The Path to Increasing One’s Faith and Purifying One’s Soul

The path espoused by the Quran and Sunnah for purifying one’s soul is amazingly very clear and actually easy to follow for all those whose intentions are pure. Indeed, it is a path that is open for every human to follow. It basically is comprised of three components:

(1) purification of one’s beliefs;

(2) drawing closer to Allah by performing the obligatory deeds and

(3) drawing even closer to Allah by the voluntary deeds.

The Proper Belief in Allah

The proper belief in Allah is without a doubt the first aspect on the road to self-purification and the key to real success and happiness in this life and in the Hereafter. Allah says, “He has certainly succeeded who has purified himself” (87:14). The Quranic commentators note that this is referring first to purifying oneself from shirk (associating partners with Allah) and kufr (disbelief).356 It has been narrated that ibn Abbaas explained this verse by saying, “Whoever purifies himself from shirk.”357

Indeed, it has been deviations from the correct belief in God that has misled most of humankind. In other words, for much of humankind today, it is not the case that they do not believe in God but it is the case that their belief, based on their own whims and desires or their choice to blindly follow others, is distorted and not based on any true source of knowledge concerning God. For example, many people today believe that as long as a person is a “nice” person and does not do harm to others, God would never be displeased with such a person and they will enter Paradise or achieve some kind of bliss.358

Thus, having the proper belief about God does not even enter into the equation, as long as the person is a “nice” person. Actually, a person could be a devil worshiper or a believer in one hundred idols yet all of that does not seem to matter. Although one may commonly hear such ideas expressed, all such thoughts are simply the people’s own suppositions about God. They are false and have no proof to support them.

In reality, the acceptance of this fact—that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, the first statement of the testimony of faith—is the first step in becoming a Muslim and on the road to purification of the soul, purifying one’s beliefs and one’s heart from any form of shirk or associating partners with Allah.

Associating partners with Allah is a great form of wrongdoing. In particular, one is completely wronging one’s own soul and dignity by submitting to and worshiping beings that do not deserve a human’s worship whatsoever. Allah has stated in the Quran, while quoting Luqmaan, “Indeed associating [partners with Allah] is a great wrongdoing” (31:13).

On the other end of the spectrum there is the committing of shirk, which includes all of the other beliefs prevalent in the world today. This includes the other “monotheistic” faiths of Judaism and Christianity. Those who commit shirk go to an extreme for which, in truth, there is no excuse. Their own souls and beings know that their shirk is completely repugnant and that they are following it only to satisfy some lowly desires. Hence, Allah will forgive any sin except shirk. Allah says, “Allah does not forgive that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgives whatever is less than that for whom He pleases; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed” (4:48; see also 4:116).

Those who commit shirk are deserving of an eternal damnation as it was their intention to forever remain along the path of their false beliefs. Hence, Allah has forbidden His pleasure and paradise for them, saying, “Whoever joins others with Allah, Allah will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrongdoers be no one to help” (5:72).

Once again, therefore, without this first step of purification—the purification of one’s beliefs at least to the extent of removing all forms of shirk— nothing else will be of any avail. The heart must be purified first with tauheed before one can truly move on to anything else. If that is not done first, then all of the following steps will be in vain. Any deed that is not done purely and solely for the sake of Allah will be in vain and rejected by Allah. A hadith states that Allah has said, “I am the most self-sufficient and am in no need of having a partner. Whoever does a deed for My sake as well as for someone [or something] else will have that action rejected by Me with the one he associates [with Allah].”359

356 For the explanation of this verse and why it must be in reference to disbelief and idolatry, see al-Fakhar al-Raazi, Al-Tafseer al-Kabeer (Beirut: Daar Ihyaa al-Turaath al-Arabi, n.d.), vol. 31, pp.146-147. Cf., also, Jalaal al-Deen al-Suyooti, al-Durr fi al-Tafseer al-Mathoor (Beirut: Daar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 1990), vol. 6, p. 567-568.

357 Quoted in al-Tabari, vol. 15, p. 156.

358 This author has heard this statement from numerous people who are adherents of Christianity, Judaism and, amazingly, Islam.

