Ghazali's Tazkiyat Al-Nafs & Its Relation with Individual’s Development & Mental Health

Author: Dr. Mukhtar Solihin, M.A.

The purification of soul is the most important theme in tasawuf,[i] because it is important method to bring near to God. Therefore, Sufis always talk about it. Sufism is not really some kind of esoteric secret thing. Sufism is simply the sciences and methodologies for the purification of the soul which have arisen within the context of Islam. In the the Qur’an’s language, this theme is known as “Tazkiyat al-Nafs.”
Term of tazkîyat in the Arabic language means purification of something (from adulterants), its growth and development and to bring it to the height of its perfection. Thereafter in Sufism, term of tazkiyat includes al-nafs, it means purification of soul from bad characteristics (al-Akhlâq al-Majmûmah).  
The concept of tazkiyat al-nafs was being explain by some Sufis, especially al-Ghazali. In his conception, tazkiyat al-nafs has been being explained by the Qur’an: “By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it; and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; truly he succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it!” (Al-Shams 91:7-10).

In this paper I shall speak about tazkiyat al-nafs (the purification of soul) according to al-Ghazali. This theme is chosen by writer, because it is needed until this modern era. Tazkiyat al-nafs is also part of the spiritual health. It means purification of the self from all evil inclinations and its beautification with good values and virtues. This was actually the mission of the Prophet Muhammad -peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Allah chose him and appointed him as our Teacher and Master for this purpose.  Even now Tazkiyat al-nafs is relevance with individual development and mental health in this modern era.

Al-Ghazali’s Tazkiyat al-nafs
Al-Ghazali’s full name is Abu Hamid Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali al-Tusi.  He was the greatest Islamic thinkers who was called as "the Hujjat al-lslam" (the Proof of Islam), “the agent of moral”, and “the greatest sufi figure”.  He was born in 450 A.H. (1058 A.D.) in Tus, Khurasan near Meshhad in present-day Iran, and died at Tabran in Jamadil Ukhra 505 A.H. at the age of 55 years.[ii] His father was a wool spinner (ghazzal) and thus, relative to this profession, al-Ghazali acquired this name.[iii]

He learned various branches of traditional Islamic religious sciences in his home town. He was also involved in Sufi practices from an early age. Being recognized by Nizam al-Mulk, the vizir of the Seljuqsultans, he was appointed head of the Nizamiyyah College at Baghdad in AH 484/1091 CE. Four years later, however, al-Ghazali fell into a serious spiritual crisis and finally left Baghdad, renouncing his career and the world. After wandering in Syria and Palestinefor about two years and finishing the pilgrimage to Mecca, he returned to Tus, where he was engaged in writing, Sufi practices and teaching his disciples until his death.

In Islamic thinking world, al-Ghazali figure is researched by scholars. They research al-Ghazali’s thoughts from some aspect, especially interested in sufism. In his sufism, he spoke about tazkiyat al-nafs (purification of soul).

Al-Ghazali’stazkiyat al-nafs has relevance with individual growth and development. He expounds in very clear terms a distinct concept of individual growth and development. A human being is both, body and soul, matter and spirit. It is the unique balance between the two contrasts that makes humans what they are, the highest creation. The original condition of the human being is that of fitrah which is uprightness. According to al-Ghazali, a human being is born in a natural state of purity (fitrah al Islam). The potential to do good or bad exists. It is the early environment that determines how those potentials are enhanced. If the environment is good, the good potentials are promoted. If it is bad the bad ones are.

The nafscan be purified by acts of ibadat, avoiding the forbidden, generally being conscious of the Creator [with tafakkur], constant meditation about the creation [with dzikr], and apply good morals (akhlâq mahmûdah) in life. According to al-Ghazali, these are called purification of soul (tazkiyat al-nafs). Until nowadays, we necessary to do purification of soul. Therefore, in this paper, I shall explain about the purification of soul (tazkiyat al-nafs) according to al-Ghazali.

Al-Ghazali’s tazkiyat al-nafs was normally closely to morality. Morality according to al-Ghazali was conscientious action in accordance with the moral law (akhlâq). But conscientious action is not possible without the possession of purity of motive by the moral agent, which in its turn necessitates a continuous psychological effort, named in tasawuf terminology as tazkiyat. According to al-Ghazali, that Allah saw in the Holy Qur’an:
“By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it;  And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; Truly he succeeds that purifies it, And he fails that corrupts it” (al-Qur’ân, 91: 7-10).

Literally, the word tazkîyahmeans the removal of undesirable growths and impurities. As a spiritual-moral term, it denotes the self-imposed effort of moral agent for eradicating those tendencies within the human self, which form obstacles in the path of moral development.[iv]  Thus, it can be understood that the eradication consisting in resolving the conflict between good and evil that rages in human soul.

The Holy Qur’an affirm the existence of two aspect of human nature, i.e. al-nafs al-Amârah  (the Impelling of Carnal Self) and al-nafs al-Lawwâmah(the reproaching of Moral self) and the conflict that occurs between them. Therefore, it affirms that the situation of conflict has to be resolved through discarding the behests of the al-nafs al-Amârah at the instance of al-nafs al-Lawwâmah, thereby enabling the self to transform into al-nafs al-muthma’innah. Its through undertaking this kind of process that an individual can achieve the tazkiyat al-nafsas what has been said in the Holy Qur’an:
Allah did confer a great favour on the Believers when He sent among them a Messenger from among themselves, rehearsing unto them the Signs of Allah, sanctifying them, and instructing them in Scripture and Wisdom, while before that, they had been in manifest error” (al-Qur’ân, 3: 164). 

According to al-Ghazali and generally Sufis, that tazkiyat al-nafs need help from Allah. In the Qur’an is explained, that Allah purifies whom He wants (4:49). All human effort at Tazkiyat should always be accompanied by supplication for Allah's intervention without which human effort will bear no fruit. On the other hand, it is wrong for a human to make no effort and passively expect Allah to intervene. Humans must play their role before expecting Allah's help.

Furthermore, the Sufis method of tazkiyat al-nafs is more reliable on the discussion on concept of nafs, rûh, qalb and ‘aql together with the philosophical and metaphysical doctrines such as longing, gnosis, annihilation, eternity, passionate love and so on which they developed during their mystical journey.
Al-Ghazali’s tazkiyat al-nafs was begun from his doubt to knowledge. In his autobiography, al-Munqidh min al-Dalâl (The Deliverer from Error), written late in his life. It was his habit from an early age, he says, to search for the true reality of things. In the process he came to doubt the senses and even reason itself as the means to ‘certain knowledge’, and fell into a deep skepticism. However, he was eventually delivered from this with the aid of the divine light, and thus recovered his trust in reason. Using reason, he then set out to examine the teachings of ‘the seekers after truth’: the theologians, philosophers, Batinites and concluded 'There remained, then, only what was attainable, not by hearing and studying, but by fruitional experience and actually engaging in the way'.  As a result of these studies, he came to the realization that there was no way to certain knowledge except through sufism. In order to reach this ultimate truth of the Sufis, however, it is first necessary to renounce the world and to devote oneself to mystical practice. Al-Ghazali came to this realization through an agonising process.

Al-Ghazali explained in his autobiography why he renounced his brilliant career and turned to Sufism. It was, he says, due to his realization that there was no way to certain knowledge or the conviction of revelatory truth except through Sufism. (This means either that the traditional form of Islamic faith was in a very critical condition at the time, or he simply did not agree with the standard day to day grind of "ordinary" Islam.) This realization is possibly related to his criticism of Islamic philosophy. In fact, his refutation of philosophy is not a mere criticism from a certain (orthodox) theological viewpoint. First of all, his attitude towards philosophy was ambivalent; it was both an object of criticism and an object of learning (for example, logic and the natural sciences). He mastered philosophy and then criticized it in order to Islamicize it. The importance of his criticism lies in his philosophical demonstration that the philosophers’ metaphysical arguments cannot stand the test of reason. However, he was also forced to admit that the certainty of revelatory truth, for which he was so desperately searching, cannot be obtained by reason. It was only later that he finally attained to that truth in fana’ which in Sufism refers to the state of losing one's self and ego. Through his own religious experience, he worked to revive the faith of Islam by reconstructing the religious sciences upon the basis of Sufism, and to give a theoretical foundation to the latter under the influence of philosophy. Thus Sufism came to be generally recognized in the Islamic community. Though Islamic philosophy did not long survive al-Ghazali's criticism, he contributed greatly to the subsequent philosophization of Islamic theology and Sufism.  Finally, al-Ghazali convince that Sufi is better way, because Sufi always purifies his soul (tazkiyat al-nafs) and appears good morals.[v]

Al-Ghazali began his theory with the purification of the human nature (nafs). According to al-Ghazali the essence of a person is the nafs and not the physical body. Thus personality and behavior are referred to as the nafs.

Meaning of nafs: It has two meanings. First, it means the powers of anger and lust in a human being... and this is the usage mostly found among the [so-called] people of tasawwuf, who take “nafs" as the comprehensive word for all the evil attributes of a person. That is why they say: one must certainly do battle with the soul/self and break it (la budda min mujahadat al-nafs wa kasriha), as is referred to in the hadîth: A`da `aduwwuka nafsuka al-lati bayna janibayk (Your worst enemy is your nafs which lies between your flanks) Al-‘Irâqî says it is in Bayhaqî on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbâs and its chain of transmission contains Muhammad ibn Abd al-Rahman ibn Ghazwan, one of the forgers.
The second meaning of nafs is the spirit, the human being in reality, his self and his person. However, it is described differently according to its different states. If it assumes calmness under command and has removed from itself the disturbance caused by the onslaught of passion, it is called “the satisfied soul” (al-nafs al-mutma'inna)... In its first meaning the nafs does not envisage its return to God because it has kept itself far from Him: such a nafsis from the party of shaytân. However, when it does not achieve calmness, yet sets itself against the love of passions and objects to it, it is called “the self-accusing soul” (al-nafs al-lawwama), because it rebukes its owner for his neglect in the worship of his master... If it gives up all protest and surrenders itself in total obedience to the call of passions and shaytân, it is named “the soul that enjoins evil” (al-nafs al-ammara bi al-su’)... which could be taken to refer to the soul/self in its first meaning.[vi]

In that regard, al-Ghazali fellows other Sufi figure such as Abu Thalib al-Makki[vii] by mentioning that the nafs” is a lustful force connected to the whole body jointly and is the place of origin of the blameworthy characteristics. It purification is clearance of all blameworthy characteristics and it’s taking on the attributes of the praiseworthy characteristics.[viii] 

From the description of the nafs, it appears that al-Ghazali accepts the theory of the faculties of the nafs, which are two in number. He refers to its first faculty as lower desire (hawâ)[ix] and the second faculty as anger (ghadab).He remarks that the purification of these faculties is necessary and it can only be achieved by their equilibrium as he says: “Know that nafs has two intrinsic qualities, which are lower desire (hawâ) and anger (ghadab), and all the blameworthy characteristics are begotten from them. Its purification can be achieved by their equilibrium”.[x]

According to al-Ghazali, that hawâ and ghadab often is influenced by Satan’s whispering.  Satan is an enemy of humans. A human who wants to stay pure must be vigilant against Satan's influence. Satan has limited influence over human action. He causes waswasah (Satanic whispers). He leads astray. Satan is never away from humans. Every human has a Satan around him or her.The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, in a very revealing metaphor said that Satan circulates in the human body as does the blood. Satan will always try to confuse humans. He, for example, will attempt to prevent the human from waking up in the morning to pray. The human is however not helpless against Satan. There are many simple actions that will chase Satan away and all of these are part of the process of tazkiyat al-nafs.

To describe this theory of purification of the nafs, al-Ghazali divides the nafsinto two: moderate and excessive.[xi] He explain that when lower desire is excessive, it will produce the quality of lust (shahwah), covetosness (hirs), expectation (‘amal), vileness (khissah), baseness (qanâ’ah), avarice (bukhl), cowardice (jubn), back-biting (ghîbah) and calumny (buhtan).[xii]. Otherwise when the faculty of lower desire is successfully moderate, many praiseworthy  characteristics will appear in the nafs such as modesty (jûd), generosity (sakhawah), love (mahabbah), compassion (shafaqah), respect (ta’zhîm) and patience (sabr).

Furthermore, al-Ghazali explains that when the faculty of anger is excessive, it will produce arrogance (takabbur), antagonism (adâwah), rage (hiddah), vanity (‘ujub), pride (fakhr), conceit (khuyala) and lying (khadhb). He also elaborates that if the faculty of anger able to act, it will produce rancor (hiqd) and if it is unable to do so, it will produce the quality of weakness (‘ajz) and idleness (kasl).[xiii] Therefore he says that when the faculty of anger is moderate, the praiseworthy characteristics will appear in the nafs such as humbleness (tawaddu’), gentleness (hilm), sense of honor (muruwwah), contenment (qanâ’ah), courage (shajâ’ah), generosity (badl) and affection (ithar).[xiv]

For this phase, al-Ghazali emphasizes man to purity his nafs until he achieves this kind of moderation of these faculties, which he names it as equilibrium (i’itidâl).

Al-Ghazali then says that after the purification of the nafs is achieved, man should busy himself with cleansing the heart (qalb),which he describes as being able to ruin the whole body when it, i.e. the heart is ruined. Al-Ghazali cites the popular Tradition from the Prophet:
Truly, in body is a chunk of meat, when it is good, the whole body will be good by it, and when it is ruined, the whole body will be ruined by it, indeed it is the heart, a chunk of meat suspended beneath the chest to the left side.[xv]

He says: “Know that the qalb can have rightness and wrongness; it is rightness is in its purity and its wrongness is in its turbidity. Its purity is in the soundness of its senses and its turbidity is in the deficiency of its senses. When the senses are sound, the heart will be sound”.[xvi].
Like other sufi masters, al-Ghazali regards the qalb as being like a mirror, which grows rusty like iron. He quotes the tradition from Apostle of Allah.

Qalbbecome rusty as iron becomes rusty. It was said: “With what can it be polished, O Apostle of Allah? He said: “The remembrance of Allah Most High and the recitation of the Qur’an.[xvii]
Such a qalb, he suggest may be polished by struggling against desires, acquiring good characteristics, seclusion, solitude and continually remembering (zikr) Allah. Through polishing the qalb, al-Ghazali says that the qalb will manifest “vision of lights (mushâhadat al-anwâr), unveilings (mukâshafat) of the unseen and manifestation of divinity (tajalliyat al-rubûbiyyah), commensurate with the stations (maqâmat) and the states (ahwâl).[xviii]

Al-Ghazali also mentions that the qalb have five senses like the senses of the body, which should be purified in order to achieve the sound qalb.He explains such senses as follows: ”It has hearing to hear the speech of the people of the unseen world; it has eyesight to see glimpses of the unseen world; it has a sense of smell to smell the scent of the unseen world; it has taste to find  thereby by sweetness of love; it has touch to understand rational concept. When its senses are sound, its soundness will be obtained, and when soundness is obtained, the soundness of the qalb will be obtained. When its senses are unsound, the qalb will be unsound and the rest of the body will be unsound because of it.”[xix]    
In this contact, al-Ghazali quotes two Qur’anic verses as an evident for his theory as follows:[xx]
“Many are the Jinns and men We have made for Hell: they have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning)”(al-Qur’ân, 7: 179).           

"Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts” (al-Qur’ân, 22: 46).
Al-Ghazali  also states that, “the qalb has seven phases just as the body has seven organs”, i.e. then “chest” (sadr), the “outer heart” (qalb), the “pericardium” (shaghaf), the “inner heart” (fu’âd), the “grain of the heart” (habbat al-qalb), the “inmost heart” (suwaydâ al-qalb) and the “core of the heart” (muhjat al-qalb). He uses the term “ma’dan” (source) and “mahhall” (center) to show the activities of each phase and the supports each activity with evidence from Qur’anic verses.[xxi]
Al-Ghazali elaborates that sadr is the source of Islam as Allah Most High said: “Is one whose heart Allah has opened to Islam, so that he has received enlightenment from Allah” (al-Qur’ân, 39: 22). And he says that if the sadris not attributed with thw characteristic of Islam, it is the source of unbelief and a center devilish insinuations and the seduction of the soul, as Allah Most High said: “Such as open their breast to unbelief, on them is wrath from Allah” (al-Qur’ân, 16:106). And He said: “[The same] who whispers into the chests of mankind among jinns” (al-Qur’ân, 114: 5).

Whereas the second phase which is regarded as the “outer heart” (qalb),is considered by al-Ghazali as the source of faithas Allah Most High said: “For such He has written faith in their hearts (qulûb)” (al-Qur’ân, 58:22).  Beside that, he also considers it as the center of the light of the intellect and the center of vision (ru’yah),as Allah Most High said: “So that their hearts [and minds] may thus learn wisdom. Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts” (al-Qur’ân, 22: 46).
The third phase which is called “pericardium” (shaghaf)is considered by al-Ghazali as the source of love, ardent love and compassion towards creation, as he quotes Allah Most High said: “Truly hath he inspired her with violent love” (al-Qur’ân, 12:30).  While the fourth phase which is called by al-Ghazali as the “inner heart (fu’âd) is regarded as the source of seeing (mushâhadah) and the center of vision of Divinity, as Allah Most High said: “The [Prophet’s mind and] heart in no way falsified that which he saw.” (al-Qur’ân, 53: 11).         

Therefore, al-Ghazali discusses about three other phases with the fifth phase which is called the “grain of heart” (habbat al-qalb) is the source of love of the presence of Divinity. Whereas the sixth phase is the “inmost heart” (suwaydâ’ al-qalb) is a source of unveilings of the unseen (al-mukâshafah al-ghaybiyah) and the center of the sciences of spiritual intuition (al-‘ulûm al-laduniyah) and the origin of the secrets of the Divinity (al-ilâhiyyah). While, the seventh phase is called by him as the “core of the heart” (muhjat al-qalb), which is the source of the appearance of the lights of manifestation (anwâr al-tajalli).[xxii] These aspect of the heart like the habbat al-qalb and suwaydâ’ al-qalb is not suggested by any Qur’anic verse.

Al-Ghazali further mentions that the cleansing of the heart should be accompanied by the ornamentation of the soul (rûh), which is “the command of Allah”. He says that the rûh is a substance, subtle and luminous, which can be dispensing with nourishment. He also says that the rûh of everything is formed in the image of its body (jasadih), as the Apostle of Allah said: “Allah Most High created Adam in his image”[xxiii], meaning Allah created his form according to the image of his soul which is from the world of command. Therefore, al-Ghazali explains that the world command (‘alam al-amr) is an expression of the world, which does not possess quantity, quality and area because it became existence through al-kâf and al-nûn. He says, this kind of world is opposite of the world of creation because the latter appears through the means of matter and the extension of the days. To supports his idea, al-Ghazali quotes Qur’anic verse: “Who created the heavens and the earth in six days” (al-Qur’ân, 7: 54; 10:3; 11:7, 57:4).

