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Talking about piety (taqwa) or writing about it is easy. It is the practice of piety that is most difficult, especially trying to practice it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Islam is not a weekend religion, but demands that we are Muslim all of the time. "O you who believe, accept Islam whole heartedly, and do not follow the footsteps of the devil, for he is your open enemy" (2:208).
It is not easy to translate or describe the meaning of the word piety. In the Quran it is mentioned in various ways to mean: being God-conscious; being God fearing; to be pious; being careful or heeding God's call; and having self restraint along Islamic lines.
Now let us review some of the verses of the Quran describing piety. The first usage is in the beginning of Surah al-Baqarah. "This is the book, in it is guidance for sure (without doubt) for those who practice piety (muttaqin)" (2:2). In the following verses (3-4) the features of a pious person are described as those who believe in the unseen, establish regular prayer, spend from what God has given them, who believe in the Quran and the holy scriptures that came before the Quran, and those who believe in the hereafter. In the fifth verse their reward for being pious is described as, "They are on (true) guidancefrom their Lord, and it is these who will prosper."
PIETY DESCRIBED AS A PROTECTIVE SHIELD
"O you children of Adam. We have given dress to you to cover your shame, as well as to be an adornment to you but the dress of righteousness) (piety, taqwa) is the best. Such are the signs of God that you may receive admonition" (7:26) And, "O you who believe, save yourself and your families from a fire whose fuel is men and stones, over which are angels stem and severe, who fail not (from executing) the commands they receive from Allah, but do precisely what they are ordered" (66:6).
PIETY DESCRIBED AS GOD-AWARENESS
"O mankind, be conscious of your duty to God, who created you from a single person, created of like nature his mate, and from twain scattered countless men and women. Be conscious of God, through whom you demand your mutual rights and wombs (that bore you). For God ever watches over you" (4:1). God awareness is described as knowing that God is watching over you. Caliph Umar has said, "It is as if you are going on a path with a lot of bushes and you fold your clothes to avoid thorns setting into them."
PIETY DESCRIBED AS A TOOL TO LEARN DISCIPLINE (SELF-RESTRAINT)
"O you who believe' Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may learn self restrains" (2:183).
PIETY DESCRIBED AS AN ACT OF PIETY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
"But those who receive guidance, He increases the light of guidance and bestows on them their piety and restraint from evil" (47:17). "But none will keep it in the remembrance except as God wills; He is the Lord of Righteousness, and the Lord of Forgiveness" (74:56). "The most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you, and God has full knowledge and is acquainted will all things" (49:13).
PIETY DESCRIBED AS BEING GOD-FEARING
"O you who believe, fear God as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam" (3:102). "O you who believe, fear God and let every soul look to what provision He has sent forth for the morrow. Yea, fear God, for God is well acquainted with all that you do" (59:18). The fear of God is different than for example the fear of a lion, from whom we expect no mercy. We fear God for His displeasure, losing His blessings, and incurring punishment. We fear Him with love, not hate. "And those who fear the displeasure of their Lord" (70:27). "But believers are mostfervent in their love of God" (2:165).
REWARDS FOR BEING PIOUS
The Quran mentions many rewards for the pious. "Nay, those who keep their promise and practice righteousness, verily God loves those who are pious (practice righteousness)" (3:76). "O you who believe. If you fear God, He will grant you a criterion (to judge between right and wrong), remove from you all evil that may affect you, andforgive you for God is the Lord of Grace unbound" (8:29). "Those who fear and act righteously, on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve" (7:35). "Say, if you do love God, then follow me (Muhammad). God will love you and forgive you your sins. For God is oft-forgiving, Merciful" (3:3 1).
In summary, piety is being conscious of God, to seek manners of pleasing Him, and avoiding His displeasure, in order to receive His love, guidance, and forgiveness and to protect ourselves from hellfire. We can only practice piety (awareness of God if we can recognize Him through His signs. For a detailed documentation of His signs, see 30:20-60. The signs described are in the creation of our body, nature, the universe, life and death, the operation of this earth, and the signs the Prophets brought with them.
HOW TO INCREASE PIETY
After recognizing God, and establishing the belief of Him in our
heart, we can attempt to increase His awareness (with His permission) by
doing the following:
1. Acts of Worship: The prescribed prayers, the prescribed fast, the pilgrimage, and the poor-due. In addition to five daily prescribed prayers, the prayer between midnight to the time of the dawn prescribed prayer (tahajjud) is highly recommended and mentioned in the Quran (17:79). In addition to reciting the Quran during the prescribed prayer, further recitation is good, especially in the early hours of the morning.
2. Acts Of Asking For Forgiveness: "Then Adam learned words of forgiveness, from his Lord and his Lord turned towards him, for He is oft- forgiving, Most Merciful" (2:37). Those words of forgiveness taught to Adam and Eve were: They said "Our Lord, we have wronged our souls. If you forgive us not, and bestow not upon us your mercy, we shall certainly be lost" (7:23).
Forgiveness is the reward of repentance which comes out of piety. "He is the one who accepts repentance from His servants and forgives sins and He knows all that you do. And He listens to those who believe and do acts of righteousness, and gives them increase of His bounty" (42:25-26).
3. Acts of Communication With God (remembrance, dhikr): We should communicate with God all the time, no matter in what state we are and whatever we are doing. "And your Lord says call on Me and I will answer your calls" (40:60). "When my servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close to them: I listen to the Prayers of every supplicant when he calls upon Me. Let them also with a will listen to My call, and believe in Me, that they may walk in the right way" (2:186). "Those who believe, and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of God, for without doubt in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest" (I 3:28).
Among the recommended daily practices to increase depth of faith and awareness of God are keeping ablution intact; performing the prescribed prayer on time; recitation of the Quran; remembrance of God in one's spare time; and remembering death as it can get us at any time, anywhere. Also, staying in the company of pious Muslims who do all these to help strengthen their faith. I ask God to forgive my mistakes and give me His Awareness and His Pleasure as a result, Amin.