359 Recorded by Muslim.

The Proper Attitude Toward the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)

Directly related to the belief in tauheed and directly related to the question of purification of the soul is one’s attitude toward the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). One does not become a Muslim and one does not begin on the path of purification until he makes the testimony of faith. This testimony is composed of two very different but essential components: “I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” By making this testimony, the person is affirming his intent to worship none other than Allah as well as to worship Allah in the manner set forth by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). With respect to both matters, the individual dedicates himself to Allah via the teachings that have come through the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

Hence, everyone has to understand who the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was and what is his role in purifying one’s soul. His role is simple: His is the human example that every Muslim must aspire to as his way was based on guidance from Allah. His life and behavior is the one showing all Muslims the proper way to purify their souls. This is true whether one is speaking about how to pray, fast, fight, order good, become patient, earn Allah’s love, become a devout worshiper, deal with friends, associates, family, orphans and so forth.

Commenting on the phenomenon of failing to recognize or turn to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as the teacher of purification of the soul, ibn al-Qayyim wrote,

The concept of purification of the souls must be submitted to the way of the messengers. Allah has sent them alone for the purpose of this purification and has put them in charge of it. He has placed in their hands the call, teachings and clarification. They have been sent to cure the souls of the nations. Allah says, “It is He Who has sent among the Unlettered a messenger from among themselves, to rehearse to them His Signs, to purify them, and to instruct them in the Book and Wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error” (al-Jumu’ah 2). Purification of the soul is more difficult and harder than curing one’s physical body. Whoever [tries to] purify his soul via spiritual exercises, striving and seclusion which the messengers never taught is like a sick person who tries to cure himself based on his own personal opinion. What is the place of his opinion with respect to the knowledge of the physician? The messengers are the physicians of the hearts. There is no way to purify the hearts or make them sound except via their paths and at their hands, with a complete submission and obedience to them.360

Furthermore, Allah makes it clear that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was sent to these people to be an example par excellence for anyone who wants to come closer to Allah and be successful in the Hereafter. Allah says, “You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the remembrance of Allah” (al-Ahzaab 21). Hence, the true believer would do his best to emulate the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in all matters of his life as sanctioned by the Sharee’ah.361 This desire to emulate is called “pursuance” by Islahi and he explains it thusly,

The scope of pursuance is much wider than that of obedience. Under obedience fall only those things which are in the nature of Commandments, highly stressed duties and the do’s and don’ts, but in the ambit of pursuance fall even the commendatory and non-obligatory acts… Man may obey something without the least tinge of sincerity and love in it. But in pursuance the sentiments of reverence and regard for the pursued in one’s life is an essential condition…

The reason behind the zest of the Companions in the pursuance of the Prophet was the love of God, and to become a beloved of His could not be attained only through obedience to the Prophet, but in fact through following him sincerely in all walks of life. The Prophet is the embodiment of the cognition of God and every air and style of his is the sign of such cognition. That is why those who love God love every iota in the life of the Prophet. In the life of the Prophet they observe the knowledge that is acquired through the cognition of God; they notice actions that result from such cognition and they watch habits that God is pleased with… And since they do it all for the love of God, they are rewarded by Him and become His beloved. It is this fact brought out in the following verse of the Quran: “Say (O Mohammad), ‘If you love God, follow me: God will love you’” [ali-Imraan 31].362

There is another important fact that definitively needs to be emphasized concerning the belief in the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He is not just an example, but he is the example. There is no manner of living and no belief system that is superior to that of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Furthermore, there is no individual who was closer and more beloved to Allah than the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).363

A person will not be able to completely internalize this and act upon this concept until he has a strong love and appreciation for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). In fact, this love for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is a requirement of the faith itself. In other words, one’s faith cannot be proper without it and one cannot purify himself without it. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) himself said, “None of you are true believers until I am more beloved to him than his father, his children and all of mankind.”364

On this point, also, Islahi has made an excellent comment, noting that the love for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is a love based on intellect and principles which a person comes to foster with a principle or an ideology, and because of which he keeps that principle and that particular ideology predominant everywhere in his life, and sacrifices every other principle, way of life or desire to that cherished principle or way of life, but not vice versa. For the promotion and upliftment of this principle and ideology he can see everything else degraded but cannot tolerate the degradation of his cherished ideology. If his own self is in the way of his ideology he gives it a fight, and if others stand in the way to block it he fights them, so much so that even if the demands of his own wife and children and relatives collide with the demands of this ideology, he stands on the side of his ideology to support it and without any pangs of love and regards, spurns the wishes of his wife and children and the demands of his tribe and nation.365

When a love of this nature is truly internalized, it becomes natural for the person to emulate and imitate his object of admiration. One see this phenomenon in all walks of life. This explains why fans, for example, want to know so many details about the actors, athletes or stars that they idolize. Part of the goal is to know about them and part of the goal is to try to emulate them as much as possible. This feeling of devotion and willingness to emulate must be even greater for the person who realizes that via emulation and following of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) he can conquer the true way to spiritual purification.

