Vast indeed is the subject of character- building; it is lengthy
as the whole life-time. What can only be done here is to emphasise
certain aspects which may be worthy of consideration and deserve
to be put into practice. The subject of character and character-
building is of concern to many disciplines: psychology, sociology,
social anthropology- and religion regards it as its central issue.
"Character" could be taken to mean that coherent pattern of thoughts,
habits and conduct which imparts an element of unity, continuity
and consistency to human behaviour. It is because of this pattern
of unity inherent in a character make-up, that one can forecast
or predict what a particular person may do in a particular situation.
Most, if not all, of the schools of psychology and, of course, people
in education who deal with the subject, would perhaps agree with
this tentative definition with which I want to begin this discussion.
In a Muslim who seeks to lead a life in accordance with the Qur'an
and the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, there is present
this particular pattern of thought and be- haviour, -a pattern in
which certain things cannot be juxtaposed that are not germane to
it, that are foreign to it. If one studies Hadith he will find the
Prophet again and again saying that a Muslim cannot do this or that
act, simply because of the fact that he is a Muslim. And if there
is any one "central theme" of the Qur'an, it is the guiding of Man
along the Right Path. This is what leads to character and character-
building. Following the Qur'an will produce a particular pattern of
life in the individual and in the society. What goes to make up this
central theme of the Qur'an is beyond esti- mation. That this central
theme is closely bound up with character-building is amply borne out
by the fact that the mission of the Prophet, peace be upon him, has
been described in the Qur'an by the word Tazkiya. Tazkiya means literally
the purification or the cleansing of all those things which are unwholesome
and unwelcome and unwanted. At the same time it endows the human being
with all those things which are essential for growth and develop-
ment, for blossoming and flowering. The tazkiya of a person would
mean the developing of his character, his thought, his behaviour;
it would mean the moulding of his entire flow of actions to free them
from those evils, those unwholesome traits which are obnoxious, un-
desirable in the eyes of Allah, and to endow them with all those virtues
which Allah wants to flourish in human life. Tazkiya, one might say,
is a "short-hand" word for the entire concept of character-building.
How central it is to the example and the mission of the Prophet, one
can realise from the fact that the Prophet Ibrahim-peace be upon him-when
he prayed, asked Allah to endow his progeny with prophethood while
he was laying the foundations of the Ka'aba. His prayer was:
"Our Lord, and raise up in their midst a messenger from among
them who shall recite to them Your signs, and shall instruct them
in the Book and the Wisdom, and shall make them pure (yuzakaihim-from
the same root as tazkiya). Truly You, only You, are the Mighty,
And this prayer of the Prophet lbrahim was accepted; the prophet
he asked for was even- tually sent to mankind, to the entire human
race. He was Sayyidina Muhammad, peace be upon him. And note how
the acceptance and the fulfilment of this prayer is stated as well:
"As also we have sent to you a messenger from among you who
recites to you Our signs and makes you pure(yuzakkikum) and teaches
you the Book and the Wisdom, and teaches you that which you did
not know." 2 : 151.
Exactly the same thing which was demanded is given, and tazkiya
forms an essential part of it all. It is one of the most essential
parts in the function of the Prophet.
And when we come to the problem of character-building in the individual,
the same point of tazkiya is stressed.For each and every individual,
the criterion which has been set in the Qur'an is:
"Prosperous indeed is he who has purified it (his soul) And
unsuccessful is he who de- debases it." 91 : 9-10
Individual success depends then on purifying the soul.Even more than
this, from the view- point of the da'wa or the message of Islam, this
purification is important for the society and for humanity at large,
but it starts with the in- dividual. And here also we obtain the criterion
from the Qur'an. Although Islam is nothing but the Truth, as far as
the psychology of any movement, of any message is concerned, human
beings will judge the veracity and cor- rectness of that message in
the light of the character of the people who present it. And this
is not a false criterion. We find that in the Qur'an one of the arguments
given by Allah in support of the veracity, the correctness, and the
truthfulness of the Qur'an itself is the life of the Prophet:
“I have been living a life amongst you before (proclaiming
this message). Will you then not understand ?" 10:16
Here the Prophet is made to appeal to the reason of would-be adherents
asking them to judge the veracity of his message against the background
of the life which he lived among them. For that life and that message
both confirmed each other, both supported each other. One is a witness
to the other, one bears the other out. This is the relationship of
character to the message and the leader: the very truthfulness of
Before I go on to deal with character-building itself, I would like
to stress the importance of character building in our present situation.
Of course its importance is paramount everywhere but in a society
such as we find ourselves in today- I mean Western society-its impor-
tance increases immensely for the simple reason that the helping hand
which is extended by the environment of eastern society, however deficient
that may now be, we are deprived of here. I am reminded of an Indian
poet who once said.
"Is drinking prohibited for me even in this city, While nobody
knows me there?"
Such is the society in which we breathe. The forces of destruction
are heavy and powerful. And one can defeat them only by instilling
in oneself and one's society a more forceful res- ponse, a more
forceful counter-effort, to keep things right on their moorings.
So at the individual as well as at the collective level, the importance
of character-building is enhanced by this situation. I am reminded
of one who said that every challenge is also an opportunity. If
this society is a great challenge to our faith, to our character,
it also presents us with an opportunity to prove our worth.
I want now to expand on four points in order to clarify the nature
of tazkiya and in the process to convey some idea of the vastness
of the concept of morals in Islam.
The first point is that character-building, in the last analysis,
is a highly personal process. Of course Islam assigns great importance
to the collective spirit and, as shall be shown later on, this has
a part to play in character- building. But ultimately, the process
of character-building is a highly personal one. There is no machine,
psychological, sociolog- ical or ideological, which could mould one
automatically into a cast of good character. It is only through personal
effort-the in- dividual's own realisation, own determination and own
exertion that can produce this character. Perhaps one can get a clue
to this from the fact that in the Qur'an God makes each individual
accountable individually to Him for his entire life: accountability
on the Day of Judgement will be individual. Definitely the umma has
certain collective responsibilities to fulfil certain collective functions
to perform, but as far as the record of this life's career is concerned,
it is the responsibility of the in- dividual. This is so because the
process and the nature of character-forming is such that it must be
a personal process and a personal effort. So each of us will have
to think out how best he can perform this function, this task. Of
course, the society, the Islamic society does extend help. It assists.
It co-operates. It makes things easy, but the process remains personal.
As the saying goes, you can take the horse to the water, but you cannot
make him drink. That process of drinking remains personal. The best
society you have can only take you to the water: it will not give
you more than that.
The Islamic Movement; what can it do? It can provide you with a congenial
atmosphere and opportunities to move ahead in this direction, but
no more than that; the very act of character- making will remain your
personal effort. I am emphasising this particularly, in the first
instance to make each one of us realise just what responsibility in
this respect rests upon him as an individual and secondly to bring
into focus the fact that no matter how bad the situa- tion, we can
never shun character-making, as it is a personal process and a personal
res- ponsibility; we can never be free from it. So wherever we are
this effort must remain.
Secondly, I would like to emphasise that character making is not a
part-time or a piece- meal job. What it demands is a protracted effort.
It is an unending, unceasing process, and there is no short-cut to
it. It's not there for just a day, a week, a month, a year. Should
I borrow from Shaw, and say that it is life sentence? That's why you
find that Allah makes us realise:
And do not die except that you are Muslims" 32 :102
The process is life-long, and what will count is not only whether
throughout your life, through all its ups and downs, but also when
you breathe your last you are a Muslim.So there is no end to this
process.And you cannot get character from any short-cuts: there is
no simple formula to have the solution.You cannot have it from any
ready-made shop.It is an unceasing process, coextensive with your
life-span. This must be kept in view, because man is, as is said in
the Qur'an, short-sighted. We get disappointed very easily. We lack
patience. If we are not successful after a few efforts we lose heart;
and if we are successful we become conceited. Both ways we are losers.
That is why it must be kept in view that it is a life long process,
unending and unceasing.
The third point is that this tazkiyah or this tarbiyah is an all-embracing
process. Islam does not believe in that type of tasawwuf where you
can purify your heart, make it transparent, and yet remain neck-deep
in political, economic and social corruption’s. Tazkiyah encompasses
the entire life with all its aspects and dealings. I would put it
rather in this way; the privacy of our thoughts and the social manifestations
of our life-all of them must be in line with God's injunctions. So
this is such an all-embracing process, that the types of character-building
or tazkiyah given by certain schools of religion, break down when
one judges them on the touchstone of the Islamic concept of tazkiyah.
