Aslam: How should one attain tazkiyah-i-nafs?
Ayesha: I believe, there are two things that help us
1. A well developed sense of right and wrong; something
that is already present in every human being naturally. We call it ‘the
conscience’. We either pay heed to it and continuously keep questioning our own
deeds/thoughts/behaviours in a just manner or subdue its cries. The former path
is a very arduous one that needs a lot of courage and effort.
2. We also go through some ‘natural pruning’ through the
tests that come our way in this life. If we seek Allah’s help and try to develop
the right approach towards these tests (patience, remembrance, seeking His mercy
and protection against all evil, forgiveness for our sins), we can hope to take
a step towards the tazkiyah-i-nafs that is so important in anyone’s life.
Jhangeer Hanif: You will agree that inner purification is
not something tangible; on the contrary, very impalpable indeed. I mean we
cannot say about any person that he is purified because of his strict apparent
adherence with religious directives and moral imperatives.
It is however evident that the only way prescribed by the
Holy Qur’an to attain inner purification is the divine religion of Islam. This
means that a believer can only attain it by acting upon the dictations of his
sense of morality and also the decrees of the shari‘ah. As a person submits
himself to both these sources of guidance, he comes to experience purity of
heart. However, he has to be very vigilant to protect it from the adverse winds
which are unleashed by Evil.
In this regard, what Ayesha has suggested above is very
helpful. We need to listen to the calls of our conscience and analyze our deeds.
Anonymous: I agree. But attaining this ultimate state is
Jhangeer Hanif: Yes, to comply with Islam is a bit
difficult especially in these times. However, Allah helps those who undertake to
achieve this end.
Anonymous: Thank you so much for your reply. I hope and
pray that Allah guides us to the straight path. Amen
Aslam: Some of my friends insist that without the guidance
of a spiritual mentor tazkiyah-i-nafs is almost impossible. Are they right?
Jhangeer Hanif: Of course not. There is no basis of such
belief in the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah. It is your adherence to the religion
of Islam that leads you to inner purification.
However, the importance of teacher who helps you learn
Islam cannot be denied. But that should be just a teacher-student relationship.
Safia: I need to talk about the matter of having a mentor
or not. I was told we need one but in my opinion we don’t need any further
guidance after the Qur’an and the Hadith. We might need some one to explain what
we don’t understand but no other human being can be followed except the Prophet
(sws). Please shed some light on this.
Jhangeer Hanif: The word ‘guidance’ conveys different
meanings in different contexts, you’d agree. In the perspective of a religion,
guidance means Divine Guidance. As far as this sort of guidance is concerned, it
has been given to mankind through ultimate sources, the Holy Qur’an and the
Sunnah. Both sources are secure and protected; the former in the hearts of the
Muslims and the latter in the practice of the Muslims. Both them sources cater
the needs of mankind regarding divine guidance for their life in this world.
Since both sources are subject to human interpretation
differences inevitably arise. It is this point where a person needs to turn to
other people. Because Muslim scholars devote their lives to understanding
religion, they should be benefited from in this regard. But their opinion is not
more than the expert opinion of an architect or engineer. And because we do not
accept such experts to be error free and weigh their opinion in the scales of
sense and reason, the opinion of scholars should also be objectively judged. If
it is found in conformity with the Qur’an, it should
be accepted. This is what I meant by the relationship of a teacher and student.
You may call it a relationship of a mentor and pupil. And this is indeed
desirable. It would be foolish to bypass the expert scholars and start learning
Islam all by yourself.
As our parents teach us good manners and etiquette, some
of our teachers also do the same. Sometimes, they can do this thing far better
than our parents can since the former usually have read a lot about the Prophets
of Allah and other great personalities of human history; these teachers know
well when, how, where a student should be told about his mistake and thereafter
be asked to rectify it. As you see, this whole thing depends upon the experience
of the teacher and is not of divine nature. Therefore, a student should learn
from many teachers and not one. He should assess what thing he can learn better
from one teacher and what from the other. There is no question of one mentor
because he is not going to be error free—some type of superhuman.
