Tazkiyah: Purification Of The Self
As Muslims in the 21st century, we are living in a society that is detrimental both to our physical and spiritual health. Materialism has taken over our pleasures in life, and our spiritual states have been greatly affected by aggressive secularist propaganda. Islam is a conduct of living that is for all times and places, and in a world where we feel alien due to our beliefs and actions, many of us have reacted by entering into ‘shells’ of physical rites and have subsequently lost the meanings of why we do what we do; ultimately creating a spiritual state that is even worse. Of course, I am not saying we abandon our physical rites; these are obligatory and things that every Muslim must do. However, by rigidly concentrating on physical rites, we have developed into Muslims that are purely ‘ticking boxes’ as far as our obligations are concerned, and completely abandoning what their purpose is; to make us better human beings and to ultimately bring us closer to Allah.
“On that Day, neither wealth nor children will be of any benefit, only he (will be happy) who comes before Allah with a sound heart free of evil” (26:88).
Islam is not a system of physical rites, nor is it a system of purifying our inner self, it is in fact a combination of the two and a perfect middle path. Therefore, by combining our physical rites with an attempt to maintain ‘tazkiyah’ is an equal obligation. In essence, the difference between a Mujahid and a terrorist is the one with a ‘sound heart’, as it changes the physical action from one that is ego-driven to one that is solely for the sake of Allah.
The word ‘tazkiyah’ alludes to “tazkiyat al-nafs” meaning “purification of the self”, or the “purification of the (spiritual) heart” depending on the context in which it is used. This refers to the process of transforming the ‘nafs’ (carnal self or desires) from its deplorable state of ego- centrality towards the level of purity and submission to the Will of Allah, resulting in a heightened spiritual awareness of Allah. Thus, resulting in one being constantly aware that Allah is with him, and therefore helps one to be in constant remembrance of Him through both one’s thoughts and actions.
Tazkiyah is made up of two parts:
1) Takhliyah – To make the heart empty from everything and purifying it.
2) Tahliyah – To beautify the heart and adorn it (.ie. through prayer).
None of this can happen without our own will, and is ultimately characterised in attaining ‘Ihsan’ (spiritual excellence). It is a combination of both will and action.
The initial awakening to purification refers to recognition that the spiritual search is more important and meaningful than our previously valued worldly goods and ambitions. The process of ‘tazkiyat an-nafs’ starts with “Verily deeds are according to intentions” and ends with the station of perfect character, Ihsan, “Worship Him as though you see Him”, the reference being to the hadith of Jibreel (AS).
‘Tazkiyah’ is a continuous process of purification to maintain spiritual health similar to the process of maintaining physical health, any lapse in the regime can cause one to lose their previous gains, and thus caution must always be used to not deviate from the path.
The three categories of the diseases of the heart:
1) Kufr – Ungratefulness despite all the favours received from Allah; to say you will abandon something Allah has ordered or advised for something you think is better.
2) Shirk – To worship someone other than Allah.
3) Ri’-ya’ – Doing good actions to show off and please other than Allah. This is not for people who feel pride from doing good actions purely to please Allah, but only for those that do it for the purpose of showing off.
• Arrogance – To think that you are better than someone else and that you deserve Allah’s Mercy and Blessings more than someone else, whether this be in knowledge, wealth or anything else, it is still arrogance. To think that you are more qualified because of your knowledge or your religious actions performed, that you are in a better position? You are not as only Allah knows! To think that perhaps you are better qualified than someone else in a certain field (.ie. to teach a specific subject) or something similar is fine as you are merely acknowledging yourself as having more skill. But anything more than that is very dangerous as the Prophet (SAW) states in a hadith: “A person who has an atom’s weight of conceit in his heart will not enter Paradise.”
• Matters of the tongue – Lying, backbiting, bad language, talking too much etc. These are very serious matters as evidenced in various hadiths such as the comparison between backbiting and eating the flesh of one’s dead sibling.
• Jealousy and Hatred – Allah mentions in the Qur’an to seek refuge from the one with jealousy (hasad). The action of not praising someone may not be jealousy, but to think that particular person is not deserving of what they have received or achieved is very dangerous indeed. It is denying the Decree of Allah.
• Desires – To fulfill the desire that comes with the pleasure. To fall in love with someone is not necessarily bad in theory but acting on it is. By not acting on it is what gives you ‘thawaab’ (reward). The golden rule is to control your eyes in the first place, as usually the one who cannot control his eyes cannot control his private parts.