Ascetism, Buddhism, tasawwuf-they might develop a particular aspect
of one's life; to produce a new man, whose morals, social deal- ings,
financial affairs-are all very different from those of others. They
are those of a God-fearing person. It is this all-comprehensive nature
of tazkiyah which the Prophet performed. The Prophet, peace be upon
him, taught us 'ibadat. The Prophet, peace be upon him,also taught
us what our monetary dealings, our economic dealings. our political
dealings should be. Even the political responsibilities assigned to
a person have been called amanat, and we have been commanded to give
them to those who are trustworthy. All this is part of tazkiyah. One
finds that the first task of the Prophet, peace be upon him, came
in trade dealings with trade caravans in which he participated, and
which carried the goods of the Lady Khadija, may Allah be pleased
It is known that when some-one described a certain person as being
very pious, Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased wih him, told
him to hold his tongue. And then he asked, "Do you live with him?
Is he your neighbour?" He said, "No". Umar said, "Have you had financial
dealings with him?" He said, "No". Umar said, "Have you ever travelled
with him?" If you don't live with him at least you might have travelled
with him and seen him?" He said, "No". Then Umar said, "You have
no right to say that he is pious, he is good, he is good. If he
is just saying lengthy prayers in the mosque-, that doesn't make
him pious". This does not minimise in any way, or reduce the importance
ibadah. The importance of 'ibadat is immense. What I would like
to bring home is that tarbiyah is an all-embracing process: It covers
life in all its multifarious activities and this must be kept in
And the last point in this: connection which I would like to lay before
you is that tazkiyah is a process which unfolds itself step by step.That
is, if one wants to have everything simul- taneously, immediately,
in one gulp, one cannot have it. This is against the laws of nature.
Thus one finds that the Prophet, peace be upon him, always had this
in view. When- ever anybody embraced Islam, he would not ask him to
do everything immediately. Instead, he was expected to fulfil his
obligations step by step. This is one of the significant points in
the gradual revelation of the Qur'an, that the society was able to
respond simultaneously with it and a new society was created. In efforts
towards character-building this has to be kept in view otherwise one
is frustrated or one tries to attain the impossible. And that is why
the concept of morals in Islam is very vast: it covers all aspects
of human life.
The principles of Tazkiyah and tarbiyah we can derive from the study
of the Qur'an the Sunnah and the Seerah of the Prophet. The first
principle which we should state is that for character-building the
basis is knowledge. In Qur'anic phraseology, Iman (faith) has been
regarded as the starting point of everything and "good actions" without
Iman is useless. So the starting point must be Iman. Iman means knowing
your Lord, your Creator, and this Iman is incomplete if one does not
try to know His Will,(rida), what He wants us to do. That is why the
Prophet, peace be upon him, said that,
"Seeking knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim".
That is why the Prophetic career for the human race begins with.
"And He taught Adam the names, all of them" 2 : 31
and the one who knows is regarded as the one who can see, who has
eyes. And one who does not know has been made equal to the blind.
If one studies fiqh one will find out that everyone must now at least
what is Islam and what is not Islam. This is the bare minimum of knowledge
which is expected. Imam al- Ghazzali in Ihya-ulum-uddin (Revival of
Religious Sciences) developed this systematically, scien- tifically
and in a brilliant way. He stated that if a person has just embraced
Islam, and after a few hours, the time for salat comes, what is fard
(compulsory) for him is that he must at least within time find out
how the prayer is to be offered. Of course this term 'ilm (knowledge)
is very vast. This would mean religious know- ledge or the knowledge
of fiqh and its demands from one at least the minimum demands. It
also means that part of knowledge which is needed for the establishment,
development and of human life and society. The minimum of the religion
is the fard ul-'ayn, namely that which is compulsory on each and every
individual and for which he is accountable. On the other hand the
establishment and acquisition of knowledge, which is necessary for
the develop- ment of crafts, of industry, of techniques for needs
of society-that has been treated as fard-ul-kifaya, which is compulsory
on the society as a whole. If only some of the people achieve that
then the responsibility of all is discharged. Imam lbn Taymiya, for
example, says that this second part is in the nature of jihad, while
the first is in the category of, for example, the prayer which is
fard-ul-'ayn. Thus basically knowledge is the starting point. From
the common-sense viewpoint also,character- building means that one
must know those attributes which should be acquired in one's life-the
sifat-ul-mahmuda-and those attributes which must be avoided-the sifat-ul-mazmuna.
