Taharah, or purification, is a crucial part of Islam. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Purification is half of iman (faith).”
(Sahih Muslim 223)
Allah Himself tells us in the Quran:
“Verily, he [truly] prospers who purifies himself.”
(Surah Al-A’la, 87:15)
In our quest to please Allah who is Al Quddus, the Most Pure, Muslims strive for both external and internal cleanliness.
External purity manifests in the many ways we strive to be physically clean. Our most sacred rites like prayer, pilgrimage, and fasting must all be done in a state of ritual purity. To have our worship accepted, our bodies must be cleansed of anything that is najas, or ritually unclean. At least five times a day, we perform wudu before praying, making sure our hands, arms, faces, mouths, ears, and feet are washed with fresh water. We also clean with water after using the bathroom (istinja), and take a ritual bath (ghusl), after menstruation, childbirth, and intimacy.
Our places of worship should also be scrupulously clean. Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, said that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, commanded that mosques be built among houses and that they be cleaned and perfumed. Allah praised the worshippers in a mosque at Madinah due to their great regard for cleanliness:
“Within it are men who love to purify themselves; and Allah loves those who purify themselves.”
(Surah At-Tawbah, 9:108)
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, strictly forbade consuming anything whose odor may be offensive to others prior to coming to the mosque. He said,
“Whoever has eaten garlic or onion should keep away from us and our mosque, and stay at home.” (Bukhari 7359)
For over 1,00 years, Islam has been distinguished by its focus on physical cleanliness. In the Middle Ages, when the vast majority of Europeans placed very little value on personal hygiene, rarely bathed, and frequently died of preventable diseases, Muslims had an extremely enlightened and advanced approach to hygiene and medicine.
“Crusading knights would boast to the hygiene-conscious Muslims of only having bathed four times this year. Many tens of thousands of Christians would end their days in the Holy Land, not falling in glorious battle, but through simple lack of basic hygiene, or the victim of primitive Western healthcare.
By contrast, Islamic society was highly sophisticated, both in hygiene and medicine. The Hadith states that personal cleanliness is half of faith, and Islamic society put this into effect. Medieval Muslims were to wash before each of their five daily prayers, and, as today, alcohol was officially forbidden. How far these religious laws were observed is debatable – but they were miles ahead of Western Christian hygiene. Scholars like al-Zahrawi (c. 963 – 1013) invented hair-removal techniques, bad breath cures, and even the under-arm deodorant!”1
While external purity is fairly easy to achieve, especially in modern times where most people have easy access to clean water, internal purity is a lifelong challenge. To have a pure heart that is pleasing to our Lord, we must learn to control our thoughts, desires, and actions. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, told us:
“Verily, in the body is a piece of flesh which, if sound, the entire body is sound, and if corrupt, the entire body is corrupt. Truly, it is the heart.”
How do we achieve a pure heart? There are many steps we can take.
Ask Allah for forgiveness.
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Indeed, when the servant commits a sin, a black dot appears on his heart. When he desists, seeks forgiveness and repents, his heart is polished clean. But if he commits a sin again, it increases until it covers his heart.”
Read the Quran and make dhikr.
Keep your tongue busy with the glorification of Allah.
“He has succeeded who purifies himself, who remembers the name of his Lord and prays.”
(Surah Al-A’la, 87:14–15)
Let go of grudges.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, advised his Companion Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, to begin and end each day by emptying his heart of hatred or resentment for anyone. One of the best ways we can do this is to make duaa for the person we’re angry at. If we sincerely ask Allah to forgive and guide them, we are on our way to emptying our heart of the grudges that pollute it.
Identify your shortcomings and sins and work to overcome them.
Beware the hidden sins of jealousy, pride, and arrogance, which are diseases of the heart.
Reflect about Allah often.
Take note of His beautiful creation, the many blessings He has given you, and His marvelous attributes.
Try to have sincere good intentions toward your fellow believers.
Wish them success, do not think the worst of them, and give them the benefit of the doubt. This attitude is from the Sunnah of our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, who said:
“Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; do not spy on one another; do not look for other’s faults; do not be jealous of one another; do not envy one another; do not hate one another; and do not desert (shun) one another. And O Allah’s servants! Be brothers.”
Spend time in good company.
And avoid those who bring out the worst in you. If you know, for instance, that you tend to gossip or backbite when you’re with a certain group, then avoid that group.
Focus less on the worldly life.
We get distracted by so many things and lose sight of the big picture. Pleasing Allah should always be our first priority, and often that means sacrificing things that distract us. If we spend less time scrolling on social media, binge watching TV, and acquiring more stuff, and replace those things with the remembrance of Allah and good deeds, we will be on our way to a pure heart, inshaAllah, God willing.
Laura El Alam is a freelance writer and editor and the author of the book Made From the Same Dough, as well as over 100 published articles. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts. You can visit her online at www.seaglasswritingandediting.com.