More often than not, we hear of the phrases “taqwa,” or “taqwallah” and many definitions come to mind. Some translate it as “fear,” and “God-fearing.” Some define it as a “barrier;” it means to keep a barrier between you and the punishment of God. Western audiences will hear the phrases, “God-consciousness,” or, “being mindful of God.” All of these definitions/translations address only certain aspects of the true meaning of “taqwa,” and worse, fail to lead to meaningful change with solutions and action. As defined by Arabic linguists, in conjunction with Islamic theologians, taqwa is a term that includes hope and fear. One should hope in the reward God promises while fearing God’s threat of punishment. Saying that “taqwa” equals to fear is not appropriate because it doesn’t take into account God’s promise that his mercy surpasses his anger and wrath, (see Sahih Al-Bukhari). Moreover, if hope is meant to inspire action and love of God and his commandments, then fear should inspire active cautiousness and taking steps from falling into dangerous practices leading to sin. No doubt, the plethora of verses and ahadith talking about God’s judgment, punishments and anger cannot and will not be glossed over and instead must be taught. But the question is how can we make sure that students walk away understanding taqwa healthily?
Because of the varying responses people have towards fear, teachers/parents need to be think deeply on how they teach kids to stay away from haram acts or things that are undesirable but not necessarily haram. One should not use fear to paralyze someone from committing sin – albeit, “beneficial,” in the short term, but more importantly, focus on teaching students on why should one stay away from these sins, how to deal with emotions of desire, fear and hope in a healthy manner and most importantly, its solutions. We tell teens to fear the dangers of drugs, premarital relations, violence and intoxicants. How are we projecting our own perceptions and emotions of fear onto students and teenagers? It is by showing them homeless people? That is wrong. Is it by showing them drunkards and abusive scenarios? That is also wrong and very subjective. It it by saying that God is angry with them and that he will punish sinners? All of these methods are ineffective. Whenever you find something forbidden in the Quran, a reasoning, explanation and its halal alternative (hope and resilience to inspire action and love of God) is always provided. In this way, we should also teach “fear” in a healthy way. Focus on efficacious methods to help people cope with their desires to do something wrong while inspiring action towards the good in hope of God’s reward. So next time when you think that scaring your teen from doing something haram or undesirable will get them to love God or you, think again.