“By the soul and the proportion and order given to it; and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right- truly he succeeds that purifies it and he fails that corrupts it!”
Which one do you feed?
There is a widely circulated story that many of you may have come across about an old Cherokee’s conversation with his grandson. He said, ‘my son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth.’ The little boy thought about it for a minute then asked, ‘grandfather, which wolf wins?’ The old man quietly replied, ‘the one you feed.’ We forget that just as our bodies need nourishment so do our souls. The type of nourishment we provide it with is what will lead us to either success or ruin.
Feeding our bodies with junk food leads to many diseases, similarly, feeding our souls with the wrong thing leads to a hardened heart whose ultimate destination is the fire of hell. Tazkiyatun Nafs, simply put, is the process of purifying our souls from spiritual diseases so that we may flourish in our deen and imaan and worship Allah as He should be worshipped. Its ultimate goal is to become as complete and truthful a servant of Allah as we can be, as Allah states, ‘I have only created Jinn and Men that they may worship Me’.
We can only achieve it by strengthening our faith by eradicating the diseases of the heart and submitting to our creator through the obligatory and voluntary acts of worship. It is also important to note that scholars often use the heart and the soul synonymously when discussing Tazkiyah.
Which type of heart do you have?
It is mentioned in an authentic narration that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said ‘beware, in the body there is a flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound, and if it is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt, and behold, it is the heart.’
The heart can be categorised into three types: a dead heart, a sick heart and a healthy heart. The ill-fated one whose heart is dead cannot respond to anything of religion, even upon hearing the Qur’an this heart is not shaken nor is there any reflection. The possessor of the sick heart is not wholly upon the path of destruction just yet, but their heart is sick due to the distractions of this world.
Finally, oh how fortunate is he whose heart is healthy? How fortunate is he whose heart is righteous and devoted in submission to Allah?! This beautiful heart is protected by Allah and undergoes a continuous emaan rush which we can, by the will of Allah, also achieve.
The barriers to a healthy heart
In order to achieve a healthy heart we must rid ourselves of the diseases of the heart and purify it with the remembrance of Allah.
Do you procrastinate?
Laziness and procrastination is another disease which causes us to waste our time and lose sight of the end goal. The Prophet (pbuh) has said that ‘there are two blessings which many people do not make the most of: good health and free time.’
Our time is as precious as our health. Life is not guaranteed to any one of us. We could go to sleep today and not wake up tomorrow. It is true that the foolish do not appreciate a thing until it is lost but the wise one does not wait to lose something to understand its value. Procrastination is a ploy of the shaytan designed to deter us and distract us from the remembrance of Allah.
The dangers of pride
Our ego is our own worst enemy, which brings us to perhaps the most dangerous of the diseases of the heart- pride and arrogance. Pride causes us to have a false sense of entitlement and superiority over others. The Prophet (pbuh) has given us a clear warning that “no one who has the weight of a seed of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise’.
Is this not admonition enough for us to stop thinking of ourselves so highly?!
Each one of us came from this earth and will return to it. Many of us are arrogant due to the wealth and status we hold but we forget, from who did this blessing come?! Every atom that we hold claim to is only there by the will and mercy of Allah. Some amongst us are arrogant and judge others because they hold more Islamic knowledge, know that this is a trick of shaytan. He fools you into believing that you are superior to others because you are supposedly more pious and in turn destroys the good deed that you have done by filling your heart with pride and arrogance.
Another vile symptom of pride is that we reject the sincere advice of others behind the façade of ‘don’t judge me, you don’t know what’s in my heart’, well that may be the case but the truth is we reject this advice because we believe we know better and are better than the one advising us. It is a sad reality that we are quick to take offence when a fellow Muslim says to us ‘may Allah forgive you’ or ‘may Allah guide you’, however condescending the tone it is said in may be, are we saying that we are not in need of Allah’s forgiveness and guidance? Instead of feeling angry at such a comment we should say ‘Ameen! Ya Rabb please accept this person’s dua!’
Are you jealous of others?
Often stemming from pride we have the disease of jealousy and hatred, each one feeding the other in a vicious cycle. General hatred stems from jealousy of someone who we perceived to have been more blessed by Allah than us in terms of worldly success. By holding such feelings we are showing displeasure at the way Allah has blessed us differently, which in effect hardens our hearts and takes us very far from deen.
