Sunday, October 14, 2007

ولباس التقوى ذلك خير (... and the Garment / Covering of Taqwa, that is better ...)

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

Allah, the Almighty, says in the Holy Qur'an addressing the Children of Adam:

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ قَدْ أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ لِبَاسًا يُوَارِي سَوْءَاتِكُمْ وَرِيشًا وَلِبَاسُ التَّقْوَىَ ذَلِكَ خَيْرٌ ذَلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللّهِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَذَّكَّرُونَ ، سورة الأعراف: 26

[O children of Adam! We have indeed sent down to you clothing to cover your shame, and (clothing) for beauty. But the clothing that guards (against evil), that is the best. This is of the communications of Allah that they may be mindful.]

A short exploration into the word لباس (and other related words):

The word "لِباس" (libas) can be traced to one of two roots:
(1) لبِس - يلْبَس (labisa - yalbasu) - to cover yourself with or get dressed in a garment
The nouns لِباس (libas), لَبُوس (labus), and لُبْس (lubs) all refer to any clothing or garment that you cover yourself with. The verb لبِس (labisa) is almost always used in relation to clothing and garments

(2) لبَس - يلْبِس (labasa - yalbisu) - to cover, conceal, hide, confound, obfuscate, etc, and does not necessarily involve garments or clothing. In fact, all the times the verb لبَس or one of its cognates is used in the Qur'an it is used in the sense of covering up or concealing in general, and almost always in a perjorative sense, as the following verses illustrate:


- وَلاَ تَلْبِسُواْ الْحَقَّ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَتَكْتُمُواْ الْحَقَّ وَأَنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ ، سورة البقرة: 42

[And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know (what it is)]


- الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ وَلَمْ يَلْبِسُواْ إِيمَانَهُم بِظُلْمٍ أُوْلَـئِكَ لَهُمُ الأَمْنُ وَهُم مُّهْتَدُونَ ، سورة الأنعام: 82

[It is those who believe and confuse not their beliefs with wrongdoing / oppression - that are (truly) in security, for they are on (right) guidance]

Thus, in the first sense لباس (which appears to be the more common sense in which it is used) refers to a garment or raiment that you cover yourself with, whereas in the second sense it refers to any form of covering that is not necessarily a garment or a piece of clothing.

Now, a garment ( لباس ) serves two essential functions: (a) it covers one's nakedness, and (b) it protects one's body from the elements such as heat and cold. There is also a third but not so essential function which is that a garment can also serve as a form of adornment. In fact, it is this function of garments that is referred to by the Qur'anic expression رِيْشاً which literally means' feathers' but because feathers also serve as a adornment for birds, it is often used metaphorically to refer to beauty and adornment in other objects. The famous exegete, linguist and lexicographer, al-Zamakhshari, states in his "Asas al-Balaghah" (a dictionary dealing with Arabic metaphorical usages) that: "Allah has made garments into "rish" (lit. feathers): adornment and beauty قَدْ أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ لِبَاسًا يُوَارِي سَوْءَاتِكُمْ وَرِيشًا [We have indeed sent down to you clothing to cover your shame, and (clothing) for beauty], and this usage is borrowed from feathers which serve to cover and adorn birds". It is this same adornment and beauty that Allah refers to one verse later: يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُواْ زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ ، سورة الأعراف: 31 [O Children of Adam! wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer].

Subsequently, the word لباس has come to be used for anything that covers and conceals a person from what is ugly and abominable. Thus, married partners or spouses are referred to as garments unto each other not only because they are allowed to cover each other like garments but also because they protect and safeguard each other from falling into sin by being there for each other.

Insha Allah, we will also see later on, the significance of describing or referring to التقوى in terms of لباس .

Different interpretations of التقوى in لباس التقوى :

التقوى as we know has the meaning of 'protection, safeguarding, etc.' whether in the physical sense of protecting against physical harm or injury or in the spiritual sense of protecting against evil and sinfulness. That لباس التقوى can refer to some type of protective garment or even coat of arms / armour, is borne out by the following two verses:

وَجَعَلَ لَكُمْ سَرَابِيلَ تَقِيكُمُ الْحَرَّ وَسَرَابِيلَ تَقِيكُم بَأْسَكُمْ سورة النحل: 81

[He made you garments to protect you from heat, and coats of mail /arms to protect you from your (mutual) violence]
(Here even a verb bearing the same root letters of التقوى is used to mean "to protect", namely, تَقِيْ )

وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ صَنْعَةَ لَبُوسٍ لَّكُمْ لِتُحْصِنَكُم مِّن بَأْسِكُمْ فَهَلْ أَنتُمْ شَاكِرُونَ ، سورة الأنبياء: 80

[It was We Who taught him the making of coats of mail / arms for your benefit, to guard you from each other's violence: will ye then be grateful?]

