Adopting al-Birr, the right Righteousness! (Part 1)
Dear brothers and sisters, Assalamu Alaikum.
Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem. Today I would like to throw some light – by way of tazkeer and naseeha to myself first – on the concept of righteousness in Islam.
Consider this. You find me as the one having Qur’an blog, Seerah blog, teaching Islamic…blah, blah, posting on Qur’an and Hadeeth….but if I don’t practice what I say, can I be called a righteous Muslim?!
Or you find a person who is an Imaam of a Masjid who always advices and tells people to do good things in life. But he forgets himself and hardly practises what he preaches. Will you call such a person as righteous?
We come across many people in the world who are good in service to humanity. Like someone building a hospital or establishing a school for the benefit of the less fortunate sections of the society. We notice that the person is good towards humanity. But if one looks into his spiritual or religious life and his attitude towards his Creator, we find that he is not a believer in the One True Creator or he may even be an atheist. Shall we call such people as righteous?
On the other hand, we find some people who are very sincere in matters of religion, that they worship Allah and offer five times prayers regularly. But if one looks into their community life, we may notice that they are miserly and that they utter coarse language and hardly are of any benefit to people. Can we call such persons as righteous?
Or consider this. You find a Muslim sister wearing abaya and observing hijab. Or you find a Muslim brother having a cap on his head, sporting beard and wearing a kurta-pyjama. Can we consider a Muslim sister or brother as having righteousness in her or him merely on the basis of outward appearances?
You may retort by saying: Come on….what’s your problem! Who are you to judge people’s righteousness?!!
Well taken but with one correction. It is not about ‘judging’ righteousness, it’s about ‘knowing’ what righteousness is all about!
One can’t simply deny the importance of understanding the concept of righteousness in Islam. It is very much necessary for every Muslim to understantd the right kind of righteousness in order to live a truly Islamic life. For righteousness in Islam is not just professing belief but the way you put your belief in action!
First and foremost, let us understand the Qur’anic word for righteousness.
When we need to translate any Qur’anic-Arabic word into English language, we find English language to be hopelessly poor in contrast to the richness of Qur’anic Arabic.
The Qur’anic word used for righteousness is Birr. But Birr also means righteous act, state of being righteous, piety, virtue, act of charity.
The root word of Birr is Barra. From Barra also comes Barr, an active participle, which means reverent, dutiful, devoted, pious, upright, righteous, kind, the one who is true to his promise. The plural form of Barr is ‘Abraar’. Recall this du’aa and note its the last word:
“Our Lord, indeed we have heard a caller calling to faith, [saying], ‘Believe in your Lord,’ and we have believed. Our Lord, so forgive us our sins and remove from us our misdeeds and cause us to die with the righteous. (3: 193)
The other noteworthy word that is derived from Barra is barara (which is the plural of baar-run). In Surah Abasa, the word barara is used as a characteristic feature of Angels, Kiraamim barara – noble, dutiful and virtuous (Refer 80: 16)
One of the Beautiful Attributes of Allah – al asmaa ul Husna – is Al-Barr, the Good, the Benign, the One true to His Promise. (Refer ayah 52: 28)
Having understood the meaning of the relevant Qur’anic terms, now let us come to the most important and relevant ayah which will make us understand the whole concept of al-Birr, righteousness, in a crystal clear manner. As the Qur’an is the miracle of all miracles, this verse – apart from defining what true righteousness is – outlines the principles of true faith together with the rules of proper Islamic conduct:
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the muttaqoon – the righteous, the virtuous, the God-conscious”. (2:177)
What righteousness is not!
* Turning one’s face to a particular direction, east or west, in pursuit of spiritual matters!
* Going and taking refuge on a mountain top in search of ‘God’ leaving the world!
* Resorting to a certain culture by mere outward appearances!
* Performing mere religious rites or formalities undermining its spirit and purpose!