Someone close to me recently shared something with me regarding success which I found to be very true and profound. They said that the goalpost of worldly success is continuously moving. Each time we feel like we have achieved something, almost immediately we set our aspirations and our gazes higher.
So for example, throughout our school life we perceive success as being enrolment into a high ranking university. Once we are in university the goalpost moves to completing our degree with the highest classification. After achieving that, our next goal becomes to find a good job then working up the career ladder. At each one of these stages we are not even momentarily content and grateful for what we have but we are always craving for more.
Are you prepared to eat the flesh of your fellow brother/sister?
Hatred also causes one to backbite and slander people as well as lying about them in order to make ourselves look better than them. Let us not waste our energy and time both of which are extremely precious in wasting our good deeds and seeking the wrath of Allah by backbiting and slandering others. Let the warning of Allah be enough when He says in the Qur’an: ‘O you who have believed….do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is accepting of repentance and Merciful’.
Backbiting is no doubt the hardest habit to rid ourselves as most of us do it without realising. Nevertheless, it is a grave sin and we must work tirelessly to refrain from it and seek Allah’s repentance from it.
So far we have discussed some of the most common diseases of the heart. It is now time to look at the remedies and the steps we can take to purify ourselves. First and foremost is intention. We must have a sincere intention to purify our hearts of these spiritual diseases in order to be successful in the hereafter. Alongside intention is sincere dua, we need to ask Allah to make this journey easy for us and help us conquer our nafs and our base desires. We must remember though that dua is only a part of the journey to purification, as with anything, action must accompany the intention.
So what action can we take?
1). Cleansing our hearts through the remembrance of Allah. What better way to do it than to understand the message of Allah?! In order to understand the message we must first know the language the message is in, so let us actively seek to learn the meaning of the Qur’an to really benefit from it. It is rather insulting that we do not even understand the basics of what we recite in salah on a daily basis.
2). Completing the obligatory acts of worship and engaging in the voluntary as well. We need to make a habit of waking up in the dead of the night to pray qiyam’l’layl when nobody is watching, when it is just us and our Lord. We need to fast secretly, sincerely for Allah and give charity without other people knowing. Also, making a habit of reciting Qur’an daily even if it is a few verses. If we struggle with tajweed, we should get help. Not tomorrow, now! The only person who can judge and improve our link with Allah, our Creator, our Sustainer, is us.
3). Being content, patient and having faith in the decree of Allah- ‘Indeed Allah loves those who put their trust in Him’.
Until we are content we will never be happy. We should not keep comparing ourselves to others. We may see the successful exterior but only Allah knows their fears and shortcomings. We should also make dua especially for those who are competing with us, Allah is sufficient for all of us. Once we have trust in the plan of Allah and truly believe in a higher purpose of life, we will find that we are content with what we have.
4). Purifying our hearts when it comes to our relationship with others. If we find that we gossip or backbite people, we should make dua for the people we have spoken ill of and take them a gift. If we find ourselves continuously using foul language or engaging in any other sinful habit, we may decide to give money to charity each time we do the bad deed.
5). Forgiving people and being merciful. ‘Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One above the heavens will have mercy upon you’.
We should not hold grudges against one another, life is quite literally too short. Do we doubt that we need Allah’s mercy and forgiveness? Of course not! So why then do we not forgive each other and have mercy on one another?
6). Being productive and fighting procrastination. We should not delay the tasks on our lists. Once we have completed everything we may relax. We fall into the habit of taking a break first then doing the work, when in reality the break extends to well over the allocated time and the task is left for the next day. As each day comes the same thing repeats itself in a vicious cycle. We must not fall into this trap. We can use diaries, checklists, reminders, incentives and even have a productive buddy who will motivate us, but never procrastinate.
Turn back to Allah, it is not too late…
Once we have successfully purified our souls, every one of our interactions will be influenced by that purification and will lead us to Jannat’l’Firdaws Inshaa Allah. It is never too late to make a change. Let us start from this very moment. Allah has said in a hadith al qudsi ‘I am as My servant expects of me….If he comes to me walking, I go to him at speed’. So what are we waiting for?!
‘O Controller of the hearts, make our hearts firm upon Your religion.’