By mentioning the specialty of rûh, al-Ghazali therefore, mentions that the rûhhas five states, which begin with the state of nonexistence (al-‘adam), the second is the state of existence (al-wujûd) in the world of the souls; the third is the state of its connection with the body (jasad); the fourth is the state of separation; and the fifth is the state of returning.[xxiv]

Al-Ghazali discussion of the effect which spiritual exercises will achieve, is particularly concerned with an understanding of two terms “nafs” and “rûh”, between which he makes a definite distinction as mentioned above. This distinction is paralleled by his opinion in the Ihyâ’ ‘Ulum al-Din, he defines his general use of the term nafs in his Ihyâ’ in the following way:
The first is that it means the thing (ma’nan), which unites the irascible and concupiscible power in man… This usage is that which prevails among the Sufis. For they mean by nafs the principle which unites the reprehensible qualities of a man. They affirm: One must strive against the nafsand break it. To this is the allusion in the Prophet’s utterance “You worst enemy is your nafs which is between your two sides”.[xxv]

As in Ihyâ’, he also uses, but only occasionally, nafs to mean what we would describe as the rûh. Thus in the Ihyâ’, al-Ghazali says: “The second thing [designated by nafs] is the subtle thing, which we have spoken of and which in reality is man. It is man’s soul and essence (dhât). But it is characterized by different qualities according to the difference of its states. When it is tranquil under the command [it is in tranquil subjection to Allah’s command] and free from agitation because of the opposition on the passions, it is called the soul at rest (al-nafs al-muthma’innah)”.[xxvi]

In general, al-Ghazali asserts a theory that the nafs of man is occupied with disobedience and following the Devil. Consequently, a black dot will appear in the rûh. When the disobedience of nafs increases, the blackness of the rûh will increase until it becomes wholly black. As a result, the doors of the benevolence of Allah Most High will be closed to it.  When the rûh becomes black and the door of light are closed against it, an action appropriate to that blackness will appears in the limbs. Thus al-Ghazali suggests that the clearing away of its blackness will be accomplished through faith.[xxvii]

According to al-Ghazali, tazkiyat al-nafs as jihad al-nafs (struggle of nafs). The Prophet described this struggle, jihad al-nafs, as the jihad al-akbar (big struggle) in this Hadith: “We returned from the jihad al-asghar to the jihad al-akbar.” His companions asked him, “What is the jihad al-akbar?” meaning, “What could be greater than fighting against unbelief, in the way of God and expecting to die at any moment?” He replied, “The jihadal-nafs.”

It is very difficult to fight one’s self. It is easy to fight one’s enemy because you know he is your enemy, but your self will never tell you it is your enemy. According to al-Ghazali, that reality need struggle [with purification of soul]. Purification of soul is applied with two way: first, to empty soul from bad morals [with takhalli], and second, to fill in soul with good morals [with tahalli]. According to al-Ghazali, the application of tazkiyat al-nafs need the training of soul (riyâdat) and the struggle of soul (mujâhadat).
Furthermore, tazkiyat an-Nafs according to al-Ghazali as the basis for development and improvement of the personality. It is a long, pro-active, and uphill task. It is not an easy esoteric rite or overnight formula. Misunderstanding of tazkiyatmanifests when people look for quick methods of becoming better. Some may visit graves of the righteous; some may repeat certain supplications for a given number of times. Yet others subject themselves to physical suffering in the hope that this will lead to spiritual purity. All of these are forms of escapism from facing the real challenges of tazkiyat al-nafs.

Therefore,the process of tazkiyat al-nafs needs preliminaries:
Good intentions: Tazkiyat al-nafs is not accidental. It is a pro-active process. It must be based on the good and sincere intention to please Allah and draw near to Him. The process of tazkiyat al-nafs can not be sustained if done for other reasons.
Commitment: Tazkiyat al-nafs can be a difficult processespecially at the start. Some may try and think of giving up. Continuing commitment is needed to be able to travel all the way to the end of the process.
Being true: The person undertaking tazkiyat al-nafs must be true to self, to others and to Allah. True to self means understanding and accepting yourself as you are with all the negatives and positives such that the negatives can be suppressed while the positives can be enhanced. Being true to others is saying and acting according to the truth and never deceiving or giving the wrong impressions.
Earnest entreaty to Allah: Tazkiyat al-nafs requires that a very strong desire and longing to turn to Allah and get closer to Him. This gives a sense of direction and a sense of purpose to the tazkiyat al-nafs efforts.
Renouncing materialism (zuhd): According to al-Ghazali, zuhdis part of the tazkiyat al-nafsZuhd means giving priority to the after life. Preferring the material world is severely condemned by the Qur’an. The Hereafter is better than the material world (3:14-15). Zuhdhas been misunderstood by many down the centuries. It does not mean withdrawal from life and making no contribution to the building of a material civilization. Neither does it mean refusing to enjoy the bounties that Allah put on earth for the benefit of humans. Living like a hermit may not be the total or only meaning of Zuhd. Zuhd means belittling materialism and having a correct relation to material goods as things to be used by humans in the fulfillment of their duties to Allah and not as masters who control human behavior.
A person may own a lot of money and material goods but he knows that in front of Allah they are worth very little. He will not be intoxicated by nor worship material goods. He will have a higher scale of values that he refers to. His maximum pleasure will not be attained by material possessions. Zuhd also means not selling eternal values for the sake of temporary material advantage on earth; such a trade is indeed a losing trade. A human should live on earth as a stranger or a traveler in the knowledge that the life in the Hereafter is eternal and that all the time spent on earth should be used to prepare for the Hereafter.