Safia: Thank you so much for discussing this matter in
such detail. It has become clear to me now. However there is another thing which
I don’t understand. A very common practice in Pakistan is to pledge (bay‘at) at
the hands of a spiritual guru and promise to keep away from all vices. In this
way one is answerable to that spiritual guru as one on each visit tells his
spiritual guru that he has or hasn’t been able to keep his promise. My question
is: Are we in anyway answerable to a certain person (spiritual guru)? Aren’t we
only answerable to Allah? Is this the right way? I hope you understand what I am
trying to say here. Please explain.
Jhangeer Hanif: The Holy Qur’an says:
O people who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Prophet
(sws) and those of you who are in authority, and if you disagree among
yourselves in any matter, refer it to God and the Prophet if you believe in
Allah and the Last Day. This is better and more seemly as regards the
Thus, we are supposed to follow not only Allah and His
Prophet but also those who are at the realm of state affairs. In order to
administer the collective affairs of the Muslim, the need for establishing a
state is imperative. It is not that Islam introduced this provision of
establishing a state. Humans have always strived to live under a collective
system. The religion of Islam binds us to follow the rulers, whether we like
them or not. The Holy Prophet (sws) says:
Whether they like it or not, it is obligatory on the
faithful to listen and to obey their rulers except when they be ordered to
commit a sin. If they are ordered so, they should neither listen nor obey.
(Muslim, No: 1839)
So we the Muslims are required to follow our rulers in all
circumstances. The only possibility that impedes the obedience is when these
rulers ask us to go against the decrees of Islam; if they command us not to say
the salah (the Prayer), then there is no obedience etc.
Viewed thus, our obedience is required for those in
authority and not a spiritual guru. Pledging to a spiritual guru for obedience
has no basis in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. It is an innovation in faith and
should be avoided.
Safia: Thank you for clarifying this concept for me.
Aslam: Salah plays an important role in cleansing the soul
(tazkiyah-i-nafs). Surah ‘Ala (87:14-15) alludes to this fact.
Safia: Thank you so much for this valuable piece of
information. I agree with you completely.
Jhangeer Hanif: We however must try to offer the prayer
while pondering over the meaning of what we say. For this end, we must learn the
meaning of the Arabic words we utter.
Tariq Hashmi: What else would you suggest to help us rid
of monotonously offering of the prayers? This necessarily hinders us in
benefiting from the fruits it is likely to yield – Tazkiyah being the prime one.
Jhangeer Hanif: Everything that contributes to develop
your relationship with Allah definitely helps you offer the prayer properly –
with presence of mind. For instance, studying the Holy Qur’an, the fasting,
spending in the way of Allah, spending additional time in a mosque and
meditating, visiting graveyards to be reminded of death, reading the biography
of the Prophet (sws) and of his Companions (rta) etc.
Actually, no fixed and time-calculated strategy can be
forwarded in this regard. Every person should analyze his situation and
circumstances, and try his level best to develop a good relationship with Allah,
which in turn, will help him say a meaningful prayer.
Tariq Hashmi: This helped greatly. But I wanted to know
how we can make our prayers meaningful as you had written in your previous
assertion that we should ponder over the meaning of what we utter. Can we say
supplications different from the ones commonly said in different parts of the
prayer or even make supplications in our own language especially in the last
part of the prayer, that is, qa‘dah?
Jhangeer Hanif: Yes, you may say different supplications
in the qa‘dah than those which are commonly said. In fact, there are different
supplications ascribed to the Prophet (sws) to be said in the qa‘dah. This shows
that the Prophet (sws) did not want to fix a particular supplication for this
part of the prayer as he had instituted Surah Fatihah to be recited in the
Aslam: I usually recite supplications in prostration when
I offer optional prayers.
When I prostrate, I feel I’m laying everything at the feet
of my Lord. sajdah (prostration) is a mini-Islam – Islam that is nothing other
than surrendering – because in sajdah one puts every part of body on the ground
before his Lord, indicating his/her resignation to the Creator. Long and
absorbing sujud at night help me a lot in bringing me closer to my Lord, purging
me of the filth I accumulate in the day.
Sometimes overwhelmed by the surging feelings of gratitude
or helplessness I want to prostrate myself before my Lord then and there! But
some scholars say that one must offer sajdah (prostration) while in state of
wudu (i.e. the state of having performed ablution).
