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Taqwā

By:
Ahmad Shboul
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women What is This? A single source for accurate overview articles covering the major topics of scholarly interest within the study of women and Islam.

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Taqwā

A crucial Islamic concept, taqwā signifies “God-consciousness” and the state of being “God-fearing,” and, by extension, “piety,” with which it seems to have a partially comparable semantic history. Taqwā and its derivatives occur more than 250 times in the Qurʾān. It has been rendered variously as: fear, God-fearing, godliness, piety, God-consciousness, right conduct, righteousness, virtue, warding-off-evil, and wariness. A survey of its usage in the Qurʾān indicates that taqwā is often paired with faith, goodness, justice, fairness, equity, guidance, truthfulness, perseverance, sincerity, purity, reliance on God, obedience to God, fulfillment of promises, and generosity. Taqwā is seen as a condition of God's rewards for good deeds. Women as well as men are enjoined to have taqwā; and good treatment of women by men in the context of marriage is seen as a sign of taqwā.

In Ṣūfī thought and practice, taqwā signifies God-consciousness and abstention from everything but God, and is considered as the mainstay of spiritual practice. It is also an important concept in Islamic moral, juristic, and theological discourse and in classical Arabic worldly literature. As a highly esteemed attribute, taqwā has an important function in Islamic social and political discourse, particularly in contemporary life.

In the Qurʾān, taqwā is enjoined as an attitude for both men and women, and several ḥadīths referring to taqwā are addressed to and transmitted on the authority of women, such as ʿĀʾishah. In both the Qurʾān and the ḥadīth, women, like men, are specifically enjoined to have taqwā within themselves and are considered ennobled by it. The Prophet, addressing ʿĀʾishah, is quoted as saying: “Piety is here [in the heart] (al-taqwā hāhunā),” while placing the palm of his hand on his chest.

The Qurʾān's declaration that “the noblest of you in the sight of God are those having the most taqwā” (49:13) is usually highlighted in the context of human equality generally, particularly the absence of racial or national distinction. This is often coupled with the ḥadīth: “No additional virtue attaches to an Arab over a non-Arab except by the criterion of taqwā.” On the other hand, since the last decades of the twentieth century, Muslim feminists have used the same Qurʾānic verse, in its proper context in the Qurʾān, to emphasize gender equality. This has been particularly clearly articulated by Amina Wadud, who has often argued that distinctions between males and females are of little significance since it is taqwā, rather than gender, that is the real criterion of excellence and nobility of character in the eyes of God.

Wadud also uses another significant Qurʾānic expression—“the dress of taqwā (libās al-taqwā, 7:26),” in both its inherent metaphorical significance and its literal implications for Muslim women (and men) for modest dress—both to expound on the significance of taqwā in general, and to challenge the current polarizing debates about the “politics of the hijab.”

Other Muslim feminist academics and activists, via various approaches and methodologies, including anthropological fieldwork, education-oriented workshops, participatory action research (PAR), and proactive lobbying for Muslim women's rights, have used taqwā as a motivating concept. They include Nimat Hafez Barazangi, Saba Mahmoud, and Meena Sharify-Funk, among several others, as well as activist groups, such as the Malaysia-based Sisters in Islam, and several Muslim women's study groups or projects in North America and elsewhere.

The notion of taqwā as a kind of Muslim “pietism,” in the sense of personal or group religious discipline, seems to be self-consciously exhibited in some activities carried out during regular mosque attendance by women at prayers and induction lessons.

Bibliography

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  • Shahrour, Muhammad. Al-Qur’ān wal-Kitāb: Qirā’ah Mu‘āsirah [The Qurʾān and the Book: Contemporary Reading]. Damascus, Syria: al-Ahālī, 1990.
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