December 15, 2004

Aspects of Character Building

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 con-
sideration 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 con-
duct which imparts an element of unity, con-
tinuity 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 accor-
dance 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). Truely You, only You, are
the Mighty, the Wise.”
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 lazkiya 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 tile relationship of
character to the message and the leader:
the very truthfulness of Islam.

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
to-day-1 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
larbiyah is an all-embracing process. ]slam
does not believe in that type of lasawwuf 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 taught us ‘ibadat. The Prophet
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. It is known that when some-
one described a certain person as being very
pious, Umar ibn ai-Khattab 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 view.
And the last point in this connection which
I would like to lay before you is that lazkiyah 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 lman
is incomplete if one does not try to know His
Will, His 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

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. lmam al-
Ghazzaii inJhyaUlumuddin (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 become.
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 lazyah 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 lazkiyah 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 ‘azi77. 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 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

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
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 resolve.
The third principle is al-‘amal-ul-salih, without
which there cannot be any ‘azbiyah. 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.

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 involves 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 afar 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 lazkiah.

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 lazkiah is isti’anat billah at every
step: the greater the help one seeks from Allah,
the more one will succeed in this endeavour.
To be continued

Some Aspects of Character

by Khurshid Ahmad

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 God says,

“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 dhiar 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-
est priority.

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”-
Qur’an 2:183). 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
of tazkiyah.
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 insist
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. Islighfar 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 Allah.
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-silot 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 tazaiyah, at least
in a rudimentary form, can be found in this one

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 from Shaytan.
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
qu.riutiyyah an act of Aufr 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-1 ladheena jaahadu finaa lanahdiyannahuni

“And those who strive in Our way, We wiii
certainly guide them on Our paths.”

Recommended reading on tazkiyah:

A. Qur’an

8. Hadith

1. English-Mishkat a/ Masabih-tr. by
Dr. James Robson

2. Riyad at Salihin-lmam al-Nawawi
$ahih 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

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; translated by Rev.
Alfred Guillaume
(but see the review of this by
Dr. A. L. Tibawi in “Islamic
Quarterly”, Vol. 3 No. 3)

2. Arabic-(contemporary)
Hayat Muhammad-Muham-
n7ad Hussain Haykal
Hayat Abu Bakr-Muhammad
Hussain HayAal
Hayat Omar-Muhan7mad Hus-
sain HayAal
Silsilat at abqariat-Abbas
Mahn7oud a]-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,




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