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Extracts from Purification of the Soul
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Extracts from Purification of the Soul

Prologue

The first three chapters taken from the book “Purification of the Soul”, one of the great books on the matters of the heart. The book is a compilation of the works of Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Ibn Al-Qayyim al-Jawziayy and Abu Hamid al-Ghazali

Chapter 1: Sincerity

Sincerity is the freeing of one's intentions from all impurities in order to come nearer to Allah. It is to ensure that the intentions behind all acts of worship and obedience to Allah are exclusively for His pleasure. It is the perpetual contemplation of the Creator, to the extent that one forgets the creation.

Sincerity is a condition for Allah's acceptance of good deeds performed in accordance with the sunnah of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Allah has commanded this in the Qur'an:

  "And they have been commanded to worship only Allah, being sincere towards Him in their deen and true. “[98:5]  

Abu Umama has related that a man once came to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said,

"What of a man who joined us in the fighting, his intention being for fame and booty?" The Prophet said, "He recieves nothing." The man repeated the question three times and each time the Prophet said, "He receives nothing". Then he said, "Allah only accepts actions that are intended purely for His pleasure."[1]

 

Abu Sa'id al-Khudri related that the Prophet (saw) said in his khutba during the farewell pilgrimage,

  "Allah will bless whoever hears these words and whoever understands them, for it may be that those who pass on this knowledge are not those who will understand it the best. There are three things concerning which the heart of a believer should feel no enmity or malice: devoting one's actions to Allah, giving counsel to the Imams of the Muslims, and being loyal to the majority."[2]

What is meant here is that these three things strengthen the heart, and whoever distinguishes himself in them will have a heart purified from all manner of deceit, corruption and evil.

A servant can only free himself from shaytaan through sincere devotion, for Allah tells us in the Quran that Iblis said to Him:

  "Except those of Your servants who are sincere. “ [38:83]  

It has been related that a righteous man used to say,

  "O self, be devout and you will be pure."

When any wordly fortune, in which the self finds comfort and towards which the heart inclines, intrudes upon our worship, then it impairs the purity of our efforts and ruins our sincerity. Man is preoccupied with his good fortune and immersed in his desires and appetites; rarely are his actions or acts of worship free of temporary objectives and desires of this kind. For this reason it has been said that whoever secures a single moment of pure devotion to Allah in his life will survive, for devotion is rare and precious, and cleansing the heart of its impurities is an exacting undertaking.

In fact, devotion is the purifying of the heart from all impurities, whether few or many, so that the intention of drawing nearer to Allah is freed from all other motives, except that of seeking His pleasure. This can only come from a lover of Allah, who is so absorbed in contemplation of the next world that there remains in his heart no place for the love of this world. Such a person must be devote and pure in all his actions, even in eating, drinking and answering the calls of nature. With rare exceptions, anyone who is not like this will find the door of devotion closed in his face.

The everyday actions of a person who is overwhelmed by his or her love for Allah and the akhira are characterised by his love and they are, in fact, pure devotion. In the same way, anyone whose soul is overwhelmed by love for and preoccupation with this world, or status and authority, will be so overwhelmed by these things that no act of worship, be it prayer or fasting, will be acceptable, except in very rare cases.

The remedy for love of this world is to break the worldly desires of the self, ending its greed for this world and purifying it in preparation for the next world. This will then become the state of the heart and sincere devotion will become easier to attain. There are a great many actions where a man acts, thinking they are purely intended for Allah's pleasure, but he is deluded, for he fails to see the defects in them.

It has been related that a man was used to praying in the first row in the mosque. One day he was late for the prayer, so he prayed in the second row. Feeling embarrassment when people saw him in the second row, he realised that the pleasure and satisfaction of the heart that he used to gain from praying in the first row were due to his seeing people seeing him there and admiring him for it. This is a subtle and intangible condition and actions are rarely safe from it. Apart from those whom Allah has assisted, few are aware of such delicate matters. Those who do not realise it only come to see their good deeds appearing as bad ones on the Day of Resurrection; they are the ones referred to in Allah's words:

  "And something will come to them from Allah which they had never anticipated, for the evil of their deeds will become apparent to them.” [39:47-48]

"Say: Shall We tell you who will lose most in respect of their deeds? Those whose efforts were astray in the life of this world, while they thought that they were doing good works. “ [18:103-104]

 

Yaqub said:

  "A devout person is someone who conceals things that are good, in the same way that he conceals things that are bad."

As-Sousi said:

  "True devotion is to lose the faculty of being conscious of your devotion; for someone who identifies devotion in his devotion is a person whose devotion is in need of devotion."

To contemplate devotion is to admire it, and admiration is an affliction; and that which is pure is whatever is free of all afflictions. This means that one's deeds should be purified from any self-admiration concerning the actions they entail.

Ayyub said:

  "It is much harder for the people of action to purify their intentions than it is to execute any of their actions."

Some people have said:

  "To be devout for a short while is to survive for ever, but devotion is rare."

Suhail was asked:

  "What is the most difficult thing for the self?” He said: "Devotion, when the self does not have the good fortune of being endowed with it."

Al-Fudayl said:

  "Forsaking action for the sake of other people is to seek their admiration. To act for the sake of their admiration is to associate others with Allah. Devotion is when Allah frees you from both of these states.”

Footnotes

[1] Sahih, an-Nisa'i, Kitab al-Jihad, 6/25; al Hafidh ibn Hajar, Fath al-Qadir, 6/28.
[2] Sahih, Ibn Ma'jah; also Ibn Hibban, Marwarid adh-Dham'an, p.47, on the authority of Zaid ibn Thabit.

Chapter 2: The Nature of Intention

The intention of a person is not his utterance of the words, "I intend to do so and so." It is an overflowing from the heart which runs like conquests inspired by Allah. At times it is made easy, at other times, difficult. A person whose heart is overwhelmingly righteous finds it easy to summon good intentions at most times. Such a person has a heart generally inclined to the roots of goodness which, most of the time, blossom into the manifestation of good actions. As for those whose hearts incline towards and are overwhelmed by worldly matters, they find this difficult to accomplish and even obligatory acts of worship may become difficult and tiresome.

The Prophet (saws) said:

  "Actions are only by intention, and every man shall only have what he intended. Thus he whose hijra was for Allah and was for Allah and His Messenger, his hijra was for Allah and His Messenger, and he whose hijra was to achieve some worldly benefit or to take some woman in marriage, his hijra was for that for which he made hijra."[1]

Imam ash-Shaf'i said:

  "This hadeeth is a third of all knowledge." The words, "actions are only by intention", mean that deeds which are performed in accordance with the sunnah are only acceptable and rewarded if the intentions behind them were sincere. It is like the saying of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, "Actions depend upon their outcome."[2]

Likewise, the words, "every man shall only have what he intended", mean that the reward for an action depends upon the intention behind it. After stating this principle, the Prophet (saw) gave examples of it by saying,

  "Thus he whose hijra was for Allah and His Messenger, his hijra was for Allah and His Messenger, and he whose hijra was to achieve some worldly benefit or to take some woman in marriage, his hijra was for that for which he made hijra."

So deeds which are apparently identical may differ, because the intentions behind them are different in degrees of goodness and badness, from one person to another.

Good intentions do not change the nature of forbidden actions. The ignorant should not misconstrue the meaning of the hadeeth and think that good intentions could turn forbidden actions into acceptable ones. The above saying of the Prophet (saws) specifically relates to acts of worship and permissible actions, not to forbidden ones. Worship and permissible actions can be turned into forbidden ones because of the intentions behind them, and permissible actions can become either good or bad deeds by intention; but wrong actions cannot become acts of worship, even with good intentions.[3] When bad intentions are accompanied by flaws in the actions themselves, then their gravity and punishment are multiplied.

Any praiseworthy act must be rooted in sound intentions; only then could it be deemed worthy of reward. The fundamental principle should be that the act is intended for the worship of Allah alone. If our intention is to show off, then these same acts of worship will in fact become acts of disobedience. As for permissible deeds, they all involve intentions -- which can potentially turn them into excellent acts which bring a man nearer to Allah and confer on him the gift of closeness to Him.

The Excellence of Intention

Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

  “The best acts are doing what Allah has commanded, staying for away from what Allah has forbidden, and having sincere intentions towards what-ever Allah has required of us."[4]

Some of our predecessors said:

  "Many small actions are made great by the intentions behind them. Many great actions, on the other hand, are made small because the intentions behind them are lacking."

