن َأْعَطى َواّتَقى‬

092.005 So he who gives (in charity) and saves himself (from evil),

‫سَنى‬
ْ‫ح‬
ُ ‫ق ِباْل‬
َ ‫صّد‬
َ ‫َو‬

092.006 And (in all sincerity) testifies to the best,-

‫سَرى‬
ْ ‫سُرُه ِلْلُي‬
ّ ‫سُنَي‬
َ ‫َف‬

092.007 We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Bliss.

So there is a path, the first step of which is generosity and that path leads towards ease. In contrast to
this there is another path the first step of which is stinginess,

‫خَل َواْسَتْغَنى‬
ِ ‫َوَأّما َمْن َب‬

092.008 But he who is a greedy miser and thinks himself self-sufficient,

‫سَنى‬
ْ‫ح‬
ُ ‫ب ِباْل‬
َ ‫َوَكّذ‬

092.009 And belies the best,-

‫سَرى‬
ْ ‫سُرُه ِلْلُع‬
ّ ‫سُنَي‬
َ ‫َف‬

092.010 We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Hardship;
So this way is the way for strife and hardship.

Similarly in Surah Al-Balad it is mentioned how man has been blessed by Allah in many different ways,

‫جَعْل َلُه َعْيَنْيِن‬


ْ ‫َأَلْم َن‬

090.008 Have We not made for him a pair of eyes?-

‫ساًنا َوَشَفَتْيِن‬
َ ‫َوِل‬

090.009 And a tongue, and a pair of lips?-

‫جَدْيِن‬
ْ ‫َوَهَدْيَناُه الّن‬

090.010 And shown him the two highways (One of righteousness and the other of transgression)?

In spite of these this man proved himself to be an ungrateful coward,

‫حَم اْلَعَقَبَة‬
َ ‫َفل اْقَت‬

090.011 But he hath made no haste on the path that is steep.

‫َوَما َأْدَراَك َما اْلَعَقَبُة‬

090.012 And what do you understand what the steep path is?-

Now the “steep path” is mentioned which is related to empathy and spending wealth for community
service:

‫ك َرَقَبٍة‬
ّ ‫َف‬

090.013 (It is:) freeing the bondman;

‫سَغَبٍة‬
ْ ‫َأْو ِإْطَعاٌم ِفي َيْوٍم ِذي َم‬

090.014 Or the giving of food in a day of privation

‫َيِتيًما َذا َمْقَرَبٍة‬


090.015 To the orphan with claims of relationship,

‫سِكيًنا َذا َمْتَرَبٍة‬


ْ ‫َأْو ِم‬

090.016 Or to the indigent (down) in the dust.

This is that steep slope. If someone conquers this and then attains to that level of conscious Iman
(Sha’uri) then that would qualify as nurun ‘ala nur (Light upon light) like Surah al-balad further says:

‫صْوا ِباْلَمْرَحَمِة‬
َ ‫صْبِر َوَتَوا‬
ّ ‫صْوا ِبال‬
َ ‫ُثّم َكاَن ِمَن اّلِذيَن آَمُنوا َوَتَوا‬

090.017 Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and
enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion.

Again we see the subject of Surah al-‘Asr being repeated here

Let’s take into consideration here some ahadith which are treasure troves of knowledge, in which the
Messenger of Allah Ē very laconically says,

“Whoever is deprived of mercy in his heart is deprived of everything good.”

“Whoever doesn not have mercy on other Allah will not have mercy on him”

“All creation is like the family of Allah”

So therefore if you love Allah shouldn’t you love His family i.e. His creation? In one Hadith-e-Qudsi it is
related that Allah (SWT) will complaint to His servant on the day of judgment that, “O son of Adam I was
ill and you didn’t visit me? He would respond, “O Master how can I visit you when you’re sick and you
are the Master of the worlds? Allah will respond, “Don’t you know that so and so slave of mine was ill
and you didn’t visit him? Don’t you know that had you visited him you would’ve found me there?
O son of Adam, I asked you for food you didn’t feed me.” The slave would say, “My Master! How could I
feed you when you are the Master of the worlds? Allah would respond, “Don’t you know that so and so
slave of mine asked you for food and you didn’t feed him? Don’t you know that had you fed him you
would have found that food with me!

O my slave, I asked you for water you didn’t give me water.” The slave would say, “How could I give you
water and you are the Master of the worlds?” Allah will respond, “Don’t you know my slave so-and-so
came to you and he asked you for water and you didn’t give him water. Had you given him water you
would have found that action to be with me!

Just imagine this is the importance in our din to fulfill the needs of the needy.