Without that of course one cannot become what Islam requires one to
The focus of knowledge as far as this exercise is concerned would
be to find out what is right and what is wrong; what is virtue and
what is vice, what is hasana and what is sayyia. The first source
of this knowledge is the Qur'an. The Qur'an can be studied from many
angles, for example, -the approach of the scholar who likes to go
into the depth of it. But from the viewpoint of the tazkiyah the Qur'an
is simple, very simple. It is an open book available to everyone,
and it unveils and unfolds its- If according to the level of receptivity
of the seeker. The simple attitude which should be adopted for lazkiyah
is that while reading to ask the question: What does the Qur'an ask
of you? In very simple terms, what are the things the Qur'an wants
you to avoid and what to be adopted ? From this viewpoint one does
not need any tafsir (commentary) at all: each verse of the Qur'an
is a very clear reference source. So if you read the Qur'an from this
viewpoint you will find that the Qur'an acts like a living source
of guidance to you as an individual, telling you in the first person:
this you should do and this you should not do. This was the way the
Sahaba (Companions of the Prophet) used to study the Qur'an. About
Abduiiah ibn Mas'ud it has been reported, according to one narration,
that he read Surat-ul-Baqara in eight years, according to another
ten years, when one could read the whole of the Qur'an in one night.
Why did he take so long ? Because reading of the Qur'an means understanding
it and follow- ing it, not just rushing through it.
The other source is the Sunnah. From, the viewpoint of tazkiya, after
the Qur'an you cannot find anything better than the Sunnah. In fact
the Sunnah has a very personal message for us. The existence of it
implies that the Prophet, peace be upon him, was discharging the function
of tazkiyah among the Sahaba and in the discharging of this function
these were the words which he uttered and the actions he performed.
One finds that sometimes it simply steals into one's heart; it has
a personal warmth, it can transform one's life. I must confess that
it needs much effort in the life- pattern of Western society, to keep
oneself in touch with the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
So the principle of character-building is knowledge. But knowledge
on its own is not sufficient: it is definitely essential but not a
sufficient source for character-building. The second principle is,
for want of better words, "resolve and determination" which is very
different from "wish and hope". We can entertain as many wishes as
we want. It is not a bad thing but it will not enable us to live a
life of virtue and piety. What is required for character-building
is not a simple wish but a resolve, what in Qur'anic terminology can
be called 'azm. I could define 'azm as resolve or determination which
is coupled with an urge or an idea to follow it in practice, to undertake
some plan for it and translate it into practice. Once our hope or
desire becomes effective and significant, then it becomes 'azm. To
illustrate, I would only recall the event during the Meccan period,
when every kind of pressure was put on the Prophet to force him to
abandon his mission, When his uncle, his last earthly support, asked
him if he would not give up his mission, the Prophet, may Allah bless
him and grant him peace, answered,
"Even if they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in
my left hand I will not abandon my mission".
This is 'azm. What is needed therefore is resolve and determination
which may come from the bowels of hope and wish, but it must first
come out, Then only can it help one in character-building.
How then can one cultivate this resolve? It is a very tricky problem.
One way I can suggest is to reflect upon the Qasas contained in the
Qur'an. Therein you will find many stories (Qasas) told. They are
not there just for the purpose of story-telling. Read them, and one
will find histories of the crises in the life of individuals and in
the life of societies. And in such crises one can see how the righteous
resolve to continue on their paths. Take for example the life of the
Holy Prophet and the Sahaba. how those individuals worked, the adverse
circum- stances in which they lived and the state of their resolve
and determination! Reading these things inspires a person and enables
him to cultivate in himself this type of resolve and determination.
It could be said that the volume of resolve and determination in one's
life is, in a way, an index of one's living belief in the promises
of Allah and the threat of His punishments. If our faith in these
promises, the rewards which God has promised here and in the Hereafter,
is the real faith, then the degree to which it is real indeed would
express itself in the intensity of the resolve and determination,
On the other hand, if our belief in the extent of the penalty and
the retribution is strong it would express itself in firm resolve
and determination. Another thing which helps this resolve is the company
of good people. Whatever I have said so far relates to examples from
the past, but examples from the present are always very impressive
and helpful, and so good company helps a lot in the cultivation of
The third principle is al-'amal-ul-salih, without which there
cannot be any 'tazkiyah. Tazkiyah is not simply of ideas, but of
life, behaviour and conduct. We began with knowledge. Knowledge
to be translated into practice needs a resolve and this resolve
in fact leads to, or produces, al-'amal-ul-salih. But in fact if
one reflects upon it deeper one will find that in this process that
there is a matter which one must keep in view and that is the role
of emotions or passions. In fact, one starts with knowledge. Then,
one makes the resolve. But then, the pushing ahead of this resolve
into practice is done by one's balance, one's emotions, by the moti-
vation which expresses itself in that way. That is the place of
the emotions in the life of the individual. And al-'amal-ul-salih
can only be produced if these three preconditions are there-knowledge,
determination, proper can- alisation of emotion. The Qur'an is not
pure logic: logic may overwhelm one but cannot generate those forces
which change one's life and conduct, I have not heard of any phil-
osopher whose philosophy might have changed individuals and societies
from the viewpoint of character. As somebody has said, logic can
convince but cannot convert.