Yahya Ibn Abu Kathir said:

  "Learn about intentions, for their importance is greater than the importance of actions."

Ibn Umar once heard a man who was putting on his ihram say:

  "O Allah! I intend to do the Hajj and Umrah." So he said to him: "Is it not in fact the people whom you are informing of your intention? Does not Allah already know what is in your heart?"[5]

It is because good intentions are exclusively the concern of the heart, that they should not be voiced during worship.

The Excellence of Knowledge and Teaching

There are many proofs in the Qur'an concerning the excellence of knowledge and its transmission. Allah, the Mighty and Glorious, says:

  "Allah will raise up to high ranks those of you who believe and those who have been given knowledge. [58:11]"

"Are those who know equal to those who do not know? [39:9]

 

Also , in the Hadeeth, the Prophet (saws) says,

  "When Allah desires good for someone, He gives him understanding of the deen."[6]

"Allah makes the way to the Garden easy for whoever treads a path in search of knowledge."[7]

Travelling on the path to knowledge refers both to walking along an actual pathway, such as going on foot to the assemblies of the ulama', as well as to following a metaphysical road, such as studying and memorising.

The above saying of the Prophet (saw) probably means that Allah makes learning the useful knowledge that is sought after easier for the seeker, clearing the way for him and smoothing his journey. Some of our predecessors used to say:

  "Is there anyone seeking knowledge, so that we can assist him in finding it?"

This hadeeth also alludes to the road leading to the Garden on the Day of Judgement, which is the straight path and to what precedes it and what comes after it.

Knowledge is also the shortest path to Allah. Whoever travels the road of knowledge reaches Allah and the Garden by the shortest route. Knowledge also clears the way out of darkness, ignorance, doubt and scepticism. This is why Allah called His Book, "Light".

Al-Bukhari and Muslim have reported on the authority of Abdullah ibn Umar that the Messenger of Allah (saws) said:

  "Truly, Allah will not take away knowledge by snatching it away from people, but by taking away the lives of the people of knowledge one by one until none of them survive. Then the people will adopt ignorant ones as their leaders. They will be asked to deliver judgements and they will give them without knowledge, with the result that they will go astray and lead others astray."

When 'Ubadah ibn as-Samit was asked about this hadeeth he said:

  ”If you want, I will tell you what the highest knowledge is, which raises people in rank: it is humility."

He said this because there are two types of knowledge. The first produces its fruit in the heart. It is knowledge of Allah, the Exalted - His Names, His Attributes, and His Acts - which commands fear, respect, exaltation, love, supplication and reliance on Him. This is the beneficial type of knowledge. As ibn Mas'ud said:

  "they will recite the Qur'an, but it will not go beyond their throats. The Qur'an is only beneficial when it reaches the heart and is firmly planted in it."

Al-Hasan said:

  "There are two kinds of knowledge: knowledge of the tongue, which can be a case against the son of Adam, as is mentioned in the hadeeth of the Prophet (saw): 'The Qur'an is either a case for you or a case against you'[8], and knowledge of the heart, which is beneficial knowledge. The second kind is the beneficial kind which raises people in rank; it is the inner knowledge which is absorbed by the heart and puts it right. The knowledge that is on the tongue is taken lightly by people: neither those who possess it, nor anyone else, act upon it, and then it vanishes when its owners vanish on the Day of Judgement, when creation will be brought to account."