* Turning one’s face to the right and to the left in prayer would be of no effect or significance if one doesn’t discipline himself according to the principles of true faith
What righteousness is!
* 1. Believing in Allah:
Believing in Allah is the origin of all righteousness. It is a springboard to all good deeds. If a person performs any good act but without worshipping one True God or without having the belief in the One True Lord, the Creator, then his or her good deed will avail him nothing. There are many people in the world today who do lots of social service. They may get their reward in the form of appreciation, name or fame in this world but they cannot claim any reward in the Hereafter. The last part of the last verse of Surah al Kahf is Almighty Allah’s unequivocal declaration to mankind. (For details refer verse no. 110 of chapter no. 18 of the glorious Qur’an)
* 2. Believing in the Last Day:
After believing in Allah, the One and Only Creator of humanity and all that exists, a human being has to be believe in the Last Day – the Day of Judgement and the life Hereafter. This is necessary because all your acts of righteousness will be truly and rightfully rewarded there.
Shall I put it this way: Without the reality of and the belief in the Last Day, all our five time prayers (for example) will be meaningless and of no value.
We pray five times, we keep fast for one full month every year, we do refrain from doing bad deeds, we believe in the truth and reality – for all these good deeds, are we rewarded here in this world? In most cases, good people suffer and bad people enjoy free roaming in this world!
So the The true reward for good people and the true punishment for bad people is awaiting mankind in the Hereafter. The Book which we will get in our right hand – inshaa’Allah – will make us jump with joy and happiness. Those to whom their Book of misdeeds will be given from behind their backs will scream with pain and horror. Justified reward and justified punishment!
* 3. Believing in the Angels:
After believing in Allah and in the Last Day, a person has to believe in the Angels. This belief is an essential part of believing in a world which is beyond human perception. Those who do not believe in the Angels are not true believers and when one is not a true believer, he cannot claim of having any element of righteousness in him!
* 4. Believing in the Qur’an:
Here, we need to ponder over the singular (al Kitaab) used in this verse. This is to seal the matter once and for all. Let me briefly explain.
Undoubtedly, every Muslim has to – and must – believe in all the Books of Allah. Recall and refer the penultimate verse of Surah al Baqarah:
“The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, and [so have] the believers. All of them have believed in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers, [saying], “We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” And they say, “We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination.” (2: 285)
The Ahl-ul-Kitaab were believing in their own Books, the Tawrah and the Injeel. But they were denying to believe in the Qur’an, the last divine Book. And yet they were claiming to be righteous people!
In order to make things clear to the people of the world, I feel, that Allah has specifically used the singular here even though the obvious meaning includes all His Books. It is like saying: O Jews and Christians, you cannot have any element of righteousness in you if you deny to believe in the Qur’an which has come to you for your guidance and wellbeing. All the previous revealed books have been changed and tampered with. The only way left out for you now is to shun your bias nature and accept the reality that the Qur’an is the living miracle of Allah. (If readers have any reference from any tafseer, kindly share it through comments section, please)
* 5. Believing in the Prophets:
After believing in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Books a person who wants to become righteous must believe, without reservation, in all the Prophets and Messengers of Allah who came from time to time to this world to guide mankind.
Kindly take a pause and appreciate how comprehensive this belief is!
When a person believes in one’s true Creator – the One and Only Lord of the worlds – and also believes in the Last Day, and further believes in all the Angels of Allah, all the revealed Books of Allah, all the Prophets and Messengers of Allah, would not this belief then lead to the acceptance and reality of the unity of human race?
Will not this belief make the believers tied up and unite in abiding by the one and same way of life, adhering to one universal divine order?
Don’t you feel that this belief bulldozes all barriers of nationality, colour, language and tribal feelings and distinctions?
This solid belief is a prelude towards the creation of a universal righteous society!
Dear brothers and sisters, as I feel that this post is getting longer, I am stopping here and will continue Inshaa’Allah in the next post.