• Anger – Every desire is there for a reason and has a function. Anger has a function but it must be controlled; it should never lead or control you. In fact, your state of mind changes when you are angry and subsequently is the source from which the other negatives flow. The Prophet (SAW) states in a hadith: “Anger (ghadab) blemishes one’s belief.” In fact, an angel told Dhul Qarnayn to not be angry in order to be closer to Allah.
• Greed – Excessive greed in desires and needs. Nothing can satisfy you except for contentment in your heart. Greed does not stop and is a constant urge, but it should be channeled in the right direction – such as the greed for knowledge.
• Money – This is a means. It can be both a blessing to some in the world by Allah and a test for others. Richness is not the criterion for His love, but humility in wealth. This tests many possible diseases such as vanity (’ujb), stinginess (bukhl) and love of the world (hub-al-dunya). Of course these diseases can also be triggered by other factors other than money.
Two main causes for the diseases of the heart:
1) People have no sense of the importance of their lives.
2) Because of having no sense of purpose in their lives, they look for its importance in something or someone other than Allah. This leads to them ultimately living to ‘enjoy the good things in life’ rather than to ‘do the good things in life’.
General cures for the diseases of the heart
• Know the function of your life – To worship your Lord. To turn to Him and know that everything is for His pleasure. The pleasure of Allah is the greatest pleasure for the believer.
• We ask Him for His help to turn to Him, so we should seek it. Someone once asked Ja’far as- Sadiq (RA), “Why do our prayers not get answered?” He replied; “because you are asking someone you don’t know!” We should therefore act upon His favours and worship Him too!
• Shukr – Be grateful for what He has already given us.
• Sabr – Wait for what you want. Maybe what we really want is not something that will be beneficial for us and He knows us more than we know ourselves. So we combine our Sabr with Shukr as we do not even deserve the favours we already have. “And Surely God is with the patient ones” (2:153).
• Zuhd – Abandon the world before it abandons you. Do not put your trust in anything other than Allah, be it money, government or even family. Doing without what you do not need and making do with little. It is the emptiness of the heart that doesn’t know any other commitment than what is in relation to God. This even relates to simple matters such as eating less- a full stomach is fueled by greed and also encourages a lack of concentration in all matters.
• Repentance (tawbah) – This induces regret and a yearning to compensate for past shortcomings and determination to avoid them in the future.
• Contentment – Submission to fate, showing no rancor or rebellion against misfortune, and accepting all manifestations of Destiny without complaint. This is one of the ultimate forms of submission to the Lord as a slave, and helps to increase ‘taqwa’.
• Fearing Allah (taqwa) – Increase in our piety through practice of the above, and is the absolute culmination of the way to rid the heart of its diseases. To increase ‘taqwa’ and to keep it steady is the process in which to ultimately reach a state of ‘Ihsan’.
• Arrogance – To truly know your Lord means you will never think you are better than anyone else. It is very ugly and very hard to forgive as you will not even realise it to seek forgiveness for! You can try and gain humility by doing work that is courteous and work that is going to humble you.
• Controlling the tongue – Either say good or remain quiet. To backbite means that your deeds will go to the other person, so in reality you are actually doing them a favour. Try to eat, sleep and mix with the right people and do not worry about others’ views on you. You will receive blessings through your test of patience.
• Jealousy – Praise those you do not like and make du’a for them. You cannot make du’a for someone you do not like.
• Zina – Control your eyes. If you commit a sin, quickly repent and promise to not repeat it and Allah may forgive you – do not let it lead as zina leads from one thing to another. The Shaytan is always the third party between two unrelated people and will always whisper temptations even if it is to make it seem as though you are only doing good. A small good is nothing for him if it leads to a greater evil.
• Anger – Think what is bigger; the other persons mistake or your anger? If you feel you are about to become angry, leave the place. If that does not help, do wudhu, sit down, lie down, offer nafl salaah.
• Love of money and other material things – It is not necessarily a bad thing as you need it to live, and wealth itself can be a blessing to some. But use it as a means to live and to spend in charity – do not spend it extravagantly or with pride. If you do not have it, do not crave it either and be grateful for what you already have. Try to not look at the belongings of rich people but how soon they will die and these things will have no meaning.
“If you see your friend with a nice car and you like it, say ‘SubhanAllah’ and you already have more than him- it is greater than everything in this world”. (Shaykh Akram Nadwi)
• Depression – “If everyone hates you, you lose your job and all is failing- it does not matter as Allah may still love you! Your husband may divorce you but Allah will never divorce you. You can lose hope in everything else but you never lose hope in Allah.” (Shaykh Akram Nadwi).
This links with Shukr and Sabr. In fact, to be in an opposite position where you are loved and adorned can lead to arrogance and more.
By Abdul Aleem