The greatest need of our time is for us as believers to return to Allah and focus on purifying our souls (tazkiyat al-nafs). The root of most of the world’s problems is diseased hearts. Hearts which do not know Allah, hearts which are full of arrogance, greed and selfishness. Hearts which have become corrupted by sins and no longer taste the sweetness of īmān. Hearts torn apart by pride, envy and hatred, resulting in a fractured ummah.
Whilst we have external enemies – the shayāṭīn of the jinn and humans – we have a greater enemy lurking within: the nafs (inner self/ego). It is one of the greatest obstacles in our journey to Allah. Our nafs encourages us to disobey Allah (subḥānahū wa taʿālā) and to give preference to this worldly life.
In an era where we are bombarded with doubts (shubuhāt) and desires (shahawāt), it is even more important that we learn about the nature of our nafs, what purifies it and what beautifies it. Allah (subḥānahū wa taʿālā) says,
قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَنْ زَكّٰهَا ، وَقَدْ خَابَ مَنْ دَسّٰهَا
“Successful indeed is the one who purifies their soul, and doomed is the one who corrupts it!” (91:9-10).
The Three Types of Nafs
1. The inciting self (al-nafs al-ammārah bil-sū’): This is when the nafs commands the person and tells it what to do, and the person willingly obeys. This person is controlled by their nafs, and sins unashamedly.
2. The self-reproaching self (al-nafs al-lawwāmah):*This type of person sins, but then feels shame and blames himself for sinning. This leads him to repent. This type of person is in a constant battle with their nafs.
3. The tranquil self (al-nafs al-muṭma’innah): This person is content with what Allah has ordained, and finds tranquillity in that which pleases Allah. He desires only good and hates evil.
The nafs is not static. It changes between these states. When we reflect on the purpose of fasting and Ramaḍān, we will realise that one of its key aims is to elevate the soul to its intended station: the tranquil soul.
This is perhaps why in Ramaḍān, many of us feel more at peace, as we sin less and focus on pleasing Allah.
“Occupying yourself with purifying your heart is better than an abundance of prayer and fasting whilst your heart is corrupt.” – Ibn Rajab (raḥimahullāh)
Fasting & Purification
Fasting purifies the body from toxins, revitalizes it, and cleanses the body’s inner system. More importantly, if performed properly, fasting purifies the (spiritual) heart of the believer. Desires (of the stomach, private parts, wealth and fame) form a barrier between our hearts and Allah. Our hearts were created to know and worship the One who created them. When we move away from Him, and sin, our hearts become imbalanced and agitated. Thus, fasting takes our hearts back to a state where we are more aligned with our Creator.
The Prophet ﷺ said, “Fasting the Month of patience (i.e. Ramaḍān) and three days of every month removes the poison (waḥar) of the heart” (Aḥmad).
Waḥar includes hatred, anger, hypocrisy, hard-heartedness, and the whispers of shayṭān.
The more we fill our stomachs, the lazier we feel to worship Allah. By fasting, we remove the fuel (food and drink) for our desires, thereby increasing the space within our hearts to remember Allah and worship Him.
One of the best ways to purify the soul is to always remember and think that Allah is with you. A companion asked the Messenger ﷺ, “What is the tazkiyah (purification) of oneself, O Messenger of Allah?” He ﷺ replied, “To know that Allah is with him wherever he may be” (Ṭabarānī).
Constantly reminding ourselves that Allah is watching us (also known as murāqabah) is an integral component of taqwā (piety). And taqwā is the primary goal of fasting. Whilst taqwā manifests itself in outward forms of obedience, its primary residence is in the heart. Our beloved Prophet ﷺ told us, “Taqwā is here, taqwā is here, taqwā is here,” whilst pointing to his chest (Muslim).
This close connection with Allah, where we are always mindful of Him, makes us aware of what thoughts and feelings we let into our hearts. This helps us to purify our negative thoughts and actions, including the ill-feelings we have towards fellow believers, and the whisperings of shayṭān. In this manner, our hearts are purified from waḥar.
Diseases of the Heart
Reading and reflecting on the symptoms and diagnosis of the diseases of the heart – as specified by our beloved Prophet ﷺ and our pious predecessors – will help us to actively work on purifying our hearts throughout this blessed month. The following are some of the key diseases we can focus on inshāAllah.
