The basic teaching of Islam is the purification (tazkiyah) of ‘nafs’ in relation to the God Almighty and the cosmos. Among the most important duties of the Holy Prophet (SAW) mentioned in the Glorious Quran is to purify people from spiritual diseases and moral bankruptcy. Allah (SWT) says in the Holy Quran, “We have sent among you a Messenger of your own, rehearsing to you Our signs, purifying you, and instructing you in Scripture and Wisdom and in new knowledge” (Baqarah, 2:151).Tazkiyah also means to purify one’s own self from spiritual entanglement and transcend the world of forms to journey from multiplicity to divine unity through the Prophetic teachings. There is no path to reach the ultimate reality but the path of His Messengers. All the Prophets of Allah (SWT), act as a bridge between the earth and the heavens. They are the entrance to reach the eternal absolute truth.
The great mystics of Islam followed the Prophetic path in letter and spirit to achieve the divine bliss, and guarded themselves from satan’s temptations. Amin Ahsan Islahi (RA), in his famous book ‘Tazkiyah Nafs’, rejects concocted forms of spiritualism. He argued that the Quranic concept of Tazkiyah is totally different from the later doctrines of spirituality formulated by some ‘pseudo-Sufis.’ They interpreted the spiritual aspect of Islam in such a bizarre way that it went against the basic tenets of Islamic sacred text. Imam Ibn Taimiyah (RA) also exposed such humbugs that created a mixture of ill concepts in the name of spiritualism. His ‘Al-Furqan’ is a remarkable book on the concept of spirituality and saints.
Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (RA), the great nineteenth century scholar, wrote extensively on the reformation of Tazkiyah methodology based on divine guidance. For him, Tazkiyah is not only related to the esoteric dimension of Islam but also deals with the correction of fundamental doctrines and social issues of Muslims at large. He denounced the misinterpretation/innovations of Shariah law as well as Tariqah and, like Imam Ghazali (RA), tried to bring both the systems close to each other. According to him those who thought Shariah and Tariqah as two different things were wrong. Without participation in the Shariah the spirituality would be impossible. Symbolically Islam is like a walnut of which the shell is like the Shariah, the kernel like Tariqah and the oil of the kernel, the Haqiqah.For spiritual purification, one has to acquire adequate knowledge of acquaintance with Allah (SWT) and take a proper guidance from a spiritual guru (Murshid). A novice should not get involved in polemical discussions and debates rather remain busy with acquiring detailed things/knowledge about the path of sulook.
Tazkiyah is the emanation of Tawhid (Oneness of God) and the knowledge of this Oneness is the highest science, and “its realization,” asserts Syed Hossein Nasr, “the supreme goal of humanlife.” Imam Ghazali (RA) says, “The aim of Tazkiyah is to purify the heart from the rust of passion and resentment till, like clear mirror it reflects the light of God.” One should not take it as some sort of divine union between the creator and the created as the Hindu philosophical thought of Advaita Vedanta believes but of servitude to God by man. He, the Almighty is free from the attributes of all that is created. He is neither like a created being, nor is there anyone like Him. Although Ibn’ Arabi (RA) propounded the theory of Unity of Being (Wahdat al-Wajud), according to which God is the only Being who exists by virtue of His own right and anything/anyone else is just His manifestation. But it has been highly debatable among the Muhaqiq Sufis and Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (RA); the great Naqshbandi Sufi saint of Indian subcontinent rejected Ibn Arabi’s this assertion as something inappropriate to the Islamic thought.
(Author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies)