Al-Baqarah · Juz 2 · Qur'an Tafseer

What is Al-Birr [Piety/Righteousness]? (Part 1)


Tafseer Surah Al-Baqarah 177 (Part 1)

From the beginning to this point, Surah al-Baqarah is reaching its half-way mark. Until now, the message was addressed mostly to its deniers. It was because the truth of the Qur’an was the first thing to be established.


The ayaat that follow educate the Muslims in the principles and subsidiaries of their religion.

The word Al-Birra [الْبِرَّ] is from the root ba-ra-ra which means a forest or a dry land. A forest or a dry land is vast. Therefore, Al-Birr is such good deed which is enormous in its size. It is not used for a small deed. It also means fulfilling one’s right. This word was used for Yahya [John] ‘alayhi salaam in Surah Mariam ayah 14, wabarran bilwalideini … [And dutiful to his parents.]” (19: 14)

The word wujuhakum [وُجُوهَكُمْ] is the plural of wahj which is used for face. In the ayah, it is not limited to face rather it also means direction or attention.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala first commanded the believers to face Bayt Al-Maqdis [Jerusalem] during their prayers; later they were commanded to turn their faces to the Ka’abah. This change was difficult for some of the People of the Book, and even for some Muslims. Those who were eager to find fault in Islam and Muslims were stirred and raised objections. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala sent revelation which clarified the wisdom behind this command which was: obedience to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, adhering to His commands, facing wherever He commands to face, and implementing whatever He legislates, that is the objective. This is birr, taqwa and complete faith.

The change of Qiblah was a noticeable event that became the talk of the town. The only thing that the people of Madinah talked about was this. Making it their main focus, they placed many other important things on the side. This ayah silences the critics of Muslims.


♦When people give undue importance to one thing they fall for the unnecessary including unnecessary arguments. For example, when Pakistan and India have a cricket match, the people of these two countries have such heated temperaments as if they have gone on a real war. This becomes the main concern and talk of the town. In reality, it is only a game. But by giving it undue attention we distance ourselves from crucial matters. Who wins between Pakistan and India should not be as much of our concern than who wins in the Hereafter. Yet, many people pay attention to the temporary and futile over what’s lasting and meaningful.

This is what has been corrected in this ayah that while the change of Qiblah is an important matter, there are many other things that are significant.

♦ Facing the east or the west does not necessitate righteousness or obedience, unless it is legislated by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and the other injunctions of the Shari’ah are also fulfilled. Hence, the real righteousness lies in obedience to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

♦ We cannot base our religion on only one aspect such as be from such-and-such group and you will be saved or do this and you will be forgiven; what matters is obedience to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala in the way prescribed by the Qur’an and Sunnah of Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. When the Muslims were asked to face Bayt Al-Maqdis (in prayer) they made it their Qiblah. When Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala commanded them to turn to Makkah, they changed their direction to Ka’abah.

♦ It also reminds us to be careful about difference of opinion. We pay undue attention to the differences so much so that sometimes we transgress and usurp each other’s rights. We kill others in the name of religion, cause harm, malign them and even boycott some mosques. What should be our conduct? At all times, we should be concerned about what Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala Our attitude should not be: I am right and s/he is wrong. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala commanded us to be respectful to others, overlook their shortcomings and stay united. We turn trivial matters into wars. In doing so, not only do we lose sight of our purpose, but also tarnish Islam’s reputation.

♦ When people criticize you do not respond to their criticism. This is a time for introspection. Check your intention. Are you sincere in your intention to please Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala only or has your intention been corrupted by a worldly desire? Are you truly following the teachings of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and holding on to the Sunnah or are you more loyal to your Sheikh, Imam or scholar? If you are sincere and honest, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala will look after you.

Therefore, it was said, ““It is not Birr that you turn your faces towards east and (or) west; but Birr is the one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the prophets and gives his wealth, in spite of love for it…” It is similar to what was said in Surah Al-Hajj 22 ayah 37,

لَن يَنَالَ اللَّهَ لُحُومُهَا وَلاَ دِمَآؤُهَا وَلَـكِن يَنَالُهُ التَّقْوَى مِنكُمْ

“Their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you.” (22:37)


♦ We have two options: Limit ourselves to one group and show our loyalty to only them or be kind and courteous and make room for others as well.

♦ Many people believe because they are descendants of such-and-such person, therefore, their status with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is certainly high. It is a false notion and it should be discouraged. We have seen in the lives of the prophets ‘alayhim salaam that they could not save their families. Prophet Nuh’s [Noah] son refused to believe and died as an unbeliever. Prophet Nuh’s supplication for his son was not accepted. Prophet Muhammad’s (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) beloved uncle Abu Talib died as a polytheist. Despite, his generous support to his nephew, Abu Talib refused to accept Islam and Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam could not do anything about it, even though it upset him a lot. Prophet Ibraheem’s [Abraham] supplication for his father was not accepted. Then how can we believe that being a Syed gives us a higher status or should be treated special? These stories teach us that ‘we’ are responsible for our own deeds; mere lineage or association to a pious person will not save us. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala do our islah [correction], aameen.

