Advice on How to Purify the Heart Through Rightful Behavior

          This path is the path of tazkiyat al-qalb – purification of the heart from the filth of disharmony, excess, the unlawful, immoral sins, and the beautification and the illumination of the heart by harmony, order, good measure, morality and perfect behavior. The ones who know say, “Sufism is leaving bad manners, bad conduct, bad character and immorality, and entering good manners, perfect character and morality.”

            Our Master the Beloved of Allah (saws), whom Allah praises in His Qur’an, saying, “Truly you are blessed with the best of conduct,” says, as reported by Abu Hurayra (ra), “I have been sent to help perfect beautiful conduct.”

            Again, reported by Abu Hurayra, he said, “Allah does not beautify His servant’s character, and consequently his exterior being, to make him taste the Hellfire.”

            The Messenger of Allah (saws), addressed himself to Abu Hurayra (ra), and said, “Oh Abu Hurayra what is enough for you is good conduct.” When Abu Hurayra asked, “What is good conduct, Oh Messenger of Allah?” our Master answered, “Not to abandon the one who has abandoned you, to forgive the one who has tyrannized you, to feed the one who has made you go hungry.”

            Anas bin Malik reported that the one blessed with perfect behavior (saws) said, “He who has good character has obtained the best of this world and the hereafter.”

The same authority also reported that our Master (saws) said, “The good servant with beautiful behavior reaches the highest degrees and the highest honor in the hereafter, and the one who has bad manners falls to the lowest pit of Hell.”

            Hd. Ma’muna (ra) reported the Prophet (saws) as saying, “Allah considers no sin worse than bad character and behavior, because the one who behaves badly starts one sin before he finishes another.”

            Hd. Aysha (ra) reported our Master (saws) as saying, “Every sin has a corresponding repentance. Not so for bad conduct, because the misbehaving one does a worse sin before he repents for the previous one.”

            Hd. Ibn Abbas (ra) reports the Messenger of Allah (saws) as saying, “Good behavior dissolves one’s errors as water melts ice, and bad character spoils good deeds as vinegar spoils honey.”

            To cleanse your hearts, to revive your dead hearts, is your most important duty in this path, because the heart is the king of the realm of your being. The rest of your being obeys unconditionally the orders of that king. The Prophet (saws) says, “Be aware, there is a piece of flesh in this body that when it is proper and in order, your whole being is proper and in order; when it is spoiled, your whole being is spoiled. Know that it is the heart.”

            The first and the most important step for the reviving and healing of the sick heart is adab, righteous behavior. Behavior and character are qualities through which all one’s being becomes manifest. It is possible to educate and change one’s conduct and character. All religious prescriptions, cannons, teachings, rites and devotions are means to that purpose. As with everything else, success is in accordance with one’s given ability, talent and nature. Indeed all is as Allah wills, yet the greatest gift which Allah has bestowed upon humankind is that small will by which we may choose, opting for the right, the truth, thus receiving the blessing of being in harmony with Allah’s will and letting Allah’s will be done, or choosing to revolt and attracting Allah’s curse, anger and punishment.

            The source of the education and correction of one’s behavior and one’s character are the forces and energies that Allah has bestowed on each individual in quantities and qualities according to his lot. There are three such energies:

            Nutuk – intellectual energy, the force of reasoning which is only capable of dealing with affairs addressing the mind. As the Prophet (saws), said, “There is good in the median.” The median of intellectual energy is Hikmah, that wisdom which is the ability to differentiate between the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, the true and the false. The overindulgence of the intellectual faculty results in discussion, in arguments and philosophy, such as, trying to interpret the Mutashabihat (allegorical and symbolic verses in the Qur’an), to put forward explanations of the secret of Qadr (destiny), or the Dhat (the essence of Allah), subjects which are forbidden to us, and outside of the realm of the intelligence. The extreme misuse of the faculty of reason leads a person to imagination, fantasy and illusion, where there is no separation of the real and the unreal, true and false, right and wrong. The misguided one is led in a diametrically opposite direction from the path that this faculty is meant to take him, leading him to misbehavior, bad character, and immorality.

