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The Concept of Tazkiyah (Purification) in Islam

By: Prof Dr. Ebrahim Kazemzadeh
Chairman, The Islamic Academy of Trinidad & Tobago
Allah loves those who purify themselves (Q.9:108). He sent Holy Prophet Muḥammad (S.A.W.) to rehearse His signs, purify us and instruct us in scripture and wisdom and in any new knowledge that would come to light from time to time in the future (Q.2:151). Islam lays significant stress on cleanliness and purity of thought, word and deed, expressed as mental (thoughts and intentions), physical (comprising the tongue and other organs such as sexual), moral and spiritual (spiritual sustenance needed for God-consciousness, piety, righteousness and tranquillity).
According to a Ḥadīth: "Cleanliness is half of faith." The primary meaning of Zakā is: it thrived by God’s blessing and produced fruit of seed, wealth and cattle. However, some translate Zakāh as purity and others as a state of augmentation or increase.
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness” appears in Q.2:222.
Tazkiyah (purification) is classified under many headings, some of which are:
Tazkiyatul Jism: refers to cleanliness of the body through wuḍ̣u (ablution) and Ghusl (bathing). Physical purity also involves cleanliness of the body, clothing and environment. Islam recommends the use of clean water to wash the body parts of impurities and hence Muslims have running water or pitchers of water available in the bathroom. Fortunately, hand washing is a powerful deterrent against infectious diseases. Skin is normally colonised by micro-organisms that can reach high counts. Hand washing with water eliminates the flora harbouring bacteria, fungi, viruses, rickettsiae, parasites and others which may be acquired by food-handlers, care-givers during direct contact with patients, by ourselves and others. We must wash our hands after using the washroom and at other times when hands may be soiled or when they are visibly dirty.
Staphylococci, the main cause of abscesses, are found on hands, forearms and anterior part of nostrils and the feet. Millions of other bacteria are found in the oral cavity, and both aerobes and anaerobes inhabit the gums and are involved in dental caries and periodontal disease, for which frequent flossing of the teeth is recommended. We can see for ourselves how beautifully the various steps in Wuḍū are directed towards eradicating micro-organisms from these sites.
Tazkiyatul Māl: Purification of wealth. Whenever we disburse our annual obligatory zakāh of 2.5%, it purifies the remainder of our wealth. It also purifies the inner self by removing greed and selfishness, and the person becomes God-conscious in his financial dealings. Giving voluntary alms as Sadaqah also purifies the person as well as the balance of the wealth (Q.9:102-104). Whenever we repent for any wrong-doing of ours, we should immediately look for avenues to get plus marks and do some good (Q.9:102) by giving some charity (Ṣadaqah). This Ṣadaqah purifies the balance of wealth and also the self (Q.9:103).
Tazkiyatul Kalām (or Tazkiyatul Lisān): Purification of speech. Holy Prophet Muḥammad (S.A.W.) said: “a man slips more by his tongue than by his foot”. Giving Ṣadaqatal Fiṭr helps to compensate for our indecent or harmful speech such as back-biting, which is often unintentionally uttered while fasting during Ramaḍān. It is also called Zakātal Fiṭr.
Tazkiyatul- Akhlāq: Polishing of manners and personal image, which includes cultivation of proper manner of eating, dressing, appearance, walking and facial expressions. Allah has commanded us to obey Holy Prophet Muḥammad (S.A.W.) who is the role model of a perfect Muslim and to follow him in our every action.
Tazkiyatul ‘Ayn: is for clarity and purification of our eyes. It is this instruction that is responsible for prohibition of pornography in all Muslim societies. In Q.24:30-31 both men and women are advised to lower the gaze and guard their modesty. It is also to be noted that the advice for men precedes that for women.
Tazkiyatul udhun: Purification of ears. We must not hear evil such as foul language, back biting about others, dirty jokes and vulgar songs.
Tazkiyatud Damm:%%%0 Purification of blood. Persons with renal (kidney) failure need dialysis to clean the blood of its toxic products. More severe cases would need a kidney transplant.
