Content of article
The path espoused by the Quran and Sunnahfor purifying one’s soul is amazingly very clear and actually easy to followfor all those whose intentions are pure. Indeed, it is a path that is open forevery human to follow. It basically is comprised of three components: (1) purification of one’s beliefs; (2) drawing closer to Allah by performing theobligatory deeds and (3) drawing evencloser to Allah by the voluntary deeds.
The Proper Belief in Allah
The proper belief in Allah is without adoubt the first aspect on the road to self-purification and the key to realsuccess and happiness in this life and in the Hereafter.
“He has certainly succeeded who has purified himself”
The Quranic commentators note that this is referring first to purifying oneselffrom shirk (associating partners with Allah) and kufr(disbelief). It has beennarrated that ibn Abbaas explained this verse by saying, “Whoever purifies himself from shirk.”
Indeed, it has been deviations from thecorrect belief in God that has misled most of humankind. In other words, formuch of humankind today, it is not the case that they do not believe in God butit is the case that their belief, based on their own whims and desires or theirchoice to blindly follow others, is distorted and not based on any true sourceof knowledge concerning God. For example, many people today believe that aslong as a person is a “nice” person and does not do harm to others, God wouldnever be displeased with such a person and they will enter Paradise or achievesome kind of bliss.
Thus, having the proper belief about Goddoes not even enter into the equation, as long as the person is a “nice”person. Actually, a person could be a devil worshipper or a believer in onehundred idols yet all of that does not seem to matter. Although one maycommonly hear such ideas expressed, all such thoughts are simply the people’sown suppositions about God. They are false and have no proof to support them.
In reality, the acceptance of thisfact—that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, the first statement ofthe testimony of faith—is the first step in becoming a Muslim and on the roadto purification of the soul, purifying one’s beliefs and one’s heart from anyform of shirk or associating partners with Allah.
Associating partners with Allah is a greatform of wrongdoing. In particular, one is completely wronging one’s own souland dignity by submitting to and worshipping beings that do not deserve ahuman’s worship whatsoever. Allah has stated in the Quran, while quoting Luqmaan,
“Indeed associating [partners with Allah] is a great wrongdoing”
On the other end of the spectrum there isthe committing of shirk, which includes all of the other beliefsprevalent in the world today. This includes the other “monotheistic” faiths ofJudaism and Christianity. Those who commit shirk go to an extreme forwhich, in truth, there is no excuse. Their own souls and beings know that theirshirk is completely repugnant and that they are following it only tosatisfy some lowly desires. Hence, Allah will forgive any sin except shirk.
Allah says, “Allah does not forgive that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgives whatever is less than that for whom He pleases; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed”
Those who commit shirk are deservingof an eternal damnation as it was their intention to forever remain along thepath of their false beliefs. Hence, Allah has forbidden His pleasure andparadise for them, saying,
“Whoever joins others with Allah, Allah will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrongdoers be no one to help”
Once again, therefore, without this firststep of purification—the purification of one’s beliefs at least to the extentof removing all forms of shirk—nothing else will be of any avail. Theheart must be purified first with tauheed before one can truly move onto anything else. If that is not done first, then all of the following stepswill be in vain. Any deed that is not done purely and solely for the sake ofAllah will be in vain and rejected by Allah. A hadith states that Allah hassaid, “I am the most self-sufficient and am in noneed of having a partner. Whoever does a deed for My sake as well as forsomeone [or something] else will have that action rejected by Me with the onehe associates [with Allah].”
The Proper Attitude Toward the Messenger(peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)
Directly related to the belief in tauheedand directly related to the question of purification of the soul is one’sattitude toward the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be uponhim). One does not become a Muslim and one does not begin on the path ofpurification until he makes the testimony of faith. This testimony is composedof two very different but essential components: “Ibear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and I bearwitness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” By making thistestimony, the person is affirming his intent to worship none other than Allahas well as to worship Allah in the manner set forth by the Prophet Muhammad(peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). With respect to both matters, theindividual dedicates himself to Allah via the teachings that have come throughthe Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
Hence, everyone has to understand who theProphet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was and what is his role inpurifying one’s soul. His role is simple: His is the human example that everyMuslim must aspire to as his way was based on guidance from Allah. His life andbehavior is the one showing all Muslims the proper way to purify their souls.This is true whether one is speaking about how to pray, fast, fight, ordergood, become patient, earn Allah’s love, become a devout worshipper, deal with friends,associates, family, orphans and so forth.
Commenting on the phenomenon of failing torecognize or turn to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) asthe teacher of purification of the soul, ibn al-Qayyim wrote,
The concept of purificationof the souls must be submitted to the way of the messengers. Allah has sentthem alone for the purpose of this purification and has put them in charge ofit. He has placed in their hands the call, teachings and clarification. Theyhave been sent to cure the souls of the nations. Allah says, “Itis He Who has sent among the Unlettered a messenger from among themselves, torehearse to them His Signs, to purify them, and to instruct them in the Bookand Wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error” (al-Jumu’ah2). Purification of the soul is more difficult and harder thancuring one’s physical body. Whoever [tries to] purify his soul via spiritualexercises, striving and seclusion which the messengers never taught is like asick person who tries to cure himself based on his own personal opinion. Whatis the place of his opinion with respect to the knowledge of the physician? Themessengers are the physicians of the hearts.There is no way to purify the hearts or make them sound except via their pathsand at their hands, with a complete submission and obedience to them.
Furthermore, Allah makes it clear that theProphet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was sent to these people tobe an example par excellence for anyone who wants to come closer toAllah and be successful in the Hereafter. Allah says, “Youhave indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in theremembrance of Allah” (al-Ahzaab 21). Hence, the true believerwould do his best to emulate the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be uponhim) in all matters of his life as sanctioned by the Sharee’ah. This desire toemulate is called “pursuance” by Islahi and he explains it thusly,
The scope of pursuance ismuch wider than that of obedience. Under obedience fall only those things whichare in the nature of Commandments, highly stressed duties and the do’s anddon’ts, but in the ambit of pursuance fall even the commendatory and non-obligatoryacts… Man may obey something without the least tinge of sincerity and love init. But in pursuance the sentiments of reverence and regard for the pursued inone’s life is an essential condition…
The reason behind the zest ofthe Companions in the pursuance of the Prophet was the love of God, and tobecome a beloved of His could not be attained only through obedience to theProphet, but in fact through following him sincerely in all walks of life. TheProphet is the embodiment of the cognition of God and every air and style ofhis is the sign of such cognition. That is why those who love God love everyiota in the life of the Prophet. In the life of the Prophet they observe theknowledge that is acquired through the cognition of God; they notice actionsthat result from such cognition and they watch habits that God is pleased with…And since they do it all for the love of God, they are rewarded by Him andbecome His beloved. It is this fact brought out in the following verse of theQuran:
“Say (O Mohammad), ‘If you love God, follow me: God will love you’”
There is anotherimportant fact that definitively needs to be emphasized concerning the beliefin the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He is not just an example,but he is the example. There is no manner of living and no belief systemthat is superior to that of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allahbe upon him). Furthermore, there is no individual who was closer and morebeloved to Allah than the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah beupon him).
A person will not be able to completelyinternalize this and act upon this concept until he has a strong love andappreciation for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). In fact,this love for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is arequirement of the faith itself. In other words, one’s faith cannot be properwithout it and one cannot purify himself without it. The Messenger of Allah(peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) himself said, “None of you are true believers until I am more beloved tohim than his father, his children and all of mankind.”
On this point, also,Islahi has made an excellent comment, noting that the love for the Prophet(peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is a love based on intellectand principles which a person comes to foster with a principle or an ideology,and because of which he keeps that principle and that particular ideologypredominant everywhere in his life, and sacrifices every other principle, wayof life or desire to that cherished principle or way of life, but not viceversa. For the promotion and upliftment of this principle and ideology he cansee everything else degraded but cannot tolerate the degradation of hischerished ideology. If his own self is in the way of his ideology he gives it afight, and if others stand in the way to block it he fights them, so much sothat even if the demands of his own wife and children and relatives collidewith the demands of this ideology, he stands on the side of his ideology tosupport it and without any pangs of love and regards, spurns the wishes of hiswife and children and the demands of his tribe and nation.
