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Tazkiyah-i Nafs
Asif Iftikhar

The Importance of Self-Redemption in Religion and its Need in General

Why were prophets1 and messengers sent by God, scriptures revealed, and Divine laws enacted? To any mind sincerely endeavouring to determine the raison d'etre of this Divine scheme, there can be only one answer: to purge man's soul of his sins. This spiritual advancement of man, which in Islamic literature is called `Tazkiyah-i Nafs' (Purification of the self), was the underlying object of Muhammad's mission (sws) as is obvious from the prayer in which Abraham requested God to send a prophet for this purpose:

Lord, send them a Prophet from among them, who may recite into them thy revelations, and teach them the book [the Qur’ān] and wisdom, and may purify them, for thou art mighty and wise [2:129]

The object in sending Muhammad (sws) was described in these words by God when Abraham's prayer was answered:

As we have sent unto you a Prophet from among you, who recites unto you Our revelations, and purifies you, and teaches you the book [the Qur’ān] and wisdom, and teaches you that which you knew not. [2:151]

Similarly, in Sūrah Juma'h, while recounting his favours on Bani Ismā‘īl , God refers to the aims and objectives of Muhammad's mission [sws]:

"It is He who has sent among the unlettered [Bani-Ismā‘īl ] a Prophet of their own, to recite unto them His revelations, and to purify them, and to teach them the Book and wisdom, whereas they had been, before, in manifest error." [62:2]

Here, an argument can be raised against the proposition that `Tazkiyah-i Nafs' was the underlying reason for sending Muhammad as a Prophet, because reciting the revelations and teaching the book and wisdom have also been mentioned as emphatically in the verses quoted above. However, the literary style of the Qur’ān clearly indicates that these objectives are only means to an end---`Tazkiyah-i Nafs', because in the 129th verse of Sūrah Baqarah, the word `Tazkia' (Purification) comes at the end, whereas in another verse of the same Sūrah [2:151] at the beginning. This variation cannot be without a pertinent reason in a book of Qur’ān’s literary level. The reason, as it appears from the change in expression, is to highlight the importance of `Tazkiyah'---the real object of all the efforts of the Prophet, for it is only the supreme object that deserves incessant attention at the beginning as well as at the end, and is the starting point of one's endeavours as well as the zenith; the point from where one begins one's journey as well as the final and ultimate destination.

(Translated from Islahi's `Tazkiyah-i Nafs')





1. The word `Prophet' has been used (for reasons to be explained later) as a synonym for the Arabic term `Rasul', and `Messenger' for `Nabi. Both the Arabic words have been used in the Qur’ān with specific connotations, and are not interchangeable.


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