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The meaning of Al Birr

Question

After listening to last Friday’s khutbah at our masjid here in Palmerston North, New Zealand, I am very curious to know about the word “Albirr” and its meaning and where and why Allah Ta’ala has used it in Quran. Your reply will enlighten our knowledge and will allow us to understand Quran more deeply. May Allah Ta’ala bless you for providing this service to the Ummah. Jazak Allah khayran

Answer

The word ‘Al birr’ is usually translated as “piety”and it appears approximately eight times in the Holy Quran:

1) Surah Al Baqarah verse: 44

2,3) Surah Al Baqarah verse: 177 (twice)

4,5) Surah Al Baqarah verse: 189 (twice)

6) Surah Aalu Imran verse: 92

7) Surah Al Ma’idah verse: 2

8) Surah Al Mujadalah verse: 9

 

In the Hadith

In one Narration, Nabi (sallalahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is reported to have said, البر حسن الخلق. ‘Birr’ is good character.

The Meaning

Imam Nawawi (rahimahullah) explains under the commentary of this Hadith that ‘birr’ means kinship, kindness, acts of charity, good social etiquette, obedience. He then states that all of the above meanings make up good character.

(Sahih Muslim with commentary of Imam Nawawi rahimahullah Hadith: 6463)

Allamah Tibi (rahimahullah) says the word ‘birr’ has various explanations given in Hadith. Sometimes it means those actions with which the heart is at ease when carrying out, sometimes it means ‘Iman’, sometimes all those deeds that bring you closer to Allah Ta’ala, and in the Hadith mentioned above ‘birr’ was explained as good character.

(Sharhut Tibi vol. 10 pg. 323)

The famous linguist Ibn Manzur has written several explanations of this word, he says ‘birr’ means truthfulness, obedience, piety and good (deeds). He goes on to say the best meaning of this word is good (deeds) because it encompasses all the previous meanings.

(Lisanul ‘Arab vol.1 pg. 370)

 

Summary

The word birr has many different meanings, which will have to be viewed in context. Among them is ‘birrul walidayn’, here ‘birr’ means being obedient/dutiful to one’s parents. One will have to translate the word ‘birr’ according to the context it appears in. “Piety” is just one of these meanings.

 

And Allah Ta’ala knows best

 

Answered by: Moulana Suhail Motala

 

Approved by: Moulana Muhammad Abasoomar

 

Checked by: Moulana Haroon Abasoomar