But the Qur'an convinces and converts. So if one reflects upon the
technique of presentat- ion of the Qur'an, one finds that it captures
one's minds and one's emotions and moves them simultaneously. It generates
forces of action, and this through the canalisation of emotions and
passions. When this knowledge and these emotions run counter to each
other which will produce disgraceful action (i.e. al-'amal-ul-khabis.)
One of the greatest messages of the Qur'an is that it mellows the
passions; it trains them, attunes them, canalises them, That is why
even by just listening to the verses of the Qur'an alone would change
the lives of many people. So if this motivational pattern must be
changed if we wish to change our lives, the best way is to approach
the Qur'an. There can be no substitute for it. If one goes deeper
into the psychological analyses of these, one finds that much can
be said, and all the studies about habit-forming and habit-disforming
actually pertain to this aspect of the studies.
The fourth principle is that very great help can be derived from good
company. This is why the Qur'an directs that Muslims should seek the
company of satin. This is why it is said that the Muslims must not
make friends with those who invoke Allah's displeasure, though this
does not mean that one must shun all contact with them. Company can
mean psychological company - the ideas you keep, the ambitions you
nurture, the senses which you develop, the books that you read. All
these are a form of company because they are company in solitude.
Then of course, com- pany means one's friends, the people with whom
one moves about and spends one's time. and then it is the entire society.
It is here that the Muslim community (ummah) comes in. It is here
that the role of the Muslim society comes into play. For example salat
has been made obligatory on us but we have also been asked to offer
it in Jumaah so that a special climate will be created. The adhan
is said aloud; the entire atmosphere is full of it, the air hums with
this voice: we offer our prayers collectively. The most individual
ibadah is perhaps fasting and there is no witness to it but Allah.
But even this highly personal and individual ibadah has been made
collectively obligatory in one month so that a special atmosphere
is created. Otherwise there is no witness to one's fasting, not even
those with whom one has taken the sahur or iftar together. . but Allah.
Such an individualistic thing has been given a social complexion.
The entire existence of the Muslim com- munity, the khairul-ummah
(the best community) depends on the right sort of company-good company.
The Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, said that good company is the
company of the essence of Allah. Such is the importance of good company.
Taking it from the merely theoretical plane to the practical plane
it can be said that com- panionship, companionship of good persons
is one of the aids in character-building, par- ticularly while living
in this Western society. That is why I always suggest to those brothers
who ask my advise, to try to live in twos if they are bachelors for
one may help the other to move ahead in the path of virtue.It is from
such a viewpoint that FOSIS is a great ni'mat.. Each of its constituent
is a great barakah from Allah. Thus it is a moral responsibility to
protect, strengthen and develop it on the true Islamic lines so that
the example it sets should enable one to move ahead on the path of
virtue and tazkiyah.
Good company then is a basic principle for character-building. But
I must emphasise with all the force at my command, that effort, endeavour
and ceaseless striving are the soul of it, the very breath and soul
of it. We cannot succeed unless we earnestly have isti'anal from Allah.
It is God's help which enables us to achieve this uphill task. So
the underlying principle in tazkiyah is isti'anat billah at every
step: the greater the help one seeks from Allah, the more one will
succeed in this endeavour.
After briefly discussing the principles,' I want to come to some of
the more important instruments of tazkiyah which we are taught in
the Qur'an and Sunnah. I shall just give a very brief resume of the
points which I have in view, leaving the elaboration to your own effort
or to some further occasion.
The first important instrument is dhikr. We find that in the Qur'an
"Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and in
the alternation of night and day there are signs for men possessed
of minds, who remember God, standing and sitting and on their sides,
and reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth: 'Our
Lord, You have not created this futilely. Glory be to You! Protect
us from the torment of the Fire'." (Aal 'Imraan, 3:190)
Who are these people ? They are those who re- member God in every
position; standing, sitting and lying, and reflect upon God's crea-
tion of the heavens and the earth. And of course they praise God and
make du'a (suppli- cation) to Him. Now these are the three basic postures
in which a person can be. So a Muslim is committed to dhikr in whatever
position he may be: dhikr is God's remembrance.
