The Levels of Taqwa
When taqwa is used for implying fear, then it assumes three levels: taqwa, khashyah, and ishfaq. Allah says,
“Indeed, We granted to Musa and Harun the criterion, a shining light, and a reminder for the muttaqun. Those who fear (khashyah) their Lord without seeing Him, and they are afraid (ishfaq) of the Hour.” [Surah al Anbiya 21:48-49]
The first level of fear is taqwa, which is the fear of displeasing Allah. It is akin to the love of Allah, because if one really loves Allah, then he will not act counter to His commands and will as this will bring about His displeasure. This is even more so once he understands that His commands are to guide him toward the achievement of eternal salvation.
The second level of fear is khashyah, which is the fear that exists within the inmost thoughts of a person, and it refers to his thinking that he may fall short of the standard that Allah wishes for him. This is also part of righteousness but is a degree lesser than taqwa, which is akin to love.
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The next level of fear is ishfaq, which is one being guided to by the fear of consequences on the Day of Judgment. This lacks the quality of love of taqwa and understanding of khashyah, but is sufficient enough to help a person conduct himself on the right path. 
The level of taqwa can vary according to the level of overall performance. The status of people with taqwa, or the muttaqun, is very high in the sight of Allah, far above the level of just being a Muslim or a mu’min. Allah assures His closeness and guardianship for the muttaqun in this world, and of His bliss and direct presence in the hereafter. He says,
“Then, if he is one of the muqarrabun (those brought near to Allah), [for him is] rest and provision, and a Garden of delight. If he is one of those of the right hand, then there is safety and peace for those of the right hand.” [Surah al-Waqiah, 56:88-91]
Rewards of Taqwa
- The reward of taqwa is nothing but Paradise, a seat in close proximity to Allah, the Owner of Majesty and Honor.
“Verily, the muttaqun will be in the midst of Gardens and Rivers. In a great seat of truth near the Omnipotent King.” [Surah al-Qamar 54:54-55]
- Taqwa delivers a person within the complete care of Allah. Thus, he is able to handle any difficulty that may come to him without breaking down, as help will come to him from sources that he never imagined.
“And for him who is constantly aware of Allah’s presence (taqwa), Allah ever prepares a way out for him. He provides for him from sources he never could imagine, and if anyone puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is Allah for him.” [Surah al-Talaq, 65:2-3]
- The Believers are admonished to have taqwa, or the fear of displeasing Allah, because this will ensure that they perform good deeds that will be rewarded, thereby attaining success in this life and in the hereafter. We must consistently thrive to perform that which is right (per the Islamic Shari’ah), and never stop doing so because of temporary hurdles that exist in achieving that success.
Say, “O you, My servants who believe! Fear your Lord. Good is the reward for those who do good in this world, and Allah’s earth is spacious. Only those who are patient will receive their reward in full without measure.” [Surah al-Zumar 39:10]
- The people with taqwa will not only be rewarded with Paradise in the hereafter, but they will have therein lofty palaces that far exceed the beauty of the palaces of this world, which will be built tiers upon tiers, loaded with architectural perfection, and will have the rivers of Paradise flowing gently beneath them.
“But it is for those who fear their Lord that lofty mansions, built one above another, with rivers flowing underneath; the Promise of Allah, and Allah never fails in His Promise.” [Surah al-Zumar, 39:20]
- Allah blesses the God-conscious believers with furqan, the criterion, which clearly defines truth from falsehood. This was exemplified in the battle of Badr, when a limited number of strong believers (three hundred and thirteen) defeated the well-equipped army of Quraysh that numbered one thousand. This was all because they were God-fearing and depended solely upon Allah.
“O you who believe, if you obey and fear Allah, He will grant you furqan (a criterion), expiate for you your sins, and forgive you. And Allah is the Owner of the Great Bounty.” [Surah al-Anfal, 8:29]
How to Attain Taqwa
The purpose of taqwa is to ascend upon the many rungs of the ladder to reach the Proximity to Allah. It is a fifty thousand year journey in human reckoning, traveled by the angels and the Ruh [i.e., Jibril] in one day. It is a spiritual ascension, an ascension of the soul (ruh) of the believers. It is achievable through patience and steadfastness in Allah’s worship.
