Taqwa is for Everyone
"O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, so that you may develop taqwa." [Al-Baqarah, 2:183]
This verse makes two statements. First, fasting is for everyone. Second, the purpose of fasting is to develop taqwa. It should be obvious then, that taqwa is for everyone!
In other words, taqwa (God consciousness, fear of Allah, righteousness) is not required just of a select group of religious people who would then be called muttaqeen (possessors of taqwa). Rather, every believer has to become muttaqi for the success in the hereafter is only for the muttaqeen.
A Hindu may say that certain injunctions of his religion (for example not eating meat) do not apply to him because he is not a Brahmin. So can a Buddhist or a Christian. As Britannica notes, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity (especially the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches), among others, stress, "separation, even polarization, between the life of the person who has a sacred vocation and that of the ordinary man." Not Islam. Islam eliminates that polarization. A Muslim cannot say "I don't have to do this or that because I am just an ordinary Muslim. I am not a muttaqi."
The point is emphasized heavily in the Qur'an, where the word taqwa and its variations have been used 151 times. It commands:
"O ye who believe! Have taqwa of Allah and let every soul look to what provision he has sent forth for the morrow." [Al-Hashar, 59:18].
It asks us to choose between taqwa and its absence by presenting a very moving example:
"Which then is best? He that lays his foundation on taqwa of Allah and His Pleasure? Or he that lays his foundation on an undermined sand-cliff ready to crumble to pieces? And it does crumble to pieces with him, into the fire of Hell." [Tauba 9:109].
It reminds us that the eternal bliss is only for the muttaqeen:
"Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord and for a Garden whose width is that of the whole of the heavens and the earth, prepared for the muttaqeen."[Aal-e-Imran, 3:133]
Of course in every race some people get ahead while others lag behind. So with the race for taqwa. Obviously some people will develop more taqwa than others. Though taqwa is also a state of the heart [Al-Hajj, 22:32], and we cannot judge the taqwa of others, many aspects of taqwa have a reflection in our behavior. So it is natural and normal for us to recognize the differences in achievement of those in the race. But those of us lagging behind cannot pretend that we are not in the race at all. For there is no other race!
We are all in it together. The rich and the poor, the educated and the un-educated, the leader and the follower, the writer and the reader, the preacher and the listener, the ruler and the ruled, the old and the young, the man and the woman, all must develop taqwa. The most honored, in the sight of Allah, is the believer with the mosttaqwa [Hujurat, 49:13]. The Islamic society is a taqwa- conscious society, conferring its highest respects on those considered to be highest in taqwa. Without it the best achievements in other areas of life mean nothing.
While all this is obvious in principle, in practice many of us seem to have accepted the idea that muttaqeen are a separate class of people, different from the rest of us, the ordinary Muslims. This has been a very devastating import from Christianity and Hinduism. While Islamic Shariah has been one integral entity, this devious mechanism has allowed us to develop our own individual Shariahs by picking and choosing from the Shariah what we might think is appropriate for the "ordinary Muslim." Such reasoning provides a ready-made justification for our sins, shortcomings, and weaknesses. All of them end with: "After all I am not a muttaqi." Brother, is that a humble statement about achievements or a self-delusion about goals?
The flip side of taqwa is sin. And the mentality that made taqwa the burden of a small group of religious people has also imported another term into contemporary Islamic discourse: self-righteousness. These days this seems to be the most potent weapon of anyone being challenged for introducing a deviation in Shariah. Those challenging must be self-righteous. A most despised species!
Qur'an does prohibit us from making claims of self-purity.
"Hold not yourself purified. He knows best who has taqwa." [Al-Najm, 53:32].
Being a major sin as it is, one has to be extremely careful in blaming others for committing it, simply because they are challenging what they consider as munkar or evil. Qur'an does mention the use of that allegation in history. When Prophet Lut (Alayhi-salam) admonished his nation for indulging in the abomination of homosexuality, they fought back by blaming the Prophet to be self-righteous. [Al-Namal 27:56].
Once Qadi Ibn Abi Lailah refused to accept the testimony of Imam Abu Hanifa in a case because of an incident. The previous day both were walking together when they passed by some women who had been singing. The women stopped as they saw them. As they passed by them, Imam Abu Hanifa said: "Good," meaning it was good that they had stopped. But Qadi Ibn Abi Lailah thought that Abu Hanifa had praised their singing and on that basis declared him a fasiq and therefore unfit as a witness. Here was one of the greatest jurists, scholars, and a very pious person being publicly declared as a fasiq. One can imagine some of today's intellectuals having a field day by bringing the counter charge of self-righteousness against the Qadi. But what did Imam Abu Hanifa do? He simply explained his comments and was allowed to proceed with the testimony. It is hardly an isolated incident. In Islamic history we do not find anyone resorting to the charge of self-righteousness against his opponents.
Why? The charge comes from a universe where polarization between the religious and the ordinary lives is stressed, for it is possible that some will falsely claim to be adhering to a higher standard and therefore be guilty of self-righteousness. In Islam there is only one Shariah and one scale for righteousness for everyone.