Practical Tips for Purification of the Heart

“A day in which neither wealth nor children shall be of any benefit, except one who comes to God with a sound heart” (Sūrat’l-Shu‘arā’: 88-89).

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is reported to have said, “In the body there is a morsel of flesh, if it is sound, the whole body is sound. If it is corrupted, the whole body is corrupted. Indeed, it is the heart.” Spiritual purification of the self is thus the essence of Islamic teachings. Knowledge of this science was traditionally learned by keeping company with good teachers and righteous companions. However, this option is unavailable to many of us. What follows is advice that I have been gathering from various scholars regarding spiritual purification. I have compiled the following as a reminder for myself and for those searching for similar advice.

Begin with Repentance

Sins are barriers which restrict the opportunity to do good works; so we must begin with sincere repentance. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “When a servant commits a sin, a spot is inscribed on his heart. Should he then refrain and ask for forgiveness, it is removed. When he repeats it a larger one appears, until his heart is enveloped by it”. In a hadith qudsi, God says,”O My servants! You sin by night and by day, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive you”.

While we will continue to struggle with wrong actions, they must not be a reason for us to despair and give up on drawing closer to God. Do good works and the attachment to sins will wane with time. A specific repentance with the intention of starting on a spiritual quest will act as a starting line and will put us in the right frame of mind.

Like this?
Get more of our great articles.

Why ask for forgiveness if we know we will commit sins again?

Ibn Atallāh summarizes a few reasons: Allah loves those who constantly repent (Qur’ān  Sūrat’l-Baqarah: 222); our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the best of creation, would seek repentance over 70 times a day; repentance from a sin reduces its sweetness – it discourages you from doing it again.

Establish Daily Routines (Awrad)

Just like our physical muscles, our spiritual muscles need to undergo regular training in order to be strengthened. Imām Al-Ghazāli exhorts on the importance of routines, “Your time should not be without structure, such that you occupy yourself arbitrarily with whatever comes along. Rather, you must take account of yourself and order your worship during the day and the night, assigning to each period of time an activity that must not be neglected nor replaced by another activity. By the ordering of this time, the blessing will show in itself.”

Following is a brief list of actions one must perform regularly, without excuse or neglect.

a)     The Obligatory Prayers

This one is so obvious it doesn’t need to be stated. However, the reality is, most of us struggle to keep up with our five prayers on time. Those already doing this should work on offering the voluntary prayers (sunnan rawatib) and supererogatory prayers (dhuda, ishrāq, alāt’l-wuū’ etc).

Sound actions emanate from sound states. If you are struggling to keep up with the prayers, look at the spiritual causes that might be hindering your access to this blessing. Are you constantly engaged in wrong actions from which you haven’t repented? What type of company do you keep; do they have concern for faith and prayer ? Is your heart regularly exposed to environments where major ills are committed (e.g. consumption of intoxicants)? Worship is a gift that can be taken away, so be careful. A scholar reported his experience stating that, “I once said something about someone I should not have said, and I was deprived of the night prayer for forty days”.

‘Actions are by their intentions’, so check yours. Sincerity in intention is to seek God’s pleasure alone. How do you know if you are sincere? Imām Qushayri quotes in his Risala, “The major flaw of the sincere one is that he is aware of his sincerity. When God Most High wants to render his sincerity pure, he removes from his sincerity his awareness of being sincere.”

b)    Have a daily reading of Qur’ān

Whether it is a hizb (i.e. 1/60  of Quran), a few pages or a few lines, pick an amount that you can commit to reading from the Qur’ān everyday. Make it a routine to read that amount after one of the obligatory prayers—after Fajr is usually the best time to do so.

c)     Daily Supplications (Dhikr) for Morning and Evenings

Having a regular wird (a designated amount) of dhikr is also necessary in one’s daily routine. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) recommended supplications for mornings and evenings. These have been complied in numerous books and litanies. Set aside a time, usually after Fajr and Maghrib, to recite them.  Imām al-Haddad’s Wird-al-Latif and Ratib-al-Shahir are from one of the most comprehensive and easy to recite (takes just 10-15 mins), based completely on Qur’ān and Sunnah. You can pick one which you like or vary between them. Other places these supplications can be found are in books like Hisn al Muslim, Adhkar Imām Nawawi and other collections.

d)    Salutations (Salawat) upon the Prophet

Sending prayers on the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) helps us engender love for him and is key for cleansing the heart. In our daily supplications, we must include a routine of salutations (Arabic: salawat, Urdu: durood) on him. We should aim to do this throughout our day, but including it in our daily routine inculcates the practice. One way to do this is to establish the habit of saying allallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam whenever he is mentioned. Pick a salwat you like and make it a habit of repeating it. The most famous book of salutations upon the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is Imām Jazuli’s Dalā’il al Khairāt. The book has set aside a chapter of salutations for each day of the week; it can be recited on a weekly or daily basis.

In general make an effort to, “Keep your tongue moist with the remembrance of Allāh.”

Control you diet

Imām Al-Ghazāli  considered the stomach and genitals to be the dominators of our desires; if they are in control; all other limbs are kept in check. Controlling our diet is especially needed, given that we live in a society where obesity is a serious problem and we don’t think twice about eating to satiety.

