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This diary was originally published at Street Prophets, and was written in response to another diary.

Karmakin, on the About "magic underwear" diary, wrote:

A good example is our cultural use of "god-fearing" as meaning a upstanding individual. (Ugly term really if you think about it)...
Now my purpose in writing this diary is not to call Karmakin out, but to give my reasons as to why "God-fearing" is, at least to me, a beautiful term.

One of the problems with the English language is that, although it is an extremely flexible language, it occasionally suffers from a blurriness of expression.  The classic example is that of "hot."  For example, your friend is eating Mexican food and he or she says the food is "hot." "Hot hot or spicy hot?" you might ask.  But if you spoke Bahasa Melayu, the Malay language, the friend would have originally said that the food was either panas (of a hot temperature) or padas (spicy hot).  There would have been no linguistic confusion to begin with.

Arabic has a similar differentiation with regard to the word "fear."  In Arabic, the word for what could be considered normal "fear," the "emotion caused by [an] actual or perceived danger or threat" (per Wiktionary), comes from the root خ و ف (khā wāw fā).  The word for "fear" that comes from this root is "khawf."  (The only other primary word that comes from this root that is used in the Qur'an is "threaten.")  An example of a Qur'anic verse that uses "khawf" is 2:62:

Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
The Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sabians and any others who meet the conditions listed in this verse would not fear the potential physical torment of hell because, insha'allah, they would be going to jannah (heaven) instead.

However, when the Qur'an talks about "fearing Allah (swt)," the root normally used is و ق ي (wāw qāf yā).  The most prominent word that comes from this root is taqwa; however, the meaning of taqwa is somewhat more complex than simply "fear" in the sense of "extreme veneration or awe."  According to the Quranic Arabic Corpus, a fantastic concordance of the Qur'an produced by the University of Leeds (UK), taqwa has a number of meanings, including "protect," "righteous" and "righteousness," "save," "piety," "God-conscious" and, of course, "fear."

But the word taqwa, even among Muslims, can be difficult to fully comprehend.  A number of people over the centuries have tried to define or describe taqwa.  Yusuf Ali (1872-1953), an Indian translator of the Qur'an into English, wrote that the fear with regard to the fear of Allah (swt) should  be "the reverence which is akin to love, for it fears to do anything which is not pleasing to the object of love" (footnote 427 to verse 3:102).

Ali ibn Abi Talib (c. 598 - 661 CE), the fourth Caliph of the Muslim empire, defined taqwa as being "the fear of Jaleel (Allah), acting upon the tanzeel (Quran), being content with qaleel (little), and preparing for the day of raheel (journeying from this world)."

The Sufi Shaykh Hafiz Ghulam Habib (1904-1989) defined taqwa as "the shunning of everything and anything that causes a deficiency in one’s relationship with Allah."

However, the description I like the best comes from the following hadith:

Hadrat Umar ibn Khattab (R.A) once asked Hadrat Ibn Ka’ab (R.A) the definition of taqwa. In reply Hadrat Ibn Ka’ab asked, “Have you ever had to traverse a thorny path?” Hadrat Umar replied in the affirmative and Hadrat Ka’ab continued, “How do you do so?”

Hadrat Umar said that he would carefully walk through after first having collected all loose and flowing clothing in his hands so nothing gets caught in the thorns hence injuring him. Hadrat Ka’ab said, “This is the definition of taqwa, to protect oneself from sin through life’s dangerous journey so that one can successfully complete the journey unscathed by sin.”

So, for me, a God-fearing person is truly an upstanding individual.  And there's nothing "ugly" about that.

Originally posted to Muslims at Daily Kos on Mon Apr 04, 2011 at 03:04 AM PDT.

Also republished by Spiritual Organization of Unapologetic Liberals at Daily Kos and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Warning, ACTION needed. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There is on the board a diary that claims to have been written by an apostate Muslim.

      I think it's phony and merely serves to spread vicious misinformation about Islam.

      I hope people will visit it and support my efforts to debunk this hateful screed.

      Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth - Abraham Lincoln

      by Gustogirl on Tue Apr 05, 2011 at 12:54:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for the valuable information (12+ / 0-)

    I'm very nonreligious, not Bill Mahar nonreligious, live an let live not my thing sort of nonreligious and the root of the word would have never crossed my mind.

    Since February I've been working on a growing season long photo diary to celebrate the 20 Anniversary of the Taqwa Community Farm.

    It never would have crossed my mind but now I will ask Abu Talib why he picked "Taqwa" as the name not just for a community garden but to rebuild a community.

  •  Thank you. I had always assumed that the (12+ / 0-)

    Muslim fear of God was similar to the Christian.