Such dhikr can be in one's heart in a silent but conscious way. It
can be by oral recitation -remembering God, whether in the form of
reciting those kalimat or 'words' and 'phrases' which we have been
taught or simply reciting from the Qur'an. Dhikr does not relate to
any particular situation or thing: it deals with all aspects of life-work
and leisure. The import- ance of dhikr lies in the fact that it creates
a mental, a psychological 'climate'. In this climate one can protect
oneself from the evil encroach- ments and inroads of the external
environment wherever one may be. This is a kind of hasinah (immunity),orhisar(barrier),Dhikr
is not difficult. While one is travelling, while one is on a bus,
while one is on a train, whenever one can afford a few minutes, a
minute, even half a minute, say "Allahu akbar" ' or "Subhanallah,
inni Auntu min al-zalimin", etc. All this will give one a different
psychological orientation, a different mental 'climate' from the anti-
Islamic elements. In every situation one is able to preserve the Islamic
ethos by dhikr.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, on one occasion explained the difference
between one who makes dhikr and one who does not as actually the difference
between the living and the dead. Why? There is the cessation of life
when one breathes no more; but even if physio- logically one is alive,
and one is not breathing the kalimatullah, or the words of God, then
this is death.
So dhikr is the first important instrument of tazkiyah: how to make
this dhikr has been taught to us by God and His Prophet. We have no
necessity for innovating different forms. We have been taught very
simple, very clear- cut ways and they are the most effective; and
that closes the door of bid'ah (innovation). One thing I should add
is that dhikr not only gives one a psychological climate for action,
it also gives one that inspiration which is needed for action. And
dhiar endows one or gives one a place of honour which is unparalleled,
because Gad says "Fadhkuruni wa-dhkurkum".
"As you remember Me so I shall remember you".
Could one imagine any height for man that could be higher, that
one remembers God, and God also remembers one in return? One's Creator,
Creator of the earth and the cosmos and all that exists, if one
remembers Him He remembers one. If one remembers Him here then one's
dhikr is made in the entire universe. So the importance of dhikr
as an instrument in character building is immense and of the high-
Next are 'ibadat. Of course each 'ibadah (act of servitude to God;
i.e. worship in the broadest sense) in Islam is there in its own right,
but each 'ibadah is also an instrument towards character building.
About salah ('prayer') it has been said,
"Inn al-salata tanha 'ani-l fahsha'i wa-1 munkar" ("Truly salah
makes you fall back from vile and reprehensible deeds").
About sawm (fasting) God says
...... la'allaaum tattaqoon" (" . . . that you may fear God"-
The very word Zakah comes from the same root-word as tazkiyah.
Zakah is that which purifies; it is a part of tazkiyah. And so is
the case with each act of ibadah. Hajj of course is a symbol of
them all. In Hajj, the sa]ah-element is there, and the zakah-element
is there as well. One makes a voluntary sacrifice to go to Hajj.
In Hajj there is an element of abstinence. When one is in ihram
one has to abide by certain rules and avoid certain things. It is
actually all the ibadaat (acts of worship) rolled into one. So each
ibadah is important in its own right, but each is also an instrument
The third important instrument is what is called istighfar or tawbah.
Istighfar is repentance for one's sins, mistakes or aberrations, Tawbah
is turning back to the Lord. Islam has not de- manded of me that I
must not commit mistakes; but that if I do commit mistakes I must
recollect, repent, and return to my Lord. In the Qur'an God has said
that the Muslims or the character of the Muslims is such that they
do not persist on their wrong deeds. We might commit mis- takes, and
we should avoid them. But if a sin, a mistake is committed, then what
we must do is first to become conscious of it. We must not go skidding
on into further commissions. Instead we should become conscious of
it. Then there must be a conscious break with it and we should return
to our Lord.
Istighfar is repentance, acknowledging our mistakes, feeling sorry
for committing them, regretting them. And tawbah is returning to Allah,
to His path. Of course there are many words and phrases of istighfar
which we have been taught and which we should say, but primarily istighfar
is a state of mind and tawbah is a state of resolve. And the greatness
of Islam is that it has raised human conduct from the abyss of unconsciousness
to the heights of consciousness. Istighfar and tawbah are acts of
consciousness. If one makes a slip, one should stop, regret it and
make a resolve not to commit it again. And as many times as this may
happen, so many times has one to make a resolve to return to God.
