Dimensions of Self-Purification in Nahj al-Balagha – 3

Dimensions of Self-Purification in Nahj al-Balagha Part 3 of 3
By Sheikh Husayn El-Mekki Abdullah-Aziz

Taqwā and Self-Refinement

Taqwā often translated as “piety”, “fear of God” or “God-wariness”, is derived from the word, which means, “to guard”. It is the act of maintaining ones character and refining one’s spirituality in face of sin. Once self-purification has been established it is vital that it be maintained. This is done by consistently being on guard against any aspect, which would be detrimental to one’s spiritual state i.e. muraqaba. A parable is drawn between the wayfarer and the mountain-climber. The higher a mountain-climber goes the more detrimental his fall would be, and it is necessary for him to take extra precautions as he ascends. However, for the aspirant who is in the mere infant stages of progression and has yet to begin to scale the higher slopes, his fall from the already near-bottom of the mountain would most likely, not be as catastrophic. The same goes for the spiritual wayfarer. In achieving greater levels of spirituality, one must be especially careful not to falter once he has reached the higher planes, as sin and mistakes on that level may unpleasant ramifications. Hence, the indispensible need for muraqaba, spiritual caution and maintenance.

He elaborates on the importance of piety and abstention from sin again in Sermon 156:

“Know O’ creatures of Allâh, that piety is a strong house of protection while impiety is a weak house which does not protect its people, and does not give security to him who takes refuge therein. Know that the sting of sins is cut by piety and the final aim is achieved by conviction of belief.”[1]

The Quran has presented the fact that “Every soul shall taste death…”[2] It is imperative to consider that since this inescapable experience will transpire for all of mankind, yet its time is hidden and unknown for us, it behooves man to be most prepared. Preparation is done by not only achieving but maintaining taqwā. As it is mentioned in the holy Quran: O mankind! We have created you from a single male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allâh is the one has the most Taqwā. Verily, Allâh is All-Knowing, All-Aware. [3]

And it has eloquently been narrated from Imam ‘Alī:

“While returning from Siffin, Imam ‘Alī passed along the cemetery of Kūfa. Addressing the graves he said: “O you, who are lying in horrible and deserted houses. O you, who are shut up in the dark graves, who are alone in their abodes, strangers to the places assigned to them; you have gone ahead and preceded us, while we are also following your steps and shall shortly join you. Do you know what has happened aver you? Your houses and property was taken up by others, your widows have remarried, and this is what we can tell you of this world. Can you give us some news about things around you?” Saying this, Imam ‘Alī turned to his companions and said, “If they are permitted to speak they will inform you that the best provision for the next world is piety and virtue.”[4]

Ikhlās (Sincerity)

Imam ‘Alī enjoins sincerity on several occasions including his letter to Abdullah ibn Abbas, the governor of Basra:

“Understand very well Ibn Abbas that Basra is a satanic place. It is an abode of strifes and bloodshed. So be kind and tolerant towards the citizens of Basra. Win them over with kindness, sympathy and sincerity.”[5]

While this is certainly a monumental principle all its own, when incorporated, it does form an essential component when utilized along with other critical elements, namely knowledge and action. If one has knowledge, then he may be wise but this does not constitute that he will implement his wisdom. If one’s actions are correct, this could be as a result of blind following or even err, and does not constitute understanding. But when coupled together the two fuse a very valuable asset to man. However, the possibility still exists that one can be knowledgeable, and act in accordance with his knowledge and outwardly this may seem admirable and commendable but inwardly he may have ill intent. Malice in the heart is not always detectable by outward actions or by knowledge of what is right and wrong. Here is where sincerity changes the scope of things and without sincerity then knowledge and good deeds are simply not enough.

Many individuals throughout history tried to damage Islam and bring harm to true believers even though outwardly they claimed to know Islam and follow it. Imam ‘Alī reprimands such individuals:

Our sincerity in Islam and our services to its cause are the facts of history and history cannot deny your enmity against Islam and the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him)”[6]

Perfection and Proximity to God

Thus, Possibilities through self-purification are endless. And the potential God has enabled man with is thereby limitless. Potentiality transforms to reality by adhering to principles of self-purification as dictated by God in the holy Quran and to the holy Prophet and his Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them all).

The word ‘Muslim’ is derived from the root word meaning ‘to submit’. This means that a true Muslim must submit to Allah’s commands and laws. This is to say that a believer will not transgress the boundaries set by God and will abide by the laws and ethical principles established for mankind via His Messenger and Saint Imams (peace be upon them).

This reflects the profound words attributed to Ayatollah Behjat, regarding Islamic mysticism (‘Irfān): ‘acting upon that which you know – this is all of ‘Irfān.’ this means that an aspirant must implement all that he knows to achieve perfection and proximity to God. If he knows that giving charity is good, then he gives. And if he knows that praying on time is good then he does so. His actions become the manifestation of his knowledge and sincerity to purify his soul in order to reach nearness to God. Intuit knowledge (ma’rifa) is result of sincerely acting in accordance with what God has commanded.

Imam ‘Ali ibn Abī Tālib expounds on this matter by reiterating this method of self-purification through implementation and submission to divine authority and law. He touches on these practical forms of self-purification and tazkiyyah: [7]

The best means by which seekers of nearness to Allah, the Glorified, the Exalted, seek nearness, is the belief in Him and His Prophet, fighting in His cause, for it is the high pinnacle of Islam, and (to believe) in the kalimatu’l-‘ikhlas (the expression of Divine purification) for it is just nature and the establishment of prayer for it is (the basis of) community, payment of zakat (Islamic tax) for it is a compulsory obligation, fasting for the month of Ramadan for it is the shield against chastisement, the performance of hajj of the House of Allah (i.e. Ka`bah) and its `umrah (other than annual visit) for these two acts banish poverty and wash away sins, regard for kinship for it increases wealth and length of life, to giving alms secretly for it covers shortcomings, giving alms openly for it protects against a bad death and extending benefits (to people) for it saves from positions of disgrace.

Go ahead with the remembrance of Allah for it is the best remembrance, and long for that which He has promised to the pious, for His promise is the most true promise. Tread the course of the Prophet for it is the most distinguished course. Follow the Sunnah of the Prophet for it is the most right of all behaviours. Learn the Qur’an for it is the fairest of discourses and understand it thoroughly for it is the best blossoming of hearts. Seek cure with its light for it is the cure for hearts. Recite it beautifully for it is the most beautiful narration. Certainly, a scholar who acts not according to his knowledge is like the off-headed ignorant who does not find relief from his ignorance, but on the learned the plea of Allah is greater and grief more incumbent, and he is more blameworthy before Allah.


[1] http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul/156.htm

[2] Holy Quran. Translated by Ali Quli Qara’i. 2nd revised edition. ICAS Press. 2005.Pg 453 {21:35}

[3] Holy Quran. Chapter 49, Verse 13. personal translation

[4] http://www.al-islam.org/masoom/sayings/saying5.html

[5] http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul/letters/letter18.htm#letter18

[6] http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul/letters/letter28.htm

[7] http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul/109.htm