They deem it a grave sin to prostrate if one is not in
state of wudu. Are they right?
Ayesha: A grave sin? It is difficult to digest. Maybe it
only is preferable to prostrate with ablution. Aren’t grave sins amply listed in
the Qur’an? Must our scholars always contribute to its lengthening?
You are so right about the feeling of closeness with God
that a prolonged prostration brings. What do these scholars base their opinion
Safia: In my opinion sajdah brings one closer to Allah
than anything else. What I fail to understand is why one must perform ablution
for that? I think sajdah can be done whenever a person wants as it is something
very personal between Allah and the worshipper. Am I right?
Jhangeer Hanif: Of course, a person can prostrate as and
when he feels like with/without ablution. He can also recite/touch the Holy
Qur’an without wudu . However, we must know that we cannot offer salah,
be a supererogatory or obligatory, without ablution.
We are fully authorised to say supplications when in ruku‘
or sajdah. However, the Prophet (sws) has forbidden us to recite the Holy Qur’an
in these two positions.
Ayesha: Alright. So the Prophet (sws) has forbidden us to
recite the Holy Qur’an while in ruku‘ or sajdah. Thanks for this information.
There are times when I recite supplications from the Holy
Qur’an while prostrating as a part of supplication and not as recital. Is that
forbidden as well?
Your help would be highly appreciated.
Safia: Like Ayesha I would also like to know whether
supplications from the Qur’an can be said during ruku‘ or sajdah
Jhangeer Hanif: Yes of course, supplications from the Holy
Qur’an can be said when you are doing ruku‘ or sajdah.
It needs to be appreciated that you are saying these words
as supplications though they are taken from the Holy Qur’an. Saying
supplications is perfectly compatible with the spirit of the ruku‘ or sajdah
whereas reciting the Holy Qur’an is not.
For instance, reciting part of Surah Baqarah regarding the
anecdote of the cow would be quite incompatible with the spirit of the ruku‘ or
sajdah. However, saying any supplication would be in congruence with the spirit
of these two positions.
We must know that, in these positions, we actually place
our emotions before the Lord; saying supplications is therefore the most
beautiful way to do that.
Aslam: What are the pitfalls which can derail a seeker of
tazkiyah-i-nafs (purification of soul)?
Jhangeer Hanif: Undertaking anything which is against the
shari‘ah or a person’s sense of morality is what divests him of his inner
purification. Inner Purification is indeed too vulnerable, I must add. Utmost
care, therefore, should be taken.
Actually, the conceptual framework of your mind also works
detrimental to the purity of heart. You need to keep your head clean in order to
keep your inner-self clean.
Aslam: Exactly this is my problem. I’m haunted by very bad
and filthy thoughts. Filthy literature has defiled my mind. Now I have given up
reading this filth but it’s very hard for me to purge my mind of the dirty
thoughts. These thoughts have stymied my journey to my Lord, making my
tazkiyah-i-nafs almost impossible.
Amatullah: It is good to note that you said ‘almost
impossible’ which means that it is possible to purge your mind of dirty
thoughts. Try as much as you can to always occupy your mind with more positive
things. Like if the thought comes when you are in a certain position - change
it. But if you are praying seek refuge from the accursed Satan and try to move
your thoughts from it. Allah has said in the Qur’an that if evil thoughts or
whisperings of Satan comes to your mind seek refuge in Allah from Satan the
The mere fact that you want to rid yourself of these
thoughts insha Allah ensures that you will succeed. Read more of the Qur’an and
dwell on it, also fast more often.
Set your mind on winning this war and fight it, Allah will
not ignore your prayers and you will attain purity. Consider this also as a test
from the All knowing who tests His slaves in whatever form He likes. May Allah
protect us all.
Jhangeer Hanif: Dear Aslam, you now have the very positive
and effective suggestions to act upon.
As I said earlier, there is indeed an immediate connection
between head and soul. If you will fight to keep your head clean, you will be
able to cleanse your soul. I’d love to quote:
God is the Way as well as the Destination. Whoever has set
out on His way has already found the Destination. So, move on we must and drag
we must further with all our heart and soul.