This is part of a God's rahmah. He has not closed the doors once a
mistake has been committed. If there is a repenting heart, a real
repenting heart, you can come back to Him.
There are, of course, many things in the Qur'an and the Sunnah which
I would like to cite about this aspect of tazkiyah, but I am con-
fining myself at the moment to some of the basic concepts, so I shall
come to the next instrument and that is Sabr. Sabr basically means
steadfastness. To cultivate sabr means to cultivate a spirit of perseverance
and in a way this is part of the process of istighfar and tawbah,
because sabr means that one must have the perseverance to stick to
the path of virtue and come back to it whenever any mistake is committed
or any aberration is made. It means that one has to carry on this
task unceasingly, unswervingly. Sabr means continuing in this in each
individual act. It means sacrifice, con- tinuous sacrifice-for one's
brothers, for the cause of good, for the cause of Islam. It means
remaining steadfast in the face of the tempest of adversity, when
temptations are besetting one, when threats are intimidating one.
That is a sabr. So sabr is a very vast and dynamic concept, encompassing
all these traits. Mus- lims are those who have been charged to carry
on with the function of establishing and prop- agating the religion
of Islam and in this vast struggle they have been asked not only to
adopt the policy of sabr, but also of musabarah which is an intensive
form of sabr. Musabarah if sufficiently understood and practised is
enough to meet all the challenges that confront one and to overwhelm
the forces of counter-revolution. So one has to cultivate in oneself
not only sabr, but also musabarah,
The next instrument and one of the most valuable is ihtisab which
is self-appraisal and self-criticism. In fact the concept of ihtisab
or hasabah is wider. It is social criticism as well as self-criticism
because the twin commands of ordering that which is good and proscribing
that which is reprehensible (amr bi-l Ma'ruf and nahy ani-l Munkar)
are obligations on the Muslims which are of a social character. These
twin commands also form part of ihlisab. From the viewpoint of ihtisab
we must try to criticise or appraise ourselves and we should be as
honest, as frank and, should I say, as 'cruel' to ourselves as we
can. I would suggest that in appraising character we should be harsh
to ourselves and lenient to others. That should be the cornerstone
of policy, and if we stick to it, then only good will result, in sha
The best method of self-criticism which I have found useful is to
devote to it just two or three minutes before going to bed each day.
Make it a habit, a conscious effort. Review your day; know how you
have spent it, how you have spent your time, your money, your energies,
talents which God has given you, resources which God has given you,
opportunities which God has given you, responsibilities which God
has placed upon you. Assess each of these aspects. Where you have
succeeded, offer thanks (shukr). And where you have failed make istighfar.
This is the best form of criticism. And indeed the Prophet, upon whom
be peace, has recommended having your own self- appraisal before you
are appraised on the day of Reckoning. This is and would be much easier.
lhtisab then is one of the most important instruments in tazkiyah.
The other important instrument to which I shall only refer briefly
is the du'a. Du'a is prayer not in the sense of salah, but in the
specific sense of making supplication., asking God's help, asking
Him for everything that is needed. Du'a is one of the most important
instruments of tazkiyah because it is a snap-shot of all our ambitions.
One's entire scale of priorities in life can be reflected in one's
du'a. And we have been taught in the Qur'an and the Sunnah what we
should pray for and how. Again this is in itself a topic for a separate
discourse, but, above all, it is something to be practised. We may
be very crude in it, but it would be much dearer to Allah if we offer
our du'a with sincer- ity. The Prophet, peace be upon him, once said
that some of one's du'a are accepted just upon asking for them; some
of them are fulfilled not in the form in which one asked for them
but even in a better form; and some of them remain unfulfilled and
on the day of Judgement one will find that the reward for the du'a
unfulfilled is so great that one would wish that those du'a which
had been fulfilled had not been and that one could have the rewards
of them then. So no part of one's du'a goes in vain.
There are also certain social norms for tazkiyah which concern behaviour
patterns between Muslims and Muslims and Muslims and non-muslims.
In this connection, I shall only make here a very broad suggestion,
that if nothing else, one should read very carefully, again and again,
Surah Hujurat. Many im- portant things are dealt with in this surah
among which are relations between Muslims and Mus- lims in particular,
and Muslims and the rest in general. These deal with the characteristics
of belieiving men and women, their striving in the cause of Aliah,
the brotherly bond between them, their avoidance of ignorance and
sus- picion, derision and defamation and their con- scious effort
to achieve good will in order to obtain the mercy of Allah. All those
things which are necessary for social tazkiyah, at least in a rudimentary
form, can be found in this one surah.
