The Concept of Purification of the Soul

The process in which the healthy elements found in the soul are fostered, built upon and added to while any invading contaminants are removed or controlled such that the person worships Allah properly and fulfills his purpose in life, which can culminate in the ultimate expression of true ihsaan.[1]

Purification of the soul is a “process.” In other words, it is not something static. It is, in fact, dynamic and it can be volatile. A person may be moving closer and closer to his absolute potential with respect to purification of his soul or he may move further away from it.

Again, the goal is to become as complete and truthful a servant of Allah as one can be.

Allah explains that purpose in life in the verse,

“I have only created jinn and men that they may worship Me”


The goal of life is to worship and please Allah¾thus, to receive His pleasure in return.

The most exalted, noble, and honored a human can be is by worshipping Allah. In reality, there is nothing greater or nobler than that. This is something that should be clear on every Muslim’s mind. The more he moves to that goal, the happier he should become and the more honor he should feel by submitting himself to the only true God and Lord.

Al-Miqreezee notes that this proper form of worship entails four aspects:

(1) Determining what Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) love and are pleased with;

(2) The embodying of and enacting upon those beloved aspects in one’s own heart;

(3) Enacting upon those aspects in one’s speech;

(4) Further enacting upon those aspects in one’s actions.[2]

Each one of these aspects is necessary if a person desires to fulfill his goal of being a true worshipper and servant of Allah. The individual first recognizes that the manner that he is to worship Allah is not based on his own individual inclinations, logic or whims. Instead, it must be based on what comes from Allah Himself. Allah is the only one who can state how He is to be worshipped. Hence, the first step is to determine what Allah wants from the individual and what is pleasing to Him. This is achieved by getting knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah. This knowledge must then be transformed into an acceptance and desire for those things in one’s heart. One must recognize those things as the true good things and one, hence, must have a feeling of love for those things in one’s heart. When this is accomplished, the proclamation of one’s acceptance and belief as well as the application of this acceptance via one’s deeds should automatically accompany it.

Ibn Taimiyyah has expounded further on the true meaning of ibaadah (“worship, service”). He wrote,

As for ‘Ibaadah, its original meaning also denotes lowliness and submission. One says, “a pathway that is mu’abbad” i.e., it has become smoothed out because of being treaded upon.    

However, the ‘Ibaadah that has been enjoined (upon us) encompasses the meaning of submission along with the meaning of love. It embodies the utmost degree of submission to Allah through the utmost degree of love of Him…       

One who submits to a person whilst possessing hatred for him is not an ‘aabid (i.e., worshipper) of him and (in contrast) if he was to love someone and at the same time does not submit to him, he is likewise not an ‘aabid of him, as is the case of a man who loves his child and friend. Consequently, only one of the two (qualities) is not sufficient as far as the ‘ibaadah of Allah is concerned. Rather, it is necessary that Allah be the most beloved above all else to the ‘abd and that he holds Allah to be the greatest of all. Indeed, none other than Allah deserves total love and submission.[3]

Another very important point to keep in mind is that purification of the soul is not simply related to the ritual acts of worship or acts that one may consider “religious” or “spiritual.”[4] As noted earlier, the goal of purification is to become as complete a servant of Allah as one can. The correct concept of servitude or ibaadah is very comprehensive. Ibaadah is, as ibn Taimiyyah stated in his well-known and widely accepted definition of the term,

A noun comprising every word or deed, internal or manifest, that Allah loves and approves. This includes prayer, Zakat, fasting, pilgrimage, speaking the truth, fulfilling trusts, doing good to parents and relatives, keeping promises, enjoining good, forbidding evil, Jihad against the disbelievers and hypocrites, good behavior towards neighbors, orphans, the poor, travelers, slaves and animals, prayer and supplication, remembering God and reading the Quran and so on; similarly it includes to love Allah and His Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), to fear Him and turn to Him in repentance, to be patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity, to resign oneself to Allah’s decrees, to put one’s trust in His help, to hope for His mercy, and to fear His punishment. All of these form part of ibaadah (worship and servitude) to God.[5]

Hence, the purification of the soul permeates every part of a person. It touches upon his internal characteristics as well as his outward actions. As Islahi noted, “Tazkiah [purification] deals with all the apparent and hidden aspects of ourselves… Our thoughts, our apprehensions, our inclinations, our movements, our eating and drinking, our engagements, hobbies, and interests, the daily routines in our lives, in short, no department and nothing that touches our lives is outside the pale of tazkiah.”[6]

Murad has noted a very important point that is actually one of the benefits of this proper understanding of purification of the soul, reflecting once again the importance of having one single comprehensive goal in one’s life. He noted,

Unless you approach tazkiah [purification] as an all-embracing process, you will find that your life is compartmentalised, certain parts impeding the development of others. This can only result in a life of disharmony and unhappiness. Approached as a comprehensive and all-embracing process, however, you will find that each part of your life will complement some other part. This should, God willing, make your struggle on the path to God and Janna [Paradise] easier and full of grace.[7]


  1. Ihsaan refers to the ultimate level of worshipping Allah wherein one worships Allah as if he is seeing Allah in front of him. the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) explained this concept when he said, “It is that you worship Allah as if you see Him. And even though you do not see Him, He sees you.” (Recorded by Muslim.)
  2. Quoted by the translator of ibn Taimiyyah, Servitude, from Al-Miqreezee, Tajreed al-Tauheed al-Mufeed, p. 29, fn. 54.
  3. [Ahmad ibn Taimiyyah,] Ibn Taimiyyah’s Essay on Servitude, pp. 37-38.
  4. Historically speaking, some pious folk made the error of going to an opposite extreme when they noted the masses indulging in the comforts of this world. They decided to denounce everything of this world as being against the concept of purification of the soul, even working within society to make it a more religious environment. However, their opposite extreme is also an incorrect approach. The correct approach is that of the proper balance in one’s life. This is where one neither over-indulges in nor is overly-attached to the comforts of this world nor does he neglect his lawful needs and responsibilities in this world. As always, the guiding principles to find this balance are found in the Quran, the Sunnah and the way of the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). As a starting point, one may study and reflect upon the following verse of the Quran: “But seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on you the Home of the Hereafter, but do not forget your portion in this world. But do good, as Allah has been good to you, and seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land: for Allah loves not those who do mischief.” (28:77).
  5. Ibn Taimiyyah, Majmoo, vol. 10, p. 449. The word ibaadah is used by scholars in two different ways, thus occasionally being a source of confusion. In one usage, it is the general meaning as given above by ibn Taimiyyah. However, it is also sometimes used to refer to the particular ritual acts of worship only. Hence, one finds in the works of fiqh, for example, a chapter on ibaadaat (meaning the ritual acts, such as ritual cleanliness, prayer, zakat) and then a chapter on mu’aamalaat (acts of social interaction, such as business dealings and so forth). Again, in the general sense of the word, though, all of these deeds fall under the realm of ibaadah or the correct worship and servitude to Allah.
  6. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Self-Purification and Development (Delhi: Adam Publishers and Distributors, 2000), p. 21.
  7. Khurram Murad, In the Early Hours: Reflections on Spiritual and Self Development (Markfield, United Kingdom: Revival Publications, 2000), p. 16.

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