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Purity & Honesty

God desires to remove impurities from you,
O inmates of this house,
and to cleanse and bring out the best in you.

Al-Ahzab, 33:33

Some thoughts

In the contemporary world, the idea of ‘self-development’ has gained much ground. If self-development means that people should be free to express themselves in different ways, that is certainly coherent with the idea that God wishes to purify ‘the inmates of the house’. The house is his creation and the inmates are the whole of human kind. If He wishes to bring out the best in all of us, that indeed means that we should all be allowed to express it – whatever it may be. But if self-development means that we think that our personal strength and our personal strength alone will bring out the best in us, than we are blinded by an illusion.

The ego is a very tricky thing: if it starts believing it will save itself, it in fact only amplifies itself. That is to say: those who think that they can get rid of their own egocentrism all by themselves, in fact only become more arrogant and as such more egocentric.

The only thing that is truly within our power is to get rid of what hampers us to become free and open and to let the divine within us do its work. Like Rumi is supposed to have said: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

That is also why the lingering idea behind the whole Surah Al-Ahzab, in which we find this quote, is ‘honesty’. To become pure, we need to be honest. It is not we ourselves who purify our own soul but it is by being honest as much as we can that we become purified. So we can only try to be as honest as we can. That is to say: we can try to never be hypocritical in our dealings and relations. For when we become hypocritical and dishonest we block the flow of the divine. Those who are honest however, allow the divine to go its way.

Therefore, as long as we stick to the simplicity of honesty, the divine will find the room within our lives to purify us from the inside out.

What Christians can learn

One could wonder whether the Christian tradition is at the basis of an over-emphasised aspiring of ‘greatness’ in certain Western societies. It might simply be a matter of culture (for example, it might be a side-effect of the long-lasting idea of ‘the American dream’), but still, it is worth considering whether our religious background might be a part of it as well. The gospel relates, for example, how Christ often asks for very ‘ideal’ behaviour. That is to say, He often asks us to do extra-ordinary things like ‘turn the other cheek’, ‘walk the extra mile’ or ‘give away all you have’, etc. And His own example of giving His life on the cross certainly adds to it.

Muhammad, on the other hand, often calls for moderation and acceptance of the ‘dailiness’ of life. Perhaps then, Christians should consider that Christ often ‘invites’ but does never ‘demand’ the extra-ordinary. For true purity lies in the honesty of our actions, not in their grandeur. We don’t have to do great things to be in accordance with the divine. We only have to make sure we act honestly.  

Questions for Muslims

One of the aspects of the Muslim community I often write about is the fact that many groups within the present Muslim world seem very obsessed with following specific rules and rituals in very strict ways. Yet these Qur’anic verses should once more put a question mark besides such behaviour. For, as I explained above, does the Qur’an not tell us that it is God who will purify us? Why then put so much strain on the strictness of our actions as if they will determine our purity?

And if we can open our hearts to the purification of the divine by simply acting in an honest way (as Surah Al-Ahzab explains), then it most certainly applies to every action and not only to ritualistic actions. For it seems to me that honest actions aren’t ‘strict' actions, they’re righteous actions done in a soulful manner. And those come in many forms.

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Comments

About Following Specific Rituals in Very Strict Ways

Emre Yüce

Very nice and inspiring thoughts on honesty, purity and Al-Ahzab 33.

Dishonesty will poison everything about a human being, that's for sure. Dishonesty will simply
destroy any kind of trust among people, let alone love and friendship.

So Allah orders strict and complete honesty and justice even when it is against yourself, your parents
and your relatives:
"O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted." 4-135
http://quran.com/4/135

He clearly states if you follow your own inclinations, you will be unjust.

And about your question on following specific rituals in very strict ways, I'm not sure if you mean rituals such as daily (standing up, bowing and prostrating to God) prayers, the Ramadan fast etc. In case you mean them, we (Muslims) try to follow them very strictly and honestly because he very specifically orders us to do them for our very own well-being only. The Supreme Being, the Creator of Universes gives us specific appointments to meet him five times a day. Shouldn't we oblige and meet him in earnest, submitting and prostrating to him?

