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). 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 مَن زَكَّىٰهَا ، وَقَدْ خَابَ مَن دَسَّىٰهَا
“Successful indeed is the one who purifies their soul, and doomed is the one who corrupts it!” (91:9-10).
The Prophet ﷺ would ask Allah (subḥānahū wa taʿālā) to purify his heart:
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)
The Three Types of Nafs
There are three types of the nafs (inner self):
1. The inciting soul (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 soul (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 soul (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.
The Sound Heart
If we wish to be successful on the Day of Judgement, then in this world we must develop a sound heart (qalb salīm). Allah (ʿazza wa jall) has informed us:
“…The Day when neither wealth nor children will be of any benefit. Only those who come before Allah with a pure heart (will be saved)” (26:88-9).
In order to achieve a sound heart, we must:
1) Purify our hearts from its ‘diseases’ and evil characteristics, such as shirk, showing off (riyā’), envy, hatred, pride, greed, heedlessness, hypocrisy, and the love of the world and leadership.
2) Beautify our hearts with the ‘actions’ of the heart and praiseworthy characteristics. These include: firm belief (īmān), knowledge of Allah (maʿrifah), sincerity (ikhlāṣ), piety and mindfulness (taqwā), trust in Allah (tawakkul), hope (rajā’), fear (khawf), gratitude (shukr), patience (ṣabr), love (ḥubb), yearning for Allah (shawq) and certainty (yaqīn), and excellent character when dealing with the creation of Allah, such as kindness, mercy, love, forgiveness, generosity, humility etc.
“Occupying yourself with purifying your heart is better than an abundance of prayer and fasting whilst your heart is corrupt.” – Ibn Rajab (raḥimahullāh)
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).
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.
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.
We live in an age of envy. Gone are the days where we would only envy those whom we saw. Thanks to social media, we have access to the little details of millions around the world. This often leaves us feeling envious of lifestyles we see others enjoying, but we ourselves cannot have access to. Even though we know that images are heavily filtered and present a distorted image of reality, this does not stop our hearts from feeling envy.
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.
Constantly seeing profiles and updates from ‘photoshopped’ lives leads to ungratefulness, self-loathing and even depression. This often stems from the envy that social media triggers. Let us leave this vice, and we will feel happier and content inshāAllah.
“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 you 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.
ʿUjb refers to feeling pleased with one’s own accomplishments. This stems from thinking too highly of oneself, being ignorant of one’s own nature and faults; whilst failing to recognise who Allah is, and the rights He has over His servants. Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh) writes that when this occurs, “It gives rise to conceit (ʿujb), pride, and such afflictions that are worse than the major external sins such as zinā, drinking alcohol, and fleeing from the battlefield etc.”
He further writes, “A sin that causes you to humble yourself to Him is dearer to Him than a righteous act accompanied by boastful self-righteousness. If you sleep all night then wake up feeling regret (for not having prayed qiyām al-layl), that may be better for you than if you were to pray all night and wake up in the morning filled with self-admiration. For the deeds of the one who admires himself are not accepted…The crying of the sinners is dearer to Him than the self-satisfied tasbīḥ of the conceited. Perhaps Allah made (the sinner) fall into this sin as a cure that brings out a lethal illness, but your illness still resides within undetected.”
Were we to realise how Powerful, Magnificent, and Independent Allah is, and then contrast this with how sinful, weak and ungrateful we are, we could never feel pleased at our own insignificant deeds.
Were we to internalise the essence of Allah’s Lordship (rubūbiyyah), and contrast this with the essence of servitude (ʿubūdiyyah), we would feel ashamed and realise that the good deeds we have done are not worthy to be presented to the Lords of the heavens and the earth. Instead, it is only from His sheer generosity and grace that He accepts and rewards us for our paltry actions.
Instead of feeling ʿujb due to our worship, we should always remember that whatever good we have done is only due to the tawfīq and blessings of Allah; and hence we should always be grateful to Allah.
“When you are pleased with your nafs (inner self) and your deeds for Allah, then know that He is not pleased with you. How can anyone who knows that his nafs is the abode of every defect and evil, and his deeds open to every deficiency and damage — be pleased with his nafs and his deeds for Allah?” (A Pious Predecessor, Madārij al-Sālikīn)
May Allah al-Quddūs (The Pure) purify our hearts.