Physical and Spiritual Endeavours for Innerself Purgation
Innerself purgation opens the way to building esoteric relationship with Allah. The Almighty says in Quran:
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
Meaning: And those who strive hard (and struggle against the baser innerself for its purgation) for Our cause, We certainly guide them to Our ways, and verily Allah blesses the men of spiritual excellence with His companionship. (al-‘Ankabūt: 69)
In the aforementioned verse, to strive actually means to endeavour and make an effort to gain closeness and vision of Allah. The Urdu word ‘Mujahda’ means to work hard and strive to achieve something. In Faqr (Sufism), it means to make an effort to cleanse one’s innerself of its evil attributes and replace them with good attributes. (Sirr e Dilbaran)
Purgation of Innerself Demands Endeavours
In short, whatever action or deed that is done with the aim to cleanse one’s innerself to be able to gain pleasure and closeness of Allah is called ‘Mujahda’ in Sufi terminology.
The purpose of man’s life in this world is to fulfil the promise that his or her soul made to the Lord in pre-existence. And He sent us to this world to test how we go about fulfilling that promise. As He says in Quran:
أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَن يُتْرَكُوا أَن يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ۔ وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْكَاذِبِينَ
Meaning: Do people think that they will be released (just) on saying: ‘We have believed,’ and they will not be tried? And surely, We tried (also) those who were before them. Allah will certainly show up (through trial) those who are truthful (in claiming beliefs), and shall make the liars (as well) stand out. (al-‘Ankabūt: 2, 3)
Now, if someone thinks he or she can gain presence in the Mohammadan Assembly and Divine closeness without any effort and hard work, then that’s being too naïve of them.
On the path of Faqr, there is a lot of emphasis on hard work and endeavours – both exoteric and esoteric. Every seeker has to go through many esoteric and exoteric trials on this journey. Even the prophets were not exempt. They faced numerous difficulties and hardships on the way of Allah. They migrated, faced difficulties of travel, had to leave behind their homeland and sacrifice their belongings. They even fought physically with the disbelievers.
Importance of Striving According to Fakirs
There is nothing more dignified than to face difficulties (i.e. to strive and endeavour) in the way of Allah. Whosoever, faced difficulties and worked hard for the sake of Almighty, achieved his purpose in life. This is the tradition of Perfect Fakirs. (Book: Sultan ul Ashiqeen)
Recognising the innerself is the key to gnosis of Allah. This means one who gains purgation of the innerself, his inward becomes like a clear mirror. Upon this mirror descend the theophanies of the light of Allah which enlighten the whole esoteric and exoteric being of that person. As it is in Quran:
سَنُرِيهِمْ آيَاتِنَا فِي الْآفَاقِ وَفِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَتَّى يَتَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ أَوَلَمْ يَكْفِ بِرَبِّكَ أَنَّهُ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ شَهِيدٌ
Meaning: We will soon show them Our signs all around the world and in their own selves, until it dawns on them that indeed this is the truth. Is your Lord not Sufficient (to confirm your veracity), for He alone is (also) witness to everything? (Fussilat: 53)
Therefore, in order to gain gnosis and vision of Allah, it is inevitable to strive for it. It is these endeavours that lead to purgation of innerself and open the way to Divine vision.
Hadith of the Prophet Mohammad
Salamah ibn al-Akwa narrates that once the Holy Prophet (pbuh) said:
“Man continues to follow his baser innerself until he is counted amongst the proud people. And therefore, he faces the torment same as them.” (Tirmadhi Sharif)
However, when the same innerself gains purgation as a result of physical and spiritual endeavours and the company of a perfect spiritual guide, it starts moving closer to Allah. It is not possible for Satan to gain purgation. He will always remain evil. Purgation of the innerself is only possible under the supervision of a perfect spiritual guide. Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani in his book ‘Ghuniya tu Talibeen’ quotes Shaikh Abu Ali Daqaq as saying:
“Whosoever corrects his esoteric self through physical endeavours, Allah rewards his inward with Divine vision.”
Types of Endeavours for Innerself Purgation
Broadly, the endeavours for attaining purgation of innerself consist of two categories:
- Endeavours of the Body
- Financial Endeavours
The first type of effort is that of relating to the physical body. In fact, the human body (along with its desires) is his innerself (nafs) and this is what requires purgation. In order to cleanse it, it is necessary to keep it busy in physical endeavours. So that it may accept Allah as the Lord and submit completely to His will. A humble inward is which actually observes and is rewarded with Divine Theophanies. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said: “Greater Jihad is to go against one’s innerself.” (Tirmadhi, Imam Ahmed)
Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani says:
“The one who fights his innerself and repents from sins, the time of his death feels like as if a thirsty person finds cold water to drink.” (Al-Fath al-Rabbani, Chapter 18)
All Prophets and Saints Strived in the Path of Allah
If we study the biographies of past prophets, one thing that is common amongst all of them is struggles and endeavours in the path of Allah. Prophet Abraham decided to migrate due to intense enmity of his nation. And then upon the orders of Allah, he left his wife Syeda Hajra and son Prophet Ishmael on the barren land of Arab. When his son grew older, Allah ordered him again as a trial to sacrifice his son in His way. It was an extremely difficult test for Prophet Abraham but he submitted completely to the will of his Lord. As it is said in Quran:
فَلَمَّا بَلَغَ مَعَهُ السَّعْيَ قَالَ يَا بُنَيَّ إِنِّي أَرَى فِي الْمَنَامِ أَنِّي أَذْبَحُكَ فَانظُرْ مَاذَا تَرَى قَالَ يَا أَبَتِ افْعَلْ مَا تُؤْمَرُ سَتَجِدُنِي إِن شَاءَ اللَّهُ مِنَ الصَّابِرِينَ۔ فَلَمَّا أَسْلَمَا وَتَلَّهُ لِلْجَبِينِ۔ وَنَادَيْنَاهُ أَنْ يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ۔ قَدْ صَدَّقْتَ الرُّؤْيَا إِنَّا كَذَلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ۔ إِنَّ هَذَا لَهُوَ الْبَلَاءُ الْمُبِينُ
Meaning: Then when (Isma‘il [Ishmael]) reached (the age of) the ability to run about with him, Ibrahim (Abraham) said: ‘O my son, I have seen in a dream that I am sacrificing you. So think, what is your opinion?’ Isma‘il (Ishmael) said: ‘O my father, do that (immediately) which you are being commanded. If Allah wills, you will find me amongst the patient (and steadfast).’ So when both submitted (to the will of Allah i.e. both surrendered to Allah’s command), and Ibrahim (Abraham) laid him down on his forehead. And We called out to him: ‘O Ibrahim (Abraham)! (How wonderfully) have you made your dream really true!’ Surely, We pay back the spiritually excellent the same way. (So you are blessed with the prominence of Our closest friend.) It was by far a great open trial. (as-Sāffāt: 102 – 106)
Prophet Joseph (Yousuf)
When the brothers of Prophet Joseph threw him in the well, he kept quiet for the sake of Allah. As he knew this was a trial from Him. He endured all the difficulties including migration.
Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) Led by example
The Holy Prophet (pbuh), despite being the beloved of Allah faced extreme difficulties and troubles. Abu Hurairah narrates: “During the construction of Masjid al-Nabawi, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was carrying bricks himself. I felt that he was tired so I approached and said, O Prophet of Allah, let me carry these for you. Upon this, the Holy Prophet said, “Abu Hurairah, you fetch some more as the real life is that of the hereafter.” (Kashf ul Mahjoob)
No doubt, the Companions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) faced countless troubles and endured hardships to please Allah. Such that they fought in various battles and many of them even sacrificed their lives. They made all those sacrifices to gain the vision and pleasure of their Lord.
One will be left speechless when reading the biography of Bilal ibn Rabah. After embracing Islam, he faced extreme hardships and torments from his master. He used to beat him and torture him in every way possible to make him renounce Islam. Umar ibn Aas says: “I saw Bilal in such a condition that his master Ummayah had laid him on hot sand. The sand was so hot that if a piece of meat had been left on it, it would have roasted. But even in that condition Bilal was saying, “I do not accept the fake gods and idols.”
The uncle of Uthman ibn Affan used to wrap him in palm rug and smoke it from underneath. Habab ibn Harith used to be laid on coals which burnt his back but he still didn’t retreat from practising Islam.
In short, none of the Companions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) shied away from any kind of sacrifice in his love and obedience.
Greater Jihad is to Cleanse One’s Innerself
Jabir ibn Abdullah narrates that once a group of Companions came to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) who had just returned from a battle. The Holy Prophet said: “I congratulate you on returning from lesser Jihad to the greater Jihad.” The Companions asked, what is greater Jihad? Upon this, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) replied, “Remember! That is to fight your innerself.” (Imam Bahiqqi, Ibn Majah)
The Fakirs have laid a lot of emphasis on physical and spiritual endeavours. This is because, these endeavours lead to cleansing of the innerself that opens the way to Divine vision. If we study the life history of Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, it will be evident that whole of his life was full of struggles and hard work. Shaikh Abu al-Masood ibn Abu Bakar Harimi narrates that once Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani said:
“I subjected my innerself to extreme hardships for years. One year I used to eat the fallen leaves from the trees and didn’t drink any water. The following year, I only drank water and didn’t eat anything. And then I used to spend a whole year without eating and drinking. Even so that I refrained from sleeping.
For several years I resided in abandoned houses of Baghdad’s area Karkh where my food was only a wild growing herb. I was called mad. I went to desert, wailed and rolled on thorns until my body was battered. People took me to a physician where I entered spiritual state of intoxication. He would certify me dead. They started preparing for funeral rites and settled my dead body to bathe. Suddenly I regained consciousness.” (Life and Teachings of Ghaus al-Azam)
Shaikh Sirri Saqti narrates about his spiritual endeavours:
“For forty years, my innerself had been wishing to have a meal with honey, however I have not tasted that.” (Kimya Saadat)
This is how a seeker of Allah should treat his innerself for its purgation. Whatever thing his mind inclines towards, he should renounce that. And anything that makes him turn away from the remembrance of Allah, he should stay away from that.” Khawaja Hassan of Basra says:
“The innerself of a man needs more restraint than any out of control and insurgent cattle.” (Kimya Saadat)
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَشْرِي نَفْسَهُ ابْتِغَاءَ مَرْضَاتِ اللّهِ وَاللّهُ رَؤُوفٌ بِالْعِبَادِ
Meaning: And (on the contrary) amongst people there is also someone who sells even his life to attain the pleasure of Allah. And Allah is Most Kind to the servants. (al-Baqarah: 207)
Hence, a disciple can only truly succeed in gaining the pleasure and closeness of Allah when he entrusts himself completely to his Murshid. This means that he follows the instructions of his Murshid without any complaint and to the best of his ability. Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani says:
“Purity of innerself is that a person performs prayers and good deeds purely to seek Allah’s pleasure. He should not have any pretence in his inward that people may respect him for his good deeds.” (Tassawuf aur Quran)
In today’s materialistic age, wealth and money have become the prime focus for people. Do you know this worldly wealth is the tool of Satan? It is in fact the biggest veil between man and his Lord. It is this wealth that makes a man weak. In other words this wealth makes a person its slave. The fact is that a man doesn’t realise this reality all his life. The Almighty has warned us at many places in Quran about the love of the worldly wealth and ordered not to hoard it. Below are few verses from the Quran:
أَلْهَاكُمُ التَّكَاثُرُ۔ حَتَّى زُرْتُمُ الْمَقَابِرَ۔ كَلَّا سَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ
Meaning: Your greed for massive wealth and the superiority complex has made you negligent (of the Hereafter), Until you go down to the graves. No indeed! You will soon learn (this reality that wealth and riches will avail you nothing). (at-Takāthur: 1-3)
فَأَمَّا مَن طَغَى۔ وَآثَرَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا۔ فَإِنَّ الْجَحِيمَ هِيَ الْمَأْوَى
Meaning: Then he who transgressed the limits, And preferred the life of the world (to the Hereafter), Hell will truly be (his) abode. (an-Nāzi‘āt: 37-39)
وَالَّذِينَ يَكْنِزُونَ الذَّهَبَ وَالْفِضَّةَ وَلاَ يُنفِقُونَهَا فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ فَبَشِّرْهُم بِعَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ۔ يَوْمَ يُحْمَى عَلَيْهَا فِي نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ فَتُكْوَى بِهَا جِبَاهُهُمْ وَجُنوبُهُمْ وَظُهُورُهُمْ هَـذَا مَا كَنَزْتُمْ لِأَنفُسِكُمْ فَذُوقُواْ مَا كُنتُمْ تَكْنِزُونَ
Meaning: And those who hoard silver and gold and do not spend it in the cause of Allah, warn them of a grievous torment. The Day when this (gold, silver and wealth) will be heated in the Fire of Hell, their foreheads, sides and backs will be branded with this (heated material, and it will be said to them:) ‘This is the same (wealth) that you treasured for (the benefit of) your souls. So taste (this wealth) which you had been amassing.’ (at-Tawbah: 34-35)
Hadith about Worldly Attractions
Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) said: “I am not worried that you will become polytheist again but I fear that you may get entangled in the love of this world and its attractions.”
The more a person hoards wealth over and above his needs, the more that wealth will be troublesome for him in the hereafter as it is the tool of the Satan. Thabit al-Bunani narrates, when Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) declared his Prophet-hood, Satan told his comrades, something big has taken place. Go and check what has happened? They went and came back saying they were not able to find anything significant.
Then Satan went himself and upon return told them that the Holy Prophet has declared his Prophet-hood. Then he ordered his comrades to go to the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) to mislead them. They tried their best but failed. They came back and said to Satan: “We cannot mislead such a nation. We try to inspire during their prayers but it doesn’t affect them.” Upon this Satan said, wait until Allah makes them wealthy, then it will be easy for us to mislead them. (Mukashifa tul Quloob)
It is evident from Islamic history that those who accepted the Oneness of Allah Almighty wholeheartedly, they sacrificed everything in His way, even their lives when the time came. Our beloved Prophet (pbuh) never kept any wealth with him. Whatever he received, he used to spend that in the way of Allah.
Syeda Khadija sacrificed all her wealth
Umm al-Momineen Syeda Khadija was a wealthy lady of Makkah. After marrying the Messenger of Allah, she spent all her wealth for the matters of Islam. This way she set an example of financial sacrifice for the seekers of Allah.
Similarly, the sacred Companions also spent their wealth and belongings in the path of Allah generously. Whenever the Prophet (pbuh) called for donations, these sacred souls donated everything they could to gain the pleasure of Allah. Whether it was to release slaves, migration to Madina, to settle and accommodate the migrants in Madina or the construction of Masjid e Nabawi, the Companions participated financially and physically. For battle of Tabouk, Abu Bakar al-Siddique donated everything from his household. When the Holy Prophet enquired him, “What have you left for your family?” He replied, “For them, Allah and His Messenger are enough
In short, after the Prophet (pbuh), the sacred Companions are at the forefront when it comes to sacrificing in the way of Allah whether financial or physical.
A perfect Fakir is the spiritual vicegerent of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in his era. He trains his disciples such that they succeed in the court of Allah. The love of worldly wealth takes the man away from Him. For this reason, on the path of Faqr, there is a lot of emphasis on financial sacrifice. When a seeker spends his money for Allah’s cause, it diminishes the love of wealth from his heart. Not only that but it also removes the esoteric ills from his inward. Such as (greed, jealousy etc.) and leads to purgation of his innerself.
Therefore, whatever physical, financial or spiritual trials and endeavours the spiritual guide passes his disciples through, they are only for the betterment of the seekers so that they succeed in the purpose of their life which is to turn towards Allah wholeheartedly and attain His closeness and vision. Abu Bakar al-Siddique says: “Present you donations in the court of a Fakir (Murshid and Perfect Spiritual Guide) with utmost respect and humility. As donating happily is a sign of its acceptance” (Haqeeqat e Zakat)
Sultan ul Arifeen Sultan Bahoo says:
In order to attain Faqr, one has to sacrifice his wealth and life. Therefore one who wants to attain Faqr must be prepared to sacrifice everything he has, even one’s life. This is because Faqr leads to union with Divine Essence. (Abyat e Bahoo Kamil)
The financial sacrifices for the sake of Allah carry huge rewards. As it is stated in Quran:
مَّثَلُ الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ أَمْوَالَهُمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ كَمَثَلِ حَبَّةٍ أَنْبَتَتْ سَبْعَ سَنَابِلَ فِي كُلِّ سُنْبُلَةٍ مِّئَةُ حَبَّةٍ وَاللّهُ يُضَاعِفُ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَاللّهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ۔ الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ أَمْوَالَهُمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ ثُمَّ لاَ يُتْبِعُونَ مَا أَنفَقُواْ مَنًّا وَلاَ أَذًى لَّهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلاَ خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
Meaning: The example of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is like (that) grain out of which seven ears shoot forth. (And then) each ear bears a hundred grains (i.e., they are rewarded seven hundred times). Then Allah multiplies (still more) for whom He likes. And Allah is Infinite, All-Knowing. Those who spend their wealth in the cause of Allah, and then do not follow up their spending by reminding of their benevolence or by hurting, there is reward for them with their Lord. And (on the Day of Resurrection) they will have no fear, nor will they grieve. (al-Baqarah: 261-262)
إِنَّ الْمُصَّدِّقِينَ وَالْمُصَّدِّقَاتِ وَأَقْرَضُوا اللَّهَ قَرْضًا حَسَنًا يُضَاعَفُ لَهُمْ وَلَهُمْ أَجْرٌ كَرِيمٌ
Meaning: Surely, both the men and the women who give charity and those who lend a goodly loan to Allah, (the reward of charity) will be increased for them manifold, and there will be most honourable reward for them. (al-Hadīd: 18)
Therefore, only those seekers truly gain purgation of the innerself through endeavours whose intention is pure i.e. to gain closeness and pleasure of Allah and nothing else. Otherwise all these sacrifices may result in being worthless.
A seeker of Allah faces Satanic inspiration at every step of the journey. Therefore, it is must for the seeker to remain attentive. This means he or she must listen to and act upon the instructions of his spiritual guide. Once a Jew came to see Ali ibn Abi Talib, the lion of Allah and said: “Muslims face lots of Satanic inspirations during their prayers whereas we (Jews) don’t get these? Upon this Ali ibn Abi Talib asked him a counter question: “If there were two houses, one of them empty and the other one full of valuable items. Which house would a thief target? The Jew said, “It will be the one with valuables in it.” Then Ali ibn Abi Talib replied: “Satan is like thief, he only attacks where there is treasure of light of Iman (faith).”
The lesson from the above conversation is that a seeker must remain attentive. Any obstacles he faces during the physical and spiritual endeavours must be treated as Satanic inspirations and he must confront them with perseverance and remain steadfast on following the instructions of his spiritual guide. Some of the common obstacles that seekers face are:
- Desire to rest and shy away from work
- Desire to gain fame and respect
- Loosing hope in Allah’s mercy
Physical and spiritual endeavours open the way to Divine closeness and vision only when the seeker does them with the intention of attaining closeness of Allah. It is only possible to remain safe from the Satanic inspirations when the seeker completely submits himself to the Murshid. Murshid (spiritual guide) is like a physician. So if the seeker wants to get rid of esoteric illnesses then he must follow every instruction of his Murshid.
The summary of all aforesaid is that a seeker first of all must search for a Perfect Spiritual Guide. And when he finds such Murshid then she should adopt his company and completely submit to him and give up all his wills and wishes. He should prioritise the instructions of his Murshid over everything else. He must not regard any task trivial, instead should aim to carry out every task to the best of his ability. Only then he can truly succeed. In the words of Iqbal:
Meaning: The Falcon never falls off the sky because of tiredness. This means that it puts all its energy and effort when flying. Lesson for the seekers is that they must also do the same i.e. give their best when in the path of Allah. And Iqbal says, if you are full of energy and put the effort in then you don’t have to worry about failure. (Zarb e Kaleem)
- Life and Teachings of Ghaus al-Azam. Author – Sultan ul Ashiqeen Sultan Mohammad Najib ur Rehman
- Abyat e Bahoo Kamil. Author – Sultan Bahoo. Compiled by Sultan ul Ashiqeen Sultan Mohammad Najib ur Rehman
- Kashful Mahjoob. Author – Ali ibn Hajveri commonly known as Data Ganj Bakhsh
- Kimya e Sadat. Author – Imam Ghazali
- Mukashifatul Quloob. Author – Imam Ghazali
- Tassawuf Aur Quran. Author – Syed Maqbool Hussain
This is an English translation of the Urdu article مجاہدہ تزکیہ نفس کا ذریعہ. Mrs Anila Yaseen Sarwari Qadri penned the original article. Waheed Hassan Sarwari Qadri has translated it in English. Tap below to read the original Urdu article.
The purpose of our lives is to gain gnosis of Allah Almighty. However, this is only possible when a person’s soul is purified and sanctified. This process starts with the purgation of the innerself which then purifies and enlightens the soul. When the soul is enlightened, it gains the esoteric senses that enable it to the see the hidden. In particular the Divine Essence and His matchless beauty. And this is in fact the purpose of our lives i.e. to gain the gnosis and recognition of Allah. However, all of this is only possible through the medium of a Perfect Spiritual Guide. As it is not possible for a person to purity and cleanse his own innerself.
Self-purification is the process of cleansing one’s innerself off its evil attributes and replace them with good attributes. In order for someone to truly recognise Allah and build esoteric relationship with Him, purification or purgation of the innerself is a must. However, this can only be achieved under the supervision of a Perfect Spiritual Guide (Murshid).
Tazkia Nafs is the process of cleansing one’s esoteric self such that it becomes capable of recognising Allah and seeing His matchless Divine beauty. In Sufism (Faqr) the process begins with pledging allegiance to a Perfect Spiritual Guide (Murshid). A Murshid is like a doctor who diagnosis and treats the various esoteric diseases of one’s innerself. Once the innerself is cleansed of all its evil attributes, it gains the esoteric senses through which it can see and recognises Allah Almighty.
The process of cleansing one’s nafs or innerself begins with pledging allegiance to a Perfect Spiritual Guide (Murshid). A Murshid is like a doctor who diagnosis and treats the various esoteric diseases of one’s innerself. Once the innerself is cleansed of all its evil attributes, it gains the esoteric senses through which it can see and recognises Allah Almighty.
In order for one to connect with the innerself it is important to cleanse it of its various esoteric diseases. This includes jealousy, backbiting, greed etc. Once the innerself gets rid of these illnesses through the benevolence of a Perfect Spiritual Guide, it gains the esoteric senses through which one can connect with the esoteric world.