The Technical Sense of al-Ghazali’s Tazkiyat al-Nafs
More or less the same or some such sense is conveyed by the word tazkiyat used as a technical term. According to al-Ghazali, literally it means as already stated above, purification and development to the stage of its perfection. Technically it conveys the sense of checking ourselves from erroneous tendencies and leanings and turning them to the path of virtue and piety (fear of God’s displeasure) and developing it to attain the stage of perfection. This sense of tazkiyat is borne out by the following verse of the Qur’ân:
“By the soul and the proportion and order given to it; and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; - truly he succeeds that purifies it and he fails that corrupts it!” (al-Qur’ân – 91:7-10).

The above verse clarifies the issue. God has so ordered the soul that it has both the inclinations – good and evil, and man has been endowed with the power of distinction between the two; and the path of prosperity for man lies in choosing the side of the good in the struggle between it and the evil, and striving to make it prevail over the evil.

With rightly guided consciousness the extreme struggle to help the good prevail and to vanquish the evil is tazkiyat in the Qur’ânic sense of the term.[xxviii]

Thereafter, according to al-Ghazali, that the human can do a lot to refine the soul (Nafs). The Qur'an talks about humans who purified themselves and about human efforts toward refinement (al-Qur’ân, 35:18). Humans have been described by the Qur'an as clean (al-Qur’ân, 19:19). Some human self-refinement, tazkiyat, involves: correct and firm `aqîdah, fulfillment of acts of worship, avoiding the forbidden, generally being conscious of the Creator, and constant meditation about the creation. This is followed by personal development and improvement, which consist of a good character and behavior; assertiveness, and self-confidence. An individual may not succeed alone. Living in a righteous community surrounded by others is necessary to motivate and encourage refinement. Islam is a practical religion. Achievement of purity is through action. Good behavior, avoiding bad behavior, and being strong and assertive in making correct choices is the practical way to purity.[xxix]

With the sense of tazkiyat in view if we were to contemplate over it we must come to the conclusion that all of the arts and sciences dealing directly with our inner selves, medical science is the only one resembling the knowledge of tazkiyat. Medical science deals with the ailment of our physique and the treatment and cure thereof, whereas tazkiyat treats the subject of the ailments of the spirit and their eradication. But in spite of this resemblance there is also a great difference between the two. The ambit of the discussions of the medical science is very limited, dealing with only one aspect of our selves, the body and its ailments. On the contrary tazkiyat deals with all the apparent and hidden aspects of our selves. It critically judges all the powers and the capabilities of which we are constituted, discusses all our emotions and feelings and corrects and reforms them; it takes stock of all the variegated and multifaceted ties that we are bound with, and creates an order in and regulates them all under a particular principle and regulation. Our thoughts, our apprehensions, our inclinations, our movements, our eating and drinking, our engagements, entertainments, and interests, the daily routines of our lives, in short, no department and nothing that touches our lives is outside the pale of tazkiyat.[xxx]

The Real Task of Tazkiyat al-Nafs
And it is only that tazkiyat deals with all the aspects of ourselves or removing their evils presents the right sort of replacements, but the real job of tazkiyat lies beyond this discussion, critical study and correction. It also enters our souls from every angle in such a way that they become tranquillized and peaceful.

The tranquillization of the soul means that our knowledge may be founded on such a firm belief that no vicissitudes of distress and comfort or pain and pleasure may be able to shake and alter our trust in God and our expecting only good from Him, but that we may remain pleased with God and satisfied with His decrees. Similarly, the foundations of our deeds may be laid in such a firm character that no temptations, in adversity or prosperity and fear and hope, may take our feet off where the divine Sharî‘ah has planted, so that we may fulfill our mission of the demands made on us by God, and thus become His desirable servants. Such a tranquilized soul is the aim of tazkiyat. The Qur’ân addresses the tranquillized or peaceful soul in the following words:
“O, [you] soul, in complete rest and satisfaction! Come back you to your Lord; - well-pleased [yourself] and well-pleasing unto Him! Enter you, then, among My devotees! Yes, enter you My Heaven.” (Al-Qur’ân – 89:27-30).[xxxi]

