All praise belongs to Allah. May His peace and blessings be upon the beloved prophet, his households and the companions.
One major aspect of Islam is the purification of the self through divine awareness, filtering the senses from evil, restraining the soul and purifying the heart. Self-reform and purification of one's soul is a prerequisite for closeness to God. Indeed, the whole point of morality and spirituality is to purify one's soul. It is only then that the soul starts glittering, receiving and reflecting utmost radiation and light from Allah. Allah emphasizes the importance of purification of the soul in His noble Book, He says:
وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا * فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا * قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا * وَقَدْ خَابَ مَن دَسَّاهَا
" By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it * And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right * Truly he succeeds that purifies it * And he fails that corrupts it! "Qur'an 91: 7-10.
Before going into the details of how to perform self-reform and purification we must know that this can never be attained except through the methods explained by the Prophet of Allah. Allah tells us:
هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولًا مِّنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِن كَانُوا مِن قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ
“It is He who has raised among the unlettered people a messenger from among themselves who recites His revelations to them, and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and wisdom, for they had formerly been clearly misguided-" (Qur'an 62:2).
Ibnul-Qayem said: “Self-purification can only be attained through the methods of the Prophets. Allah sent them for the very purpose of self-purification and He entrusted them to this mission so they can invite people to it, teach it, explain it and show us how to do it. They have been sent to cure the souls of the nations because purifying the souls is much more difficult than curing the bodies. So those who tend to cure themselves through sports and seclusion are only like the patients who cure themselves depending on their own views; and where will those views stand from the professional opinions of doctors? The Prophets are the doctors of the hearts and there is no way to cure those hearts except through them, at their hands and through submitting to them. May Allah aid us all.”
1 . Monotheism: Allah said in His Book:
وَوَيْلٌ لِّلْمُشْرِكِينَ * الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَهُم بِالْآخِرَةِ هُمْ كَافِرُونَ
“And woe to those who associate others with Allah - Those who do not give zakat, and in the Hereafter they are disbelievers." (Qur'an 41:6-7).
The word ‘zakat’ here is interpreted by Ibn Abbas as meaning, “They do not testify that there is no God but Allah.”
Moreover, Ibnul-Qayem said, “This verse is about monotheism ‘testifying that there is no God worthy of worship but Allah and believing in Allah’ with this the hearts are purified because they deny the rightful worship of any other deity but Allah; this is indeed the essence of ‘zakat’ and growth if nothing else… The original thing that purifies the hearts and souls is monotheism.” Allah describes polytheism as being an abomination and impurity in saying,
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّمَا الْمُشْرِكُونَ نَجَسٌ فَلَا يَقْرَبُوا الْمَسْجِدَ الْحَرَامَ بَعْدَ عَامِهِمْ هَٰذَا
“O you who Believe, know that the polytheists are impure..." (Qur'an 9:28). Both verses explicitly mean that purity and cleanliness can only be achieved through monotheism.
2 . Praying: One of the best acts of worship that helps with self-purification is Salah, Allah says:
قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن تَزَكَّى * وَذَكَرَ اسْمَ رَبِّهِ فَصَلَّىٰ
“Indeed ,those will prosper who purify themselves * And glorify the name of their Guardian-Lord, and (lift their hearts) in prayer.." (Qur'an 87:14-15). The Prophet (peace be upon him) told us that purifying our souls through prayer is just like purifying our bodies with water. Abu-Hurayra narrated that the Prophet(peace be upon him) said, “Imagine that there was a river at your doorstep and that you bathed in it five times a day, would that leave any dirt in your body?” They answered, “No, nothing at all!” So he said, “This is exactly like the prayers you perform five times a day. They wash out your sins the very same way.” Jabir Ibn Abdullah narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The five prayers are like a river running at your doorstep and in this river you wash yourself five times daily.”
3 . Charity: Allah says:
خُذْ مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ صَدَقَةً تُطَهِّرُهُمْ وَتُزَكِّيهِم بِهَا وَصَلِّ عَلَيْهِمْ ۖ إِنَّ صَلَاتَكَ سَكَنٌ لَّهُمْ
“Take alms out of their wealth to cleanse them and purify them, and pray for them; your prayer will be a comfort to them…" (Qur'an 9:103) Sheikh Al-Sa'dy said, “This means that no one can be purified until he pays the zakat that purifies him and nothing else but the zakat can accomplish this part because the purification that comes by the zakat can never be accomplished unless we pay it.
4 . Abandoning sins and forbidden acts: Allah says:
قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا * وَقَدْ خَابَ مَن دَسَّاهَا
“He who purifies it will indeed be successful * “and he who corrupts it is sure to fail." (Qur'an 91:9-10).
Sheikhul-Islam says, “Same goes for the soul and the actions; they are not purified till whatever contradicts with them is removed. No man will be purified except if he abandons evil because it corrupts his soul.”
Ibnul-Qayyim also said, “So the cleansing of hearts hinges on their purity just the same way the cleansing of bodies hinges on expelling everything corrupted and bad.”
5 . Calling oneself to account: Allah says,
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَلْتَنظُرْ نَفْسٌ مَّا قَدَّمَتْ لِغَدٍ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
Believers! Fear Allah, and let every soul look to what it lays up for the future. Fear Allah: Allah is aware of what you do." (Qur'an 59:18). The Prophet (peace be upon him) also says, “The witty person is the one who holds himself accountable and works for what comes after his death and the incapacitated is the one who follows his whims and thinks that his wishes will be granted by Allah.” Imam Ahmad narrated that Umar Ibnul-Khattab said, “Hold yourself accountable before you are held accountable and weigh your deeds before they are weighed for you on Judgment Day.” Al-Hassan Al-Basri says, “A believer is fine as long as he keeps preaching himself and as long as he exerts an effort in holding himself accountable.”
Ibnul-Qayyim said: “Purifying the soul and cleansing it hinges on holding it accountable and this is the only way to do it… By holding it accountable we can realize its shortcomings and we can hence seek to fix them.”
6 . Supplicating to Allah. We must call Allah and implore Him to help us purify ourselves. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to pray, “O Allah! Grant me the sense of piety and purify my soul as You are the Best to purify it. You are its Guardian and its Protecting Friend.”
7 . Doing as many voluntary acts of worship as we can. Allah says in the Hadith Qudsi, “…and my servant will keep trying to get closer to me till I love him…”
8 . Pondering the Qur’an because the Qur’an cleanses the hearts. The Prophet (peace be upon him) says, “The hearts get rusty just like metal and this rust can never go out except by reading the Qur’an and by remembering death.” Allah says,
كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ مُبَارَكٌ لِّيَدَّبَّرُوا آيَاتِهِ وَلِيَتَذَكَّرَ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
“This is a blessed Book which We sent down to you [Muhammad], for people to ponder over its messages, and for those with understanding to take heed." (Qur'an 38:29(
9. Being patient and having conviction in Allah: Patience defeats lust and steps between us and our sins. It also keeps us steadfast on acts of obedience so self-purification (expelling and adorning) cannot be attained except by patience. Allah says,
إنما يُوَفَّى الصَّابِرُونَ أَجْرَهُم بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ
“Truly, those who persevere patiently will be requited without measure.'" (Qur'an 39:10). Having conviction in Allah keeps us steadfast in the face of our demons and with both these two qualities we can acquire the Imamate (leadership) in religion. Allah says,
وَجَعَلْنَا مِنْهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا لَمَّا صَبَرُوا ۖ وَكَانُوا بِآيَاتِنَا يُوقِنُونَ
“We appointed leaders from among them, guiding by Our command when they were steadfast and when they had firm faith in Our signs." (Qur'an 32:24)
10 . Sleeping, eating and talking less: One of the things that help a lot with self-purification is cutting down on all these three. Too much talk without remembering Allah hardens the heart and the farthest from Allah are those who have hard hearts. Too much eating increases the lusts and gives more channels for Satan to infiltrate our souls. Last but not least too much eating leads to too much sleeping and this latter makes us lazy and wastes our age. It was said, “He who eats much drinks much water and sleeps much; so he wastes a lot of time.”
Finally, the reform of one’s own self starts with the struggle against satanic desires and the effort to refrain from sin. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "The struggler is the one who strives against his soul/self in obedience to God, the Mighty and Majestic." [At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, Tabarani, Hakim, etc.] ... Sufyan ath-Thawri said: "I never dealt with anything stronger against me than my own soul/self; it was one time with me, and one time against me" ... Yahya ibn Mu' adh ar-Razi said: "Fight against your soul/self with the four swords of training: eat little, sleep little, speak little, and be patient when people harm you ... Then the soul/self will walk the paths of obedience, like a fleeing horseman in the field of battle.