A pious individual and societyWritten by Ahmad Badri Abdullah
As the dawn of Ramadan settled its dust, Muslims should introspect whether they have attained the upmost objective of fasting as stressed in the Holy Quran, which is piety or taqwa. Also important is to question how piety could influence or cater for our social affairs.
A cursory survey of the concept throughout the Quran evinces that piety is significant in managing societies and resolving their ailments. Such social dimension of piety is apparent in a Quranic verse: "Had the people of those societies been faithful and mindful of Allah" (al-A'raf 7:96).
Piety promotes purposefulness. It is suggested that every action, be it individual or collective, needs to serve the divine purpose of obeying God's commands and abstaining from sinful acts. Fasting, for instance, aims to inculcate piety in the hearts of the believers.
Throughout the Quran, piety positively correlates with other core Islamic concepts such as faith, truthfulness and fear of God's disgrace. They are connected in a cumulative way in the sense that the increase of piety in an individual would uplift those qualities as well. On the other hand, lack of piety corresponds accordingly with sinful acts, transgression and practising usury.
Adopting the concept of interrelatedness as an aspect of piety, a person needs to be aware that their commissions and omissions would not only have positive and negative impacts on others, but more importantly, on their own individuality and spirituality.
There are multiple dimensions of piety highlighted in the Quran and the Prophetic traditions, including social relation and conciliation, daily conversation, as well as economic transaction. Such a multidimensional aspect of piety requires Muslims to maintain a correct equilibrium in behavioural values in their lives.
This would mean keeping the seemingly contradictory forces in life in a harmonious state, between spiritual enhancement and material fulfilment, moral sanctity and scientific advancement, as well as economic growth and environmental preservation.
As the Quran stresses, human beings are created as the best of forms (ahsani taqwim) as they are able to maintain such kind of balance (qawwam) in their lives. There are several positives for those committed to a pious life.
Among others are easiness of life affairs, being bestowed with beneficial knowledges and showered with blessings from heaven and earth. A pious person and society, in other words, unfailingly pay heed to the consequences of their actions.
Fulfilling purposefulness, interrelatedness, multi-dimensionality and emphasising consequences would suffice to categorise piety as a systemic concept. Therefore, the systemic characteristic of piety is vital to extend its function from an individual quality to an approach of catering to social affairs.
In the backdrop of pandemic and climate crisis, two major threats to human survival on the planet, realising not only individual, but also social piety through the systemic framework is indispensable.
Choosing sustainable and green lifestyles of properly sorting household wastes to be recycled, for instance, and following strict standard operating procedures during a pandemic would necessitate high individual and collective commitment.
To pursue such a commitment, society members individually and collectively should be mindful of the purpose of their actions in facing climatic and pandemic crises, to preserve life and livelihood, but more importantly, to fulfil God's guidance and command.
As balance is one of the aspects of piety, particularly in facing the multi-dimensionality of climate and pandemic catastrophes, it is thus crucial for individuals and the government to always put trust and priority in a win-win approach.
In sum, to ensure the effective control and sustainability of pandemic and climate crises combating measures and systemic social piety should be seriously considered as the backbone of new pandemic norms, sustainable practices, and relevant policies.
Without a spiritual bend and the right framework, the rules and regulations are just waiting to be breached.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Friday 21 May 2021