    Robert A Heinlein had one of his characters learning Arabic so that he could read the Quran.   Because the "roadmap" changes with the language.    That was in Stranger in a Strange Land.

    Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices. ~Voltaire from La Feminista

    by maybeeso in michigan on Mon Apr 04, 2011 at 08:46:34 AM PDT

  •  Ah, but the Russian word for "hand" (9+ / 0-)

    is the same as that for "arm". Likewise, "leg" and "foot" are the same word. Might lead to sticky situations when someone needs an amputation.....

  •  Numinous (9+ / 0-)

    I had to look this one up after reading CS Lewis, but it means a sort of holy reverence/awe/trepidation/ sort of feeling when confronted with holiness.

    I support public employee's unions.

    by Tracker on Mon Apr 04, 2011 at 09:22:06 AM PDT

  •  Interesting and insightful. (6+ / 0-)

    However for me, god-fearing people in the history of organized religion (it's leadership primarily), and in too large a part of my personal experience have been hypocrites, bullies, tyrants, intolerant, defiantly ignorant and sadly, victims.  All very ugly if you ask me.

    I am happy that you have beauty associated with any words. We have far too little of that.  I think that words, especially in this day and age of 24/7 media, have become meaningless.  Just vessels to be manipulated at will to blind the masses to truth.

    It is good to see such clarity of thought and purposefulness in yours.

    "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets..."

    by Back In Blue on Mon Apr 04, 2011 at 09:47:11 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for this. (6+ / 0-)

    My experience with the term is Christian, which means it came from the Old Testament, and -- ultimately -- Hebrew.

    They are related languages. When next I'm with someone who has studied Hebrew, I'll ask him.

    Corporations are people; money is speech.
    1984 - George Orwell

    by Frank Palmer on Mon Apr 04, 2011 at 10:16:26 AM PDT

  •  Fear isn't necessarily a bad emotion. (5+ / 0-)

    I'm not particularly religious but the notion of religious terror is a pretty powerful one, but that doesn't have to be construed as a bad thing.

    Here's a good point of reference for me, a song by Sufjan Stevens called "Seven Swans".  The first half of the song is all hushed acoustic tones, about what may have been a vision (a destructive thunderstorm he saw when he was younger).  After the 3:30 mark the music makes a turn and eventually collapses into terror - but it's not negative terror.  It's Job staring into the whirlwind.  

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Mon Apr 04, 2011 at 12:11:30 PM PDT

  •  The problem with the term is not the fear part (5+ / 0-)

    it's the conflation of believing in god with being good.  I don't fear god because I don't believe in god, and that should make anyone think less of me.  But people do, and the reason is embedded in that phrase.

    I refuse to represent my political beliefs using numbers. It isn't accurate, nor is it helpful. But I'm around a -10 on both scales.

    by AoT on Mon Apr 04, 2011 at 02:39:54 PM PDT

    •  Thanks very much for this. (5+ / 0-)

      I spent no little time thinking about this very subject in one of my "true seeker" times, and never did come up with a satisfactory answer.

      You came closer than I did.

      The western common interpretation of "to fear God" is, in my estimation, spiritually destructive.  Let's take, for example, my response to a "god-fearing" Christian, the other day:

      You can have faith in God and open yourself to him or you can believe in God and close yourself off from any and all evidence that challenges your belief.

      These are two entirely different things. One requires courage, the other is cowardly. One is the foundation of a true seeker, the other has all the answers.

      It always seemed to me that faith in God and fear of God were not compatible, could not combine into trust in God.  Your diary helps me bring the two closer together.

      So thank you for your help in this particular quest of mine, which is clearly not finished!  ;p

      Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth - Abraham Lincoln

      by Gustogirl on Tue Apr 05, 2011 at 10:45:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  go(o)d (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Marko the Werelynx, JDsg

      well, I certainly respect your disbelief in God, but likewise you should recognize that your disbelief is why you take issue with God being Good. If you were amenable to eth idea that God was Good, you'd be less likely to be atheist :)

      Now invert the logic and you will see why theists do believe God to be Good.

      Fundamentally, the "fear" of taqwa is analogous more to the idea of "awe" than "terror". But there is an aspect of fear when you are confronted with something far larger than your comprehension, a fear born of your own ignorance, and having that ignorance thrown in your face.

      In fact I've long suspected that certain atheists have a better intuition about faith than even believers do. Notably, Douglas Adams, whose "proof of the (non) existence of God" is in a way sublime.

      Adams also brought us the idea of the Total Perspective Vortex which is a bit much to summarize here, but which I think perfectly captures the idea of taqwa in a secular sense.

      City of Brass: principled pragmatism at the maghrib of one age, the fajr of another

      by azizhp on Thu Apr 07, 2011 at 07:03:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  None of that is even remotely true (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Marko the Werelynx, JDsg, MrJayTee

        I don't believe in God for a few reasons, none of which have anything to do with whether god is either good or bad.  In fact, I'd have to believe in god for me to have an opinion on god being good or bad.  Since I don't believe in god I can't think god is either, something has to exist for it to be good or bad.  When I was talking about good or bad I meant the way that people view you for not believing in god.  I.e. you are good if you are god fearing, with the implication that you are not good if you aren't god fearing.

        And please don't tell me what would make me not an atheist, it makes you sound ignorant.

        I refuse to represent my political beliefs using numbers. It isn't accurate, nor is it helpful. But I'm around a -10 on both scales.

        by AoT on Thu Apr 07, 2011 at 03:10:49 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks JDsg (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I do loves me some linguistics.

    And that little 2:62 Qur'anic blockquote of yours should be brought out more often. Who'd have thought that such an eeeeeeeeevil book would contain a claim that Christians and Jews and even Sabians could go to Heaven too.

    Or maybe that's the reason why some people think the Qur'an is evil? Always more surprises from those folks.

    I'm now wondering about how I can dig a bit deeper into the Qur'an without trying to get my decrepit synapses to connect to a new language. Arabic is music and I'm missing out on a whole world by not understanding the lyrics. But, what can an old fart do? Translations rarely reflect the depth of the original. And, let's face it, far too many translators are not really very fluent in any language. I know you've had some experience with English translations of the Qur'an. I think it is a subject worthy of diaries and discussions but I thought I'd ask about your thoughts about any of the available English versions of the Qur'an. Any recommendations? I'd also be curious to know if you've encountered what seem to be glaring errors in any translations you've read.

    Thanks again, now I'm off to learn more about Sabians... and I thought they just made cymbals...

    •  Translations (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Marko the Werelynx

      I agree with your comments regarding translations and their limitations.  This problem is especially remarkable with respect to the Qur'an, because the text is so poetic in Arabic and comes out so clunky in English.  The irony for me was that I became Muslim relying solely upon the translations before actually hearing the Qur'an recited in Arabic.  When I did finally hear the Qur'anic recitations it was very much a "Wow!" moment.  (Still, I'm glad that things turned out the way they did in that the motive for reverting was based upon the message in the Qur'an.)

      Personally, I use a number of translations, all of which have advantages and disadvantages.  Perhaps the one I use the most is Abdullah Yusuf Ali's "The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an."  It's fairly readable.  Some versions come with his commentary, some without.  I like the ones with commentary.  He was a prolific footnote writer with almost 6300 footnotes and about a dozen appendices. Another Qur'an I use is Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall's "The Meaning of the Glorious Qur'an."  The language is more archaic sounding, but the translation is supposed to be closer in meaning to the Arabic than most others. Another translation is Muhammad Asad's "The Message of the Qur'an."  I have mixed feelings about Asad's work.  I don't always agree with either his translation or the footnotes, but sometimes he presents a unique perspective that other translators don't capture.  (Asad grew up Jewish and knew Hebrew, which provides a useful comparison with respect to the meanings of various words and phrases.)  The last of the translations I own is "The Noble Qur'an" by Hilali and Khan.  It's a weak translation, IMO, because too much of the text is intermixed with descriptions and definitions that would be better placed in footnotes.

      There are a number of other translations available, but I haven't bought them for one reason or another.  Some that I'm tempted to buy are A.J. Arberry's, M.H. Shakir's, and T.B. Irving's.  I do have in storage back in the US a copy of Ahmed Ali's translation, but haven't seen a copy of it for sale here in S'pore.

      Other than the Hilali and Khan translation, the worst translations (that are still available) are Sale, Rodwell and N.J. Dawood.  Sale's translation was first published in 1734, and Rodwell's in 1861.  Both of these versions are biased against the Qur'an and Islam (Rodwell was a Christian minister).  Ironically, Sale's version is the one that Keith Ellison used for the photo shoot of his swearing in (the Thomas Jefferson Qur'an) that caused so much controversy. Dawood's translation is published by Penguin Books, but is very strangely translated, often merging several verses into one sentence.  Another oddity is Richard Bell's "translation," which he rearranged to try to fit the order of revelation, but has no bearing to how the Qur'an is actually arranged.  I used to see copies of this for sale in the 80s, but haven't seen any versions available for at least 20 years.

      Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

      by JDsg on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 05:51:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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