Tazkiyat al-Nafs as Part of the Spiritual Health
According to al-Ghazali, tazkiyat al-nafs is part of the spiritual health, even tazkiyat al-nafs has relation with mental health.
It means purification of the soul from all evil inclinations and its beautification with good values and virtues. This was actually the mission of the Prophet Muhammad -peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Allah chose him and appointed him as our Teacher and Master for this purpose.
Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi has mentioned five important steps for spiritual growth: First, repentance (tawbah), second, remembrance of Allah (zikr); third, recitation of the Qur’an (tilâwah); fourth, righteousness and Charity (taqwâ, sadaqah); and, fifth, Supplication (du’â).[xxxii]
1.  Repentance (tawbah) means to “turn to Allah” with sincere heart and mind. It is to feel sorry and ashamed of any sins and mistakes and to ask Allah to forgive those sins and to cover a person with his mercy and kindness. Tawbahis one of the best ways to receive Allah’s blessings and His mercy. Allah says:
… And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss (al-Qur’ân, 24:31)
O ye who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance: in the hope that your Lord will remove from you your ills and admit you to Gardens beneath which Rivers flow; the Day that Allah will not permit to be humiliated the Prophet and those who believe with him. Their Light will run forward before them and by their right hands, while they say, “Our Lord! Perfect our Light for us, and grant us Forgiveness: for You have power over all things.” (al-Qur’ân, 66:8)
2.  Remembrance of Allah (zikr): Zikr means to keep Allah always in one’s mind and also to mention His glory and praise Him. According to al-Ghazali, the means of clearing of the heart is zikr Allah, i.e. commemoration of God and concentration of every thought upon Him.[xxxiii]   Zikr is the nourishment of the soul. It keeps the spirit healthy and strong. Allah says:
“Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction” (al-Qur’ân, 13:28).
For zikr we should follow only the way that is given to us in the Book of Allah and by the Prophet -peace be upon him. Allah says:
And remember Him as He has directed you, even though, before this, ye went astray (al-Qur’ân, 2:198).
3.  Recitation of the Qur’an (tilâwah): The Qur’an is the Book of guidance as well as the Book of Healing. The recitation of the Qur’an heals the soul and makes it healthy and fresh. It should be done regularly with care, respect and understanding. Allah says:
We send down (stage by stage) in the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe: to the unjust it causes nothing but loss after loss (al-Qur’ân, 17:82).
Those to whom We have sent the Book recite it as it should be recited: they are the ones that believe in it: those who reject it they are indeed the losers (al-Qur’ân, 2:121).
4.  Righteousness and Charity (Taqwâ and Sadâqah): Taqwa is the consciousness of Allah and obedience to Him. Bad deeds are wrong actions. They are harmful both physically and spiritually. They diminish the soul. While the good deeds help the spirit grow and become better and beautiful. Allah says:
“Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full Knowledge and is well-acquainted (with all things)” (al-Qur’ân, 49:13).
“But such as come to Him as Believers who have worked righteous deeds, for them are ranks exalted. Gardens of Eternity, beneath which flow rivers: they will dwell therein for aye: such is the reward of those who purify themselves” (al-Qur’ân, 20:75-76).
Charity and spending in the path of Allah is an excellent mean for spiritual health and growth. Zakat, Sadaqat and general Infâq fî Sabîl Allah are encouraged for this purpose. Allah says:
“But those most devoted to Allah shall be removed far from it (hell). Those who spend their wealth for increase in self-purification” (al-Qur’ân, 92:17-18).
5.  Supplication (Du’â): None of our efforts for the health, purification and growth of our souls will be successful without the help of Allah. It is for this reason we have to continuously seek His assistance and help. Allah says:
“When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on Me: let them also, with a will, listen to My call, and believe in Me: that they may walk in the right way” (al-Qur’ân, 2:186).
And your Lord says: “Call on Me; I will answer your (Prayer): but those who are too arrogant to worship Me will surely find themselves in Hell, in humiliation!”

Al-Ghazali dealt vigorously with the theory of purification of soul (tazkiyat al-nafs). However, his approach method has a lot of influence in Islamic Sufism. 

The spirit of purification, growth and development and its final perfection will be visible in its actions everywhere. For instance the action of tazkiyat al-nafs may be performed on a tract of land and also on the inner self of a person. Although due to variations in the fields of action, there will be a difference in the form, yet in reality and in its object there will be no difference between the two. The tazkiyat of the tract of land will comprise clearing it of the weeds, brushwood and brambles, leveling it, ploughing it to make it soft and porous, then watering it so that it may become capable of developing the healthy seeds of some sort in keeping with its natural capacity, and take it to the final stage of blossoming and fruition.

The tazkiyat al-nafs of the inner self of a person involves eradication of erroneous thought and false assumptions, the correction and leveling of the perversions and angularities created by the corrupt morality and bad habits; removal of the ills produced by the blind emulations and ritualism; treatment and cure of the evil of drooping spirits and cowardice created by craving for ephemeral carnal pleasures so that his eyes may be opened and his mind may become capable of thinking freely, his drooping spirits may be raised, his habits may be reformed and through development of his mental, moral and spiritual powers.

The tazkiyat al-nafs has relation with moral building (akhlak), individual growth and spiritual health. Tazkiyat al-nasf as jihad al-nafs [jihad akbar] for to empty the soul from bad morals [with takhalli], and to fill in soul with good morals [with tahalli]. Finally, the process of tazkiyat al-nafs will appear the pure men. However, al-Ghazali’s tazkiyat al-nafshas relation with individual development and mental health.