When a love of this nature is trulyinternalized, it becomes natural for the person to emulate and imitate hisobject of admiration. One see this phenomenon in all walks of life. Thisexplains why fans, for example, want to know so many details about the actors,athletes or stars that they idolize. Part of the goal is to know about them andpart of the goal is to try to emulate them as much as possible. This feeling ofdevotion and willingness to emulate must be even greater for the person whorealizes that via emulation and following of the Prophet (peace and blessingsof Allah be upon him) he can conquer the true way to spiritual purification.
In sum, in order to truly purify one’ssoul, one must make sure that one’s attitude toward the Messenger of Allah(peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is correct. One must have belief inthe Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and thatbelief must be correct. One must also obey the Prophet (peace and blessings ofAllah be upon him), seek to emulate him and love him and his way. When all of thesematters are fulfilled, one is on the firmest path leading to the purificationof the soul, which in itself was one of the main purposes for the sending ofthe Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
Murad offers one more interesting pointconcerning the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)and his role in the purification of one’s soul. After discussing thematerialism of Western societies, how such societies are even creeping upon theMuslim world and how the West’s ultimate emphasis upon what can be materiallymeasured and denial of the unseen is the antithesis of Islam, he noted,
Once you have chosen to livein a “Western type” society, the only source of light for you is the Messengerof Allah. He was also faced with an almost similar situation. As he came downfrom the cave of Hira’, after his experience of receiving the light of Divineguidance, he re-entered a culture and society which were quite “alien” to hisMessage. His Message began by linking the whole of life to the name of Allah.That was the starting point. All knowledge, all culture, all civilisation andall human action must be centred on one pivot and that is the name of Allah.This was a totally strange Message for the society in which he had to operate.So, we need to look at the Prophet’s Sunnah in the context of operating in an“alien” society and see how we can practise a genuine Islamic culture…
Secondly, while living in an “alien” culture, you have topreserve your Islamic identity—not only through rational arguments, but throughemotional, cultural and civilisational symbols. It is only the Sunnah that canprovide these emotional and civilisational symbols through which you will notonly preserve your identity but strengthen and advance it.
- For the explanation of this verse and why it must be in reference to disbelief and idolatry, see al-Fakhar al-Raazi, Al-Tafseer al-Kabeer (Beirut: Daar Ihyaa al-Turaath al-Arabi, n.d.), vol. 31, pp. 146-147. Cf., also, Jalaal al-Deen al-Suyooti, al-Durr fi al-Tafseer al-Mathoor (Beirut: Daar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 1990), vol. 6, p. 567-568.
- Quoted in al-Tabari, vol. 15, p. 156.
- This author has heard this statement from numerous people who are adherents of Christianity, Judaism and, amazingly, Islam.
- Recorded by Muslim.
- Ibn al-Qayyim, Madaarij, vol. 2, p. 315.
- There are some matters that are specific to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) only and there are some acts of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that were due to custom, for example, and not necessarily meant as exemplary for all peoples.
- Islahi, pp. 92-93.
- The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Allah took me as His most intimate friend (khaleel) as He had earlier taken Abraham as His most intimate friend.” (Recorded by Muslim.) The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also said, “If I were to take an inhabitant of the Earth as my most intimate friend, I would choose Abu Bakr. But Allah, the Most Gracious, has taken your companion [that is, the Prophet] as His most intimate friend.” (Recorded by Muslim.)
- Recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim.
- Islahi, pp. 95-96.
- Islahi (p. 96) noted, “Obedience without love is hypocrisy and love without obedience and pursuance [that is, emulation] is innovation.”
- Murad, pp. 91-93.