I shall conclude by dealing with a few things which must be avoided,
which we must pro- tect ourselves against if our entire efforts are
not to be spoilt. One such evil and impediment is qibr. This is the
antithesis of humility and is a moral ailment. The efforts which one
makes for tazkiyah, it is to be hoped, will be successful. But the
greatest canker that can eat everything away if one is successful
in qibr. The day one feels that in the realm of tazkiyah one has attained
something is the day of one's death, of one's spiritual death. So
the entire effort which one makes should continue with humil- ity.
Of course, there should be no reason for qibr at least on two grounds.
First: whatever one has achieved is by the grace of Allah, not
through one's own efforts.
Second: the ideal before one, the uswa or the example of the Prophet,
peace be upon him, is so high that one cannot feel contented anywhere
under it. And one of the reasons for the ideals being so high is
that one is always trying to move up- wards. If an ideal is low,
then once one has reached it one will feel contented and con- tentment
will set off a downhill march. Because the ideal is high, we are
always in a state of aspiration. We are perpetually in a state of
effort, striving and moving up. Should qibr arise in this state,
it can only be an act of shaytan which is there just to test and
try whatever one has achieved in the field of know- iedge or of
action, of Islamic effort or of social work. Qibr will destroy whatever
has been achieved, so protect against it. It comes from very attractive,
very concealed, very deceptive channels and forms.
Another thing which destroys all that one has achieved or is trying
to achieve is nifaq, Nifaq is hypocrisy, showing off, and pretending
to have what one does not have. This again is a moral ailment. It
destroys one's character as a moth eats cloth. This is why the Prophet,
peace be upon him, has condemned it in the strongest terms. It is
the negation of khulus, of sincerity, and sincerity is the most essential
ingredient of iman and 'amal. So this is the second danger against
which we must protect ourselves.
A third danger is what is called in the Qur'an qunutiyyah, what can
be called a feeling of hopelessness and of pessimism. Now one is making
efforts, sincerely one is making efforts, but still one does not succeed.
Each time one makes a move, one falters somewhere and is again back
in the same state and after a few efforts one feels disappointed and
pessimistic. And sometimes, God forbid, people just leave off making
efforts because of such trials and setbacks. This again is a threat
The story is told of the spider and the king in which the spider
tries to spin her web and always loses it somewhere and for hours
the effort continues and she finally succeeds. The king who had
given up to black despair, got inspiration from this, and recovered.
Allah calls qunutiyyah an act of Kufr or disbelief and rejection.
In tazkiyah it is the efforts that count not the results. If one
has failed hundreds of times, one's efforts have won incalculable
gains. So this feeling of disappointment, of pessimism, of losing
heart should never occur. We have to strive and strive for has not
Allah said in the Qur'an:
" Wa-ladheena jaahadu finaa lanahdiyannahuni subulanaa." "And
those who strive in Our way, We wiii certainly guide them on Our paths."
Recommended reading on tazkiyah:
1. English-Mishkat a/ Masabih-tr. by Dr. James Robson
2. Riyad at Salihin-lmam al-Nawawi Sahih Muslim-this is the better
from the point of view of Tazkiyah and Tarbiyah as the more authoritative
Sahih al-Bukhari is oriented more towards fiqh (although this is not
neglected in the Sahih Muslim)
3. Urdu-Rahi'Amal Ma'arif al Hadith (5 vols.)
C. Sirah-both of Rasulullah, peace be upon him, and of the Sulaha'.
1. English-The Benefactor Life of Muhammad-
Abdul Hanieed Siddiqui
Life of Muhammad-Ibn lshaq;
2. Arabic-(contemporary) Hayat Muhammad
translated by Rev. Alfred Guillaume (but see the review of this
by Dr. A. L. Tibawi in "Islamic Quarterly", Vol. 3 No. 3)
Muham- Hussain Haykal
Hayat Abu Bakr
Muhammad Hussain Haykal
Muhammad Hus- sain Haykal
Silsilat at abqariat
Abbas Mahmoud al-Aqqad
3. Urdu-Sirat ul Nabi-Shibli Nu'man i
Adapted from a talk delivered at the Sixth Annual Winter Gathering
of the FOSIS held in Swanwick, Derbyshire.