Tazkiyatul ‘udhuwwil Jinsiyyah: Purification of the sexual organs. Prophet Muḥammad (S.A.W.) said: “Whoever guarantees me (the chastity of) what is between his loins (i.e. his or her own sexual organs) and what is between his jaws (i.e. the tongue), I guarantee him Paradise” (Ḥadīth: Sahl bin Sa‘d). We should be able to guard the sexual organs against fornication, adultery and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). These diseases are the scourge of modern society. (Some of the important STDs are: Syphilis, gonorrhoea, AIDS, herpes genitalis, Chlamydia trachomatis, Chancroid, Trichomonas vaginalis, lymphogranuloma venerum, Campylobacter, human papilloma virus, genital warts, Hepatitis A, B, C). Male circumcision followed by washing the private parts soon after intercourse prevents most of these diseases, but that does not give license to a Muslim to indulge in Ḥarām activities.
Tazkiyatul Īmān: or the Purification of Faith. This begins with the first pillar of Islam which is the Shahādah, supported by Sura Ikhlāṣ (Ch.112). To maintain the purity of our faith, we must live the Shahādah throughout our lives and implement it as well as all other six branches of Īmān. During fasting, exercise, meditation and prayer, the brain secretes encephalins, endorphins, serotonin and many other neurotransmitters which are responsible for the well-being, peace, contentment, satisfaction, optimism and tranquillity of the person. To achieve inner peace necessitates prior peace with the Creator.
Tazkiyatus Sihhah: also called Ḥifāzah ‘alaṣ ṣiḥḥah: Protecting health.
1. Apart from childhood immunization against Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Whooping cough, and Tuberculosis, we must also strive to have a clean bill of health through a daily routine of half-hour exercise and the unique spiritual cum physical activity of the 5-time ritual prayers.
2. We must also abstain from the foods forbidden in Islam viz. alcohol and other intoxicants; flesh of swine; carrion, blood products; and blood transfusion unless absolutely necessary. (The first four cases of AIDS in Saudi Arabia were due to transfusion of blood imported from USA). Blood must be drained off completely when slaughtering the animal (Q.2:173). Smoking cigarettes and marijuana etc are also Ḥarām.
3. To monitor your health, it may also be prudent to have occasional laboratory examination of CBC, ESR (Complete Blood Count; Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate); FBS (Fasting Blood Sugar: 90-120 mgms.
; Lipid Profile: (Total Cholesterol: ideal at 130 mgms.%; High Density Lipo-proteins: ideal over 40 mgms.%; LDL (low density lipo-proteins: ideal at 100 mgms.; Risk factor for heart attack or a stroke: ideal 3; PSA (Prostatic Specific Antigen) , although not diagnostic: below 4; Ca 125 (for carcinoma breast); CEA (for Ca Colon) and any other test the doctor may recommend.
4. Health requirement also includes a clean environment. (Tazkiyatul Bee‘ah): Cleaning the environment. Muslims should be environmental friendly and keep it clean.
Tazkiyatun Nafs: Purity of the inner self and personality. Every human being has some good and some evil in varying proportions, which is exhibited as Nafs meaning self or personality. Developing the personality is a difficult and time-consuming long-term exercise. It does not have a quick-fix solution such as reciting some extra prayers or supplicating a given number of times or visiting a priest, a grave of a saint or any other form of escapism. It needs constant effort and correction of mistakes, to be undertaken as a serious spiritual project while persistently seeking Allah’s assistance. Such an effort may take months or years. During all this time, we must examine ourselves and strive to pick and discard the undesirable traits and improve on whatever good qualities we have, while bearing God’s presence and pleasure in mind. This is the only way we enhance our personality and gain plus marks in our spiritual ledger for the Hereafter. The progress of human self takes place through the development of divine attributes in the inner self, leading towards perfection.
Allah created good and evil both and designated particular actions as virtuous or as evil. Then He left it to us to choose freely and do whatever we wanted. A good act can enhance the personality while an evil one would diminish our spiritual status. By not following in Satan’s footsteps which so courteously escort us to indecencies and shame (Q.24:21), the person or self (Nafs) gets purified (Q.91:7-10). Glorification of Allah’s name combined with prayer aids in purification of the self and leads to prosperity (Q.87:14-15). Allah grants mercy, compassion and purification to those of us who are kind to parents and not rebellious. He also showers peace all the way in this life, then through death via Barzakh, and finally into eternity of the Hereafter (Q.19:13-15). Disbursing the Zakāh also purifies the self, besides purifying the balance of the wealth (Q.92:18). Wearing the Ihrām after bathing during Hajj confers a state of ritual purity to the person. Whoever purifies himself does so for his own benefit (Q.35:18) and for his own spiritual advancement and prosperity (Q.87:14). But, however much we try to sanctify ourselves, in the final analysis, it is Allah Who purifies whom He pleases (Q.4:49).
Allah showers His mercy on us after adversities have touched us (Q.10:21). Various ailments which we are afflicted with are not a calamity but a mercy from Allah. Man develops immunity by suffering many infectious diseases. We have developed antibodies to many viruses because we have suffered from diseases caused by them. When we undergo hardships and misfortunes, the Nafs (person) gets purified. Illness for a believer is like a detergent for the human Nafs. It purifies the Nafs from the burden of sins so that it can eventually qualify to reflect in whatever little way Asmā al-Ḥusnā: the beautiful Attributes of Almighty Allah.
Most people have a feeling of inner peace and satisfaction with themselves and with their Creator when they are actively involved in relieving the miseries of the poor and the under-privileged, be it through distribution of money or any other form of Sadaqah such as proper advice, guidance and assistance in any form whatsoever. Righteous deeds such as giving charity and other Sadaqas meant to relieve distress from fellow-human beings confer peace and tranquillity to the donor. This inner peace and purity of the donor is paralleled by peace with the Creator, possibly due to the neural connections in the spiritual pathways of the brain, which secrete encephalins, endorphins, serotonin and other neurotransmitters, responsible for the peace, tranquillity, well-being and satisfaction. A continuous flow of encephalins and endorphins in the body requires a continuous state of Taqwā or God-consciousness in life. If such a state of inner peace and bilateral satisfaction between man and Allah continues till the time of death, then it fulfils the main objective in the Du‘a: Wakhtim Biṣ Ṣāliḥāti A‘mālina. “Oh Allah, seal with righteousness our deeds”. It is postulated that this tranquil state may accompany the person through Barzakh into the Hereafter when he appears before his Mālik on the Day of Judgment. The angels tell those whose lives they take in a state of purity; “Salāmun ‘Alaikum! Enter Jannah, because of the good you did” (Q. 16:32).
The word “Jihad” is derived either from the Arabic word “Jahd”, meaning exhaustion or the word “Juhd” which means striving. A Mujahid is one who strives in the Cause of Allah and strives his best even to the point of exhaustion. Jihād is an effort to establish a world order where all human beings can live in peace and harmony. Man is constantly fighting a duel in his mind, swinging like a pendulum between the dual areas of good and evil. His striving to improve the self is called the inner jihād, which aims at the ideal in achieving good and overcoming evil. The broader meaning of Jihād may involve doing one’s very best in Allah’s cause. It includes several things such as sacrifice of wealth and talent, suppression of greed, carnal and other desires, fighting for defence of religion and all current evil forces, assisting the oppressed against the oppressor etc. Those who die while engaged in Jihad are considered martyrs. Their bodies need not be washed as they are considered to have died in ceremonial purity.
Tazkiyatur Rūḥ: Purification of Rūḥ or soul (as distinguished from Nafs meaning self or personality) represents the Breath which came from Allah (Q.15:29; 38:72). God says that we have been given very meagre knowledge of it (Q.17:85). If Allah had not breathed into the mould of clay which He had fashioned, human beings would still have been a body of clay without any life or soul. Rūḥ is a component of the Unseen in the domain of Allah. The Rūḥ remains pure inside a polluted human body except that it may get laced with the person’s sins and wrong-doings. Cleansing of the Rūh is by Allah only, which begins on the Day of Resurrection. If we discard His advice in the scriptures and take religion for a song, then Allah will not cleanse our soul on the Day of Resurrection (Q.2:174; 3:77).
However, some scholars believe that a person's soul can be refined in this world by giving charity, our time, our leisure, our knowledge, our skill, and by grace of God.
Initially, all of us will have to pass through some degree of hell. “There is not one of you who will not go down to it (Hell) that is settled and decided by the Sustainer” (Q. 19:71). By this process the soul will be rinsed off the impurities it had collected during its Earthly sojourn and will be purified before being allowed to enter Paradise, where we would have a full vision of Allah for eternity.

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