Reflect: Do I get angry and feel resentful when someone corrects my mistakes? Am I overly sensitive when given advice? Do I feel that my knowledge, wealth, and status is because of what I have achieved? Do I feel that every blessing in my life is because of my own hard work? Do I become bitter when I do good for someone and they do not appreciate it?
Pride is the mother of all spiritual diseases. It is extremely destructive and one of the most difficult diseases to cure. Sometimes we take pride in our wealth, lineage, beauty, power, children, and even our knowledge and worship.
There are degrees of pride. Extreme pride and arrogance lead to outright kufr and the rejection of Allah. The victim thinks he has no need for his Creator and attributes all his success to himself.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “The person who has the slightest amount of pride in his heart will not enter Paradise… Pride is to reject the truth and belittle people” (Muslim).
To remove pride, we must recognise our worth. Allah created us from broken soil and unclean sperm. We were nothing, and Allah gave us life. We should contrast this lowly state with the magnificence of Allah, and this should help us remain humble.
Feeling hunger during our fast should help us reflect on our weakness and desperate need for Allah. It should remind us to stay humble and remove the pride from our hearts.
Envy (ḥasad) is being resentful of what others have, and wishing that they would lose that blessing. Sometimes this feeling creeps up on us without us realising. If we fight back against it, inshāAllah we will be rewarded. However, if we act upon this feeling, and allow it to eat up our insides, then this is ḥarām.
Envy ruins our good deeds. It leads to hatred and tension. It tears down relationships and breaks families.
A remedy for treating envy is to reflect on why we are envious of that person. And then think about who Allah is, and how much He has given us. Allah is Al-ʿAdl (The Most Just) and we should be content with His decree. Perhaps we envy one thing about that person, but are unaware of ten other problems that this person faces.
“Beware of envy, for it consumes good deeds, just as fire consumes wood or grass” (Abū Dāwūd).
There is nothing Shayṭān loves more than tearing up relationships and shattering sacred bonds. Our beloved Prophet ﷺ said, “The deeds are presented every Monday and Thursday. Allah forgives every person who does not associate anything with Allah on that day, except the person who holds hatred towards his brother. It is said, ‘Leave them until they have both reconciled, leave them until they have both reconciled’” (Muslim).
Similarly, he ﷺ said, “No one should convey to me anything regarding one of my companions, for I love to meet you with a pure heart” (Aḥmad).
When Zayd b. Aslam (raḥimahullāh) entered upon Abū Dujānah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) in his final illness, his face was glowing. When he was asked for the reason behind this, he said, “There are two deeds which I am depending on: firstly, I only used to speak about matters which concerned me; and secondly, I always maintained a pure heart towards my fellow Muslims.”
“Glad tidings to the one whose own faults occupied him from the faults of others. Woe to the one who forgot his own faults and occupied himself with the faults of others.” – Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh)
A common cure for treating these diseases (pride, envy and hatred) is to be good to those you have these negative feelings towards. Give them gifts, and do nice things for them, especially when you don’t feel like doing so. Praise them when your heart seeks to criticise or backbite about them. Meet them with respect and humility. Do duʿā’ for them, especially when your heart does not incline to do so.
We ask Allah al-Quddūs (The Pure) with the words of His beloved ﷺ
اَللّٰهُمَّ آتِ نَفْسِيْ تَقْوَاهَا ، وَزَكِّهَا أَنْتَ خَيْرُ مَنْ زَكَّاهَا ، أَنْتَ وَلِيُّهَا وَمَوْلَاهَا ، اَللّٰهُمَّ إِنِّىْ أَعُوْذُ بِكَ مِنْ عِلْمٍ لَّا يَنْفَعُ ، وَمِنْ قَلْبٍ لَّا يَخْشَعُ ، وَمِنْ نَّفْسٍ لَّا تَشْبَعُ ، وَمِنْ دَعْوَةٍ لَّا يُسْتَجَابُ لَهَا.
O Allah, grant my soul taqwā (piety) and purify it, for You are the Best of those who can purify it. You are its Protector and Master. O Allah, I seek Your protection from knowledge which does not benefit, a heart which does not submit, a soul which is not satisfied and a supplication which is not accepted. (Muslim)