Tazkiyah in the Arabic language implies purification, growth, advancement and to bring the self to the height of excellence. The highest level of such excellence being to reach nobility in the estimation of the Divine, as Allah states, “The most honorable of all in the sight of Allah are those with highest degree of taqwa” [Surah Hujuraat 49:13]. Attaining unto taqwa (piety/Allah-consciousness) is in fact among the primary objective of fasting the month of Ramadan. “O you who proclaim faith! Fasting has been prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, in order that you may attain unto taqwa.” [Baqarah 2:183]

We note that tazkiyah and taqwa are interconnected.  Allah cautions “Do not ascribe purity or righteousness to yourself, only Allah know those who are pious.” [Surah Najm 53:32]. A well-known du’a or supplication of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) combines the notion of purity with piety; “O Allah, grant my soul its capacity for piety, and purify myself. You are the best to purify it as You are its guardian and its protector” [Sahih Muslim]. So, tazkiyah is integral to the pursuit of taqwa, and eventual success for any individual comes from treading the path of purification of the self.

Tazkiya-tun-Nafs (cleansing of the self), is an essential feature in human development and focuses on the purification of the “self” from all negative and evil tendencies that may arise. It includes purification from weaknesses in human inclination as well as purification from negative aspects which could appeal to our desires and lead us to impropriety. Treading the spiritual path, on the other hand, is manifested, not in renouncing the world, but rather in renouncing those negative traits that arise due to greed, envy, hatred, selfishness, egoism and arrogance. Tazkiyah is a resolute commitment to a personal process of self-correction, moral advancement and spiritual goodness.

We should realize that being spiritually sound necessitates being morally good … and goodness / (ihsaan) emanates from  husn-niyyah / (sincere intention), husn-zann / (positive consideration), husn-al-khuluq / (good character) and ‘amal-us-salih / (righteous deeds). A person who is spiritually developed is expected to harbor good intentions, have a clean heart and manifest a positive attitude, an endearing personality while always displaying exemplary behaviour.

The spiritual dimension of the self is enlivened by giving attention and expression to those positive qualities that emanate from the best inner promptings of the nafs (soul) and the qalb (heart). Spirituality thus entails the developing of a heightened level of Allah-consciousness coupled with an increased dedication to the cultivation of a spirit of righteousness. It is a process of ascending levels of awareness by organizing one’s journey through life in intimate communion with the Divine, ever aware that “from Him we come and unto Him is our ultimate return” and realizing that manifesting ihsaan / (goodness) throughout our lives is eventually what matters most. We should therefore fervently aim to develop the (fada’il) virtues of sincerity, honesty, gratitude, patience, generosity, simplicity, humility, magnanimity, and compassion.

In this special month of Ramadan, the month of high intensity moral development and spiritual rejuvenation; let us make a commitment to cleanse our hearts and minds of all base thoughts and destructive emotions, beliefs, and concepts. This is only possible if we guard our organs of tongue, stomach, hands, ears, eyes, hands, feet, and mind of all sins, both outward and inward, Let us rid ourselves of diseases such as pride, jealousy, malice, ill-feeling, backbiting, anger, self-righteousness, dishonesty, pretension, vanity, selfishness, vainglory, revenge, obsessive love of the world, manipulation of power and abuse of Allah’s favors. We could, through tazkiyah, pursue the pathways to taqwa and perchance attain spiritual fulfillment in the context of an ever-challenging modern life. An improved self certainly contributes to a better world or at least to a better self.

Shaykh Sadullah Khan serves as the CEO of Islamia College in Cape Town, South Africa.  He completed studies in Law at University of Durban, South Africa, Journalism (UK) and Islamic Studies at Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.

With the Coronavirus pandemic and the call for social distancing, many of us are not happy with the increased solitude, the feeling of being cut off from the outside world, and the loss of our usual social interactions.

And while it is great that we have the blessing of technology to virtually connect with others during this time, Islam teaches us that there are also great benefits in social distancing and taking time away from the distractions of our world.

In Islam, there is an emphasis on establishing a consistent habit of solitude, in which one spends time alone with God. In Arabic, it is known as khalwa, which refers to withdrawing and retreating from the world to be alone with God.

As human beings, we are wired for connection. It is an essential need within all of us. We have a heart within us that is designed to long to connect, and its nourishment comes from being connected to all that is good. But ultimately, its greatest nourishment and fulfillment comes from satisfying its longing, through connecting to its Creator.

But when we are so distracted by the world, people, our material wealth, daily tasks, and all the noise that surrounds us, we become more disconnected from this longing within our hearts. We forget our need for God, as we attach to all that is outside of us and depend on it for fulfillment and happiness. And as our attachment to the external noise grows, the voice of our heart becomes harder to hear. We no longer become pulled by that longing within us and we become more pulled by the longing of our egos and our desires. And as we continue chasing the noise of the world, the longing for what is greater is ignored, and our heart is left unfulfilled and malnourished.

It is until we can disconnect from the external noise and settle into the discomfort of the solitude, quietness, and stillness, that God opens the heart to receive what it needs, what it has been searching, seeking, and longing for all along. And through the examples of God’s greatest servants (peace and blessings be upon them), we can see how solitude and distancing ourselves socially, can be the means to receiving what we need to spiritually thrive and grow!

It is in the solitude that God molds us and prepares us for greatness. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) often retreated to the cave of Hira several times before God revealed the Qur’an to him and called upon Him to deliver the greatest message to mankind. It was during these moments of solitude, away from the chaotic, busy scene in Makkah, that God was molding Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to be the man He was and to have the strength he needed to fulfill his purpose on this earth as the messenger of God.

It is in the solitude that God opens the heart to see truth as truth and falsehood as falsehood. We see this in the life of Prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham (peace be upon him). He sought out solitude in the hopes of getting what his heart was longing and searching for. In a time of idolatry and trials, Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) isolated himself at times, in search of the One True God. And it was through these moments of isolation and deep reflection, that God guided him to the truth and disconnected him from the falsehood and illusions his society believed in.

“Ibrahim was truly an example: devoutly obedient to God and true in faith. He was not an idolater, he was thankful for the blessings of God, which shows him and guided him to a straight path. We gave him blessings in this world and he is among the righteous in the hereafter. Then we reveal to you O Muhammad follow the creed of Ibrahim a man of pure faith was not an idolater“
(Qur’an, Nahl: 120-23).

It is in the solitude that we learn we are never alone and God is always near. We see this in the example of Prophet Yunus, or Jonah, (peace be upon him) who found himself isolated within three layers of darkness: the darkness of the night, the darkness of the ocean, the darkness of the whale’s stomach. And yet, it was in this extreme depth of isolation that God responded to His call, forgave him, and elevated him in this world and the next. Prophet Yunus (as) was isolated, but He was not alone. He was in the farthest and deepest place, but God was so close and near. And what was the darkest period of his life, became the period in which He was elevated by God and brought closer to Him!

“And [remember] the man of the fish, when he went off in anger and thought that We would not decree [anything] upon him. And he called out within the darknesses, “There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers. So We responded to him and saved him from the distress. And thus do We save the believers.”
(Qur’an, 21:87-88)

From these examples, we can see the spiritual power and beauty that God holds for us when we utilize our solitude to connect with Him and to renew our relationship with Him. Through studying the best of humans (peace and blessings be upon them), we can see how close God is to those who remember Him in their solitude and the strengths that He cultivates in those who withdraw from the world to be with Him. We see the great blessings that God holds for each soul that disconnects from the noise of the world to connect to the Lord of all the worlds!

And now with the Coronavirus pandemic and the required social isolation because of it, God is giving us this opportunity to follow their great example and receive such great blessings as well!

He has even made it easier to do so through the practice of social distancing! God has filtered out much of the external noise we were accustomed to. He has minimized our interactions with others, giving us more room in our life to interact with Him. He has created a situation in which we have more time and space to create more moments with Him alone. He is giving us the opportunity to remember what our heart truly needs to thrive and feel the freedom, fulfillment, and connection it has always longed for. It is during these times that God is calling us to receive what will truly suffice, nourish, and satisfy our hearts!

“It is in the remembrance of God that hearts find peace”
(Qur’an, 13:28)

Dr. Marwa Assar
Psychologist, Educator, & Founder of The H.O.M.E Institute