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Purification of the Soul in Islamic Tradition

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Islamic tradition offers systematic approaches to spiritual cultivation, particularly through Tazkiyat al-Nafs (purification of the self) and Tasawwuf. Spiritual development in Islam requires purifying the heart by eliminating spiritual diseases (amrāḍ al-qulūb) such as:

• Ujub (Self-conceit)
• Kibr (Arrogance)
• Riyā’ (Ostentation in worship)
• Hasad (Jealousy)
• Sū’ al-Ẓānn (Bad preconceptions)
• Ghadab (Anger)
• Bukhl (Stinginess)
• Hubb al-Jāh (Love for power and fame)

These hidden diseases manifest as sins only when they translate into actions or words. Eliminating them is a lifelong struggle against the nafs (self), as the Quran states: “For indeed the soul is ever inclined to evil, except those shown mercy by my Lord” (Surah Yūsuf, 12:53).

Spiritual diseases can significantly hinder one’s spiritual growth. Performing religious rituals abundantly does not guarantee overcoming these heart illnesses. Without efforts to eliminate them, the consequences can be severe.

A hadith from Imam Al-Bukhārī’s al-Adab al-Mufrad, narrated by Abu Hurairah, highlights this:

“The Prophet was asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah! A certain woman prays in the night, fasts in the day, acts and gives ṣadaqah (donations), but hurts her neighbors with her tongue (words).’ The Messenger of Allah said, ‘There is no good in her. She is one of the people of the Fire.’ They said, ‘Another woman prays the prescribed prayers and gives bits of curd as ṣadaqah and does not hurt anyone.’ The Messenger of Allah said, ‘She is one of the people of the Garden.’” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad)

This hadith underscores the danger of negative traits nullifying or reducing the rewards for our good deeds. In “Ihyā’ al-‘Ulūm al-Dīn” (The Revival of Religious Sciences), Imam al-Ghazālī provides both theoretical and practical solutions for addressing these diseases of the heart.