Hamman ibn Shuraih – a companion of Ali (RA) – asked him to narrate the qualities of the people of Taqwa so that he would be able to see them in front of him. Ali (RA) said:
“When Allah created His creation, He did so while He was completely independent of their obedience towards Him and of their disobedience towards Him. No disobedience can hurt Him and no obedience can benefit Him. Then He distributed amongst them (the creation) their means of sustenance and placed them on earth. The people of Taqwa on earth are those of virtue: their speech is correct (true); their garments are of moderate nature and their walk is one of humility. They lower their gaze when they see something that Allah has forbidden them to see and they give ear to beneficial knowledge. They maintain their integrity in both adversity and prosperity.
Had it not been for the appointed time that Allah has written for them (death), their souls would not remain an extra second in their bodies out of yearning for reward and fear of punishment. The Creator ranks Supreme in their eyes, so everything else becomes immaterial to them. They are with Paradise as if they had already witnessed it and enjoyed its presence. They are with Hell as if they have already seen it and tasted its torment. Their hearts grieve and their evil (if any) is non-contagious. Their bodies are lean, their needs are few and their souls are chaste.
They observe patience for a few days and experience everlasting comfort. This is a profitable exchange that their Lord has made pleasant for them. The world tempts them, but they do not succumb. It imprisons them, but they ransomed themselves in exchange.
During the nights they stand in rows and read portions of the Quran. They recite with proper recitation which grieves their hearts and drink it (the Quran) like medicine. If a verse of yearning comes along, they reach for it and believe it is their destination. If an intimidating verse comes along, they pour their hearts towards it and believe that Hell and its screams are in their ears. They sleep on their foreheads and elbows (i.e. they engage in prayers so much that it is as if they sleep in those postures) and implore Allah to deliver them.
In the day, they are tolerant and learned, kind and God-fearing. Fear has chipped away at their bodies as if they were arrows. Anyone looking at them would think that they were sick. But they are not sick. Some will say that they are confused. A great fear has made them look like that. They are never content to do only a few actions (during the day), nor do they ask for a great deal. They condemn themselves and are apprehensive about their deeds.
If one of them is called “pious”, he fears what will be said of him and says: “I know myself better than you do. My Lord knows me better than I do. O Allah! Do not take me to task for what they are saying about me and (O Lord) make me better than they think. Forgive my sins which they do not know about.”
Their signs are that they are strong in Islam, resolute in their softness; firm in their belief. They crave for knowledge and are knowledgeable with tolerance; moderate in richness; pleasant in hunger; forbearing in distress; seeking Halal; active in (pursuing) guidance and they abhor greed.
They perform good deeds in fear (of rejection). They spend the evening in gratitude and the morning in remembrance. They sleep in alarm and they awake in joy. If their carnal selves make it difficult for them to fulfil that which they dislike they deprive them (their selves) of that which they like. The apple of their eyes is in what does not perish and their abstemiousness in what disappears. They combine knowledge with tolerance and speech with action.
You will find their hopes are realistic, their mistakes few; their hearts humble, their selves content; their diet meagre, their matters simple, their Deen safe-guarded, their desires killed and their anger subdued. Goodness is expected from them and evil is shielded against them. If they are among those who are oblivious, they are counted amongst those who remember (Allah). If they are among those who remember, they are not written among the oblivious. They pardon those who wrong them; they provide for those who deprive them, and meet those who severe ties with them. They are never profane and always lenient. Their wrong doings are almost non-existent and their good deeds are always present. They are resolute when the earth quakes, steadfast in calamities and grateful in prosperity.
They are no prejudiced against those they dislike nor do they favour those they love. They acknowledge the truth before it appears and do not lose anything they are entrusted with. They do not call anyone names nor do they hurt their neighbours. They do not curse at the time of difficulties nor do they venture into falsehood.
Silence does not bother them and if they laugh, they do not raise their voices. If they are treated with injustice they remain patient until Allah vindicates them.
Their own selves live in toil while others are comfortable around them.
Their abstinence from those who stay away from them is their exoneration (from malice). Their proximity to those who are close to them, is a means of mercy (for those who are close to them). Their remaining aloof is not out of pride and arrogance and their being close is neither a ploy nor a scheme.