Osman*, around age 12, would be hanging out with the aunties, peppering them with questions about religious rulings, ever so wary about understanding and following God's orders exactamento.
While we dismissed him then as a worry wart who missed out on the fun, I now look back in awe at his attempts to adopt piety (taqwa in Arabic) as early as in his tween years.
Taqwa is a fundamental virtue that involves awareness of God's ever-present power, a keeness to please Him by following His instructions while keeping vigil against violating His commands. When strengthened, it serves as a precaution, prevention and protection against spiritual maladies--such as unbridled passions and desires--that can obstruct the soul's path to nearness to God.
"But the best of provisions is taqwa, so fear Me, O you who are wise." (Quran 2:197)
Taqwa is so important that God mentioned it more than 200 times in the Quran, declaring in one verse that only those who have taqwa can benefit and receive guidance from this Holy Book. (2: 2)
"O People! Have taqwa of God as is worthy of Him," Prophet Muhammad (S) urged. "Strive in gaining his pleasure. Have certainty that the world is temporal and the next life is everlasting."
There are four types of taqwa, according to some scholars. Abstaining from the 1) prohibited, 2) doubtful, 3) permissable (as a precaution) and 4) anything nonreligious to avoid wasting time.
Maryam (one of the four perfect women) achieved such strong taqwa that God sent the Archangel Gabriel to visit and converse with her while she worshipped in seclusion. When first startled by the appearance of the angel (who came in human form), she quickly reminded him of God's omnipresence.
"I seek refuge from you in God, Most Gracious. Come not near if you have taqwa." (19: 18)
Indeed, she embodied traits found in the muttaqeen (Arabic for those with taqwa) including an attachment to the Unseen, commitment to prayers and generous distribution of wealth and possessions.
For global peace and justice, more people need to recognize God's power presence as did Maryam and submit to His authority. We need to realize that God's power rules supreme and must not be intimidated by those who try to secure dominance by oppressing others.
"It's not enough if you understand this meaning [of taqwa] by yourself," says Muhammad al-Asi, author of The Ascendant Quran, the first explanation (tafsir) of the Holy Book written directly in English. "This understanding of taqwa has to become a public feature."
I was recently visiting Osman's sister when he called to discuss the beef sold at their local butcher. A lengthy discussion of what the cows are fed, how they are treated and in which manner they are sacrificed ensued.
Some things never change. In this case, that's a good thing.
* name has been changed to protect privacy