It is very clear that only God Almighty can purify us, not our own selves. And he says (honest) prayers will keep you away from immorality and wrongdoing.
"Recite, [O Muhammad], what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do." 29-45
http://quran.com/29/45

A muslim trying to pray honesty and with complete submission to Allah five times a day would have a very very hard time following his own inclinations that could lead him to be dishonest and unjust.

And Allah says he doesn't need your prayers (him being totally perfect and supreme, he is free of all needs and impurities and weaknesses) but you need to submit and pray to him if you desire to be rightly guided and become righteous.

"And enjoin prayer upon your family [and people] and be steadfast therein. We ask you not for provision; We provide for you, and the [best] outcome is for [those of] righteousness." 20-132
http://quran.com/20/132

And he reminds he is creating and sustaining us constantly and he could also send us into oblivion and bring others in our places if he wills. And if he wills something, all he needs to do is to say "be" and it is.

"If He wills, He can do away with you, O people, and bring others [in your place]. And ever is Allah competent to do that." 4-133
http://quran.com/4/133

"His command is only when He intends a thing that He says to it, "Be," and it is." 36-82
http://quran.com/36/82

"Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, "Be," and it is." 2-117
http://quran.com/2/117

And he says: "Say, "What would my Lord care for you if not for your supplication?" For you [disbelievers] have denied, so your denial is going to be adherent." 25-77
http://quran.com/25/77

Still, needless to say, a believer in God must do everything in his power to be honest and genuine in both his prayers and everything else he does. And unfortunately there are people who are not honest in their prayers:
"So woe to those who pray. [But] who are heedless of their prayer." 107-4,5
http://quran.com/107

May God's peace and mercy be upon all of us,

Emre

Question for Emre

Maryam Hameed

i agree... what you said on rituals because its true that following pillars is necessary for our own well being. To me they would be work more effectively if we offer them whole heartedly. My question is that if we are following them strictly, then why aren't these rituals delivering in our daily life? on one side we offer prayers...but on the other hand we lack communication skills, we get proud as we have that superior kind of feeling... i have seen many religious thinkers who offer every ritual strictly but on the other hand they are quite corrupt,they give and take bribe...do you think we know the true essence of these rituals? No, because we never pondered on them...
And yes purity comes from divine...

Rituals

Jonas Yunus

Of course I did not wish to imply that the rituals like prayer or fasting aren't necessary, I merely wanted to point out that their exact forms are not merely as important as the spirit with which they are performed. The 'amount of soul' behind them seems more important to me than their external look. And this, I would say, is even more true for those rules that aren't ritualistic (for in rituals, there is of course a justifiable spiritual need to follow certain traditions and habits).

Therefore, what I question is whether many Muslims aren't overemphasising the external forms of certain rituals and rules and, in so doing, forgetting the spirit and soul behind them.

Philosophy behind concept is essential

Maryam Hameed

some how I agree with you Jonas, on 'righteous actions done in a soulful manner". Actually today what mostly people are doing is, that they read one ayah of Quran ... if they see their own benefit in it - they follow it. For instance, Quran speaks of husband and wife relation ... as both giving equality to each other in rights... what readers do is that after reading the husband related ayahs that he has authority and all- they just skip the women rights' ayahs and the husband forces the wife to live according to him as he has the authority. The point is that Allah has said to ponder upon religion(Quran), rather than falling on his ayahs as if they are deaf and dumb. Purity does come from honesty...but one can be honest if and only if he knows the true and complete philosophy behind a concept,,, if only one ponders over it! Honesty just acts like a boss of purity... and honesty is towards Allah..(The Sole Boss Of All Mankind).
I hope you get my point... but still if you need references , i am there!

I'd have to check with you

hetAtroft

I'd have to check with you here. Which is not some thing I often do! I appreciate reading a post that can make folks feel. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!