“The angels and the Ruh (i.e., Jibril) ascend to Him in a Day, the measure whereof is fifty thousand years.” [Surah Ma’arij, 70:4]
“O you who believe, endure, be steadfast, guard your territory, and fear Allah, so that you may be successful.” [Surah Ali-‘Imran 3:200]
Since taqwa is a very high-level spiritual achievement, it would also be a matter that would not be easy to achieve. However, Allah, out of His great wisdom and generosity, has permitted us to achieve taqwa through moderation, without incurring any hardship in the worship. Allah says
“So, fear Allah as much as you can; listen and obey, and spend in charity for the benefit of your own souls. Those saved from the covetousness of their own souls, they are the ones that achieve prosperity.” [Surah al-Taghabun, 64:16]
Remembrance of Allah and expression of gratitude establish direct connection with Allah. When we remember Allah, He reciprocates, not only remembering us, but magnifies the act by asking the angels to remember us by sending peace and asking Allah forgiveness for us. Allah says,
“O you who believe, remember Allah with much remembrance. And glorify His Praise morning and afternoon. He it is, Who sends peace upon you, and His angels too, so that He may bring you out from darkness into light. And He is Ever Most Merciful to the believers.” [Surah al-Ahzab, 33:41-43]
“Therefore, remember Me, I will remember you, and be grateful to Me, and never be ungrateful to Me.” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:152]
Worship of Allah, the Creator, which is the Cause of all causes, the Reason for our creation and existence, brings us in line with the purpose of creation and keeps us conscious of Him, and it aids us in being righteous. Allah says,
“I created not the jinn and humans, except that they should worship Me.” [Surah al-Dhariyat, 51:56]
“O people, worship your Lord, Who created you, and those who were before you, so that you may attain taqwa.” [Surah al-Baqarah, 2:21]
Allah, the Creator of all creation, has addressed the most rational of His creation, which is humanity, that the material success of this life in terms of wealth or children is nothing but a deception from Satan. Therefore, a person must devote his time in spiritual enrichment by connecting with Allah, and being grateful through His remembrance,
“People, have taqwa of your Lord and fear a Day when no father can avail anything for his son, nor can a son avail anything for his father. Verily the Promise of Allah is true. Let not then the present life deceive you, nor let the chief Deceiver deceive you about Allah.” [Surah Luqman 31:33]
Restraining the covetousness of the soul, listening to the command, and spending in charity, leads to the attainment of taqwa and the achievement of success. Allah says,
“So, keep your duty to Allah, and fear Him as much as you can; listen and obey, and spend in charity; that is better for yourselves. And whoever is saved from his own covetousness, then they are the successful ones.” [Surah al-Taghabun, 64:16]
Abu Hurayrah relates that Allah’s Messenger related that Allah said,
“Whosoever shows hostility to someone devoted to Me, I shall be at war with him. My servant draws near to Me, more than by anything loved by Me, by the religious duties I have enjoined upon him. And My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works, so that I shall love him. When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hands with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask (anything) of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant it (the refuge to him); I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about (seizing) the soul of My faithful servant: He hates death, and I hate hurting him” (Bukhari)
He also said,
“Be mindful of your duty to Allah: perform the five daily prayers, observe the fast, pay the zakah on your property, and obey your leaders. You will enter the Paradise of your Lord.” (Last Sermon, al-Tirmidhi)
The Means of Worship
The Five pillars of Islam are the best means of worshipping Allah and achieving taqwa. Praying five times a day, when performed in the right way, brings one closer to Allah. While standing for prayer and declaring the takbir al-tahrima (the takbir to enter the prayer) the worshipper enters the spiritual world, begins his spiritual ascension that will bring him to a state of “seeing Allah”, the quality of prayer that can only be defined by the word ihsan. And if he cannot see Allah, then he needs to know that Allah, the Almighty, is seeing him. That is taqwa.
