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