Footnotes

[1] Al-Bukhari and Muslim
[2] Al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Qadar, 11/499
[3] This is illustrated in a hadeeth recorded by Imam Muslim in his Sahih, in which it is related on the authority of Abu Dharr that the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "You will receive the reward for sadaqa even when you have sexual intercourse with your wives." The sahaba said, "Will we really be rewarded for satisfying our physical desires?" He replied, "If you have haram intercourse, you will be committing a sin; similarly, if you have halal intercourse, you will be rewarded." Imam an-Nawawi said, "This hadeeth clearly shows that permissible actions become acts of obedience if there is a good intentino behind them; sexual intercourse becomes an act of worship if it is accompanied by any one of the following good intentions: keeping company with your wife in kindness, as Allah ta'Ala has commanded; hoping to hae, as a result of intercourse, good and righteous offsping; guarding your chastity and that of your wife; helping to prevent haram lustful glances or thoughts, or haram intercourse; and any other good intention."
[4] Tahdhib al'Asma' li-Nawawi, 1/173. Abu Ishaq ash-Shirazi once entered the mosque to have something to eat, as was his custom, and then realised that he had dropped a dinar. He retraced his steps and found it lying on the ground, but then left it where it was, saying, "Perhaps it is not mine; perhaps it belongs to somebody else."
[5] Sahih, Ja'mi 'l-'Ulum wa'l-Hikam, p. 19
[6] Al-bukhari and Muslim
[7] Muslim, 21/17
[8] Muslim, Kitab at-Tahara, 3/99

Chapter 3: Types of Heart

Just as the heart may be described in terms of being alive or dead, it may also be regarded as belonging to one of three types; these are the healthy heart, the dead heart, and the sick heart.

The Healthy Heart

On the Day of Resurrection, only those who come to Allah with a healthy heart will be saved. Allah says:

  "The day on which neither wealth nor sons will be of any use, except for whoever brings to Allah a sound heart.” [26:88-89]  

In defining the healthy heart, the following has been said:

  "It is a heart cleansed from any passion that challenges what Allah commands, or disputes what He forbids. It is free from any impulses which contradict His good. As a result, it is safeguarded against the worship of anything other than Him, and seeks the judgement of no other except that of His Messenger (saws). Its services are exclusively reserved for Allah, willingly and lovingly, with total reliance, relating all matters to Him, in fear, hope and sincere dedication. When it loves, its love is in the way of Allah. If it detests, it detests in the light of what He detests. When it gives, it gives for Allah. If it withholds, it withholds for Allah. Nevertheless, all this will not suffice for its salvation until it is free from following, or taking as its guide, anyone other than His Messenger (saws)."

A servant with a healthy heart must dedicate it to its journey's end and not base his actions and speech on those of any other person except Allah's Messenger (saws). He must not give precedence to any other faith or words or deeds over those of Allah and His Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Allah says:

  "Oh you who believe, do not put yourselves above Allah and His Messenger, but fear Allah, for Allah is Hearing, Knowing. (49:1)"  

The Dead Heart

This is the opposite of the healthy heart. It does not know its Lord and does not worship Him as He commands, in the way which He likes, and with which He is pleased. It clings instead to its lusts and desires, even if these are likely to incur Allah's displeasure and wrath. It worships things other than Allah, and its loves and its hatreds, and its giving and its withholding, arise from its whims, which are of paramount importance to it and preferred above the pleasure of Allah. Its whims are its imam. Its lust is its guide. Its ignorance is its leader. Its crude impulses are its impetus. It is immersed in its concern with worldly objectives. It is drunk with its own fancies and its love for hasty, fleeting pleasures. It is called to Allah and the akhira from a distance but it does not respond to advice, and instead it follows any scheming, cunning shaytan. Life angers and pleases it, and passion makes it deaf and blind[1] to anything except what is evil.

To associate and keep company with the owner of such a heart is to tempt illness: living with him is like taking poison, and befriending him means utter destruction.

The Sick Heart

This is a heart with life in it, as well as illness. The former sustains it at one moment, the latter at another, and it follows whichever one of the two manages to dominate it. It has love for Allah, faith in Him, sincerity towards Him, and reliance upon Him, and these are what give it life. It also has a craving for lust and pleasure, and prefers them and strives to experience them. It is full of self-admiration, which can lead to its own destruction. It listens to two callers: one calling it to Allah and His Prophet (saws) and the akhira; and the other calling it to the fleeting pleasures of this world. It responds to whichever one of the two happens to have most influence over it at the time.

The first heart is alive, submitted to Allah, humble, sensitive and aware; the second is brittle and dead; the third wavers between either its safety or its ruin.

Footnotes

[1] It has been related on the authority of Abu'd-Darda' that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Your love for something that makes you blind and deaf." Abu Daw'ud, al-Adab, 14/38; Ahmad, al-Musnad, 5/194. The hadeeth is classified as hasan.

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