Monday, October 8, 2007

Goal Setting & Goal Achievement: لعلكم تتقون (... in order that you may achieve Taqwa) - Part One

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

We are all approaching the end of the Blessed Month of Ramadhan, and now we need to ask ourself whether we have or are on our way to achieving our Ramadhan goals. It is time for stock-taking with the hope of making up in what little remains of Ramadhan. Ramadhan has come to give us a 29 / 30 day training session in developing Taqwa. Have we achieved our stated goal? In this post I wish to show how Ramadhan is all about goal setting and goal achievement based on a partial linguistic analysis of the sawm verse.

We are all familiar with famous sawm verse that read as follows:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ ، سورة البقرة: 183
[O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, in order that you may achieve Taqwa]

The significance of the particle لعلّ in the sawm verse:

The operative particle here in the verse is لَعَلَّ which we know to be sister of إنّ . While it performs the same grammatical function of إنّ in terms of operating on a nominal sentence (jumlah ismiyyah) causing the mubtada' therein to become mansub and the khabar therein to remain marfu', it differs from إنّ semantically. Thus, while إنّ seeks to emphasise that something is or is not the case, لعلّ conveys the meaning of hoping or expecting something to be or not be the case. So if I say: لعَلَّكَ ناَجِحٌ (Hopefully, you have passed / I'm expecting that you have pass). The hope or expectation can either be on the part of the speaker or on the part of the addressee. It is in this second sense (i.e. hope or expectation on the part of the addressee) that لعلّ is to be understood and interpreted when used in relation to Allah. Another meaning that has often been attributed to لعلّ in this context is that of "reason /cause" and is often translated as "in order that" or "so that" or just simply "that" and is normally preceded by the action or event that brings about the desired state of affairs.
Another meaning of لعلّ is "expressing fear, concern or apprehension" and is normally translated as "perhaps" or "maybe", e.g. لعل زيداً مريضٌ (Perhaps, Zayd is sick / has taken ill). It is in this sense that لعلّ in the following Qur'anic verse is said to be understood and interpreted: لعلّ السَّاعَةَ قَرِيْبٌ، سورة الشورى: 17 (Perhaps, the Hour is near).

What, then, might be the significance of the use of لعل in the sawm verse?

The particle لعل tells us why it is that sawm has been legislated for us. It informs us about the goal of sawm, which is to achieve a certain state and that state is the state of Taqwa. Now, if this is the goal of sawm or fasting then it follows that we ourselves have to set ourselves that goal at the beginning of the month of Ramadhan, and then see at the end of the month of Ramadhan whether we have actually achieved that goal. However before we can even set ourselves the goal of achieving a state of Taqwa, we have to fully understand what this goal entails, and then clearly work towards achieving it. In other words, there should tangible indicators that should tell us at the end of a month long training program, that we have to a certain degree achieved our goal. At the same time we have to ensure that we have properly planned how to organise our time and activities that will ensure, insha Allah, that we have achieved our stated goal. The process itself calls for continuous assessment of all our actions and efforts during the various stages and phases of the training program to we see whether we are actually on track and getting closer to realising our goal.

Now, the time has arrived for us to take stock, and see how well we have fared towards achieving this noble goal of Taqwa. To know whether we have achieved our goal requires us to know what the essence is of what we are meant to achieve, namely, Taqwa. So what is Taqwa, and what does it mean to be a Muttaqi, and is there a tangible way of measuring not necessarily the degree of Taqwa but rather its presence or existence?

What is Taqwa?

A whole book can be written on this topic, and whole books have been written on it, so what I’ll be presenting is just a droplet in the ocean. The word “taqwa” or تَقْوَى comes from the root و ق ي which means ‘to protect, safeguard, shield, prevent, etc.’. The الماضي، المضارع، الأمر & المصدر forms of are: وَقَى – يَقِيْ – قِ – وِقَايَة , and belongs to the category of verb called الفعل اللفيف المفروق which is a verb whose root letters comprise 2 weak letters separated by a sound / strong letter. Verbs such as these have their الأمر form as a single letter which is the middle strong letter. Its الأمر form occurs in the Qur’an in popular verses such وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ (Protect us from the Punishment of the Fire) and قُوْا أَنْفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيْكُمْ نَاراً وَقُوْدُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ (Protect yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is men and stones). Sawm (fasting) itself has been described in hadith as being a shield or protection (جُنَّة) and normally explained as وِقَايَة .

Now, you might ask where the waw is in تقوى , and the answer is that it changed into a taa’ just as the waw of ورث (to inherit) changed into a taa’ in تُراث (inheritance, heritage, legacy). So it is by no means uncommon. The same goes for تَتَّقُوْنَ the original form of which is تَوْتََقِيُوْنَ , with the first waw changing into a taa' so as make possible its assimilation (idghaam / iddighaam) into the taa' following it, and the yaa’ gets dropped due to a morphological rule or rules that will be discussed in later post, insha Allah.

As for the shar’i meaning of التَّقْوَى , the following definitions have been forwarded:

(a) اتِّقَاء الْمَعَاصِيْ (ittiqaa’ al-ma’asi = warding off, avoiding sins, disobedience); this meaning seems to be very apt for the kind of Taqwa that we envisage to gain during the course of Ramadhan, since during Ramadhan we refrain from things that are normally halaal (lawful) so as to make it doubly easy for us to refrain from things that are haraam (unlawful). Ibn ‘Ashur gives an interesting reason as to how sawm teaches and trains us to ward off and refrain from sinful acts. He says that sinful acts are of two types: (a) sinful acts which require us to sufficiently reflect on its detriments in order to abandon them, such as drinking wine, gambling, stealing, usurping other people’s property, etc., and (b) sinful acts that stem from anger and natural desire which might be difficult to just abandon through mere reflection on its negative aspects, and for this reason sawm has been legislated to help us overcome and refrain from these sinful acts. This the act of sawm accomplishes or effects through regulating and controlling one’s lower desires through elevating and raising the individual from being immersed and steeped in base materialism to the lofty heights of the spiritual world. Sawm, then, is a means through which ones engages in the sublime activities of a sinless spiritual world to gain control over the sinful and base desires of an animalistic world. Sawm, then, becomes as the hadith says: a shield that safeguards and protects one from not only falling into sin and disobedience but also from falling into the depthless Fire of the Jahannam in the Hereafter. Moreover, it also serves as a shield that protects us from illnesses and sicknesses that befall people who indulge in lust and desire without the slightest restraint.

(b) Ali ibn Abi Talib’s definition: هي الخوف من الجليل، والعمل بالتنزيل، والقناعة بالقليل، والاستعداد ليوم الرحيل

Taqwa is Fearing Allah, the Majestic, acting according to Revelation, being contented with little, and making preparation for the Day of the Journey

(c) another common definition is: Taqwa is when a servant places between him and what he fears a barrier that will protect him from it

(d) Ibn Abbas says that the Muttaqun (people of Taqwa) are those who fear Allah and His Punishment

(e) Abdullahi ibn Mas’ud says concerning the meaning of Qur’anic statement: اتَّقُواْ اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ (Fear Allah as He should be feared):

أن يُطاع فلا يُعصى، ويذكر فلا ينسى، وأن يشكر فلا يكفر

(that Allah must be obeyed and not be disobeyed, that He must be remembered and not be forgotten, that He be shown gratitude and not ingratitude)

These then are some of the definitions of Taqwa, and by studying them closely one realises that Taqwa is one of those terms whose meaning whose meaning is so all-encompassing so as almost to leave nothing out. It seems to me that this all-encompassing property and trait of Taqwa stems from the fact that it creates the person who possesses Taqwa a certain type of consciousness and awareness of Allah such that it permeates his whole being and radiates his whole life and existence, with the result that everything he does is done with that consciousness and awareness of Allah. Being in that frame of mind certainly brings out the best in you, and causes you to engage only in good and refrain from evil.

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