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.