In sum, in order to truly purify one’s soul, one must make sure that one’s attitude toward the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is correct. One must have belief in the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and that belief must be correct. One must also obey the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), seek to emulate him and love him and his way.366 When all of these matters are fulfilled, one is on the firmest path leading to the purification of the soul, which in itself was one of the main purposes for the sending of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

Murad offers one more interesting point concerning the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his role in the purification of one’s soul. After discussing the materialism of Western societies, how such societies are even creeping upon the Muslim world and how the West’s ultimate emphasis upon what can be materially measured and denial of the unseen is the antithesis of Islam, he noted,

Once you have chosen to live in a “Western type” society, the only source of light for you is the Messenger of Allah. He was also faced with an almost similar situation. As he came down from the cave of Hira’, after his experience of receiving the light of Divine guidance, he re-entered a culture and society which were quite “alien” to his Message. His Message began by linking the whole of life to the name of Allah. That was the starting point. All knowledge, all culture, all civilisation and all human action must be centred on one pivot and that is the name of Allah. This was a totally strange Message for the society in which he had to operate. So, we need to look at the Prophet’s Sunnah in the context of operating in an “alien” society and see how we can practise a genuine Islamic culture…

Secondly, while living in an “alien” culture, you have to preserve your Islamic identity—not only through rational arguments, but through emotional, cultural and civilisational symbols. It is only the Sunnah that can provide these emotional and civilisational symbols through which you will not only preserve your identity but strengthen and advance it.367

360 Ibn al-Qayyim, Madaarij, vol. 2, p. 315.

361 There are some matters that are specific to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) only and there are some acts of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that were due to custom, for example, and not necessarily meant as exemplary for all peoples.

362 Islahi, pp. 92-93.

363 The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Allah took me as His most intimate friend (khaleel) as He had earlier taken Abraham as His most intimate friend.” (Recorded by Muslim.) The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also said, “If I were to take an inhabitant of the Earth as my most intimate friend, I would choose Abu Bakr. But Allah, the Most Gracious, has taken your companion [that is, the Prophet] as His most intimate friend.” (Recorded by Muslim.)

364 Recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

365 Islahi, pp. 95-96.

366 Islahi (p. 96) noted, “Obedience without love is hypocrisy and love without obedience and pursuance [that is, emulation] is innovation.” 367Murad, pp. 91-93.

367 Murad, pp. 91-93.

Performing Righteous Deeds

In numerous places in the Quran, Allah makes it clear that the key to salvation is not a mere declaration of one’s faith or a false faith that has no righteous deeds as its fruits. Instead, the key is a true faith that combines with and is the driving force behind performing righteous deeds. In fact, the scholars note that faith is actually comprised of the belief in the heart, the statement of the tongue and the deeds of the physical body. Hence, a person’s faith cannot be complete without performing the proper deeds.

Allah clearly relates the performance of good deeds with having faith. For example, He says, “Whoever works any act of righteousness and has faith, his endeavor will not be rejected: We shall record it in his favor” (21:94). Indeed, the only way to be saved from perdition is through faith and good deeds, as Allah says, “By (the token of) Time (through the ages), verily man is in loss, except those who have faith, do righteous deeds, (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth, and of patience and constancy” (103:1-3). In another verse, Allah clearly shows that it is faith and deeds that lead one to Paradise or the Hell-fire. Allah says, “Nay, whoever earns evil and his sin has surrounded him, they are Companions of the Fire: therein shall they abide (forever). But those who have faith and work righteousness, they are companions of the garden: therein shall they abide (forever)” (2:81-82).368

Hence, the second obligatory step in purifying the soul and becoming beloved to Allah is the performance of the deeds that Allah has made obligatory upon the believers. (This goes hand in hand with the increase in imaan and tauheed and there is a very important dynamic relationship between the two that is difficult sometimes to fathom but which is very clear to the person who experiences it.) Again, this point is made very clearly in the hadith just quoted above. In that hadith, Allah has said, “My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have imposed upon him.”

Note that the stress here has been on the obligatory deeds. This is due to their extreme importance. Indeed, everyone should dedicate himself to performing those deeds first. In other words, one has to tend to the obligatory deeds before preoccupying oneself with voluntary deeds. As al-Toofi stated,

The order to perform the obligatory duties is a strict one. The one who does not perform them falls into punishment. On both of these matters, the case of the voluntary deeds is different. They are similar to the obligatory deeds in that in both of them one earns a reward. However, the obligatory deeds are more complete. For that reason, they are more beloved to Allah and take one closer to Him. The obligatory deeds are like the foundation while the voluntary deeds are like the branches and the building. If a person fulfills the obligatory deeds in the way that they are commanded to be fulfilled, with proper respect and esteem by submitting to Him and demonstrating the greatness of His Lordship and submission of His worship, one gets closer to Him in the greatest way.369

The obligatory deeds are like the foundation or roots while the voluntary deeds are like the branches. If a person first fulfills those foundations, he is demonstrating his foundation of being willing to submit to Allah. Hence, that is the best way that he earns his Lord’s approval.370 However, if one does not first fulfill those deeds that Allah has made obligatory, one does not demonstrate his willingness to submit and obey whatever Allah has ordered. In other words, he fails to fulfill one of the greatest steps in the process of purification. Therefore, the first step must be the fulfillment of the obligatory duties.

368 This does not mean to imply that it is by deeds alone that one is entered into Paradise. Indeed, the greatest deeds that one can perform are not such that they would deserve Paradise in return. However, via the performance of good deeds, Allah showers the person with His grace and mercy.
It is this grace and mercy that allows the person to be entered into Paradise. If a person does not have faith followed up with righteous deeds, he is not deserving of Allah’s mercy and, hence, he will not receive this great reward from Allah. This is the meaning of the Prophet’s words, “One’s deeds will not enter anyone into Paradise.” They said, “Not even you, O Messenger of Allah?” he replied, “No, not even me unless Allah covers me with His grace and mercy.” (Recorded by al- Bukhari with this wording.)

369 Quoted in Ahmad Fareed, Al-Tazkiah baina Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Soofiyah (no publication informa on given), p. 22.

370 Cf., Ahmad ibn Hajar, Fath al-Baari bi-Sharh Saheeh al-Bukhaari (Makkah: al-Maktaba al- Tijaariyyah, 1993), vol. 13, p. 145.

The Obligatory Deeds

The Obligatory Deeds May Be Divided Into The Following Four Categories

(1) The obligatory deeds (feelings and emotions) of the heart:

(2) The ritual pillars of Islam:

(3) The other obligatory acts:

(4) Abstaining from the forbidden acts:

If a person fulfills only the obligatory acts in their proper fashion, he should be able to reach a certain level of spiritual purification. However, most likely, the process of purification will not stop at the obligatory deeds alone. The feeling and love for more purifying acts will flow and the believer will seek other righteous deeds that will bring him even closer to Allah. Hence, the third step in the purification of one’s soul is the performance of the voluntary deeds after one has attended to the deeds that are obligatory upon him.

The voluntary deeds include all of the deeds that are not strictly obligated and which have some sign that they are praiseworthy acts. These deeds are also at different levels of virtue. Some virtuous deeds were greatly emphasized by the Prophet (peace be upon him) while others were not so emphasized. In other words, some voluntary deeds are much more virtuous than others. The more virtuous a voluntary deed, the closer it takes a person to Allah.

In referring to the very important hadith qudsi referred to herein more than once, in which the Allah has stated, “My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more beloved to Me than the religious duties that I have imposed upon him; and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works such that I love him.”371

Finally, it is very important to note—and it is a great blessing from Allah— that this path is not a path that necessarily takes a long amount of time or requires that the person pass through certain stages. A person can become one of the purified and devoted servants of Allah very quickly by sincerity and devotion to Allah. This true sincerity and devotion may come after he performs only a few deeds. Indeed, from the outset, he may perform those deeds that are obligatory upon him and he becomes beloved to Allah. Then he continues on that path, with Allah guiding him to what is good and proper. This will be a sign that he is continuing as one of Allah’s auliyaa (devoted servants). Again, this “easy path” is part of the great mercy and blessings of Allah. 372

A conclusion from the hadith above is that some believers move even closer to Allah by not only fulfilling the obligatory duties but by additionally performing the voluntary deeds (and these are numerous). When a person performs the obligatory deeds, he demonstrates his willingness to submit to Allah. In addition, he is doing what he needs to do to protect himself from Allah’s punishment. However, if on top of those deeds he also performs voluntary deeds, this demonstrates his sincerity to Allah and his true willingness to please Allah. This is no longer a matter of fulfilling a command from Allah or rescuing oneself from punishment. Now one is doing the acts to get even closer and become more beloved to Allah.

