What is Istiqaama?
Istiqaama is often translated to mean ‘uprightness, correctness, integrity, soundness and so forth. It comes from the root word قام (qaama) meaning ‘to rise’ or ‘to stand upright’ and it’s from this that we derive words like مستقيم (mustaqeem) as in ‘Siraat al-Mustaqeem’ (Straight Path).
For the believer, Istiqaama is a virtue and a caliber that cannot be done without. It’s a quality that we continually strive to attain although we may fail at times.
In this age where fitaan (tribulations) have become widespread and open sin is the norm, many people have lost the istiqaama they once had in them – the strength to stay upon the straight path with firmness has escaped through their fingers.
Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta’aala) mentions in Surah Fussilat,
"إن الذين قالوا ربنا الله ثم استقاموا تتنزل عليهم الملائكة ألا تخافوا و لا تحزنوا
و أبشروا بالجنة التى كنتم توعدون"
“Verily, those who say ‘Our Lord is Allaah’ and then they istaqaamu (remain firm and straight), on them the angels will descend (at time of death) saying: ‘Fear not, nor grieve! But receive glad tidings of Paradise which you have been promised!” [Fussilat:30]
He (subhaanahu) also says,
"فاستقم كما أمرت و من تاب معك و لا تطغوا إنه بما تعملون بصير"
“So stand you firm and straight as you are commanded – and those who turn in repentance with you, and transgress not. Verily, He is All-Seer of what you do.” [Surah Hud:112]
The reward of istiqaama in this world is nothing other than Jannah as is mentioned in the first of the two verses above. It comes next to our declaration of Imaan in Allaah, and it is what will aid and strengthen our Tawheed (belief in Allaah). In addition to uprightness and firmness, istiqaama also entails leaving sin and avoiding transgression as Allaah said in the previous verse, “and transgress not” - making it part of the command given in the above ayah. Our istiqaama is not complete until and unless we stay within the boundaries set for us by Allaah through the Shari’ah (Islamic Law).
In a beautiful hadeeth of the Prophet (s), it is related that Sufyan ibn ‘Abdullaah (ra) came to him and said, “O Messenger of Allaah! Tell me something about Islaam which I can ask of no-one except you.” He (s) said, “Say: I believe in Allaah and thereafter be upright” [Sahih Muslim]
As upholders of Islaam, we have to realise that developing this istiqaama within us, is a long-term process. It does not occur overnight or after listening to one lecture, but rather it’s a continuous struggle in which we may find ourselves failing more often than once.
Istiqaama is in our words, actions, intentions, and state (our condition). It is what our character builds upon and it is what determines our destiny on the Day of Judgement.
Throughout Islamic History, reflections of istiqaama have shone from great figures. The Prophets being at the forefront leading this world under the guidance of Allaah (s.w.t) were truly upon istiqaama. Calling a nation engrossed in disbelief and shirk is not easy when you are alone. How simple it must be for one to walk away at the first sign of rejection – but not the Prophets (alaihumusalaam). Allaah had kept them firm upon His path and established within them the istiqaama they needed to carry out such testing tasks. The companions of the Prophet Muhammad (s) were nurtured by the Qur’aan which not only changed them so drastically, but built them upon firmness and integrity. So great was their istiqaama and patience that horrific ordeals poured out on them was not enough to shake them or make them utter false statements. They were the ones who stood like towering blocks against the current of what surrounded them.
Istiqaama is also needed during times of ease just as much as it would be needed during times of hardship. This is because when the heart begins to feel false security, ease and becomes arrogantly confident from the punishment of Allaah then this is a heart that has been exposed to fitnah (test), and has subsequently failed. It is during these periods that the masses start to suffer from forgetfulness. Their vision shifts from the Aakhira to the Dunya and so their actions begin to be ones done solely for attaining and reaping worldly benefits at the expense of their Deen. It is during these times that a person becomes blind to their sins, and therefore hardly sees a need for repentance – increasing one's outstanding punishment. Istiqaama however, doesn’t allow a person to be as easily misled as that. It prevents a person from occupying such weakness in their Islaam, and keeps their heart and feet planted firmly upon the Straight Path. It serves as the distinguishing factor which keeps them firm and focused whether in hardship or in ease.
This is why the pious predecessors feared for themselves when they experienced prolonged periods of ease and comfort in their lives - they feared that any due punishment or atonement for sin had been delayed for the hereafter, where every reward or punishment increases in magnitude and length.
Istiqaama of the Heart
Ibn Rajab (rahimahullaah) said, “The root of istiqaama lies with the heart being firm upon Tawheed.”
Having correct Tawheed is essential in every minute and detailed aspect of a person’s Islaam – recognizing Allaah as our Lord and Creator. Dedicating all our worship to Him Alone and purifying our belief in Him. Learning to love Him, having fear of His punishment and having hope for His reward. Learning to have Tawakkal (reliance) upon Him and making sure to negate and reject all other false deities, as Abu Bakr (ra) was once asked, ‘what is istiqaama?’ he replied by saying, “It is to not associate partners with Allaah” and by this he meant that one’s istiqaama is based on sincere and correct Tawheed.
The heart been at the center of the life is often the driving force for many of our actions. This is why the Prophet (s) said, “Verily, in the body is a morsel of flesh, were it to be upright, then the whole body would be upright and were it to be corrupt then the whole body would corrupt. Verily, it is the heart.”
Therefore, it can only follow that a heart established upon Tawheed will order and call for righteous actions to be performed. Ibn Rajab (rh) called the heart ‘King of the body’ in that it is obeyed and naturally followed.
Some sayings of the Salaf regarding Istiqaama
Different scholars and righteous figures from Islamic History have given several statements and advise regarding Istiqaama.
Mujahid: Be upright and stand firm on laa ilaaha illallaah until you meet Allaah.
Ali ibn Abee Taalib and Ibn Abbaas (radi Allaahu ‘anhumaa): Istiqaama means to carry out the faraa’idh (obligations in Islaam).
‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan (ra): It is to purify your actions for Allaah, i.e. to be sincere in deeds.
Al-Hasan al-Basri: Be firm and upright upon the commands of Allaah, work to His obedience and keep away from His disobedience
Ibn al-Qayyim mentions that some knowledgeable people would say, “Be the companion of Istiqaama and not the seeker of respect and nobility [amongst the people], because your soul seeks this respect and nobility while Allaah has called it to seek Istiqaama.” He (rahimahullaah) also said, ‘I heard Ibn Taymiyyah say, “The greatest nobility lies in the presence and requirement of Istiqaama”
To conclude, this is the Istiqaama that we so ardently need in order to safeguard our Deen, make it out of this Dunya and arrive safely in the Aakhira. It is what will aid us against our enemies, against Shaytaan and his army and it is also what will help us make strong and wise decisions throughout our lives, and remain firm upon them.
“Verily, those who say ‘Our Lord is Allaah’ and thereafter remain firm and straight (istaqaamu), on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. Such shall be the dwellers of Paradise abiding therein – a reward for what they used to do.” [Al-Ahqaaf: 13-14]
We ask Allaah to bestow upon us His Grace, forgive us of our sins and plant our hearts firmly upon the Word of Truth (the Shahaadah). May He give us the Istiqaama we need to face the challenges of life, and live up to the title of being Muslims. Ameen
Anything good I’ve said is from Allaah due to His never-ending Mercy and Grace. Anything wrong I’ve said is from me and Shaytaan.