For similar essays
Click here

Your feedback is
Click here

See Major themes in

What is Taqwa, an
article by Dr. Tanveer
Themes in the Quran Series
For more info contact: [email protected]

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. [


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. [

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 [1].

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

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.[3]

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.[4]

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[5]

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
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. [6]

What is Taqwa?

Taqwa may be described as follows:

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:

for details read
What is Taqwa?, an article by Dr. Tanveer Hussain


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
[2] Potlatch is a ceremony among Native American in which the host
demonstrates his wealth by giving away gifts
[3] Fazlur Rahman (Major Themes of the Quran 1989 IBT)
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] ibid