            Ghadab – emotional energy, which Allah has bestowed upon each human being to reject, to fight, and to free himself of that which is ugly, frightful, repellent and harmful. The median and the lawful use of this faculty is called Shaja’ – valor, bravery, the ability to attack, repel and subdue that which is harmful to his being. The exaggerated use of the same faculty leads the distortion of the goal: anger, quarrelsomeness; the extreme misuse of this faculty leads to coward­liness, which is a sickness and a sin, preventing the seeker from abolishing hindrances and reaching his goal.

            Shawa’ – an energy that moves the seeker towards things that are beautiful, pleasing, beneficial. The median and the right use of this force is called ‘Iffah – chastity, uprightness, with which the human being obtains the wishes of his appetite but only through that which is lawful, and in a lawful way. The excess of desires results in an absence of conscience, shamelessness, and wickedness. Further excess leads to Fujur – debauchery, taking what pleases the ego without any discrimination or consideration of others. The extreme leads him to a state which is called Humud – extinction of all desires, whereby nothing gives any pleasure, not in a positive sense, but because he has been spoiled, having tried every pleasure and losing care for himself.

            If these three faculties work harmoniously, acting upon conditions only within their realm in the right way, neither less nor in excess, the result will be a human being who is wise, valorous, honest and upright, qualities which signify good character resulting in good conduct, pleasing to Allah.

            When there is confusion in the action of these three strengths of the ego: the intellect doing the duty of the emotions, the emotion doing the duty of the intellect, and the emotions doing the duty of the desires, the result is bound to be wrong, false, and unlawful. We are meant to watch the operation of these faculties in us. We will often see these disorderly confrontations of wrong actions and excessive reactions. If we are unable to see it ourselves, that which we see in others should serve us as lessons and we should ask ourselves if we are guilty of the same instead of condemning others. We should listen to the criticism, suggestions and advice of our friends and teachers, silencing our pride, arrogance and egotism. We should consider the accusations of our enemies, and value their insults more than the praise of our friends, as enemies truly seek to expose our faults. After diagnosing our sickness by applying what we have observed with the touchstone of the Shariah, which will show us right and wrong, lawful and unlawful, the sick one should admit his sickness, and the cure is difficult.

            The greatest hardship is the admission of our weakness and our wrong, and then the search for causes of the sickness. Causes could be society, friends, even a family, outside influences, or one’s own wrongdoings, ignorance, arrogance, and ambition. Then we should try to eliminate these causes: change place, change life circumstances, change ourselves. To change ourselves is the hardest. We must be ashamed without making any excuses or having self-pity. We must accuse ourselves in private and in public, and impose on ourselves uncomfortable burdens, things which the ego dislikes. If you are stingy, go out and spend all your money, terrorizing your sense of security. If you are a coward, enter into dangerous situations, terrifying your fears, but do not lose the sense of measure. Remember that often sickness is cured by its opposite.

            This is called Mujahadah – struggle with oneself. Its principles are to go against the wish and the will of your ego, to go against your habits, to force your will to obey Allah’s will by pushing it to work, not for its benefit but for Allah’s sake, and for the benefit of others.  Increase worship and devotion by fasting, extra prayer, meditation and contemplation. This war with your ego can only be successful if it is accompanied by contemplation.

            Contemplation in Sufism is described by the answer of Gabriel (as), when the Messenger of Allah (saws) asked him to explain Ihsan – that benevolence of Allah which keeps one clear of sin and impropriety. Gabriel (as) answered, “Ihsan is a gift of Allah which allows you to pray to Him as if you see Him, as, even if you do not see Him, He certainly sees you.”

            Contemplation is that state of active awareness of the sight of your Lord upon you. That kind of contemplation becomes the source of all good action and becomes the reason for escaping all bad actions. The good servants of Allah make their accounting before their accounting is made for them. In fact, they do their accounting while the act to be accounted for is happening.