Therefore, it is no wonder that such people who perform the voluntary deeds (which includes staying away from the disliked deeds) receive a special love from Allah in both this life and in the Hereafter. Allah says about such a servant in the hadith quoted earlier, “My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works such that I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his leg with which he walks. Were he to ask of Me, I would surely give him; and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it.”373

In this hadith, Allah describes those persons who have earned His love. This makes this a most important hadith. This is the goal of the true believers: to purify oneself by worshiping Allah properly and, thereby, gain the love, mercy, pleasure and forgiveness of Allah. In other words, the goal is to become a wali (a true devoted servant) of Allah. As discussed in a previous chapter, this is the greatest achievement. Indeed, this is the achievement that no one could ever take from a person. Anyone, by Allah’s leave, may destroy whatever another person possesses and prizes of this world but no one can ever touch his religion (which is first and foremost in his heart) and his relationship to Allah.

Allah, the Creator and Fashioner of humans, has obligated certain deeds. Those are deeds that are needed by all humans for the purification of their souls. Beyond those deeds, though, Allah has left the door wide open for individuals to concentrate on those deeds that they are most inclined to. For example, some people are dedicated to the voluntary prayers. They receive great increases in their faith and benefit from them. They feel sorrow whenever they miss those prayers. Hence, they tend to them to the best of their ability. Those voluntary prayers in addition to the general obligatory deeds may be the way that they get closer to Allah. It may be the key to their entering Paradise. Others may be attracted to fasting, charity or the pilgrimage.

There are yet others who are more inclined to doing good toward others. They perform the obligatory deeds and then beyond that they spend their time tending to others’ needs. Those good voluntary deeds bring them closer to Allah and more beloved to Him. Yet others are attracted to voluntary Jihad, teaching the religion, calling non-Muslims to Islam and so forth. When these people tend to those matters, they become the key by which they come closer to Allah and enter Paradise. Someone else might do a little of all of the different types of voluntary deeds and that is what makes him beloved to Allah.374

This reality is all by the mercy of Allah. Beyond the obligatory deeds, people are free to pursue those good voluntary deeds that they are most attracted to. There are so many areas of voluntary deeds that it seems inconceivable that a person could not find some voluntary deed or deeds that he would like to perform in order to get closer to Allah. Allah’s path to paradise is wide enough to accommodate all of those different leanings. However, this is all dependent on the individual first fulfilling, in general, the obligatory deeds. If the person does not do that, then he may not be on the straight path at all.

371 Recorded by al-Bukhari.

372 Cf., Ibraaheem Hilaal, introduction to Muhammad ibn Ali al-Shaukaani, Qatr al-Wali ala Hadeeth al-Wali (Beirut: Daar Ihyaa al-Turaath al-Arabi, n.d.), p. 149.

373 Recorded by al-Bukhari.

374 Cf., quote in Fareed (pp. 30-31) from Muhammad ibn al-Qayyim, Tareeq al-Hijratain, p. 179.

Means to Help One Along the Path

It is admitted that it is much easier to identify that process than it is to make oneself walk along that path. Therefore, mention must be made (however briefly) of specific means and measures that in general should help one follow the path of purification. In essence, these “means and measures” simply fall into one of the steps described in the process of purification (that is, they fall into the category of either obligatory or recommended acts). However, within those steps, there are some acts that seem most prominent in bringing about additional benefit for the purification of the soul. Hence, they are specifically highlighted here. The actions include the following:

(1) Turning to and praying to Allah for help and guidance: This step usually takes place before the attaining of knowledge. One should seek guidance from Allah concerning all matters but especially to know the path that leads to His pleasure.

(2) Taking the steps to attain sound and beneficial knowledge: Allah willing, knowledge will be given to the person by Allah as a result of his sincere supplication and his taking the steps to attain that knowledge. In particular, though, the relevant knowledge concerning spiritual purification cannot be found in detail unless one studies both the Quran and the hadith of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

(3) Proper dhikr (remembrance of Allah): After the knowledge comes dhikr which, in essence, means keeping that awareness and knowledge alive and at a conscious level. Without this awareness, there is no hope in one actually applying or benefiting from what one has learned.

(4) Contemplation and reflection: Contemplation moves one to a stronger and greater level of faith. It builds upon and strengthens the dhikr. It also assists the individual in developing a more mature understanding of the knowledge he has received. It also helps him in tying that knowledge into everything that is happening around him, in turn enhancing his intensity of dhikr.

(5) Realizing the true nature of this worldly existence: This can really be considered a result of contemplation or a further development in one’s spiritual progression. It refers to a deeper understanding that the life of the Hereafter is the only real life and that this worldly life is not the life that one has been created to live for or seek after with all of one’s means and abilities. The realizing of the true importance or lack thereof of this worldly life assists in repelling the strong temptations found in this world.

