This is an interview with AbdelRahman Mussa, the founder of iPersonal Enrichment newsletter and the Whims-I-Kill Tazkiyah course.
AbdelRahman Mussa is both a graduate of Shari’ah and a therapist with more than 11 years of experience and his background in da’wah (Islamic spiritual activism).
Q: Tazkiyah – It is the process of purifying the soul to achieve deeper connection with Allah (SWT), and is as old as the revelations. But over the centuries, has the practice of tazkiyah changed? Do we nowadays purify our hearts with different methods than what was the practice during the time of Muslims in the seventh century?
AbdelRahman Mussa: Tazkiyah is the process of purification and beautification of the self so that we follow the Guidance of Allah (SWT) and His messenger (PBUH), thus getting closer to Allah (SWT). Submitting to Allah (SWT) in everything is the ultimate goal. As such, due to the changing nature of things, there are new forms of impurities that may arise, and therefore it may be so that new forms of elimination and beautification are needed.
For example, watching TV excessively is definitely a weakness that needs to be purified. TV didn’t exist in the 7th century and the scale of the mental and emotional diseases that it brings with it didn’t exist either. TV can bring with it a whole new level of impurities: laziness and a vegetative state are just two examples. There are also benefits of course. It’s a simple example.
So from that perspective, yes, depending on the situation and depending on the time, you might need to do something new. . There is a subtlety that I need to point out though: “how” you abstain from something is different for different people. And if one finds a way to do it that does not conflict with Islamic teachings and principles, then he/she can use that.
Q: I’ve read recently that people used to refer to tazkiyah as self-reformation, but now they call it self-development. Is today’s tazkiyah different from the old practices? Or does it only require a different name in order to appeal to contemporary minds?
AbdelRahman Mussa: Names and semantics are not important. If a change in name will result in more motivation for someone to partake in something, then that is fine. Again, the goal is the same and the means are flexible so long as they are within the scope of Islamic teachings.
Q: You have studied hypnosis, (Neuro-linguistic Programming) NLP, emotional intelligence, psychology, and alternative psychology, as well as alternative medicine… How has the knowledge in these fields influenced your approach to tazkiyah?
AbdelRahman Mussa: The knowledge I’ve learned from studying different disciplines and arts has led me to conclude that different approaches and techniques work for different people at different times in different ways. As such, the more of these tools a facilitator or helper can acquire, the better equipped the practitioner is to help more people achieve the process of removing impurities and beautifying the self, so that one can get closer to Allah (SWT).
Q: Can the contemporary psychology/psychological techniques enrich the process of tazkiyah?
AbdelRahman Mussa: Following on from that, it’s not that they enrich the process; it’s that they are new tools that can be applied. For instance, if someone has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or has another bad habit, then different techniques can be used to help with those bad habits, and thus, achieve the necessary step of purification so that this person in question can then follow the guidance sent from Allah (SWT).
Q: When thinking about tazkiyah we often link it with sufi orders and gaining wisdom through following a master. But today’s tazkiyah is through the email and internet. How does the modern communication technology affect the experience of tazkiyah?
AbdelRahman Mussa: One way of achieving anything is to have a teacher. Whether a sufi teacher or not. Books are a means of learning also, and email is just really an extension of that. People used to attend lectures in huge numbers, now those lectures can be attended via YouTube or TV.
Q: Can one achieve tazkiyah without following any courses? Can it be done intuitively?
AbdelRahman Mussa: Tazkiyah is the process of purification and beautification of the self so that we follow the teachings of Allah (SWT) and His messenger (PBUH), thus getting closer to Allah (SWT). However this is achieved, so long as it is within the teachings of Islam, is fine.
For some, their tazkiyah may only consist of setting up an electronic calendar with alarms to remind and organize their worship. For others, it’s a process of visualization that allows them to see the consequences of partaking in the haram or not obeying what is mandatory. These are very simple examples. If a person has anger issues, this needs to be addressed. This is a necessary part of tazkiyah for them. How they address it, so long as it is halal, doesn’t really matter.
Q: Why do Muslims nowadays need tazkiyah more than ever?
AbdelRahman Mussa: They need it more than ever, because the bombardment of sins is so much more widespread. Prophet Muhammed, peace and blessings be upon him, warns us that there will come a time when usury (widely misnamed as interest) will touch everything, even the wing of a mosquito. Another example is that today you cannot browse the internet without seeing indecency, even if it is ‘mild’. We call it mild only in contrast with the extremes that exist. Which is the point: the extremes of decadence are far more available than before.
Just walking in the streets past a shopping centre, you are subjected to images and thoughts that are designed to program and plague the mind and soul. So just the quantity and concentration of these attacks is enough to say that yes, we need to purify ourselves more than maybe others before us did.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, describes the difficulty of holding onto Islam for the generations after him by saying that it will be like holding onto piping red coal.