Of course in every race some people get ahead while others lag behind. So with the race for taqwa. Obviously some people will develop more taqwa than others. Though taqwa is also a state of the heart [Al-Hajj, 22:32], and we cannot judge the taqwa of others, many aspects of taqwa have a reflection in our behavior. So it is natural and normal for us to recognize the differences in achievement of those in the race. But those of us lagging behind cannot pretend that we are not in the race at all. For there is no other race!
We are all in it together. The rich and the poor, the educated and the un-educated, the leader and the follower, the writer and the reader, the preacher and the listener, the ruler and the ruled, the old and the young, the man and the woman, all must develop taqwa. The most honored, in the sight of Allah, is the believer with the mosttaqwa [Hujurat, 49:13]. The Islamic society is a taqwa- conscious society, conferring its highest respects on those considered to be highest in taqwa. Without it the best achievements in other areas of life mean nothing.
While all this is obvious in principle, in practice many of us seem to have accepted the idea that muttaqeen are a separate class of people, different from the rest of us, the ordinary Muslims. While Islamic Shariah has been one integral entity, this devious mechanism has allowed us to develop our own individual Shariahs by picking and choosing from the Shariah what we might think is appropriate for the "ordinary Muslim." Such reasoning provides a ready-made justification for our sins, shortcomings, and weaknesses. All of them end with: "After all I am not a muttaqi." Brother, is that a humble statement about achievements or a self-delusion about goals?
The flip side of taqwa is sin. And the mentality that made taqwa the burden of a small group of religious people has also imported another term into contemporary Islamic discourse: self-righteousness. These days this seems to be the most potent weapon of anyone being challenged for introducing a deviation in Shariah. Those challenging must be self-righteous. A most despised species!