(6) Striving against any evil inclinations in the soul: “Striving against the soul” (jihaad al-nafs) becomes much easier after the above steps have been taken. The soul may always present some temptations, diseases or weaknesses.
One must strive but it is very possible and plausible given the right tools to overcome any weakness that the soul may possess.

(7) Having righteous companions, friends and spouses: This is to give one further strength and support. The goal of being surrounded by pious companions is that they keep that dhikr alive. Such companions also advise each other, give strength to each other when they become weak and encourage each other to do the correct deeds. In addition, they can offer each other knowledge and guidance, especially during troubling or confusing times.

(8) Attending the mosques: Attending the mosques strengthens the ties with other righteous Muslims, helps improve one’s prayers (which in itself is a key to spiritual purification), allows one to gain access to sources of knowledge, provides a place for being reminded of one’s purpose in life and provides a place to witness pious examples which encourage one to strive harder for spiritual purification.

(9) Taking account of one’s deeds, behavior and character: This is the refinement process that no program can be successful without. One must constantly go over the different steps that one has taken and the different actions that one has performed to see where there are faults and what must be improved. One must never be negligent of this practice as otherwise one may be falling into a deep abyss and never even realize what is occurring. Without realizing what is occurring, it is difficult to imagine that the person will be able to do anything about it.

Harmful Aspects for the Soul

The major impediments and dangers to one’s spiritual purification must be recognized by the Muslim. He must be aware of them so that he may protect himself from them. Some of these may be summarized as follows:

(1) Desires, lusts and passions: These are the urges that occur in the soul and drive a person to commit an act that he knows is displeasing to Allah. Unless one works to control and overcome these desires, they can be disastrous for his effort of purification. Indeed, they can even completely overcome the person and become the “god” which he starts to worship.

(2) Ignorance, doubts and misconceptions: It is via ignorance that one does not know what the correct path is. When a person does not realize his own ignorance, he acts thinking that what he is doing is correct while it may actually be very harmful. In addition, ignorance can also lead to doubts and uncertainty. Doubts and uncertainty in turn affect a person’s resolve and willingness to sacrifice to remain upon the path of purification.

(3) Innovations and heresies: These are of extreme danger for the purification of the soul. In essence, they can lead a person down an errant path while he believes that he is following nothing but the truth. It is only by sound knowledge and by following the way of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) closely that one can avoid falling into this major pitfall.

(4) Sins: One gets closer to Allah by acts of obedience and one distances himself from Allah by sins and acts of disobedience. No matter whether the sin is a major or minor one, it signifies, at least to some extent, a step back in one’s journey of spiritual purification.

(5) Being overcome by this world and its glitter: One of the greatest dangers, especially in this day and age, is to be overcome with all of the “pleasures and excitement” that this world has to offer. This worldly life can make one lose one’s focus. Instead of concentrating on the Hereafter, one begins to work to accumulate the goods of this world. The situation can be so bad that the individual sacrifices the Hereafter for this life. This would sound a crushing defeat for the soul’s purification process.

(6) Evil companions, environment and surroundings: One’s surroundings and one’s friends can greatly influence an individual. For example, at the very least, evil friends may suggest deeds and ideas that are displeasing to Allah and harmful to the soul. Beyond that, they may further encourage and even help the person perform acts that are clearly disliked by Allah. Such friends and environments can clearly be a hindrance in one’s path of purification.

(7) Satan and his soldiers: When Allah created man, He had already created an enemy that was going to test his will and his devotion to Allah.
When mankind gives into Satan, Satan’s only goal is to drag him into the Hellfire.
To protect himself on the path of purification, the believer must always be aware of Satan and his ways of operating.

(8) The enemies of Allah (those who have earned His wrath and those who have gone astray): These are the people who have either knowingly or unknowingly gone away from the path of purification. One must always be wary of them as they will either intentionally try to drive a person away from the Straight Path or they may inadvertently misadvise a Muslim causing him to swerve from the Straight Path.


Even if one tries his best to follow all of the steps and means that help one purify his soul, the nature of man is such that, in general, he is bound to falter every now and then. In fact, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “All humans continually commit sins. The best of those who continually commit sins are those who repent often.”375

When a person falters and sins, though, that is not the end of the matter. As long as he has not reached the moment of death, the door to repentance will remain open to him. He need not despair—as long as he brings himself to account and repents to Allah for the sins and transgressions he has committed. Allah clearly states, “Say: O My servants who have transgressed against their souls, despair not of the mercy of Allah for Allah forgives all sins, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (39:53).

