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.

This Ramadan is perhaps the most extraordinary Ramadan we will ever experience in our lives. We are in the grip of a global pandemic, COVID-19 has grabbed the world’s attention and all human beings are its hostage. Somehow, a feeling of uncertainty binds us all, with a desire for relief and the need for compassion, writes Sa’dullah Khan:

Colossal Effect of Virus

For the first time in human history, over two billion people worldwide; almost half the world’s population, is in lockdown. All this, due to a pandemic triggered by microscopic virus that has caused titanic devastation. It has collapsed oil prices, crashed stock markets, caused economic meltdown; has closed trade, travel, sports, schools, places of worship in virtually every country on earth. It has infected over 2.8 million people in 210 countries/territories and resulted in over 197,000 deaths (at time of writing). If ever the world felt on the same page, this is the time. If ever there was a need for compassion, it is now.

Living the Empathy

Ramadan is a month of heightened consciousness, a month of fasting, of increased worship, spiritual reflection, of philanthropy and compassion. Ramadan encourages the promotion of the spirit of ubuntu, of humanity to others. It is about consciously caring and sharing, about being compassionate; about deepening our understanding of our world while simultaneously empathizing with the challenges faced by the world around us. The current pandemic is forcing us to acknowledge that we are a world of common problems and solutions, we are all in this together, one humanity; what harms one harms the other. 

The pandemic has raised our consciousness beyond the level of sympathy (where we acknowledge the suffering of others) to that of empathy (where we feel the suffering of others as our own). With the current state of affairs, many are living embodiments of empathy. In this ailing world, at this monumental period in our history, we need a lasting sense of compassion.

It is not Compassion

Compassion engenders a sense of responsibility. It is not compassionate to circulate unverified information about the Coronavirus or the pandemic.  It is not compassion to ignore the calls for social distancing and to defy logic by insisting on the desire to congregate. It is unfortunate that the only thing currently more viral than the virus is fake news about the pandemic; and the one thing more diabolical than the disease is the irresponsibility of leaders who tell people to ignore the threat of this infection.  

Compassion is definitely not reflected in the prejudicial way some inconsiderate people view the impoverished with contempt; saying that “the ghettos will be the cause of our destruction”. They do so without reflecting on the fact that most of the underprivileged are forced to live in cramped conditions without having the luxury of space for social distancing, without running water for sanitizing, without electricity for comforts and who are forced to share communal commodes.

Reflections of Compassion

Compassion is reflected in our concern for hundreds of thousands of people, mostly children, who may not have enough food to eat at home in the coming weeks and months? Those learners who can not go to school, where many of them get their only daily meal; whose parents may not have sufficient means to survive the lockdown. 

Compassion is demonstrated in our volunteering to assist in combating this pandemic, in alleviating the suffering of those in distress, in keeping an eye on the well-being of our household and our neighbours; remaining telephonically in touch with the elderly, the sick, the orphans and the abused.

Compassion is manifested when we actively engage in feeding the poverty-stricken, providing basic necessities; supporting institutions which volunteer to provide essential services to assist the most vulnerable. We exhibit our compassion through appreciation of those heroic doctors, nurses and health workers who treat the infected at the risk of their own lives; those drivers who deliver food, medicine and necessary supplies; and those religious leaders who bury the dead; all at their own peril.

Agents of Compassion

As we pray and fast during this unprecedented Ramadan, beseeching Allah for His forgiveness and mercy; let us ensure we come out of this trial better than we were before; better human beings, more aware, more considerate, more caring, more loving and more compassionate. When we are compassionate, positive energy pours from our souls into the world; positive energy emanates from the primordial breath of the Divine, channelling the mercy of the Most Merciful through us, causing healing and restoring balance. Besides our faith; compassion, human empathy and social solidarity are keys to surviving the catastrophic consequences of this global pandemic.

May the Most Compassionate make us agents of His compassion in these trying times, throughout this sacred month of Ramadan … and beyond.