Allah tells us in the Quran the following criteria for being righteous and pious:
It is no virtue. That you turn your faces towards the east or the west, but virtue is that one should sincerely believe in Allah and the Last Day and the Angels and the Book and the Prophets and, out of His love, spend of one’s choice wealth for relatives and orphans, for the needy and the wayfarer, for beggars and for the ransom of slaves, and establish the Salat and pay the Zakat. And the virtuous are those who keep their pledges when they make them and show fortitude in hardships and adversity and in the struggle between the Truth and falsehood; such are the truthful people and such are the pious.
Quran (Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 177)
Righteousness in Islam
This Ayah contains great wisdom, encompassing rulings and correct beliefs. The virtues highlighted here are right Faith, steadfastness in prayer, spending in charity, (for the sake of Allah and not for worldly gains like praise and popularity), fulfillment of contracts, and patience in adverse circumstances. In order to show the futility of excessive emphasis on external religious forms, it has been pointed out, as an instance, that there is no real virtue in the mere act of turning faces to the east or to the west in prayer. The mere performance of some religious rites or formalities is not real virtue. Rather it’s the sincerity and piety associated with following the commands of Allah that makes the real difference.
Allah first commanded the believers to face Bayt Al-Maqdis (in Jerusalem), and then later to face the Kaabah during the prayer. This change was difficult for many, including some Muslims. Then Allah sent revelation which clarified the wisdom behind this command.
Reflections from these verses:
- Birr, Taqwa and complete faith is seen in obedience to Allah, adhering to His commands, facing wherever He commands facing, and implementing whatever He legislates.
- Facing the east or the west does not necessitate righteousness or obedience, unless it is legislated by Allah.
- Belief in the ‘Books’ refers to the Divinely revealed Books from Allah to the Prophets, which were finalized by the most honorable Book (the Quran).
- The Quran supersedes all previous books, it mentions all types of righteousness, and the way to happiness in this life and the Hereafter.
- Helping the poor, the needy, and the orphan should be a result of one’s love for Allah, seeking Allah’s Face only. No reward or thanks is to be expected or desired from the people.
- One’s relatives have more rights than anyone else to one’s charity.
- The needy traveler who runs out of money also deserves help to return to his land. Such is also the case with whoever intends to go on a permissible journey; he is to be given what he needs for his journey and back. The guests are included in this category.
- Praying on time and giving the prayer its due right; the bowing, prostration, and the necessary attention and humbleness required by Allah.
- Giving the Zakah, the required charity due on one’s money.
- Fulfilling the covenant of Allah and not breaking the bond.
Narrations and Ahadith pertaining to this verse
Abu Al-`Aliyah said, “The Jews used to face the west for their Qiblah, while the Christians used to face the east for their Qiblah. So Allah said:
“It is not Birr that you turn your faces towards east and (or) west (in prayers” (2: 177) meaning, “this is faith, and its essence requires implementation.” This was also reported from Al-Hasan and Ar-Rabi` bin Anas.
Ath-Thawri recited: “Birr is the one who believes in Allah”, and said that what follows are the types of Birr. Those who acquire the qualities mentioned in the Ayah will have indeed embraced all aspects of Islam and implemented all types of righteousness; believing in Allah, that He is the only God worthy of worship, and believing in the angels the emissaries between Allah and His Messengers.
In the Sahihayn it is recorded that Abu Hurayrah said that Allah’s Messenger said: “The Miskin is not the person who roams around, and whose need is met by one or two dates or one or two bites. Rather, the Miskin is he who does not have what is sufficient, and to whom the people do not pay attention and, thus, do not give him from the charity.”
It is recorded in the Sahihayn that Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet said: “The best charity is when you give it away while still healthy and thrifty, hoping to get rich and fearing poverty.”
Abdur-Razzaq reported that `Ali said that the Prophet said: “Sadaqah (i. e., charity) given to the poor is a charity, while the Sadaqah given to the relatives is both Sadaqah and Silah (nurturing relations), for they are the most deserving of you and your kindness and charity.”
(References: Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi – Tafhim al-Qur’an, and Tafsir Ibn Kathir)