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FEATURED ARTICLE: Chapter 2, Verse 177: The Verse of Righteousness

 

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east
or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in God, the Last
Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love
for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for
help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah
(obligatory charity); [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and
[those who] are patient in poverty and ailment and during battle.  Those are
the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” (Quran
2:177)

Chapter-2,-Verse-177.jpgThe essential verse known
as the “verse of righteousness” occurs in the last third of the second chapter
of the Quran, The Cow.  This is the longest chapter in the Quran and was
revealed almost exclusively in Medina.  The Cow was revealed in small sections
over a long period of time and covers a range of issues including but not
limited to doctrines of faith and fundamental concepts.  This long verse
contains great wisdom by explaining that performing religious rites with an
outward show of piety without true faith and obedience to God is of little
value.

The Arabic word for righteousness is birr and it has
various levels of meaning.  It has been translated as righteousness, piety,
virtue and charity.  Birr is derived from the root letters ba-ra-ra.  The word barr
means land, and it is also derived from the same root letters. In the past when
a person set sail he was uneasy due to the hazards involved and only felt safe
when he at last returned to stable dry land.  Birr encompasses the inner
satisfaction, pleasure and happiness a person feels when he does the right
thing, when everything feels correct and at peace with itself and the
surroundings.  Thus, in an Islamic sense, when a person does the right thing,
obeys God and worships Him correctly, he feels satisfied, secure and happy.  Birr
is righteousness; it is acting in a way that invokes this inner peace.  It is a
firm set of beliefs and actions that will keep your life balanced and safe. 

God begins the verse by saying it is not true
righteousness that you turn your face to the east or the west, rather the
quality of righteousness is found in the person who believes in God, the last
Day, the angels, the Book and the prophets.  At first God commanded the Muslims
to face Jerusalem when they prayed, that was to the east.  He later changed
that to the Kaba in Mecca facing west.  This change was difficult for some
people, thus God revealed that the direction is only important in that it
fulfils a command made by God.  The direction itself is not important similar
to how an outward appearance of piety is not important unless a person believes
in all the commands of God.

God then mentions some fundamental beliefs and deeds
that constitute righteousness.  He specifically mentions five of the six
pillars of faith.  If a person is to have real righteousness the first
requirement is for that person to have faith.   Belief or faith in God is the
most fundamental belief in Islam and it is the basis for a moral upstanding
life.  Belief in the Hereafter testifies to the fact that life has purpose and
that the good and righteousness person will be rewarded.  Belief in the angels
confirms a belief in a world where some things are beyond human perception and
belief in the Quran means you attest to the truth and integrity of all the
revealed books.  The prophets and messengers of God were the models of real
righteousness and piety, and belief in them is essential to cultivate our own
righteousness. 

A truly righteous person gives charity from his wealth,
despite his love for the good things he owns and regardless of how much he is
in need of it.  Prophet Muhammad (may the mercy and blessings of God be upon
him) said[1]
that the best charity is that which you give away while you are still healthy
and thrifty, hoping to get rich and fearing poverty.  A person should not wait
until death is imminent and then dole out his charity, some for this one and
some for that one.  He should instead give freely from the things that he
loves.

Righteousness requires implementation and according to
this verse, a sign of righteousness is demonstrating kindness and mercy towards
our fellow human beings.  The righteous give from their wealth to their
kinfolk, even though people are often reluctant to help those closest to them,
preferring to give to some well-known charity or organization.  We should give
generously to the poor and the orphans.  A measure of a society is how it
treats its most vulnerable members.[2]
 The charity of the righteous should also go to the traveler in need and to
those who need help and to set slaves free.

The next step in the quest for righteousness involves
performing the prayer and paying the obligatory charity.  These are both
commandments from God and two of the pillars of Islam.  It is not enough to do
one without the other.  The person who prays yet does not give the obligatory
charity or vice versa, is not one who is firmly on the path to righteousness
and a happy Hereafter.  Prayer is more than a sequence of movements and there
is more to it then facing right and then left.  It is an act of complete
submission to the will of God.  Payment of the obligatory charity is a
religious duty and a redistribution of wealth. 

Another aspect of righteousness includes fulfilling contracts
and pledges.  Abiding by contracts entered into and fulfilling promises is part
of leading an Islamic life.  A Muslim is true to his or her word in all
dealings such as buying and selling, leasing, renting, partnership deals, and
marriage contracts.  This includes the promises made to God and those made to
fellow human beings.  A righteous person is also patient; it is one of the most
important qualities of a believer.  This verse specifies patience when one is faced
with poverty or sickness and in the time of battle.   Living life according to
Islam gives the believer leverage when it comes to the struggles that could in
other circumstances bring them down.  Patience and endurance will overcome
calamity, hardship, conflict and danger.

The verse concludes by saying that these qualities
outlined belong to the people of truth.  To earn this title they have proven
themselves capable of turning faith and righteousness into a practical way of
life.  They fear God’s punishment yet hope in His mercy because they are
conscious of God in all that they do and conscientious while fulfilling their
obligations towards Him.


Footnotes:

[1]
Saheeh Al-Bukhari

[2]
A quote often attributed to Hubert Humphrey, Pope John Paul (2), Mahatma Ghandi
President Jimmy Carter.

 

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