♦ Moreover, some people are so involved in their worship that they ignore the rights of people. Many men neglect their families while doing da’wah Similarly, there are many good-hearted people who busy themselves in charitable work, but when it comes to worship they are negligent. They say as long as we are not hurting others we are fine. Both the approaches are extreme and should be condemned. Islam teaches us balance. Rights of Allah and rights of people, both should be paid attention to.

Articles of Faith

After correcting that facing a certain direction is not righteousness, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala presents to us what actually is al-birr. It is a gist of the articles of faith, the modes of Allah’s worship, dealings with people, and moral principles. This is what makes one a Muslim, and not simply being born in a Muslim family.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

وَلَـكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ ءَامَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الاٌّخِرِ وَالْمَلَـئِكَةِ وَالْكِتَـبِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ

“…Birr is the one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the prophets…” Ibn Katheer writes 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 angels the emissaries between Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and His Messengers.

It means establishing such a connection with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala that He becomes the first and foremost for us. As we read in ayah 165, “Believers are intense in their love for Allah.” It means that we remember Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala in all matters of our lives; whether we are doing business transactions or dealing with things in our private lives we should be concerned about Allah’s law and pleasure. Our dealings should be in accordance to what He has legislated for us. Our conduct with people should be pleasant and only for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. We should humbly submit to whatever He tells us to do. If anyone else or a thing takes precedence over Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala in our lives, then it would come under Shirk [associating partners with Allah]. This is something that we should seek Allah’s refuge from.

The phrase amanabillahi [ءَامَنَ بِاللَّهِ] gives the meaning of being pleased with what Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has decreed for me [radhitubillah]. Our attitude should be that whatever Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has chosen for me is the best. He knew what my skin color should be, where I should be born, what language I should speak, in what conditions I would live, etc. and I am pleased with what He has decided. Radhitubillah (this is a very virtuous state. Those who are pleased with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala are given glad tidings of Paradise as we read in Surah Al-Fajr).

From the Prophetic Traditions we learn, whosoever recites once in the morning and evening “I am pleased with Allah as my Lord, with Islam as my religion and Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam as my Prophet,” Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala will certainly please him on the day of Judgment. [Sunan Ibn Majah: 3870]

[Three Levels of Ridha – Contentment with Allah]

Then it was said, “and the Last Day [وَالْيَوْمِ الاٌّخِرِ].” It means keeping our eyes on the Day when everything of this world will come to end. Presently, the life of this world is our main focus. Our pains and aching is for this life, and sometimes we lose sight of the Hereafter. Repeatedly in the Qur’an, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has reminded us that the life of the Hereafter is better than the life of this world. Then, why expend all your energies for the temporary while the eternal life is better?

[Listen to the Lectures: Roze Qiyamat Kiya Hoga? and A Description of the Day of Judgment by Tawfique Chawdhury]

Assignment: Draw two columns on a page. In one column, list all the hardships that you have faced in your life. In the other column, write down the hardship of the Day of Judgment. What hardships are more terrorizing?

Next time, when you are upset about something in your life recall the description of the Judgment Day, all your grief will vanish and be replaced with the terrors of the Final Day. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala allow us to set our priorities right, and keep us under His shade in this life and on the Day of Judgment, aameen.

[Poem: Doomsday]

Believing in the Hereafter entails that one is more concerned about the next life than this temporary life. The fear of standing before Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and giving account of each and every deed should worry us more than the temporary tests of this world.

The next is: to believe in the angels. Believing in the angels is part of believing in the Unseen [emaan bil-ghayb]. It means that: O Allah! We believe in You and all that You have instructed us to believe in (whether we have seen it with our eyes or not).

If one believes in the angels only then will he believe in the Books and the prophets. Believing in the Book means believing in all the Divine Scriptures revealed by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala which were finalized by the Qur’an. The Qur’an supersedes all previous Books. Whoever believes in the previous Scriptures, but denies the Qur’an has an incomplete belief. Similarly, whoever believes in the Qur’an, but denies the Torah or Injeel [Gospel] to be Divine Books, has a fault in his belief. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala guide us to what is best, ameen.

Believing in the Book means having firm conviction [yaqeen] that whatever is in the Book, I believe it to be true. We should have no doubts it. This is what Surah Al-Baqarah begins with.

The word nabbiyeena [وَالنَّبِيِّينَ] is from the root noon-ba-hamza and it means ‘news, tidings, narrative or a story and these are not just ordinary news but naba in Arabic is important news’. Prophets brought the news of what Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala wants from us and what was to come in the later days.

Believing in the prophets ‘alayhim salaam means trusting the prophets and believing their teachings – whatever they were sent with was the truth.

رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيم
“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.” [Al-Baqarah 2: 127]

4 thoughts on “What is Al-Birr [Piety/Righteousness]? (Part 1)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s