Piety and righteous in Qur’anic perspective  

Taqwa is piety; God-consciousness; dutifulness; good conduct; guarding one’s tongue, hand and heart from evil, wrong, all sins, and from injustice; and fear of God or God-fearing (which comes from the awe of Allah). Enjoined, directed and commanded, in the holy Qur’an very frequently, the word generally applies and pertains to abstinence from idolatry in the first instance, but is used to express a life of piety.
Referred in the numerous Qura’nic verses, Taqwa is an attitude, mind-set and approach, that epitomises and personifies every human good and, in the Qura’nic context, this good must be focused upon Allah. The holy Qur’an proclaims: “Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous (pious and God-conscious) of you” (al-Hujjurat, 49: 13).
The Qur’an repeatedly orders people to have Taqwa, and the implication of the term is that one protects oneself by always keeping Allah in view. In other words, when we say something or do something, we do it as we see Allah and we are very careful, vigilant and cautious about this, because we know that Allah sees not only our actions and dealings, but also knows our thoughts and intentions, what we conceal in our hearts. Holy Quran says:  “And whatever good you do, Allah is Ever All-Aware of it” (An-Nisa, 4: 128); “And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is All-Knower of that which is in (the secrets of your) breast” (Al-Maidah, 5:7).
One of the implications and connotations of the word Taqwa is that people have to protect and guard themselves from something dangerous, hazardous and treacherous. Hence, the Qur’an often makes the object of the word not Allah Himself, but His threats, punishment, chastisement, and warning. And the Qur’an reminds people that they have to face Allah and answer to Him for their actions: “And fear Allah much and know that Allah is severe in punishment” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 96); “O mankind! Be afraid of your Lord” (Luqman, 31: 33); “O my slaves therefore fear Me!”  (Az-Zumar, 39: 16).
The path of Taqwa is clearly the path brought by the Messengers, the path delineated by Allah’s signs. As the Qur’an declares: “Thus does Allah make clear His ayaat (proofs, evidences, lessons, signs, revelations, verses, laws)… to mankind that they may become the pious” (2: 187; cf. Surah Al-Anam, 6: 153).
When people protect themselves from Allah’s wrath and severity, they are brought under the wing of Allah’s mercy, and gentleness. In other words, the fruit of Taqwa is Paradise. The Qur’an states clearly in various verses: “For al-Muttaqun (the pious) there are Gardens (Paradise) with their Lord, underneath which rivers flow” (Al-Imran, 3: 15); “The description of the Paradise which the pious have been promised: Underneath it rivers flow, its provision is eternal and so is its shade” (Ar-Rad, 13: 35).
Thus, the way and means, mode and method, to achieve and to attain Taqwa is to worship Allah; that is, to establish Tawhid by being Allah’s perfect servants, as the Qur’an, in verse 21 of Surah al-Baqarah (2: 21), clearly states: “O mankind! Worship your Lord (Allah), who created you and those who were before you so that you may become al-Muttaqun (the pious)”.
Derived from the root “s-l-h” with the connotation of “to be pious, upright” or “righteous”, the term Salih, generally rendered into English as righteousness or wholesomeness, means “to be sound, wholesome, right, proper, and good”. Salih is also the name of a Prophet—whom the Qur’an mentions in many verses, at various places, but especially in Surah al-Aer’af  (7: 71-77)—who was sent to the tribes of ‘Ad and Thamud/Samud: “And to Thamud (people, We sent) their brother Salih” (7:73). The account and narrative of Prophet Salih (AS), follows the standard Qura’nic pattern of “commission, mission, rejection, and punishment”.
Islam is concerned with differentiating and distinguishing right activity from wrong activity and explaining and illuminating how to do things correctly. Man adds a dimension, element and facet, of understanding, making it clear that human activity is deeply rooted in the Real, and that this has ever-lasting repercussions, consequences and ramifications, after death.
The Qur’an in particular frequently emphasises two or three dimensions of Din. According to the Qur’an, doing righteous or wholesome deeds, along with faith, will yield Paradise:  “And whoever does a righteous deed, whether male or female and is a true believer, such will enter Paradise, where they will be provided therein without limit” (Sura Al-Mumin, 40: 40; Cf. Q.41: 33; 4: 57; & 64: 9).
All the Prophets are included in the category which signifies that the Muhsinun are those who are not only on the Sirat al-Mustaqim (the straight path) themselves but, in addition, by their good example, charismatic qualities, and magnetic personality lead others to the way of righteousness and help in establishing a social order based on peace, tranquillity, harmony, true guidance from the Almighty Allah; and prosperity, rise in worldly position, power, and knowledge are the by-products of their life of graceful righteousness or Ihsan. The Qur’an enumerates and specifies several Prophets as being among the wholesome/righteous, including Prophet Ibrahim, Ismail, Ishaq, Yaqub, Idris, Zakarriya, Ilyas, Yahya, Isa (AS), and others; and places the righteous, the Prophets, the sincere devotees, and the witnesses among those whom Allah has blessed: “And whoso obeys Allah and the Messenger, then they will be in the company of those on whom Allah has bestowed His Grace, of the Prophets, the Siddiqun [truthful], the martyrs, and the righteous. And how excellent these companions are!” (Sura An-Nisa, 4: 69).
The Qura’nic use of the word ‘Salih’ can be well understood by looking at its opposite term, employed in the Qur’an, ‘Fasid’, rendered as corrupt, ruined, evil, wrong. The Salihun are those who live in harmony, accord and concord, with the Real and establish wholesomeness through their activity, action and movement. In contrast, the Mufsidun are those who destroy, demolish, and devastate the right relationships among things. Many verses, e.g., Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 8-12, show clearly that wholesomeness, like Ikhlas (sincerity), demands that the good deeds be motivated by faith and Taqwa (Piety).
Taken as a whole, through the concepts of Salih and Fasid, the Qur’an presents with a picture of the human role in creation that distinguishes right activity, right thought, and right intention from their opposites. The Qur’an associates wholesomeness with mercy, compassion, paradise, and beauty, and connects corruption to wrath, anger, hell, and the ugly. Establishing wholeness, wholesomeness, and beauty depends upon the full engagement of the human being with the Real. The truly wholesome are those who act as Allah’s perfect servants plus as His perfect vicegerents because corruption comes about in the earth when human beings—Allah’s vicegerents on the earth—turn away from Allah’s commands and forget the message of the Prophet. Holy Qur’an, in this connection, guides us in Surah Ar-Rad, 13: 25, as: “And those who break the Covenant of Allah, after its ratification and sever that which Allah has commanded to be joined, and work mischief in the land, on them is the curse, and for them is the unhappy (evil) home (i.e. Hell)”.
—The author holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from AMU. Feedback: tauseef.parray21@gmail.com