[i] Tasawuf is The term 'Sufism' (tasawwuf, in Arabic) developed in the fifteenth century and is derived from the Arabic word suf, meaning wool. The word was initially used to speak of Muslim ascetics who wore clothes made of the coarse wool to signify their detachment from the material world. It is also suggested that the term originates from the safa (purity) or from the suffah, the 'People of the Bench' who were engaged in discourses during the time of the Prophet Muhammad.
[ii] Ibn al-Jawzee narrated in al-Thabat ‘Inda al-Mamat("Firmness at the Time of Death") from al-Ghazzali’s brother Ahmad: "On Monday [14 Jumada al-Akhira] at the time of the dawn prayer my brother Abu Hamid made his ablution, prayed, then said: ‘Bring me my shroud.’ He took it, kissed it and put it on his eyes, saying: ‘We hear and obey in readiness to enter the King’s presence.’ Then he stretched his legs, facing the Qibla, and died before sunrise – may Allah sanctify his soul!" 
[iii] Al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyyah al-Kubra, vol. VI, pp. 191-193
[iv] F. R. Anshari, “Tazkiyya: the Role of Prophet”, Islamic Order, Vol. 5, No. 4, 1983, p. 11.
[v] Al-Ghazali, al-Munqidz min al-Dlalâl. Kairo: Silislah Tsaqafat Islamiyah, 1961, p. 47. Abu Bakar Abu Bakar Abd al-Raziq, Ma`a al-Ghazali fî al-Munqidz min al-Dlalâl, Kairo: Dar al-Qaumiyyah, t.t.,  p. 278; Abu al-Wafa al-Ghanimi al-Taftazani, Madkhal Ilâ al-Tasawwuf al-Islâm, Kairo: Dâr al-Saqafat Li al-Nasyr wa al-Tauzi`, 1983, p. 157.
[vii] See Abu Thalib al-Makky, Qût al-Qulûb, Cairo, 1960, Vol. 2, p. 251.
[viii] Al-Ghazali, Jâmi’ al-Haqâiq bi Tajrîd al-‘Alâ’iq, (ed) M.J. Casasy Manrique, Uppsala, 1937, p. 17; Che Zarina Sa’ari, A Purification of Soul According to Sufis: A Study of al-Ghazali’s Theory, al-Afkar, Journal of Aqidah & Islamic Thought, University of Malaya, Mei-Juni 2002, p. 103.
[ix] Al-Ghazali, Ihyâ’ ‘Ulûm al-Dîn, Vol. 3, p. 55.
[x] Look: al-Ghazali, Mi’yâr  al-‘Ilm fî Fann al-Manthîq, Beirut: 1982, p. 50.
[xi] Al-Ghazali, Ihyâ’ ‘Ulûm al-Dîn, Vol. 3, p. 54-55.
[xii] Al-Ghazali, Jâmi’, op. cit., p. 17-18.
[xiii] Al-Ghazali, ibid, p. 18.
[xiv] Che Zarina Sa’ar, op. cit., p. 104.
[xv] Al-Bukhari, Sahîh al-Bukhâri, Kitab al-Iman, Vol. I, Beirut, 1981, p. 42.
[xvi] Al-Ghazali, Jâmi’, p. 19.
[xvii] Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, Vol. 3, Beirut, t.t., p. 82.
[xviii] Al-Ghazali, Jâmi’, op. cit., p. 21; Che Zarina Sa’ari, op. cit, p. 106.
[xix] Al-Ghazali, Jâmi’, op. cit., p. 21
[xx] Al-Ghazali, ibid.
[xxi] Che Zarina Sa’ari, op. cit., p. 107.
[xxii] Al-Ghazali, Jâmi’, op. cit., p. 21; Che Zarina, op. cit., p. 108.
[xxiii] Al-Bukhari, Sahîh al-Bukhâri, “Kitâb al-Isti’zan”, Vol. 8, p. 43
[xxiv] See al-Ghazali, Jâmi’, p. 54
[xxv] Al-Ghazali, Jâmi’, op. cit., p. 17; Ihyâ’ op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 4.
[xxvi] Al-Ghazali, Ihyâ’, Vol. 3, op. cit., p. 4.
[xxvii] See Che Zarina Sa’ari, op. cit., p. 57. 
[xxviii]see Amîn Ahsân Islâhî, The Literal Meaning of Tazkiyat: Its Aim and Scope ( 
[xxix] See www.commhlth.medic.ukm
[xxx] Cf. ibid.
[xxxi] Ibid
[xxxii] See Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi (
[xxxiii] Al-Ghazali, al-Munqidh, op. cit., p. 20; R.A. Nicholson, The Idea of Personality in Sufism, Delhi: Jayyed Press, 1976,  p. 39 

(Dr. Mukhtar Solihin, M.A.:  Researcher of al-Ghazali, and lecturer of Sufism, and Deputy Dean Faculty of Ushuluddin of the National  Islamic University ‘Sunan Gunungjati’ – Bandung, Indonesia)