Imām Al-Haddād succinctly summarize the moderation we need to bring to our diets: Do not make good and pleasurable food your prime concern…Beware of eating excessively and frequently eating to satiety, for even if it be from halal foods it will still be the beginning of many evils. It results in hardening of the heart, loss of perspicacity, confused thinking, laziness in worship, and other things. The way to be moderate is to stop eating while still desiring to eat, and not to start eating until you really want food. The sign that yours is a real desire is that you desire any kind of food.

Reading List

Following is a list of manuals that outline in greater detail the steps one needs to take to attain purification of the heart. While many books have been written on the subject; these books are known for the ‘hands-on’ approach taken by the authors.

1)    Agenda To Change our Condition by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir. A short book written for Western readers in mind. It sets our practical steps one should take to achieve Taqwa (God-consciousness).

2)    The Book of Assistance by Imām Al-Haddād: A must read for anyone seeking spiritual purification. The book is known for succinctness and practicality.

3)    The Beginning of Guidance by Imām Al-Ghazāli: Hujjat al-Islam’s goal in this book is to outline beneficial knowledge; he also lays out a timetable to which one should aspire to follow. Written in the post-Ihya period, it’s a must read for students of knowledge and the layperson alike.

4)    Purification of the Hearts by Imām Mawlud: Presented in English with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s commentary, the book outlines spiritual diseases and their remedies.

The last piece of advice is to make du‘ā’. Practical measures outlined above need to be coupled with constant prayer asking God to grant us a pure heart and help us abstain from sins. Guidance and steadfastness is a gift from God, so it must be asked for. The following is a beneficial prayer to be recited regularly:

يَا مُقَلِّب الْقُلُوب ثَبِّتْ قَلْبـِي عَلَى دِينك

“O Over-Turner of Hearts! Make firm my heart upon your religion”

Imam Nawawi’s Spiritual Bucket List

All of the above has been summarized succinctly in a paragraph by Imam Nawwawi in his Maqasid. While it appears challenging, we must have high aspirations and should work towards achieving this spiritual bucket list. (Taken from Shaykh Hamza’s translation of Sidi Ahmed Zarruq’s Foundations of the Spiritual Pathanother beneficial read):

One reaches Allah Most High by repenting from all things, unlawful or offensive; seeking sacred knowledge in accordance with one’s needs; maintaining ritual purity; performing the obligatory prayers in the first of their time and in congregation, including the Sunna prayers that correspond to each of the obligatory prayers; adhering to the eight raka’ats of the midmorning prayer (Duha) and the six raka’ats after the sunset prayer and before the night prayer; performing the night prayers (tahajjud) after awaking from one’s sleep; fulfilling the witr prayer; fasting on Mondays and Thursdays and on the three days of the full moon – i.e. the 13th,14th, and 15th of the lunar month – and also the days of the year in which fasting is recommended; reciting the Quran with the heart’s presence coupled with reflection upon its meanings; frequently asking forgiveness of Allah (istighfar); maintaining prayers and blessings upon the Prophet, peace be upon him; and, finally, adhering to the meritorious invocations of the morning and the evening that have come to us from the Sunna (adhkaar as-sabaah wa al-masa)

 [Last Updated: January 2018]

22 / View Comments

22 responses to “Practical Tips for Purification of the Heart”

  1. Umara Tanwer says:

    Assalaamu Alaikum. JazakAllah khair for this very beneficial post!

  2. amel says:

    its a really good post, giving pointers on what should be done daily, jazakAllah

  3. Traveller says:

    May Allah reward you in abundance brother, the links are amazing thank you.

  4. Hili Cliffe says:

    How sure are we that our sin is forgiven? Doesn’t it depend on Allah’s decision?

    • Zaheer says:

      Salaam,

      Not sure brother Waleed stated this anywhere in the article, or if you’re just asking out of interest’s sake – the answer, of course, is that Allah’s decision encompasses everything, so naturally it is His (s.w.t.) decision whether he forgives the sins of an individual, or not.

      However, this is precisely why we should make istighfaar, and then make istighfaar, and again, and again. We are never certain that Allah has forgiven us, so we constantly seek His (s.w.t.) forgiveness until He (s.w.t.) returns us to Him (s.w.t.).

      On a relevant side-note: many people get discouraged from seeking forgiveness, and from making du’a in general, because there are no “signs” that Allah has forgiven them or has answered their du’a. This is the first mistake to make because it demonstrates lack of faith – Waleed’s excellent example of the Nabi Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) making constant istighfar, even though he never committed sin and any sin he may have committed would have been instantly forgiven, is a sign for us. We have numerous sins, and no automatic protection from Allah for them, unless He (s.w.t.) wills. So, by rights, we should be making much more istighfar than our beloved Nabi (s.a.w.s)

      • Hili Cliffe says:

        Hello?

