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  • Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Tazkiyah (Self Purification) and Self-Criticism

The literal meaning of the word tazkiyah is to purify. When you take a bath and clean your body with water, that is an example of tazkiyah. I realized the importance of tazkiyah for the first time some years back. I earlier I used to speak in a language of hammering. Now I have abandoned this method. I had once done the hammering of a person. I, from birth, feel strongly about the mistakes I make. After I make a mistake, I feel strongly that I have done something wrong. Once I did the hammering of a person in very strong terms. Then I repented. I realized that I had made a mistake and I wanted to know what I should do. I then read an incident of a Companion of the Prophet Hazrat Abu Darda. Abu Darda had a daughter called Darda. His name became Abu Darda after his daughter and so was his wife called Umm Darda. I read a saying of Abu Darda. The sense of the saying was that a believer is one who censures (naqd) someone outside his home, but when he returns home, he censures himself even more strongly. From this I understood that critique or hammering (naqd) has a plus point. A quality of Islam is that in the Islami scheme of things there is a positive aspect to everything. So, if a believer critiques someone outside home, then when he returns home and remembers the mistake he has made, he hammers himself even more strongly.

From this I understood that God Almighty has given a chance to man: when he makes a mistake, he must convert his mistake into something positive. He should convert his negative to positive. Since then I have developed a habit. Whenever I say anything harsh to someone, I soon develop a very strong feeling of repentance. That is, I do self-hammering. When I read the above saying of Hazrat Abu Darda, I realized from then on that it is God’s mercy that when a person makes a mistake, God gives him a chance to convert his mistake into something positive. This is indeed a very strange mercy of God. If a person speaks harshly with someone, then he must later do his own self-hammering. He must pray a lot for the person whom he censured. He must make this incident a matter of self-development for himself. This is part of God’s mercy. He says to people: “O my servant, if you have made a mistake, then you need not fear. You have a very great chance. That is, you can make your mistake a means for your development. You can pray for the person whom you censured and bring good thoughts in your mind for that person.” This is an example of tazkiyah. Tazkiyah means to purify oneself. If some dirt comes on one’s clothes, one cleans it. This is purification. Just as a person cleans his clothes, he should purify his inner self. This is a way of self-development.

The Quran says: “Paradise is for those who purify themselves.” That is, a person who purifies himself, if he 'cleans' his clothes, then he will have Paradise in the Hereafter. This is God’s general principle for human beings. We can call it self-development.

I invite you all to speak about it and send your questions.

Question and Answer Session

Q1. What is the starting point for self-purification?

A1. The starting point is that you should not become offended. Let another person say anything, you should not take offence. When you do not take offence, a spirit of self-correction will arise in you. No other person does your tazkiyah. You have to perform tazkiyah on your own. If you have the quality to get offended, then you will not be able to do your tazkiyah. When you remain engrossed with yourself, how will you do tazkiyah? I believe that the starting point for tazkiyah is that you should cease to be offended or feel bad about things. If you do not cease to take offence, you will not be able to purify yourself. So the starting point of tazkiyah is to not take offence. If someone points out your mistake, you should not feel bad. Rather, you should take it as a means of your self-correction (islah)

Q2. Often people think that the mistakes which someone is pointing out is not in us. This is why he becomes angry.

A2. This is right. It is very rare for a person to look out for his own mistakes. Generally, people try to find out others’ mistakes. Finding out one’s own mistakes and correcting them is tazkiyah. The beginning of tazkiyah is to do self-hammering. One should accept one’s mistake openly and declare: “I was wrong.” This is the starting point.

Q3. How do we know that our process of tazkiyah (self-purification process) has stopped? Is there a way to find out?

A3. This is very simple. One should scrutinize oneself and keep thinking about one’s own self. Knowing one’s mistakes is very easy. Finding out others’ mistakes is difficult. So, discovering one’s mistakes, acknowledging one’s mistakes and saying ‘I was wrong’ is the beginning of tazkiyah.

Q4. Why is accepting one’s mistakes difficult?

A4. It is human nature to think that one is totally right and proper. This is a satanic attitude. This has been the attitude of people throughout history. It is indeed difficult to accept one’s mistakes and to acknowledge that one made a mistake. This is very important for one’s own correction.

Q5. What is the highest level of self-purification?

A5. The highest level of self-purification is to do one’s own scrutiny. People generally do scrutiny of others. If a person wants to become purified, he must develop the habit of doing his own scrutiny. It has been my habit that I do not try to find out others’ mistakes. I try to seek my own mistakes. I do not even think about the mistakes of others. I only think about my own mistakes. This is my habit. You need to develop this habit. Since my youth, I have been writing a diary. In this diary, I jot down my mistakes. I had once read about a French emperor. European people have the culture of maintaining a diary. A French king used to always write down something in his diary. He used to usually write about his hunting encounters. One day he went to hunt animals in the jungles. This was a habit of ancient people. People used to hunt animals with bow and arrow. One day when the king returned, he had nothing to write in his diary about his hunting achievement. So that day he wrote in his diary: ‘Nothing’. From then on, I developed a habit of trying to seek and find out my ‘nothing’.

When somebody is angry with me, I use it as an example to find out why a person gets angry. This helps me to understand human nature. Knowing and finding out one’s mistakes has become my second habit.

Q6. Is there a possibility of making mistakes during the process of tazkiya?

A6. Yes, the chances of making mistakes are many. It is a person’s usual habit to justify himself and to blame others. It is very usual to justify one’s own self and to lay the blame on others. My nature is the reverse. I never justify my mistakes. I cannot afford to try to justify my mistakes. You need to develop this attitude. For example, there have been many incidents in my life when I faced something unwanted from someone. I then think a lot to find out my mistake due to which the person behaved with me in an unpleasant way. I try to find out my own msitakes even when someone behaved wrongly.

Q7. People think accepting one’s mistakes is cowardice. What is your advice on this?

A7. I believe it is the way of cowards to not accept mistakes. Accepting your mistakes is bravery and the way of the courage. The Quran tells us that Satan did not accept his mistake, while angels instantly accepted their mistake. So, cowardice is to not accept your mistakes. People have a wrong understanding on this matter.

Q8. What is your opinion on fatwas of kufr and punishment on Muslims?

A8. No one has the right to punish anyone. This does not happen in India. Fatwas claiming someone is kafir are wrong. It is not your task to declare others as kafir. One who fears God will never declare another as kafir. This is because according to a hadith: “If someone declares that a person is kafir while he is not, then the speaker becomes a kafir.” Your wrong fatwa will return to you. If those who issue fatwas have fear of God, they will never declare that someone is a kafir, or disbeliever. You can read more about this in my books. One who declares someone as kafir, while that person is not really a kafir in God’s eyes, then the speaker himself becomes a kafir.

Q9. What is the meaning of khushu? It is translated in Urdu as khawf, or fear. Is this right?

A9. I think this is not a correct translation. I have written about this. You can read it. Khawf-e-khuda is not the exact translation of khushu. The literal meaning of khushu is jhukaw, or bowing before God.

Q10. What should be our prayer in this present situation?

A10. You should pray to God for goodness in every situation. I will write about this in Al-Risala. A prayer which I like the most is: “Ya hayyu ya Qayyum bi-rahmatika astagith.” It means: “O Living God, O Sustaining God, I seek help through Your mercy.”

Q11. How to get rid of egoistic behaviour?

A11. The way is to find out your mistakes. It has become my habit to find out my mistake and to immediately be ready to accept my mistakes. It is my habit to discover my mistakes.

Q12. Repeated handwashing, as is advised these days, is a symbolic way of reminding oneself of doing one’s tazkiyah (inner purification). Is this right?

A12. This is very right.

Q13. Should we read the prayers given in books after offering obligatory prayers?

A13. Prayer (dua) is a very high kind of spiritual finding. Prayer is not the repetition of certain words.

Q14. What comprises negative thinking? How to know this?

A14. It is not a difficult task. Every person can think about this and understand the answer to this question.

Q15. From today’s talk, this has been a great learning and takeaway for me: Know about your ‘nothing’.

A15. The first discovery of a person should be self-criticism. Every other thing follows automatically.

Q16. How to not be negative in any matter? How do I know that I am a completely positive person and without negative thinking?

A16. The way for this is to take criticism against you in a normal way. When people are criticized, they generally become angry. We must abandon this habit.

Q17. Is the first step toward self-purification admitting that ‘I am wrong’?

A17. Yes, this is right.

Q18. The corona lockdown has made me realize my complete helplessness and God’s powerfulness. This has made me very serious and focused. How to retain this feeling?

A18. You need to keep thinking. Then your state of seriousness will continue.

Q19. What lessons does God want to give us from corona shock?

A19. I think that God wants only one thing from us: humans had forgotten the blessings of the Creator. When I enter the bathroom, the first thing that happens to me is that I give thanks to God. The washroom is a point of shukr for me.

Q20. We are being trained to live a need-based life and introspect compulsively. Will we be rewarded for this?

A20. Yes, you will be rewarded. This is not a compulsion, rather it is to adhere to principle.

Q21. Ramazan is about to come during lockdown. What is your advice for Muslims in this period?

A21. This is a strictly religious issue, so it cannot be answered right now. I can answer it, if someone asks me about it separately.

Q22. What is amaal-e-saliha, or good deeds?

A22. There are many books on this subject. You need to discover this from the Quran and Hadith. You need not ask for a list of good deeds from someone. Disocevr it yourself.

Q23. Is coronavirus a punishment from God?

A23. No, it is a warning from God. That is, you benefited from God’s blessings but did not acknowledge him. You need to learn to acknowledge.

Q24. If God exists, why does He not bring an end to Covid?

A24. The Creator does not want to curtail your free choice. He wants to test your free will.

Q25. How to be a believer?

A25. First of all, you need to discover God and then discover the rights God has over you.

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