Purity is central to Islam. Every experience we have is an opportunity to purify ourselves. Every tribulation we go through is an opportunity for us to purify ourselves.
The Messenger of God [Allah bless him and give him peace] said: ‘Islam is clean, so cleanse yourselves, for only the cleansed shall enter Paradise.’ (CC:001)
There are a few points we want to reflect upon in relation to this hadith of our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. First of all we have this word “natheef.” There are a number of words in the Arabic language that have a similar meaning of purity and cleanliness.
Cleanliness and Islam
What the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is teaching us is that the religion of Islam is “natheef.” That is to say, it is clean. It is virtuous. It is pure. It is good. It is upright. It is honorable. It is respectable. All of these other connotations are also meant.
Islam calls us to what is upright, what is moral. And it will ultimately lead to attaining the Mercy of Allah Most High. So Islam is pure and one the meanings we can extract from this is the distinctness and the purity of Islam itself as a religion and the behavior of its people.
So if we look at the words the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, it is clear that to relate to purity of Islam in and of itself, the cleanliness of Islam, we have to strive to become pure. “So cleanse yourselves” the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said.
We understand two things here: We have to live up the standard of Islam and live up to the purity of Islam so that it is reflected within ourselves and it very well might be that you have a Muslim who does not reflect the purity of this great deen.
Water, Purity, and the Nature of the Soul
We have to recognize that there has to be a continuous polishing of the heart and of the soul and of who we are so we can live up to the realities of this deen. Water, when it stands motionless, becomes stale, muddy, and foul. But when it moves and it flows it remains clear.
This is this nature of the soul as well, we have to have a constant movement towards purity. This is very different to what we are taught in the modern world – the current notions of being oneself. Often modern spirituality is just noticing our thoughts and there is a lack of need to improve.
Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad said in one of his contentions that “Islam is not about being yourself, it is about improving yourself.” Our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is teaching us “So cleanse yourselves.” You could say that this is the sign of true religion.
You have people that are human beings, that have everyday realities, that make mistakes, that fall short, that often times have bad character emanate from them, that sin, but they recognize that and they repent and they turn back. They struggle with themselves and work on themselves to be better.
Our True Worldly Opportunity
Though we are never going to reach utopia here in this world our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, tells us to live up to this ethical standard of Islam and to work on ourselves and cleanse ourselves.
This is the opportunity that we have in the world: to cleanse ourselves. Everything that we do in this life is an opportunity for us to purify ourselves. Every experience we have is an opportunity to purify ourselves. Every tribulation we go through is an opportunity for us to purify ourselves.
All manifestations of ease and difficulty are opportunities to learn something and to purify ourselves. The Arabic word, “natheef,” connotes both outward and inward cleanliness. Our deen encourages us to be clean. Not only in relation to our food, our clothing, our possessions, and all of the other aspects that relate to this such as brushing our teeth, taking baths, trimming our nails.
But this cleanliness is also reflected at the level of belief. It is reflected at the level of practice, and it is reflected at the level of the heart. There is purity of belief, purity of practice, and purity of heart.
Begin With Purification
When our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said “al islam natheef” which means Islam is clean, this includes so many aspects of our deen – Islam, Iman and Ihsan. The inward and outward aspects that are related directly to the deen and the things we might not think has a direct connection to the deen. Everything in a sense is tied to cleanliness.
This cleanliness has a number of other implications and its interesting to note that this is the first hadith in this collection, The Content of Character.
One of the things you will find in the books of fiqh (jurisprudence) is that they begin with purification and they begin with the discussion of water. It is as if this collection begun with this particular hadith to let us know that all of the teachings of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, all relate to purity and how to attain it.
Cleanliness aligns with the fitra. It aligns with the natural disposition of the human being. There is something known as the Macbeth effect which psychologists refer to. What is notable is that culprits and victims of crime will physically wash at times to create some distance between themselves and an evil act.
Cleanliness Is First Nature
Islam is about cleanliness and this fitra. The natural disposition inclines towards cleanliness and Islam speaks to the central realities embedded within us. Islam is about bringing out that which Allah has endowed us with. The apparent blessing here is that we know the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, speaks to us in a way that we understand and his words bring about growth within us as a result.
This hadith calls on us to cleanse ourselves here in this world because our Prophet said “only the cleansed shall enter into paradise.” This is the goal of life as Allah tells us in the Quran:
On the day wealth, nor children shall benefit that only he who comes to Allah with a whole heart, with a purified heart. (26:88-89)
Praise Allah, we have been given this beautiful religion that is “natheef.” That is clean and pure in all of its different dimensions.
May Allah give us tawfiq to struggle with ourselves and cleanse ourselves and ultimately be the people of paradise.
The Content of Character podcast is brought to you by Shaykh Yahya Rhodus of Al-Maqasid Institute, and powered by SeekersHub Global Islamic Seminary. Listen to this episode in full on the SeekersHub website, or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, Android, or RSS.