by Abu Jamal
Allâh (swt) places emphasis on the need for individuals to purify themselves. After swearing by the sun and moon, day and night, as well as the heaven and the earth, Allâh (swt) states: Indeed he succeeds who purifies his ownself (i.e. obeys and performs all that Allah ordered, by following the true Faith of Islamic Monotheism and by doing righteous good deeds). And indeed he fails who corrupts his ownself (i.e. disobeys what Allah has ordered by rejecting the true Faith of Islamic Monotheism or by following polytheism, etc. or by doing every kind of evil wicked deeds). [91:9-10]
What Does it Mean to “Purify the Soul?”
Regarding these two Ayat, Imam Ibn Katheer says: This verse means: He who purified his soul obeying Allâh (swt), and purified it from vices and bad manners, he succeeded. And he who corrupted it by immersing it in sins and disobeying Allâh (swt), he utterly failed.
Simply stated, purifying means that individuals purify their souls from evil and follow what Allâh (swt) revealed to His Prophet (saws).
The Prophet (saws) frequently used to say in his supplication: Oh Allah! Grant me the sense of piety and purify my soul as You are the best to purify it, You are its Guardian and its Master… [Reported by Muslim and Ahmad]
Guiding Toward Purification
Guiding individuals in the process of purifying their souls was one of the most important tasks of the messengers wAllâh (swt) sent to the world, concluding with the prophet Muhammad (saws). Allâh (swt) said: Similarly (to complete My Blessings on you) We have sent among you a Messenger (Muhammad) of your own, reciting to you Our Verses (the Qur’an) and sanctifying you, and teaching you the Book (the Qur’an) and the Hikmah (i.e. Sunnah, Islamic laws and Fiqh – jurisprudence), and teaching you that which you used not to know. [2:151]
The Prophet (saws) assists believers in purifying themselves through that which was revealed to him and through his example. In this manner, he assists them in purifying their convictions and their conduct because the human being’s life in this world and his destiny in the Hereafter do not derive from knowledge alone; this knowledge must result in a process of self-purification.
Taz-ki-yah linguistically means spiritual cleaning, development, and blessing. This means that– from an Islamic perspective– purification entails cleansing any corruption from one’s soul, developing it through a sincere belief in Allâh (swt), while performing good deeds and abstaining from evil deeds, so that the soul will be blessed in this world and in the Hereafter. This implies that the soul is purified in accordance with the legislation of Allâh (swt), so that it reflects wholesome characteristics in this world and is deserving of abundant rewards in the Hereafter.
The opposite of Taz-ki-yah is Tad-si-yah which linguistically means corruption. This is the direct reverse of purification (Taz-ki-yah), because corruption contaminates the soul with sins and the results of disobedience to Allâh (swt), and yields unwholesome characteristics of the soul in this world and the deserving of severe punishment in the Hereafter.
The Potency of Positive Knowledge
The primary means of purifying the soul derives from positive knowledge. Positive knowledge is any knowledge that brings the individual closer to Allâh (swt), increases one’s love and fear of Allâh (swt), and guides the individual to perform good deeds and abstain from evil deeds. Included in this category of knowledge is awareness and acceptance of Islamic rules that apply to ‘Aqeedah. This word stems from the root word ‘aqada, which conveys the meaning of certainty, affirmation, confirmation. ‘Aqeedah refers to those matters which are believed with certainty and firm conviction, within one’s heart and soul. Positive knowledge also includes other types of knowledge that guide the human being to contemplate the Creation of Allâh (swt), reflecting upon His Power, Greatness and Absolute Perfection.
Knowledge forms the foundations of deeds. It is just as useless to perform an act without knowledge as it is to have knowledge that implies a good deed and to not perform that deed if one is able. Allâh (swt) ordered us to have knowledge before performing a deed. He says in the Holy Qur’an: So know (O Muhammad) that Lâ ilâha illallâh (None has the right to be worshipped but Allâh) and ask forgiveness for your sin and also for (the sin of) believing men and women. [47:19, part] Thus Allâh (swt) commanded the Prophet Muhammad (saws.) to have knowledge of the Oneness of Allah first, followed by asking for forgiveness which is an action. Imam Al-Bukhari cited this verse to show the importance of knowledge and that it should precede the deed. The lesson which we should take from this is that, the more we instill Lâ ilâha illallâh in our hearts, the more we recognize the awe-inspiring power of Allâh (swt), the more we open our hearts and minds to receiving – and translating into deeds – the positive knowledge which is the basis of the Islamic belief system.
The Results of a Life of Purity-Seeking
First and foremost, this knowledge is the basis of our fearing Allâh (swt), loving him, while desiring and being able to get closer to Him.
This knowledge guides us to the correct ‘aqeedah, strengthening our beliefs and assists us in recognizing false beliefs.
This knowledge guides us to the correct understanding of the shariah, in order to incorporate Islamic Law into our public and private life.
Ibadah is a collective noun that includes everything that Allâh (swt) loves and accepts, whether words or deeds, the deeds being the hidden (acts by heart) or the open (acts by limbs). The basis of all deeds is positive knowledge.
Positive knowledge assists us in recognizing those thoughts, words and deeds which contribute to the process of taz-ki-yah, the purification of the soul, and assist us in developing a standard of that which we are to avoid because they are thoughts, words and deeds which corrupt the soul.
Similarly, positive knowledge assists us in recognizing that which is halal, and in developing a standard of things which we are to avoid because they are haram.
Positive knowledge that results in good deeds can offset sins or evil deeds. Allâh (swt) says in the Holy Qur’an: Verily, the good deeds remove the evil deeds (i.e. small sins). [11:114, part]
Positive knowledge assists us in organizing our worship. We know to give priority to obligatory acts of worship over recommended acts.
Positive knowledge assists us prioritizing our life. We know to give priority to those things which will prepare us for the Hereafter over pursuing worldly pleasures.
The quest for knowledge was an ever-present consideration in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (saws). When he awoke, he recited this supplication in which he defines the knowledge which he does not seek, as well as things related to this type of knowledge:
O Allah, grant to my soul the sense of righteousness and purify it, for Thou art the Best Purifier thereof. Thou art the Protecting Friend thereof, and Guardian thereof. O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from the knowledge which does not benefit, from the heart that does not entertain the fear (of Allah), from the soul that does not feel contented and the supplication that is not responded. [Muslim]
Seeking knowledge is one of the greatest acts of worship. One can either acquire knowledge in the course of one’s life process, or one can actively seek knowledge as a life objective. Clearly, the latter objective is the superior one, as reflected in this hadith:
Narrated AbudDarda’: Kathir ibn Qays said: A man said: I heard the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) say: If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge, the inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man. The superiority of the learned man over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave neither dinar nor dirham, leaving only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion. [Abu Dawood]
The Most Important Task
Our most important task after knowing Allah (swt) is Tazkiyah or soul purification. Our success or failure in this life and in the Hereafter depends on whether or not we purify our souls. Islam prescribed to us knowledge as the primary means through which to purify our soul. It is a must that we use this means when we are in the process of tazkiyah (soul purification). This is an ongoing process as long as we are alive. It begins with sincere submission to Allâh (swt), who created mankind and Jinn for no purpose other than sincere submission to Him alone.