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Taqwa: the sense of moral responsibility
By: Ahmad Ibrahim September 2006
O humankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that who has At-Taqwa. Verily, Allah is All- knowing, All-Aware. [49:13]
And a soul and Him who perfected it And inspired it (with conscience of) what is fujoor (wrong) for it and (what is) tawqa (right) for it. He is indeed successful who causeth it to grow, And he is indeed a failure who stunteth it. [91:7-10]
God has given us a natural faculty to judge between right and wrong, just and unjust, and acceptable and unacceptable. It is called conscience, which is defined by Oxford dictionary as:
A moral sense of right or wrong; a sense of responsibility felt for private or public actions, motives, etc.; the faculty or principle that leads to the approval of right thought or action and condemnation of wrong.
Conscience is often called the 'inner voice' which allows us to see a clear course ahead. Every sane person uses this faculty to choose his or her decisions and actions. Only the loss of sanity deprives us of this faculty, that is why insanity is admitted as a defense in the court of law.
But to begin with, why do we regard some actions as right, just and acceptable and others as wrong, unjust and unacceptable? The answer is in our culture, which teaches us to discern what is right, based on established beliefs and values.
Therefore, conscience can prompt different people in quite different directions, depending on their beliefs, suggesting that while the capacity for conscience is probably genetically determined, its subject matter is probably learnt, or imprinted, like language, as part of a culture .
Conscience and Cultural Values
Oxford dictionary defines culture as:
A particular form, stage, or type of intellectual development or civilization in a society; a society or group characterized by its distinctive customs, achievements, products, outlook, etc The distinctive customs, achievements, products, outlook, etc., of a society or group; the way of life of a society or group.
A culture is a product of centuries of evolution, mixing of different people, religions and streams of thought. Eventually how a culture comes to regard something as right or wrong usually has a complex and long history.
The gradual process of enculturation --the process by which the values and norms of a society are passed on to or acquired by its members-- starts from the moment we are born and continues though out our lives.
For example in many Muslim households, children are taught to respect the parents and the elders, be kind to the little ones, keep themselves clean and practice the teachings of our religion. These teachings create an environment or culture which we call Islamic Culture or Civilization.
However, what may be an acceptable behavior in a culture may be a taboo— forbidden— in another, for example, honor killing is practiced in some tribal cultures. It is a gruesome act and is based on the cultural belief that the accused have dishonored their traditions and that honor can only be restored by killing the guilty. On the other hand, in many other cultures sex is entirely a matter of personal choice.
Similarly, it may be acceptable in a culture to throw one’s garbage outside the house or spit in the public places, but littering is considered selfish and may be a crime in another culture.
Another good example is that of hoarding of wealth. It may be a matter of pride in one culture to hoard wealth and show it off, while philanthropy or even destroying one's wealth may be a matter of honor and respect in another culture.
As we said earlier, we human beings define what is right or wrong, through a long and complex process which is beyond the control of individuals in the society, rather society or people living in that culture as a whole decide them. These norms or morals are the shared behavior of a society.
What the Quran says on universal human values?
But is there any universal definition of right and wrong which transcends individuals and societies; a set of natural moral laws which is applicable to all whether they consciously accept them or not?
The Quran says:
And we have not created the heavens and the earth and what is therein purposelessly—that is the view of those who reject [God] or who are ungrateful [37:27; 3:191]
The purpose of man’s creation is that he do good in the world, not substitute himself for God and think that he can make and unmake the moral law at his own convenience and for his own selfish and narrow ends.
This is why it is imperative, according to the Quran, to take this life seriously and to recognize fully that no matter how much one may hide one's negative intentions and one's failings, God "is well aware of them," as the Quran often puts it. Hence one must develop that inner torch which can enable one to distinguish between right and wrong, between justice and injustice, which the Quran calls taqwa--a crucial term, indeed one of the three of four most crucial terms.
Like torchlight, taqwa is undoubtedly capable of gradations, from a zero-point of naive self righteousness to a high point where one can almost completely x- ray one's state-of-mind and conscience
We must remember that the Quran is book, revealed for the guidance of those who have developed taqwa:
Alif. Lam. Mim. This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who have taqwa [2:1-2]
Thus, the real problem lies within man himself, for he is a blend of good and evil, ignorance and knowledge, power and impotence. The key to man's defense is taqwa, which literally means defense but which, is a kind of inner light, a spiritual spark which man must light within himself to distinguish between right and wrong, seeming and real, immediate and lasting, etc. 
What is Taqwa?
Taqwa may be described as follows:
Taqwa is conscience inspired by values of the God, revealed to us in the Quran.
Taqwa is a transcendental dimension, a universally objective moral point of view from the God.
Taqwa is remembrance of the God to fortify individual and collective personalities.
Taqwa is not limited to passive goodness; but demands active participation in promotion of the God’s values in the society;
Taqwa is not necessarily compatible with the moral values of one’s culture, forefathers or the whims and desires of influential people in the society i.e. Clergy or the Aristocracy.
Taqwa is one of the values for which God has expressed love. Click here
What type of social behaviour may be inspired by Taqwa?
In a social context Taqwa means:
To be incorruptible;
To be generous towards those who need our help particularly the orphans, poor, indigents, those who are under chronic debt and those who have lost their source of livelihood;
To be kind to parents and human beings in general;
To regard all human beings as sons and daughters of Adam and eve; one big family and not to discriminate based on color or caste or gender;
A deep sense of accountability to God;
To remain steadfast in physical or emotional distress;
To lead a transparent life in which there is nothing whatever to hide from others;
Taqwa is the sense of moral responsibility of a person based on the values of God, revealed to us in the Quran. The values which lead to taqwa can be different from one's own cultural values. Allah has promised to honor the people with taqwa in the life of this world and hereafter.
Just imagine a Pakistan if our government, civil services and society is led by people with Taqwa?
Notes and References ____________________________________________________________  www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscience  Potlatch is a ceremony among Native American in which the host demonstrates his wealth by giving away gifts  Fazlur Rahman (Major Themes of the Quran 1989 IBT)  ibid  ibid  ibid