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TAZKIYYAT AL-NAFS (GROWTH AND PURIFICATION OF THE SOUL)

March 18, 2022

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله، والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله، وبعد:


PREPARING FOR RAMADAN:

TAZKIYYAT AL-NAFS (GROWTH AND PURIFICATION OF THE SOUL)



The weeks leading up to Ramadan is the perfect time for assessing oneself and looking introspectively at the condition of one’s inner self and outward conduct, and then making adjustments timely and accordingly. This process is vital for us to usher in the month of Ramadan with renewed conviction and an energized spirit, and thus to be ready to derive maximum benefit from the sacred month and its countless blessings; may Allah (SWT) bestow on us acceptance and divine success (tawfeeq).



True believers are ever conscious of purifying the soul from vice and adorning it with virtue, so that it reflects positively in their behavior and their actions. Throughout our lives, we must refrain from succumbing to the whims and fancies of the self, and keep in perspective that our destiny in the Hereafter is contingent upon the choices we make in this worldly life. Allah Almighty says in the Qur’an, establishing the criterion for the final judgment:


فَأَمَّا مَن طَغَىٰ . وَءَاثَرَ ٱلْحَيَوٰةَ ٱلدُّنْيَا . فَإِنَّ ٱلْجَحِيمَ هِىَ ٱلْمَأْوَىٰ . وَأَمَّا مَنْ خَافَ مَقَامَ رَبِّهِۦ وَنَهَى ٱلنَّفْسَ عَنِ ٱلْهَوَىٰ . فَإِنَّ ٱلْجَنَّةَ هِىَ ٱلْمَأْوَىٰ

As for those who transgressed and preferred the fleeting life of this world, Hellfire will certainly be their abode. And for those who were in awe of standing before their Lord and restrained their souls from evil desires, Paradise will certainly be their abode. (79:37- 41)



The concept of tazkiyyat al-nafs (تزكية النفس), or the spiritual growth of the heart/soul through its purification from blameworthy components and its adornment with praiseworthy qualities, is an integral part of the deen and an essential Islamic teaching. It was part of the earliest revelations of the Quran; for example Allah (SWT) says:


قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا وَقَدْ خَابَ مَن دَسَّاهَا

Successful indeed is the one who purifies their soul, and doomed is the one who corrupts it. (91:9-10)



A Muslim therefore endeavors at all times to purify the soul from disobedience and sin, and prevents the encroaching tendencies of ignorance, arrogance, self-conceit, greed, envy, malice, rancor, worldliness, etc. At the same time he/she inculcates in the heart obedience and righteousness, and promotes the natural inclination towards enlightenment, forgiveness, humility, generosity, benevolence, love, compassion, asceticism, etc.



Spiritual development starts with self-introspection and evaluation, and even before that with knowledge of “one’s inner being”. Al-Imam al-Ghazali (RA) explains that the “inner self”, or what we now call the “psyche”, is composed of four parts: the heart (qalb), the spirit (ruh), the self or ego (nafs), and the mind (‘aql). He delves into each component in some detail, and for complete spiritual growth it is important to know about them. (See Kitaab Sharh ‘Ajaa’ib al-Qalb in his magnum corpus Iḥyaa’ ‘Uloom al-Deen).



Let us here focus on the heart and the soul, which are often used to refer to the entire inner-being, either separately or together. The heart or qalb (القلب), as defined by al-Ghazali, is “the true essence of the human being. It is the conscious, the knowing, and the perceiving part of the human being. It is addressed, punished, blamed, and accountable.” (More on the heart, its sicknesses and cures, etc. in the next article, Allah willing.)



The “self” or nafs (النفس), on the other hand, is one of three types - as mentioned in the Book of Allah (SWT):

  1. The self/soul that is inclined to evil (al-nafs al-ammarah bil-soo’) or the lower-self,

  2. The self-reproaching soul (al-nafs al-lawwaamah) or the conscience,

  3. The tranquil soul (al-nafs al-mutma’innah) or the higher-self.



A person’s soul, in essence, can vacillate somewhere between the three types or can be defined largely by one of them. This is what gives the individual a unique identity and degree of expression of their ego. The soul is where we house our basic emotions, instincts and sensations like anger, fear, aggression, whims, lusts, etc. (some of these are critical to survival). The soul is not in itself evil but has a tendency to fall victim to spiritually harmful desires, a weakness that is exploited by Shaytaan, the devil.



The believer is obligated by the Qur’an to rein in the lower self and bring it under the control of the higher self. This is done primarily by utilizing one’s conscience - that constant internal check we all have for doing evil and for not doing good. Self-reproachment demonstrates that we are not merely animals but moral beings - conscious, by innate nature (fitrah) and by enlightenment (‘ilm), of good and bad, and ultimately responsible for our actions.



It is mainly because of the potential power of the (lower) self and its ego and worldly desires, that we refer to the nafs in general as the enemy, against whom we must wage consistent spiritual war (jihad). This is what the Prophet (SAW) referred to as the greater or the true Jihad - striving everyday against the lower self and its whims (hawa) and lusts (shahawaat), and allowing it to rise to a high level and grow into a soul that is at peace with Allah and His will, and with one’s own existence.



Al-Imam al-Ghazali explains that: “the scholars of spirituality (ahl al-tasawwuf), see the ‘self’ as the combined origin of blameworthy traits within the human being, such that they say one must strive against the self and break it.”



Fadaalah ibn ‘Ubayd (RAA) reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said:


الْمُجَاهِدُ مَنْ جَاهَدَ نَفْسَهُ

The one who truly strives in jihad is he who strives against his self. (al-Tirmidhi)



We must always seek refuge in Allah from the evil of our own selves and the bad consequences that result from it. The Prophet (SAW) himself did so and taught his companions to do likewise:

‘Imran ibn Husayn (RAA) reported: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:


اللَّهُمَّ أَلْهِمْنِي رُشْدِي وَأَعِذْنِي مِنْ شَرِّ نَفْسِي

O Allah, inspire me with guidance and protect me from the evil of my self/soul. (al-Tirmidhi)



To be continued next time, in sha Allah. Until then, may the peace, compassion and blessings of Allah be with us all. Glorified is Allah, our Lord, the Lord of Honor and Power, above all claims and imperfections. Peace be upon the messengers and prophets. And praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds.