Imam Nawawi’s “40 Hadiths,” Hadith 18: Piety (taqwa), Fear of Allah
The Qur’an claims to be revelation “explaining all things, a Guide, a Mercy, and Glad Tidings to Muslims” (Qur’an 16:89). The Quran also instructs Muslims to look at the example of Muhammad when it comes to wisdom and guidance, “Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah” (33:21; see also 2:151). Therefore, in order to learn more about Islam, I have been studying the conduct of Muhammad in a compilation put together by Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi (631 – 676 A.H. / 1234 – 1278 A.D.) and explained by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa.
Below is a brief explanation of how hadiths are structured. At the end of this video I look at the question of whether Muhammad was pious.
The two parts of a hadith: isnad and matn
Hadiths normally have two parts: isnad (also called sanad) and matn.
isnad (also sanad) – a list of names, beginning with the collector in whose collection the tradition found a place followed by oral transmitters going back to Muḥammad or another ancient authority. Many hadiths were written down some 200 years after Muhammad died. The Encyclopaedia of Islam says there was little need for a chain of authorities in in the earliest times of Islam, “but as the first century of Islam advanced, the need for stating one’s authority developed. The collections of traditions which were compiled mainly in the 3rd/9th century onwards give complete isnads” (J. Robson, “Isnad”).
matn – the actual content of the hadith is called the matn. The Encyclopaedia of Islam says, “the matn has rarely been the subject of textual criticism…and, as G. H. A. Juynboll observes (The Authenticity of the Tradition Literature, Leiden 1969, 139), if the criteria which modern authors enumerate had been applied, there would have been very little left of the “authentic” collections” (A.J. Wensinck, “Matn”).
Hadith 18 compiled by Nawawi, first in Arabic and then in English,
عـن أبي ذر جـنـدب بـن جـنـادة ، وأبي عـبد الـرحـمـن معـاذ بـن جـبـل رضي الله عـنهما ، عـن الرسول صلي الله عـليه وسلم ، قـال : ( اتـق الله حيثما كنت ، وأتبع السيئة الحسنة تمحها ، وخالق الناس بخـلـق حـسـن ).
رواه الترمذي [ رقم : 1987 ] وقال : حديث حسن ، وفي بعض النسخ : حسن صحيح
On the authority of Abu Dharr Jundub ibn Junaadah, and Abu ‘Abd-ir-Rahmaan Mu’aadh bin Jabal (radi allahu anhuma 1Arabic to English translation, May Allah be pleased with them.) that the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi wa sallam 2Arabic to English translation, May Allah bless him and grant him peace. Often abbreviated SAWS. This Arabic phrase is used after references to Muhammad and his titles.) said :
Have Taqwaa (Fear) of Allah [Be pious] wherever you may be, and follow up a bad deed with a good deed which will wipe it out, and behave well towards the people.
It was related by at-Tirmidhee, who said it was a Hasan (Good) Hadeeth, and in some copies it is stated to be a Hasan Saheeh Hadeeth.
Listen to the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa (على جمعة) teach about the eighteenth hadith. My notes follow.
This particular hadith pertains to Muslim piety. In Islam, piety is known as taqwa meaning “to fear [God]” (also spelled takwa). Taqwa can have the sense of “godliness”, “devoutness”, “piety”, “God-fearing”, “pious abstinence” or “uprightness”. The Encyclopaedia of Islam says, “In general Kuranic usage, the moral virtue of takwa denotes piety, denotes piety, abstinence and God-fearing obedience, suggesting the idea of a faith animated by works, and works quickened by a genuine experience of faith; in brief, such takwa is the substance of all godliness. Takwa is one of the most frequently mentioned religious concepts in the Kuran.”
Ali Gomaa says this is one of the most important hadiths
“This hadith is considered one of the most important ahadith. i.e. a key, forming the basis and foundation of Islam. Piety is ordered in the beginning of the Noble Qur’an, “That is the Book, there is no suspicion about it, Guidance to the pious.”
“Piety is called to in this hadith in all times and places. If one fears Allah, He will teach him from His knowledge. Allah says, “And be pious to Allah, and Allah teaches you.” We have seen pious and pure people who have limited knowledge in worldly sciences, but Allah (SWT) has taught them the manners of good refinement. Allah taught them cultured behavior and marked His path to them. He taught them how to deal with people with care and good manners.”
Muslim piety: the Fear of Allah
Ali Gomma continues to explain that this hadith teaching, “Thus piety is an obligation at all times, and in all places, and with all people and in all situations.” Quoting Ali Ibn-Abu-Taleb Ali Gomma defines fearing Allah (piety) as “acting according to His revelation, being satisfied with the smallest of sustenance, and being prepared for the day of departure.” This is piety. Piety means that one should look around and be cautious. Be ready at all times to hasten to obey Allah (SWT).”
Here we have a helpful illustration of what piety is:
“Omar Ibnul-Khattab asked Ubay Ibn-Ka’b, who was one of the memorizers of the Noble Qur’an, “What is piety?”Ubay replied, “O Emir of the believers. Have you ever walked in a path with thorns before?”Omar replied, “Yes.”
Ubay asked, “What did you do?”
Omar said, “I tucked up my clothes, and paid attention.”
Ubay then replied, “This is piety.”
Follow bad deeds with good deeds, good deeds erase bad deeds
After discussing piety (Fear of Allah), Ali Gomaa proceeds to discuss the rest of this hadith: following bad deeds with good deeds, “good deeds erase bad deeds.”
Doing good works (e.g. alms, five daily prayers) is a type of atonement.
Ali Gomma says, “The Prophet (SAWS) says, “Every son of Adam is a sinner, and the best of sinners are those who repeatedly repent.” Good deeds erase bad deeds. Thus, the Prophet (SAWS) ordered whoever sins, to hasten to repentance and doing good deeds. Thus, the effect of this bad deed would be erased.”
Summary of Fear and the Fear of God (taqwa) in Islam
“Taqwa [Fear] is one of the central concepts in quranic theology and ethics. Izutsu (Concepts, 195-200) describes taqwa as “the very heart and pivot” of quranic teaching, and even goes so far as to equate taqwa with iman itself, the quranic term most often translated as “faith” or “belief”. Although certain English versions of the Qur’an employ the notion of “fear” in their renderings of taqwa, it is crucial to note that these versions identify taqwa as a very specific kind of fear, namely the “fear of God” (e.g. Arberry, Pickthall, Y. ʿAlī). In fact, this rendering of taqwa directly parallels the biblical concept of “fear of the Lord” (e.g. Ps 19:10; Prov 7:1; Isa 11:2-3) and thus should not be confused with the ordinary sense of “fear” as a negative and usually disturbing emotional reaction to impending harm. Although it does include a distinct awareness of the potential danger of incurring divine wrath, taqwa as “fear of God” describes the psychic state of an individual who is reverent, devout, and solicitous in his or her service to God, rather than one who is afflicted by distressing or debilitating anxiety. Indeed, this is the only sense in which verses such as Quran 47:17, which identifies taqwa as God’s reward for those who are open to divine guidance, are at all intelligible” (Scott C. Alexander, “Fear” in the Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an. General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe . Brill [Leiden and Boston], 2005. CD-ROM version).
My Christian comments about Islam hadiths, taqwa and “good deeds”
The Fear of God is a central theme of the Bible; in fact, you will find some of the best and most ancient teaching on the Fear of God in the biblical book of Proverbs (see Proverbs 1:1-7; Ecclesiastes 12:13). The Fear of God is the application of God’s Law to one’s personal life and circumstances. The Fear of God is one of the first and most important things Christians are to teach their children (Psalm 34:11-14).
The reality of the world we live in and our personal lives demonstrates we have not feared God as His Law requires. A person who thinks their good works can atone, before God, for their bad works does not fear God as they ought. They think more highly of their good works then they ought (Isaiah 64:6); and they don’t understand the weight of the sin.
This highlights one of the fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam. Christians believe God is so great, holy, and just that only Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death can atone for sin. The Christian teacher, R.C. Spoul explained it this way, “The cross was a glorious outworking of the grace of God, by which the Father commissioned the Son to make full satisfaction so that sinners might be saved with no sacrifice of God’s justice” (The Truth of the Cross, 84).
Muslims don’t believe in Jesus’ death on the cross, and this unbelief is a great sin. How will Muslims escape from God’s judgment by denying one of the most imporant works of God in history (John 8:24)?
Ali Gomaa taught in this episode that piety is acting according to God’s revelation. How can Muslims be pious when they deny God’s recorded work and revelation found in the New Testament?
Muhammad’s marriages were not all pious.
I invite you to piously read the New Testament and consider whether or not the Quran is the Word of God:
You may also be interested in:
Jesus in the hadith
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and The Gospel of Barnabas
- Six Reasons I’m Studying Hadith
- Introduction to Nawawi’s 40 Hadiths
- Islam Hadiths: Hadith 1, Nawawi Forty Hadiths: Actions and Intentions
- Islam Hadiths: Hadith 2, Nawawi Forty Hadiths: Gabriel Questions Muhammad about the Principles of Islam
- Islam Hadiths: Hadith 3, Nawawi Forty Hadiths: The Five Pillars of Islam
- Islam Hadiths: Hadith 4, Nawawi Forty Hadiths: Abortion and When Does Life Begin?
- Islam Hadiths: Hadith 5, Nawawi Forty Hadiths: Nawawi: Innovation and Islam
- Islam Hadiths: Hadith 6, Nawawi Forty Hadiths: Halal, Haram, and the Heart (Things Permitted and Prohibited)
- Islam Hadiths: Hadith 7, Nawawi Forty Hadiths: Advice and Guidance
- Islam Hadiths: Hadith 8, Nawawi Forty Hadiths: Jihad, No Complusion in Religion
- Islam Hadiths: Hadith 9, Nawawi Forty Hadiths: Avoid what is forbidden
- Islam Hadiths: Hadith 10 Nawawi Forty Hadiths: The Importance of Prayer (dua)
- Islam Hadiths: Hadiths 11-12 from Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths: Leaving Doubt for Certainty & Mind Your Own Business
- Islam Hadiths: Hadith 13, Nawawi Forty Hadiths: Love for your brother