        May I thank for your effort to reply to my question. However, I am shocked that being a Muslim I cannot be sure that my sins are forgiven. It means that I cannot rest assured of the kingdom of Allah (s.w.t). It is thus just guess work. How will you therefore tell somebody to repent of his sin if you yourself are not sure if that person will be forgiven. It implies that if thus believing in Isa bin Marriam can bring forgiveness as christian’s Bible claim, then He is worth following.

        • Zaheer says:

          Hello Hilli,

          I think you may have misunderstood. Or, rather, my explanation was inadequate:-)

          What I meant was, everything is in Allah’s decree – we cannot say, “Okay, I asked for forgiveness, now Allah has forgiven me”. This doesn’t mean we should despair in Allah’s mercy, never ask for forgiveness, and na’uthibllah, start worshipping Isa (a.s) and asking him for forgiveness.

          What it does mean, is that we should never feel secure that our sins are forgiven, and that we can “rest” and not increase our good deeds, spiritual levels, and du’a.

          So, while no one can guarantee that their, or anyone else’s sin has been forgiven, the Qur’an and Sunnah has taught us that Allah’s mercy is vast, and that so long as we make sincere repentance, there is the possibility of Allah forgiving it. And all sins, besides ascribing partners to Him (s.w.t.), can be forgiven even after we die, if He (s.w.t.) so wills.

          The important thing is that we don’t despair when committing sin, but feel regret, make repentance, and move on (i.e. don’t dwell on the sin and whether Allah has forgiven it or not). Assume the best of your Lord, as our Nabi (s.a.w.s.) has said, but fear His (s.w.t.) punishment as well. In this way, the balance between hope in His (s.w.t.) mercy and fear of His (s.w.t.) punishment can be achieved. The vehicle? Du’a:-)

          Hope this explains what I meant.

    • abdirahman says:

      The real diseases are sins and one must repent from them all the time. We can never be sure if Allah accepted our repentence. However a sign that shows your prayers has been accepted is that you stop commiting those sins.

    • nb says:

      Part of repentance is having faith in Allah’s promise that he WILL forgive you. Yes we don’t know until day of Judgment if its accepted but we BELIEVE it is, Allah is what you think of Him so have the BEST opinion of Him. You will always commit sin that’s why we always turn back to Allah not because we are hung up on the past. Also, taubah means turning back, not seeking forgiveness,Our Nabi S.A.W would “turn back” to Allah i.e remember Him after being occupied with worldly work, which is normal and we all need to keep remembering Allah. Allahu Alim

    • Hassan says:

      Well it surely depends upon the decision of ALLAH but if you are repenting with true heart and pure intention you’ll have a satisfaction. This is the indication that ALLAH has forgiven you. I hope it answered your question.

    • Fatima Irene says:

      assalamu alaikum. When you cannot do that sin again, it only means that Allah s.w.t. has already forgiven you. Of course don’t forget to ask for His forgiveness first. There is always forgiveness from Allah s.w.t. whenever you ask for it, because that is who Allah s.w.t. is! The Most Forgiving. :)

  5. Guest says:

    thank you! much needed now that ramadan is ending

  6. […] Practical tips for purification of the heart by Muslim Matters […]

  7. Kimberly Kate says:

    Assalaamu’alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakaatuhu. JazakAllahu Khayran.

  8. Alham-du-Lillah. There is nothing wrong with this article. In my opinion the remedy for the purification of heart is very basic . Every individual that comes to the Masjid follow these rituals regularly without any doubt. This topic is a real heavy duty topic and it requires tremendous research and explanation. There is a difference in over the counter medications and prescribed medications, both of them have healing power and effectiveness except that later one is superior to the earlier one. May Allah guide us all. My comments are not intended to hurt any body’s felling’s except that I am still thirsty.

  9. addina says:

    Thank you for sharing this article. May Allah keep firm our hearts in this religion.

  10. Kutub says:

    Jaza kallah for the post .indeed good advice for spiritual enhancement.

  11. khalidoon says:

    Jazakkallahu khair. MashaaAllah this is really a great help to those who are in need of such advices like me. But may i ask, how may i be sincere then if being aware that i am sincere means i am not sincere? I hope you help me be enlighten in this matter sukran

    • Waleed Ahmed says:

      waiiyak. we can’t know if we’re sincere and whether an act we did was in fact accepted by God. we have to constantly check our intentions and keep renewing it while we do our acts..its a constant struggle

  12. Sana says:

    Very beneficial article,very helpful and enriching,may Allah bless u and all of us aameen

  13. Adam says:

    Allah says that he forgives sins times in the Qur’an. All u have to do is worship none but Him. Follow the way of Muhammad peace be upon him. And the messenger said to follow up an evil deed with a good deed and the latter will wipe out the former. Meaning if u fall into a sin then do something of good ie charity, be dutiful to parents, help someone in need, help an orphan etc. Lots good we can do if we think. Read the Qur’an if u are unsure about things. It was sent as a book of guidance after all. Allah protect this deen and Bestow ur mercy on the believers. Ameen.

  14. A sinner says:

    Allahumma innaka ‘afuwwun, tuhibbul-‘afwa, fa’fu ‘anni
    (O Allah, You are Most Forgiving, and You love forgiveness; so forgive me).” :'( :'(

    brothers and sisters plz keep me in your prayer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *