Consciousness: The Ultimate Virtue

“…the Qur’ān refers to the Godwary as the possessors of good-end in the Hereafter in contrast to the possessors of wealth and riches in this world” (43:33-35).

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“…the Qur’ān refers to the Godwary as the possessors of good-end in the Hereafter in contrast to the possessors of wealth and riches in this world” (43:33-35).

One of the most famous verses of the Qur’ān is:

O mankind! Indeed We created you from a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may identify yourselves with one another. Indeed the noblest [or the most honoured] of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you. Indeed Allah is all-knowing, all-aware.”

(Holy Quran – 49:13)

The verse identifies taqwā (Godwariness, God-fear, self-restraint, piety) as the yardstick of nobility and virtue. Elsewhere, the Qur’ān refers to the Godwary as the possessors of good-end in the Hereafter in contrast to the possessors of wealth and riches in this world (43:33-35). The Qur’ān is clearly of the view that material comfort, prosperity, and success are no determinants of one’s nobility in the sight of God, hardship, poverty, and affliction are no signs of dishonour (89:15-20).

The Root k-r-m

Although karam is often translated as nobility, the meaning of this term and its derivatives are difficult to capture by any single word in English. We can classify the meaning and application of karam into three categories:

1) It means the good and beneficial of anything. This meaning is very general in application and is used for any minor and major virtue. This is how all creatures of God as karīm (26:7, 31:10), “for You do not see any discordance in the creation of the All-beneficent” (67:3), and “He is Who perfected everything that He created” (32:7).

2) It means generosity and benevolence more specifically. Karīm is one who gives selflessly and freeheartedly, as opposed to la’īm which is one who is mean and miser. The two have been used in contrast in many hadiths (1). Ḥasan ibn Ali defined karam as: ‘To give before one is asked, and to feed [others] at a time of famine.’ (2)

3) It means honour and nobility, which can be identified with true virtue and value. Thus, being karīm is equivalent to being virtuous and laudable. This is the most applicable meaning of this root in the Qur’ān. This meaning is seen in the usage of the term in contrast to being abject, humiliated, and dishonourable (from the root h-w-n) in verses 22:18 and 89:15-16.

The many verses of the Qur’ān that describe Paradise as a karīm reward could be based on the general meaning of the term as that which is pleasant, beneficial, and excellent. It could also be a more specific reference to the honour and respect that the inhabitants of Paradise will receive there, in contrast to the humiliating nature of the punishment of Hell (56:44). A comprehensive translation for the word karīm in the Qur’ān would be ‘good’ – in its most general sense, including ethical virtues in the human sphere, as well as desirable qualities in other beings.

You Shall be as Angels

Another important insight into the Qur’ān’s view of virtue and nobility is that karam has notably been used as an attribute of angels (12:31, 21:26, 51:24, 69:40, 80:16, 81:19, 82:11). “They are [His] honoured servants. They do not venture to speak ahead of Him, and they act by His command” (21:26-27); “Noble and pious” (80:16). These verses suggest that the criteria for being noble and honourable (karīm) is to be totally pure, impeccable, obedient, and trustworthy.

Gabriel, for instance, is a noble apostle (69:40, 81:19) as he is trustworthy (81:21). The same quality is seen in Prophet Moses (‘a): “A noble apostle came to them, [saying,] ‘…indeed I am a trusted apostle [sent] to you’ “(44:17-18). God’s Throne is karīm (27:40 82:6, 23:116) as it belongs to a realm of transcendence, purity and immateriality. Similarly, the Qur’ān is karīm (56:77) because it comes from a guarded book that no one can touch except the pure ones (56:77-78). Finally God Himself is a possessor of nobility (ikrām) as He is the most sacred, majestic and honourable of all (55:27, 55:78).

Based on the above, it can be said that according to the Qur’ān, becoming noble and virtuous lies in becoming angelic and striving in that direction, in the sense that the angels always follow God’s command, do not tire of His service, and never disobedient to Him (7:206, 21:19-20, 21:26-27, 41:38, 66:6). This lofty and comprehensive quality is the same as taqwā in Qur’ān’s terminology, and hence the verse: “Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you” (49:13).

Ali Ibn Abu Talib said: ‘Indeed God has placed in angels reason but not passion; in animals passion but not reason; and in the children of Adam both of them. Hence, if one’s reason dominates their passion, then they are better than angels; but if one’s passion dominates their reason, then they are worse than animals.’ (3) He also said, ‘A warrior who is martyred in the way of God is not higher in reward than one who abstains despite having the means. One who abstains is about to be one of the angels.’ (4)

Consciousness: The Ultimate Virtue

Taqwā is sometimes translated as God-consciousness, which captures the essence of this highest Qur’ānic virtue. The first step is to clarify for oneself who or what is God? The religious view of the world is that all beings and events are reflections, expressions, and manifestations of an absolute reality which has no second.

This is a matter of practice and meditation, where one constantly reminds oneself of the divine’s pervasive presence with every being, at any moment and any place. This will not only affect how one behaves externally but will also transform the person spiritually. The ultimate virtue is to observe everything as a sign, with the eye of the divine.


Tāj al-ʿArūs, under k-r-m.

Tuḥaf al-ʿUqūl, 225.

3ʿIlal al-Sharāʾiʿ, 1/4-5, narrated through Imam al-Sadiq.

Nahj al-Balāghah, Saying 474.



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