Purification of the Soul

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Allah loves those who purify themselves (Quran 9:108).

The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him said, “Purification is half of faith” (Sahih Al-Muslim, Hadith 233).

Purity is a central theme in the Islamic tradition. The aforementioned verses and Hadith refer to two types of purity: one of physical purity that is outlined in the chapters of tahara (purification) in the various books of fiqh (jurisprudence), and the other of the purity of one’s soul.

One may pose a question: Why is purifying the soul crucial? This purification of the soul is inevitable. There are two places where this purification can occur, either in this world or in the hereafter. Purification of the soul in this world would be through recognizing the diseases of the soul and removing them before one’s demise and to die in a state where one’s soul and heart are purified of sin and spiritual diseases; thus making one ready to enter into paradise. Some diseases of the heart include, amongst many others: hatred, miserliness, iniquity, envy, ostentation, displeasure with divine decree, anger, arrogance and obliviousness to blessings. One needs to take time out and study them, learning their signs, their effects and cures, for one cannot hope to cure a disease without first knowing its symptoms and effects.

On the other hand, the purification of the hereafter will be through the punishment of the fire. It is well known that there will be Muslims in hell, and they will remain in there for a period of time. During this time they will be purified of their sins and then once their purification is complete, Allah will enter them into His paradise. To spend even a blink of an eye in hell would be the most horrendous of experiences. Thus, the logical conclusion is to purify oneself in this world, and avoid the painful purification of the hereafter.

Another question that may arise is how do our souls become impure? And that is answered in the following Hadith:

The Companion Abu Hurayra, may God be pleased with him, relates that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him said, “When a believer commits a sin, a black dot appears on his heart. If he repents and seeks forgiveness, his heart becomes purified. If he advances in sin, the black dots increase until they overcome his heart” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi).

And it is important to note here, that we are all prone to sinning: The Prophet, peace be upon him said, “Every descendent of Adam is a sinner, and the best of sinners are those who repent” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi).

To recognize this is crucial; every single one of us is weak and prone to sinning. No one is perfect. As such, one should never look down upon another due to his or her sins, because every individual should recognize and be preoccupied with one’s own faults, weaknesses and sins. This would prevent the ‘holier than thou’ judgmental attitude that is frequently observed in our Muslim communities. To think of oneself as higher or more pious or closer to Allah than another Muslim is in itself an indication that a person has the disease of arrogance in his or her heart. Even if one feels that they are more practicing than others, then they should be in a state of gratefulness, instead of haughtiness, for it was through the sheer blessing of Allah that one was able to perform any good deed.

This aim to purify the soul is one of the inward goals of a Muslim. There are outward and inward practices that one must perform to gain the pleasure of Allah. One cannot judge from apparent observations the purity of another person’s heart, although there may be signs that indicate purity. But they are far from definite. This inward focus is a crucial one. At times, we exhaust our efforts in mastering the outward manifestations of the religion, to the extent that our inward is severely neglected. This is a very dangerous position to be in, and can easily lead to hypocrisy. The hypocrites in the Prophet’s time would show outer manifestations of religion but ignore the inward acceptance of the creed of Islam. As well, the other extreme is to focus solely on the inward to the extent where the outward manifestations are neglected or even dismissed as being unnecessary.

However, both of these mentalities are incorrect. The ideal state of one’s religion is a balance between both the inner and outward expressions of religion. Neither one is neglected, rather they are complementary. Advances in one aspect should automatically and naturally be reflected in the other.

My personal experience dictates that the outward is easy; for me to don a beard, for example, is easy. But to purify the heart of its diseases is much more difficult, to master the purity of intention is difficult, to cleanse one’s heart of ill feeling towards others is difficult and to be in a constant state of thankfulness to God is difficult. As we struggle to attain higher levels of faith, it is important to remember this Hadith:

Abu Hurayra ‘Abdu’r-Rahman ibn Sakhr, may God be pleased with him said, that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him said, “Allah does not look at your bodies nor your forms but He looks at your hearts and your actions” (Riyad as-Salihin Hadith 7, Chapter 1).