Qur’ān’s Concept of Birr(Righteousness)

31 Mar

By: Syed Akbar Hassan

Courtesy: Radiance Weekly

A comprehensive concept of the ideal character of a Muslim – by defining in detail the real concept of righteousness – is in a single ayah of Surah Al-Baqara. All of us have a certain concept of righteousness in our mind but it differs from person to person depending upon our education, intellect, knowledge, experience, niyat (intention), status and position in society. But when we come closer to the Qur’ān and seek its advice on the subject, we get a very universal concept of righteousness applicable to the whole of mankind in the above mentioned ayah. Otherwise, the concept of righteousness for us might be superficial, mere dogma or ritual. This is one of the longer ayahs of the Qur’ān. Without true understanding of all that has been said in this very ayah, we cannot rise beyond rituals and legal aspect of Islam.

At the very onset of Ayah 177 of Surah Al-Baqara it is said that it is not real birr (righteousness) that we turn our faces towards the east or the west. Turning one’s face towards the east or the west is mentioned here only by way of illustration. Actually, it is to emphasize that the observance of certain outward religious rites, the performance of certain formal religious acts out of conformism, and the manifestation of certain familiar forms of piety do not constitute that essential righteousness which alone carries weight with Allah and earns His recognition.

So, the real righteousness is then defined in detail and in the right order. The first of which is actually the explanation and further elaboration of what has been mentioned in Surah Al-Asr (refer to my last article “Lo! Man is in a state of loss”) as the first per-requisite for nejat (salvation) and falah (success), i.e., Iman (Faith). Here, in Ayah 177 of Surah Al-Baqara, five articles of Iman (Faith) are mentioned. The real righteousness of a person is his Iman and sincere belief in Allah, yaumal akhir (the Day of Judgement),  malaika (the Angels), the Books and the Prophets. If we have developed such Iman, it will surely lead us towards real righteousness which will please Allah. There can’t be any righteousness without the Iman as mentioned above in all its forms. Iman bil-lah (Faith in Allah) and Iman bil-akhirah (Faith in the Day of Judgement) give firm foundation to our morality while Iman bil-resalat i.e. Prophethood is the external form of Iman as all the Prophets are our role models and their personalities should be our only ideal. This righteousness will always keep our motivation and niyat in check and shall guide us to do only what is right so much so that we will never shy to speak the truth even knowing very well that it may harm or cause loss to us here.

After Iman the next part of the mentioned ayah is again related to Surah Al-Asr as it refers to amal-e-saleh (Righteous deeds). For real righteousness the next thing after Iman that we are supposed to do, out of Allah’s love, is to spend our wealth (besides having love for it) on relatives and orphans, on the needy and the wayfarer, on beggars and on freeing people from debts, and establish Salat and pay Zakat and keep our pledges. It is quite notable here that the very first manifestation of Iman mentioned here is sadaqua (charity) and not salah (prayers). Salah and Zakat are coming after sadaqua. From the point of view of righteousness, first of all, it is our concern, care and sympathy towards our fellow beings that is of much more importance. There is one hadith that states that whosoever is deprived of the sympathy has been deprived of all good. In connection with the discussion of the ongoing ayah 177 of Surah Al-Baquara, it will be very appropriate to quote ayah 92 of Surah Al-Imran:By no means shall you attain Al-Birr (piety, righteousness, etc.), unless you spend (in Allâh’s Cause) of that which you love; and whatever of good you spend, Allâh knows it well.” This is the importance of sadaqua in Islam. Secondly, we have also been advised here about the sequence in which we should spend our money or give sadaqua. Our close relatives have the first right and then comes yateem (orphans), masakeen (needy), wab-nis-sabeel (wayfarer), was-sa-e-lin (beggars), wa-fir requab (ransom of slaves).

It is our duty to always remain concerned, extend help and look after our close relatives and help them before they ask for it – just for the pleasure of Allah. We must not ever ignore them on the basis of some prejudice or bias or some wrong that they might have done or said to us or due to some ego or other problem. Our own likes and dislikes should never stop us (or make us selective) from helping and spending our wealth on our relatives – we must do so in any case for the sake of Allah only. Equally important is to ensure that if someone is under the bondage of debt or loan and is unable to come out of it, we must give him money so that not only he could get rid of his debt for good but once again regain his lost ground and become a respectable member of society instead of providing temporary help which can be just enough for his subsistence.

Before proceeding further, we should remember here that Sadaqa or spending of wealth which is mentioned here is certainly not Zakat rather it is in addition to Zakat, and very unlike Zakat it is not obligatory and does not have any exemption or limit to it. Zakat has been mentioned separately after Salah in this ayah.

The second manifestation of Iman – in order to attain righteousness – is aqimis-salah (establishment of Prayers) and atuz-zakat (paying of Zakat). There is a logical relationship between salah and Imansalah keeps our Iman alive – and this we always repeat in all our salah also when we recite Surah Fatiha. And Zakat is to keep our spirit of spending in the way of Allah alive and active.

The third manifestation of Iman is keeping up of pledges when we make them. All human relationships and dealings are based on some sort of contract or agreement – whether expressly made or implied. For example, the parent-children relationship has implied agreement. Parents take care of their children until they are settled in life; similarly, children are expected to take care of their parents in their old age. Likewise, marriage is a contract, and then there is business contract, employee-employer contract and so on. Therefore, we are bound to fulfill our contracts in any case. If we fail to do so our character will lack and will be devoid of righteousness.

Lastly, the most important part of this ayah is to show fortitude, patience and steadfastness in the face of hardship, hunger, pain and affliction. In all such situation we should always keep contented and think that – well – if Allah has decided this for me I accept it. Nothing happens or comes to us without Allah’s will.


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