As for التقوى referring to a covering or barrier that protects against evil and sinfulness is a common enough meaning and has already been discussed at length in a previous post. We will shortly discuss the connection between التقوى and اللباس and the significance of this connection and comparison.

Grammatical Analysis of لباس التقوى based on the Raf' and Nasb readings of لباس :

There exist basically two primary Quranic readings in terms of how لباس of لباس التقوى is read. These two readings will now be discussed together with the grammatical justifications for these readings.

(A) the Raf' reading of لباسُ (Hamzah, Ibn Kathir, 'Asim & Abu 'Amr):
This is by far the more popular of the two readings, and 4 explanations have been forwarded as to its grammatical validity:
(a) لباسُ التقوى - is the mubtada',
ذلك - is tab'i (appositive) of لباس , (a sifah, badal or 'atf bayan),
خيرٌ - is the khabar of the mubtada' لباسُ التقوى

(b) لباسُ التقوى - is the first mubtada'
ذلك - is the second mubtada'
خيرٌ - is the khabar of the second mubtada' which together constitute a nominal clause serving as the khabar of the first mubtada'

(c) لباسُ التقوى - is the khabar of an elided mubtada', with the structure assumed as: وساترُ عوراتكم لباس التقوى (... and that which covers your nakedness is the covering / garment of Taqwa)

(d) لباسُ التقوى - is the mubtada' of an elided khabar, with the structure assumed as: ولباسُ التقوى ساترُ عوراتكم (... and the covering / garment of Taqwa is that which covers your nakedness)


(B) the Nasb reading of لباسَ (the rest of the Renowned Qur'anic Readers):

The explanation put forward for the Nasb-reading of لباسَ is that it is ma'tuf (conjoined via the conjunctive particle waw) to
لباساً يواري سوآتكم وريشاً in which case they all fall under both the grammatical and semantic force of the verb أنزلْنا .

What is the significance of comparing التقوى to a لباس , and why is the لباس التقوى better?

By comparing التقوى to a لباس it implies that التقوى serves all those functions normally associated with garments and clothing, like protecting one's body, covering one's nakedness, and adorning oneself. By then stating that the لباس التقوى is better, it implies that the لباس التقوى is even superior to an regular garment in these three respects or functions. Here is why I think the لباس التقوى is superior to a regular garment:
(1) The garment of Taqwa safeguards the soul and protects it from the destructive forces of evil and disobedience, and we all know that the soul is more important than the body. At the same we are taught that are bodies also have rights over us, and that we need to look after them and care for them. It is our Taqwa that ensures that we give our bodies adequate protection by eating and drinking properly, not inflicting punishments on ourselves, etc.

(2) The garment of Taqwa covers more than just our nakedness. It preserves also our modesty. It is what prevents us from dressing inappropriately and immodestly when it is scorching hot, and the temperatures are soaring. By covering up our bodies we turn our focus from the outside to the inside, from our bodies to our souls. Thus, while a regular garment only covers our nakedness and the secrets of our bodies except from our spouses, the Garment of Taqwa covers the nakedness of souls and the secrets of our hearts except from Allah. While our bodies are meant for our spouses, our souls and hearts are meant for Allah.

(3) The garment of Taqwa focuses on inner beauty rather than outer beauty. By wearing the garment of Taqwa we cover ourselves in a wide range and great variety of beautiful and coulourful character traits. It is significant that the word used for acquiring and developing virtuous character traits is التحلِّي (al-tahalli), that is, 'to adorn, beautify or dress yourself up', and the word used for shunning bad and undesirable character traits is التخلِّي (al-takhalli), that is, 'to abandon, shun, get rid off, empty out, etc.'

This also brings to mind the hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that states: "A believer is a mirror unto his brother". There is none of us that leaves the house except that he or she has looked into the mirror to see if his or her appearance is acceptable and presentable to the public eye. The mirror that your believing brother or sister holds up to you is to ensure that you look acceptable and presentable in the Presence of Allah on the Day of Judgement, because He does not look at your physical bodies and forms, rather He looks at your hearts and deeds. In another hadith it is stated that: "Iman is what occurs in the heart and is verified by the deeds". In other words, the deeds reflect what is on the inside. Just as you accept the advice of a mirror and are more than ready to do the necessary adjustments to your appearance based on what the mirror tells you, you should be even more accepting of the advice of the mirror that your believing brother or sister holds up to you and more ready to do the necessary adjustments to your siritual appearance, since in the final analysis, it is your spiritual appearance that counts rather than your physical appearance:

وَلَا تُخْزِنِي يَوْمَ يُبْعَثُونَ، يَوْمَ لَا يَنفَعُ مَالٌ وَلَا بَنُونَ ، إِلَّا مَنْ أَتَى اللَّهَ بِقَلْبٍ سَلِيمٍ ، سورة الشعراء: 87 - 89

[And let me not be in disgrace on the Day when (men) will be raised up - The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail - but only he (will prosper) that brings to Allah a sound heart ]

والله أعلم

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