By Dr Muzammil H. Siddiqi

Tazkiyah: Purifying Our Souls


وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا(7)فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا(8)قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَنْ زَكَّاهَا(9)وَقَدْ خَابَ مَنْ دَسَّاهَا

(الشمس 7-10)

By the soul and how He formed it and inspired it [to know] its own rebellion and piety! The one who purifies his soul succeeds and the one who corrupts it fails .

(Al-Shams 91:7-10)

Islam is the way of purity, purity of our bodies and purity of our souls. For the purity of our bodies we have the rules of Taharah (cleanliness), and for the purity of our souls we have Tazkiyah. Ourwards and inward both are important. The outward affects the inward and the inward influences the outward. Tazkiyah literally means “purification and development.” It has two aspects: one is to remove the evil, ignorance, sin and corruption; and the second is to cultivate good habits, knowledge, virtue, wisdom, kindness and charity. The Qur’an teaches us that the success and salvation in this life and in the hereafter depends on Tazkiyah. Allah says:

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَنْ تَزَكَّى(الأعلى 14)

He is successful who purifies himself. (Al-A’la 87:14)

وَمَنْ يَأْتِهِ مُؤْمِنًا قَدْ عَمِلَ الصَّالِحَاتِ فَأُولَئِكَ لَهُمُ الدَّرَجَاتُ الْعُلَا(75)جَنَّاتُ عَدْنٍ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا وَذَلِكَ جَزَاءُ مَنْ تَزَكَّى(طه 75-76)

He who returns to Him as believer with righteous deeds, such people will be rewarded with the highest of ranks, Gardens of lasting bliss graced with flowing streams, and there they will stay. Such is the reward of those who purify themselves. (Taha 20:75-76)

Allah sent His Prophets and Messengers to humanity from time to time to guide human beings to the path of Tazkiyah or purity. This was the basic mission of Prophet Muhammad –peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Allah says:

هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولًا مِنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ ءَايَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِنْ كَانُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ(2)وَءَاخَرِينَ مِنْهُمْ لَمَّا يَلْحَقُوا بِهِمْ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ(3) ذَلِكَ فَضْلُ اللَّهِ يُؤْتِيهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَاللَّهُ ذُو الْفَضْلِ الْعَظِيمِ(الجمعة 2-4)

It is He who raised a messenger, among the people who had no Scripture, to recite His revelations to them, to make them grow in purity and teach them the Scripture and wisdom—before that they were clearly astray— to them and others yet to join them. He is the Almighty, the Wise: such is Allah's bounty that He grants it to whoever He will; Allah is of immense bounty. (Al-Jumu’ah 62:2-4)

For the inner purity we use the expression ‘Tazkiyat-un-nafs.’ What is nafs? Nafs (plural is nufus or anfus) is used in the Qur’an about 395 times. It has two meanings in the Qur’an. It is used most frequently to mean “human person or human self.” The other meaning is “human soul,” as for example in Surah 6:93:

....وَلَوْ تَرَى إِذِ الظَّالِمُونَ فِي غَمَرَاتِ الْمَوْتِ وَالْمَلآئِكَةُ بَاسِطُواْ أَيْدِيهِمْ أَخْرِجُواْ أَنفُسَكُمُ الْيَوْمَ تُجْزَوْنَ عَذَابَ الْهُونِ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللّهِ غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ وَكُنتُمْ عَنْ آيَاتِهِ تَسْتَكْبِرُونَ {الأنعام 93}

… If you could only see the wicked in their death agonies, as the angels stretch out their hands [to them], saying, ‘Give up your souls. Today you will be repaid with a humiliating punishment for saying false things about Allah and for arrogantly rejecting His revelations.’ (Al-An’am 6:93)

We must take care of our souls as we take care of our bodies. In the Qur’an Allah has mentioned different states or conditions of the human souls. Some scholars have identified them on three levels:

  • There is “al-nafs al-ammarah bi al-su’.” (Yusuf 12:53) One aspect of human soul is that it commands and excites a person to do evil and sinful deeds. All of us have this aspect. Satan comes from this weak point and misleads the person from within. Those who want to follow the right path should remain conscious of this problem. They should avoid places of temptations and suspicion. One should never give chance to the evil soul to mislead. One should never say, ‘I am good and pious and I cannot do any mistakes.’ This aspect of the soul should be controlled.
  • There is another aspect of human soul that is called “al-nafs al-lawwamah (al-Qiyamah 75:2). This is the aspect of moral consciousness or rationality. Whenever we do or intend to do any wrong, our critical soul reminds us and tells us about the mistake. Some listen to it and some do not. Those who listen to their own conscience, they do not commit wrong and if they do they repent and correct themselves. Islam wants us to develop this critical level of our souls and should listen to the voices of our conscience always.
  • Then there is “al-nafs al-mutma’innah,” (al-Fajr 89:26) or the contented soul, the soul in which the turbulence of desires and passions has been calmed down leading to peace and tranquility. The more we listen to the voices of our conscience and control the passions, the more satisfaction and contentment we receive. This is also called “radiyah mardiayah in the Qur’an (al-Fajr 89:26)). At this juncture the soul is pleased and is well pleasing to its Creator. This should be our ultimate goal.

Tazkiyah thus means to learn how to control the evil impulses of our souls, to develop the critical and rational thoughts and then reach to ultimate contentment of bliss. Tazkiyah is thus the purification of human beings and the development of their full potential as ‘the deputies of Allah’ on this earth. It is the transformation and nourishment of the whole human person. It means enlightenment, peace, tranquility and total commitment to Allah and to all that is good. It comes by removing the bad habits, sins and evils and inculcating good habits and virtues.

Tazkiyah is realized through devotion, dhikr, istighfar, daily salat and nawafil. It grows by living in Halal and virtuous ways as well as by tawbah (repentance), Zuhd (abstinence), Qana’ah (contentment) and Tawakkul (trust or reliance on Allah). In summary it comes by following closely the Sirah and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad –peace be upon him.

A true Muslim is a person who is transformed with Islamic values and morals; who avoids the evils and sins and tries to live the life of goodness and piety. A true Muslim cares for all the creation of Allah and is kind and compassionate towards all beings, including all human beings. A true Muslim society is where people care for each other. Where there are virtues, justice and fair dealings, where people live in peace and harmony with each other.

Many Muslim individuals as well organizations today do not pay enough attention to the Tazkiyah. In many places efforts are going on for reform and liberation but without the inner reform and change. For all Islamic work Tazkiyah is necessary. Without Tazkiyah no true Islamic objectives can be achieved. We pray,

اللهم لا تكلنا إلى أنفسنا طرفة عين ولا أقل من ذلك، اللهم أعط نفوسنا تقواها وزكها أنت خير من زكاها

O Allah, do not leave us to ourselves for a moment or even for less than that. O Allah, grant our souls their piety and purify them; You are the best to purify them.

( Khutbah at ISOC – Sha’aban 9, 1433/ June 29, 2012)


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Islamic Names for New Muslims, Mother’s Inheritance
Seven Great Characters
Woman Imam Leading Men and Women in Salat
Questions of Life and Death
Hajj During Íddah, Marriage without Financial Obligations, Urinating in Standing Position

Issues and Questions
Prayers with Pictures in the Room, Madhahib and Unity

Prophet Muhammad as a Humanitarian Leader
Du'a after the Fard Prayers, Fasting in Shawal, Nikah through E-mail
Zakat, Umra, Settlement Money in Car Accidents
Ten Principles of Success in the Light of Sirah

Prophet Muhammad: Allah’s Mercy to the Worlds and Favor to the Faithful
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Wudu, Shab-e-Barat and Observance of Ramadan
Sajdah, Meaning of Makruh, Women and Jannah
Culture in Islam
Prenuptial Agreements, Non-practicing Parents, Zakat
Facial Plastic Surgery, Bell, Feet Covering, Fasting
Terrorism: A Crime against Allah and Humanity
Partition for Women inside the Masjid
Distribution of Sadqah Money, Non-Muslims Relatives, Wudu
Martial Arts, Court Marriages, He for Allah
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Are Marriages Made in Heaven? Nawafil Prayers
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Wudu, Salah, and Dawah
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Hands in Salat, Translation of Qur’an, and Student Loans
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Importance of Islamic Environment
The Makkah Declaration of Muslim Heads of State
Disability Insurance, Madhahib and Migration
Husband and Wife Fighting, Hijra & Muharram
14 things to remember for Eid day
Engagement, Poetry, and Qada' Prayers
Women Imams, Circumcision, Non-Muslims in the Masjid
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Sad and Painful News from Iraq Relations between Sunnis and Shi‘is
Love of Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him
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The Last Sermon of the Prophet
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True Wisdom: The Source of Abundant Fortune
Prophet ‘Isa (Jesus) –peace be upon him - and the Controversy around the Da Vinci Code
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Workers Justice in Islam
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The Spiritual and Moral Health of the Heart
Respect of Nature and Natural Resources
From Ignorance to Enlightenment: The Achievement of Prophet Muhammad – Peace be upon him
Working Together: A Human Necessity and an Islamic Mandate
Ihsan: The Art of Living in Islam
Ethical Judgment in Islam
The Role of Masajid and Islamic Schools in Muslim Life
Pure Faith and Righteous Actions: Muslim Character
Building Alliances: Promoting Goodness in the World
Metamorphosis of a Culture: Being Muslim Americans
Salat: The Key to Good Life

The Makkah Appeal for Interfaith Dialogue
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Dealing with the Financial Crisis
Marriage and Family Life in Islam
Some Comments on Proposition 8 and Domestic Violence

Participation in the Society and Voting for Muslims in America
Domestic Violence: A Crime and a Sin
The Ten Commandments: Allah’s Universal Message
Fatwa and Its Importance in Islam
Ummah: Characteristics of a Model Community
Brotherhood and Sisterhood in Islam
Faith and Morality: Two Interconnected Aspects of Islam
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Prophet Muhammad: A Rahmah for the Worlds
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Basic Philosophy and Objectives of the Shari'ah
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Prophet Isa (Jesus) - Peace Be Upon Him: His Mission and Message
Righteous Actions and Righteous Activism
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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.