The true repentance includes

(1) stopping oneself from the sin that one is committing,
(2) feeling remorse and
(3) having the sincere intention to never again return to performing that sin.376

In essence, it is a true return to serving Allah, as is the human’s purpose in this life. Without these components, the individual has not truly or completely repented to Allah.

Ibn Taimiyyah perceptively pointed out that it is more important to repent from wrong beliefs than it is to repent from evil desires. He explains his reasoning behind this argument by stating,

If someone does not perform an obligatory deed or does perform an evil deed, while he believes in its obligation [for the former] or its evil [for the latter], then that belief will urge him on to do the obligatory deed and will keep him from the evil deed. There will not be something constantly urging him or keeping him from doing such deeds. In fact, the urging and preventing forces will be fighting each other. This means that sometimes one will overtake the other and vice versa and his soul will be watching over him. Sometimes he will perform the obligatory deed and sometimes he will not perform it. And sometimes he will perform the evil deed and sometimes he will not perform it. This is the case with many evildoing Muslims who sometimes fulfill rights and other times do not and who sometimes do evil deeds and other times do not because the desires are contradicting in his heart [that is, the desire to do good and the desire to do evil are both in his heart and are competing against each other] since he has in his heart the foundation of faith that orders him to do good and keeps him from evil. But at the same time he has desires and lusts that call him to the opposite of that.

But if the person performs deeds that he [wrongfully] believes are obligatory or he leaves deeds believing they are forbidden, then the driving forces to leave or perform the deed will be constant in his heart and that is much more serious than the first case [mentioned in the paragraph above]. This person must make taubah to correct his beliefs first and to find the truth. And this can be much more difficult than the first case if there is nothing driving him to 2009 leave his false beliefs- as the person in the first case has something urging him to leave his evil deeds...377

In reality, every time someone commits a sin, he is actually distancing himself from Allah—as is clearly implied in the hadith quoted earlier stating that one draws closer to Allah by fulfilling the obligatory deeds and then the voluntary deeds. If that is the case, the believer should immediately seek to remove the negative effect of any sin. This is accomplished by not persisting in sin but by returning to Allah, repenting to Him and seeking His forgiveness. Indeed, it is truly heart moving how in the same set of verses, Allah speaks about the believers committing faahishah (shameful acts) and harming their own souls and yet describing them as the inhabitants of paradise. Their key is that they stop their sin and earnestly seek Allah’s forgiveness. Allah says, “And those who having done something to be ashamed of or wronged their own souls earnestly bring Allah to mind and ask for forgiveness for their sins—and who can forgive sins except Allah? And are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done. For such the reward is forgiveness from their Lord, and gardens with rivers flowing underneath, an eternal dwelling. How excellent a recompense for those who work (and strive)” (3:135-136).

Indeed, Allah is very pleased with the servant whenever he repents. By repenting, the servant demonstrates his belief that Allah is compassionate, forgiving and merciful. He is also showing his awareness that, deep in his soul, he does not wish to displease Allah or to move away from what pleases Allah. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) stated, “Allah is more delighted by the repentance of His believing servant than [the delight of the following person]: A person in a waterless desert having his food and drink upon his camel who sleeps and wakes to find his provisions having been lost. He searches for them until he is about to be overtaken by thirst. He says to himself, ‘I shall return to the place where I was and I shall sleep until I die.’ He put his head upon his pillow ready to die. Then he awakes to find his camel and his provisions, food and drink with him. Allah is more delighted with the repentance of the believing servant than that [person] is with [finding] his provision.”378 Allah’s great pleasure is a very special reward for the repentant. Indeed, when the believer realizes this fact and keeps this in mind, the drive to repent from all of his sins and shortcomings becomes very strong in his heart.

The importance of repentance for the purification of the soul cannot be overstated. It is the final pouring out of the human towards his Lord to remove all remaining blemishes and impurities from the soul, such that the soul is ready to be entered into Allah’s paradise. No matter how pious a soul is, there will undoubtedly be shortcomings with respect to the rights of his Lord. These shortcomings, many of which were already touched upon while discussing contemplation since there is a strong relationship between such contemplation and the move to repent, include the following:

(a) A person’s acts of worship and obedience to Allah will many times (if not almost always) fall short of his maximum potential. Indeed, being overly pleased and satisfied with one’s act of worship is very dangerous for the soul. In fact, those who are truly aware of their relationship with Allah are even more earnest in their seeking of Allah’s forgiveness after they complete an act of worship. They understand that they have some shortcoming in their act of worship, such as not being completely attuned to their prayers. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught all believers to ask for Allah’s forgiveness three times as soon as one had finished the obligatory prayers. This practice is reflective of this fact that one can find shortcomings even in his acts of worship.