We must be punctual and steadfast in our prayer. Once we are done with our worldly daily routine, we must return to worship of Allah,
“So, when you have finished (your occupation), devote yourself for Allah’s worship, and to your Lord (Alone) turn (all your) intentions and hope.” [Surah al-Sharh, 94:7-8]
Similarly, in the state of fasting, a person abstains from food, drink, sexual relationship, and from everything forbidden. Therefore, a fasting person is following the command of Allah. In spite of being hungry, he will neither eat nor drink anything, because he knows that Allah is watching him, and that if he breaks it, then he will be breaking the intention that he made. That very sense of being watched and breaking his intention, are the virtues of God-conscious, or piety. Allah says,
“O you who believe, fasting has been made obligatory for you, the way it was made obligatory for those before you, so that you can have taqwa.” [Surah al-Baqarah, 2:183]
The same way, in Hajj, particularly in the state of ihram, the person is aware of Allah’s command and follows the steps mandated for the acceptance of this unique worship. The best provision for hajj is not physical nourishment, but is taqwa or God-consciousness, which provides the spiritual nourishment.
“The Hajj is in the well-known months…and take a provision for the journey, but the best provision is taqwa. So, fear Me, O people of understanding!” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:197]
In summary, taqwa is a combined state of mind that is constantly aware of Allah and His command, and expresses that awareness into actions that have been guided to by the Islamic Shari’ah. The core of taqwa consists of the basic Islamic faith (aqeedah), and its action are, but not limited to, the five pillars of Islam. Once a person reaches that state of spirituality, he is under the direct guidance of Allah, and will only perform that which is good.
To reach that state, one needs to first enrich his iman (faith) through regular practice of the five pillars of Islam. Once his faith has grown strong, it will act as a robust foundation, and it will encourage him to perform over and above the limits of the five pillars of Islam. These extra performances include regular supererogatory prayers, voluntary fasting, giving in charity (in addition to the compulsory zakah), to be patient at the time of adversity, to be involved in community services, and to support the cause of Islam with one’s self and wealth. Allah says,
“Not equal are those of the believers who sit [at home]―except those who are disabled―and those strive hard and fight in the cause of Allah with their wealth and lives. Allah has preferred in grade those who strive hard and fight with their wealth and their lives, above those who sit [at home].” [Surah al-Nisa, 4:95]
In conclusion, taqwa is a spiritual connection with Allah, and Allah loves those who love Him. Who show their love by not displeasing Him, who submit to His call and do what He commands, and who depend on Him for the outcome of their deeds (after they do everything according to Islamic Shari’ah).
“O you who believe, fear Allah and keep your duty to Him. Let every person look to what he has sent forth for tomorrow, and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what you do. Be not like those who forgot Allah, and He caused them to forget their own selves. Those are the disobedient.” [Surah al-Hashar, 59:18-19]
The above verses refer to Allah being fully aware of our actions and that He will hold us accountable for them on the Day of Resurrection. Therefore, we need to be aware of His watchfulness and pay heed to what we do. He admonishes us to remain connected with Him through his Remembrance, and to not forget Him, otherwise, He will make us forget our own selves.
To fulfill the covenant of being Allah’s khalifa (deputy) in this world, we need to follow the examples of the Prophets and Messengers, since they are the teachers sent by Allah Himself to educate humanity about His commands and Sunnah. They were the muttaqun and the muqarrabuns.
Allah addresses the Muslims as the best of all nations,
“You are the best nation raised among mankind.” [Surah Ali-‘Imran, 3:110]
To maintain a high level of faith, a person needs for the love and fear of Allah to exist within his heart and to continue to perform rightly guided actions. As it is important to sustain one’s life, one also needs balance between the worldly deed and the deeds for worship.
Our Prophet Muhammed says the following regarding taqwa:
“The life of the world is sweet and green. Allah makes your generations succeeding one another, so that He may try you in respect of your actions. So, beware of the beguilements of the world and those of women. The first trial of Banu Israel was through women.” (Muslim)
He also said in his final pilgrimage,
“Fear Allah, pray five times a day, fast the month of Ramadan, pay your zakah, and follow the command. You will enter the Paradise of your Lord.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
“O you who believe, fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam.” [Surah Ali-‘Imran, 3:102]
“And be afraid of the Day when you shall be brought back to Allah. Then every person shall be paid what he earned, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly.” [Surah al-Baqarah, 2:281]
 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Text, Translation and Commentary, Note 2709