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Self Purification and the Forgotten Ideal
Kamran Bashir Sheikh


(The author can be contacted at

It was the time of the beginning of the freshman class. Students were rushing to their classrooms anticipating their ideals to be realized. Kim was one of them. Eyes brimming with intellect, he was walking with both enthusiasm and calmness. Some fifteen to twenty students had already gathered in the class, when he entered the room. The teacher cast a quick glance at him and waved his head to take his seat.

‘Before we commence our proceedings, I think we should be very clear in our mind where we are heading. Let’s begin with the ideals. What are your ideals in life?’, the teacher grasped the attention of the class with an important question. ‘I want to be a great engineer’, one student rose and uttered his intentions. ‘That’s very ambitious of you, sir. Ok! Keep it up’, said the teacher. ‘I want to be Bill Gates, your majesty!’, another student unfolded his plans in a rather over ambitious fashion. ‘But then I will not be the Majesty, rather it will be you, man’, the teacher made it clear. I will work for the supremacy of Islam’, said one excited pupil with great vehemence. ‘Hey, that’s great’, said the teacher sparkling with delight and not being able to control his emotions. ‘I want to be a great leader of my country’, said another one with great determination. ‘Self-purification! This is my ideal, sir’, said Kim in rather composed voice.

‘What do you mean my dear? Self-purification? This can’t be end in itself’, asked the teacher. For him, Kim had said something incomprehensible.

For the common readers, the discourse above may seem to be a strange one. Like the honourable teacher, who failed to understand self-purification as an ideal in itself, many of us in our society and the Muslim world do not accept it as the real objective of our life. For a common man, either it is a minor goal of one’s life or it is something not to be striven for. It is the goal of a saint or some super-natural being who can afford to tread this near-to-impossible path. But if one has the courage to know the truth, it is the brightest of the truths revealed by God. The true message of Islam rests on this pillar. It was this pearl that was desired and cherished by all the Divine messengers. Be it the Jesus (sws) or Muhammad (sws), all these great people stressed on achieving self-purification.

With the fall of Muslim Empire and after losing the glory that we enjoyed for nearly thousand years, we lost this golden principle as well and thereby diverted our attention from ourselves. We started concentrating on others to mend their ways instead of ameliorating ourselves. Instead of letting people come up as natural leaders, we attempted to make them leaders of need -- because for us, the only area to work for was the supremacy of Islam, as is very aptly epitomised by an expressive poet of the modern era:


Mayrī zindagī kā maqsad, tayray dīn kī sarfarāzī

Mayn isī liyayn musalman, mayn isī liyayn namāzī


(The supremacy of Islam is the objective of my life; I am a Muslim only for this purpose and pray only to achieve this goal)

But a careful thought on the message of the Holy Book will bring to light a fascinating feature of our lives. Self-purification is the most soul-satisfying, soul-embellishing of the processes that we can master. To cleanse our souls from the filth we encounter, off and on, is not something specific to extraordinary people. It is an art if we happen to understand it from within. It is not the kind of a thing that is achieved in a day; only those can experience it who start their journey towards it and who do not waste time in searching for some mentor to help. And as you gain strength during this very journey, you feel that something foul had been poured over you. And then you can’t be carried away by undesirable acts so easily. A blaming-self monitors you and warns you perpetually to be away from the path to perversion. A stage comes as you traverse further when you find yourself a great artist who adorns his masterpiece with final touches. But here he is the masterpiece himself.

Despite the force of this great truth, the mist of ideas that have been spread over centuries is something very difficult to argue with. Today looking towards our inner selves with a view to reform it is considered to be an act of sheer selfishness. It is deemed against the message of Islam. But as one great eastern poet has said:


Ik tarzi taghāful hay, so woh un ko mubārak

Ik ‘ardi tamanā hay, so ham kartay rahayn gay


(If they have the power to refuse us, we have the courage to continue)

But, at the same time, we can’t help a serious thought enkindling in our heart, a worry that we feel for those who vociferously advocate the supremacy of Islam as the real destination of our lives: What would happen if the Almighty asks the question on the Day of Reckoning : ‘What was your ideal in life ?’



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