The order in Sadaqat and Khairat


Now focus on the words:

‫ب‬
ِ ‫ي َوِفي الرَّقا‬
َ ِ‫ساِئل‬
ّ ‫سِبيِل َوال‬
ّ ‫ي َواْبَن ال‬
َ ‫ساِك‬
َ ‫َذِوي اْلُقْرَبى َواْلَيَتاَمى َواْلَم‬
…for his near of kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom
of slaves;

There is an order of priority in these word; a very natural order: The most deserving of your good
treatment are your close relatives who are going through trying times; then the orphans in your society;
and then the Miskin ( Maskant is weakness. The people who lost their ability , who cannot stand on their
own two feet and who cannot sustain themselves); Then comes the traveler who may have become
dependent for some reason; and then the person who extends out his hand begging, (What do you
know, what necessities forced him to put his self-esteem on his hand and present it before you.); then
the person whose neck is caught—in the earlier times this was a sign of slavery, and in today’s world you
can say that the people who are so deeply caught in debt, that no matter what they do they cannot get
out of it.

The order of priorities presented here is founded in a lot of wisdom. Let this be very clear that this is the
supererogatory charity that is being elaborated upon here. Obligatory charity i.e. Zakat is mentioned
later in the ayah and its details are mentioned in Surah Tawbah. There is a hadith that says,

“Without a doubt there is a right in wealth other than Zakat” To remove any doubt that may arise about
zakat being the only right the poor have from our wealth. And to explain this statement, the Prophet Ē
recited this ayah.
Another thing to be borne in mind here is that the aspects of charity being talked of here are aimed at
developing a sense of empathy and an urge to serve other humans. Now the question arises about the
quantity and occasion, and the primary and secondary. This obviously depends in the amount the
person posses and depending on that he would go in order that the ayah presents up to the point where
he can, the more he spreads out in this circle the more virtue he earns for himself.

Ibadat or Huquq of Allah


Moving on:

‫صلَة َوآَتى الّزَكاَة‬


ّ ‫َوَأَقاَم ال‬
…and is constant in prayer, and practices regular charity;

What is Salat and what is Zakat? What do the literally mean? What position do they hold in our din—all
these questions will not be addressed here. They will however be addressed at a later in time in this
series of topics. For now suffice to understand that there is a deep relationship between them and the
reality of piety.

Up until now two important points have been clarified; the unseen spirit of piety i.e. Iman; and the other
is the primary manifestation of this spirit in the form of community service by spending your wealth to
alleviate the sufferings of your brethren. At this point Salah and Zakah are mentioned in the context of
being necessary consequences of Iman and conversely once accomplished they necessitate an in
increase in Iman as well. Therefore nourishment and refreshment of Iman, which is the spirit of piety is
salah. It helps in maintaining that relationship with Allah and serves to remind the person of Him. It
helps in keeping the person reminded and wary of the Day of Judgment. The best and most important
means of remembering Allah and the Day of Judgment is salah. Thereby, it is that one pillar which has
been erected to keep the Iman firm and refreshed.

As far Zakat goes it reduces the love and desire for money and opens the person’s heart to give even
more for the sake of his brethren in ways discussed before. Zakat serves as a starter or an instigator for
the supererogatory acts of charity. Zakat itself is obligatory; it has to be given out at all cost every year
without fail. In a real Islamic state it would be forcefully taken from you if you don’t willingly pay up. The
obligation that is zakat is understood by the law of “Static Friction” in Physics. Once an object is standing
it requires a greater amount of force to get it started, however if it’s already moving then the force
required to maintain its motion is not that much. Therefore Zakat provides that initial force which gets it
going for future actions of “Infaq” or charity. The seal of the love for money that is set on the heart is
broken by zakaat. There is no limit to supererogatory charity. In this regard an ayah in the Qur’an says,
002.219 ‫ك َماَذا ُيْنِفُقوَن ُقِل اْلَعْفَو‬
َ ‫سَأُلوَن‬
ْ ‫َوَي‬

002.219 They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: "What is beyond your needs."

It should remain very clear that this is a recommendation and an encouragement at a moral level and
not a legislated law. As far as law and worship is concerned for that we have the institution of obligatory
Zakat.

The key to the solution of the problems of Inter-personal dealings:


Fulfillment of oaths
We mentioned in the beginning that fulfillment of oaths holds a key position in interpersonal dealings.
All our dealings are based on contracts. A laborer is recruited for eight hours on a specific wage, this is a
contract. Similarly you hire someone for a monthly wage and sign an agreement delineating the
responsibilities he has to fulfill and the money that he would get for it. Most businesses are run on
contracts as well. Supply, construction, etc, are all based on contracts. Even our social dealings are based
on contracts even though it may not be documented as such. Marriage itself has been declared a social
contract.

Fulfillment of oaths has an important place in the reality of piety. To understand its importance as far as
religious and the final accountability is concerned we see that in Surah Isra it comes as a command: “Wa
Awfu bil ‘ahdi Inna al’ahdi kana mas’ula”

‫سُئول‬
ْ ‫َوَأْوُفوا ِباْلَعْهِد ِإّن اْلَعْهَد َكاَن َم‬

017.034 and fulfil (every) contract/promise, for (every) contract/promise will be enquired into (on the
Day of Reckoning).

Patience and Perseverance


Last but not the least:

ِ ‫ي اْلَبْأ‬
‫س‬ َ ‫ضّراِء َوِح‬
ّ ‫صاِبِريَن ِفي اْلَبْأَساِء َوال‬
ّ ‫َوال‬
…and (especially those who) are firm and patient, in poverty (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout
all periods of war.

Here the word used is not As-Sabiroon but As-sabirin which has to do with grammatical principles, and
this is not the time to explain that. That is why I added a word in the translation and that was
“Especially” so it became “Especially mention the patient”. The times during which this sabr is required
is listed after this; poverty and hunger, physical or mental afflictions, and then on the field of battle
when your life is on the line. From this one thing should be crystal clear that there is a world of a
difference between the monastic concept of piety and the Qur’anic concept as it is explained in this
ayah. In the monastic concept the pious detach themselves from the society and escape to the caves
and mountains and jungles for meditation. As far as Islam is concerned it requires for people to be in the
thick of things in the society and then requires of them to be pious. Furthermore accepting defeat and
escaping is not an option, rather you are required to lock horns with evil and look it in the eye and battle
it if required. To struggle to elevate the status of piety in a society, is the pinnacle of piety; to face
challenges, poverty and hunger and even go to the extent of putting your life on the line.

Highest Good
In every moral system of the world there is always this concept of the Highest Good. What is that
Highest Good? From the viewpoint of the Qur’an the highest and greatest form of piety is that you
sacrifice your lives for the spread of virtue, for the prevalence of Truth, for the establishment of social
justice, for the victory of Truth, honesty and trustworthiness. Hence it is in this exact Surah that Allah Ī
say a few Ruku’s before:

‫شُعُروَن‬
ْ ‫ت َبْل َأْحَياٌء َوَلِكْن ل َت‬
ٌ ‫َول َتُقوُلوا ِلَمْن ُيْقَتُل ِفي َسِبيِل الّلِه َأْمَوا‬

002.154 And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: "They are dead." Nay, they are living,
though ye perceive (it) not.

‫صاِبِريَن‬
ّ ‫شِر ال‬
ّ ‫ت َوَب‬
ِ ‫س َوالّثَمَرا‬
ِ ‫ص ِمَن الْمَواِل َوالنُْف‬
ٍ ‫ع َوَنْق‬
ِ ‫جو‬
ُ ‫ف َواْل‬
ِ ‫خْو‬
َ ‫شْيٍء ِمَن اْل‬
َ ‫َوَلَنْبُلَوّنُكْم ِب‬

002.155 Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the
fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere,

002.156 ‫صيَبٌة َقاُلوا ِإّنا ِلّلِه َوِإّنا ِإَلْيِه َراِجُعوَن‬


ِ ‫صاَبْتُهْم ُم‬
َ ‫اّلِذيَن ِإَذا َأ‬

002.156 Who say, when afflicted with calamity: "To Allah We belong, and to Him is our return":-

002.157 ‫ك ُهُم اْلُمْهَتُدوَن‬


َ ‫ت ِمْن َرّبِهْم َوَرْحَمٌة َوُأوَلِئ‬
ٌ ‫صَلَوا‬
َ ‫ك َعَلْيِهْم‬
َ ‫ُأوَلِئ‬

002.157 They are those on whom (Descend) blessings from Allah, and Mercy, and they are the ones that
receive guidance.

This part of the Ayah Birr also indicates towards Tawasi Bil Haq, albeit indirectly but obviously. But for
the people who have the light of iman in their hearts and minds, who empathize towards others and are
the willing to sacrifice for them, the people who pray, give zakat, and fulfill their contracts, what other
purpose can their battles be for? It’s not a selfish battle, it’s not for annexing land but rather it can only
be fi Sabililllah in the path of Allah.
Culmmination: The Standard for Truthfulness and Taqwa
The ayah ends with:

‫ك ُهُم اْلُمّتُقوَن‬
َ ‫صَدُقوا َوُأوَلِئ‬
َ ‫ك اّلِذيَن‬
َ ‫ُأوَلِئ‬
It is they who have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of Allah.

There is an exclusivity in this part of the ayah, meaning the only people true to their claim of Iman are
those who have this true concept of Iman in their hearts; whose pious acts have the actions mentioned
in this ayah; and only these people have the right to be called Muttaqi.

Studying this ayah reveals that all four of the topics mentioned in Surah Al-Asr are mentioned here as
well. The requirements for salvation mention in Surah Al-Asr are enunciated here in a different light, a
different nuance and a different context. The truth that was unequivocally stated in Surah Al-Asr has
been reviewed a different way in this ayah.

The real concept of piety and taqwa that we’ve learnt from this amazing ayah can only benefit us if we
resolve that we will try our level best to practically implement whatever we have learnt from the Qur’an
and hadith. May Allah help us!