(b) The believer will never be able to thank Allah completely for all of the bounties that Allah has bestowed on him, no matter how obedient he is to Allah. For example, how can an individual completely thank Allah for Allah’s bounty giving him life in the first place? Hence, the individual must repent to Allah for this inability to thank Him completely or sufficiently.

(c) There may even be some portion of “acting for the sake of show” (riyaa’) in some of an individual’s deeds. If this is the case, then he definitely must repent to Allah for that aspect.

Hence, even the pious must always seek to repent to Allah and ask for His forgiveness. Ibn Taimiyyah wrote,

The servant is always between a blessing from Allah that requires his thanks and a sin that requires the seeking of forgiveness. Both of these circumstances, by necessity, are always with the servant. He is constantly moving among the blessings and bounties of Allah and he is always sinful and in need of repentance and asking for forgiveness. For that reason, the chief of all humans and the leader of the pious, Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), would seek forgiveness in all situations.379

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) himself used to repent to Allah and seek His forgiveness more than one hundred times a day (as recorded by Muslim).

Besides removing the sins from a person, sincere repentance plays other important roles in purifying the soul. For example, it aids the person in truly humbling himself before his Lord. As the believer recognizes his weaknesses and sins, he realizes that he has no rescue except to turn to Allah humbly, seeking Allah’s forgiveness for his errors. This brings him closer to Allah, even though what led him to this particular stage was a sin that he had committed (such is the mercy and grace of Allah). As he considers more of his sins (through taking himself to account for his deeds) and sincerely repents from them, he realizes how far he has strayed and his heart sincerely and humbly tries to submit completely to Allah in the proper way given his abilities.

Repentance is a door that is always open for the person to rectify his ways. No matter how evil a person has become and no matter how many sins he has committed, there is no excuse for him not to mend his ways and to try to purify his soul. A powerful reminder of this fact is Allah’s words while mentioning those who burned the believers alive in the incident discussed in soorah al-Burooj. Allah says about them, “Those who persecuted the believers, men and women, and do not turn in repentance will have the penalty of Hell: they will have the penalty of the Burning Fire” (85:10). Obviously, then, the door to repentance will be open to any sinner and he need not despair.

Thus, once the person sets himself on the right path, Allah willing, he need not allow what he did in the past to prevent him from getting closer to Allah by performing pious deeds. Some scholars even argue that his state after repenting should be even better than his state beforehand, as he has experienced the sin, realized how wrong it was, turned wholeheartedly to Allah and has vowed to change his ways. As long as one does change and mend his ways, he need not look back at his sins as necessarily evil in the long-run for his spiritual purification. He may have learned a great lesson from that act and it may have helped him reform himself in a way that would not have been possible without his experiencing a need to repent, while that repentance further uplifted his soul via the joy of returning back to one’s Lord.

375 Recorded by Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi, ibn Maajah and al-Haakim. According to al-Albaani, it is hasan.See al-Albaani, Saheeh al-Jaami, vol. 2, p. 831.

376 If the sin also involved the rights of other humans, one must, if possible, also rectify the wrong that he has done.

377 Ibn Taimiyyah, “Risaalah fi al-Taubah,” vol. 1, pp. 237-238.

378 Recorded by Muslim.

379 Ibn Taimiyyah, Majmoo, vol. 10, p. 88.


By the grace and mercy of Allah, the path of purification and increasing one’s faith is uncomplicated and clear for whoever wills to follow it: It is about correction of one’s beliefs and understandings while following that up with the proper implementation in one’s actions and deeds.

This is a path consistent with one’s natural inclinations but one has to be serious about following it. Even when coming upon the path, one cannot be complacent and assume that nothing will shake him or remove him from that path. No, indeed, he must always be conscious of his faith and what state of health it is in. He should constantly seek those means and measures that he finds support and help his faith. Additionally, he must be aware of and avoid those factors that damage the health of his faith and prevent him from following the Straight Path.

All along, he should be seeking Allah’s guidance. Whenever he slips from the path and errs, he should try to immediately return to Allah, seek his forgiveness and ask Allah to set him aright once again on the beautiful path of purification and faith.380

380 It should be noted that this chapter is entirely based on portions of the author’s Purification of the Soul. For more details concerning the topics discussed herein, the reader is referred to that work.