He has certainly succeeded who purifies himself. (87:14)
With Ramadan on its way, we need to understand how purification works in order to gain the most from this blessed month.
Purification of the Body
Detoxification is removing harmful substances, toxins, from our body. It is more necessary now in an exponentially innovative world than ever before. We just can’t help harmful substances from entering our body – via food, water, cosmetic products, narcotics, drugs, and even through the air we breathe.
Fasting is a form of detoxification. The scientific definition of fasting is slightly different and more general than Islamic fasting. It includes the latter as well as water or juice-fasting in which you refrain from solid foods only.
However it is, fasting in Islamic terms has tremendous health benefits because of the detoxification. I was surprised at the number of pop books available in the market regarding this, listing the toxins around us, how fasting helps remove them from our body, and the many benefits of this removal.
“Fasting works by self-digestion. During a cleanse, the body decomposes and burns only the substances and tissues that are damaged, diseased or unneeded, such as acesses, tumors, excess fat deposits and congestive wastes.
Even a relatively short fast accelerates elimination, often causing dramatic changes as masses of accumulated waste are expelled…. Cleansing also helps release hormone secretions that stimulate immune response and encourages a disease-preventing environment.” (Page iv-v)
“Sleeping is not the only kind of rest you need. Your digestive system and other organs need a rest from their work as well…. Fasting may be considered as ‘internal’ rest for the body, allowing it to restore vitality and energy to vital organs [such as the liver and the GI tract] by activating the marvellous self-cleansing system with which it is designed.” (Colbert 26-27)
Point to Consider:
If we stuff ourselves up with unhealthy food from dawn to dusk, we won’t acquire the health benefits of fasting. On the contrary, we will increase the level of toxins in our body. Nourish your body with good, healthy, simple, and preferably homemade and organic food and drink to accelerate the detox process.
Purification of the Self
The word ‘nafs’ in Arabic is often translated as the soul or spirit. But actually, the Arabic word for ‘soul’ is ‘rooh’. Nafs is a different entity, as Allah describes:
And [by] the soul [nafs] and He who proportioned it, and inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness. He has succeeded who purifies it, and he has failed who instills it [with corruption]. (Quran 91:7-10)
The nafs is the self inside us, the feeling organ. It creates and defines our personalities, our emotions and inclinations. It likes worldly pleasures, such as food, love, and money; but it also likes spiritual pleasures, the tranquility that can only be attained by being close to Allah. Allah says:
Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured. (13:28)
In short, it likes pleasure and happiness, but it can receive it two ways– from the goodness in the soul or from the carnal desires of the body.
When we indulge ourselves more in worldly pleasures than in worship, the nafs develops a taste for the former and is inclined more towards it. In Ramadan, the continual fasting weakens the physical desires. It resets the appetite of the nafs, the bias towards the material world.
Also, Satan is locked up and so can’t tug the nafs back towards the material side. This removes the cover of materialism from our eyes and sharpens our insight, so that we can clearly distinguish between good and evil. In this way, the nafs develop consciousness of Allah and the sense of protecting itself from evil.
Additionally, in Ramadan we nourish the nafs with Quran, prayers and remembrance of Allah (dhikr). It develops a taste of spiritual pleasures, and realizes that the latter is much more fulfilling than the physical pleasures. If this continues for a whole month, the nafs will no longer want to go back to chasing carnal pleasures in exchange for spiritual satisfaction and tranquility.
Point to Consider:
Will the nafs benefit in this way if we indulge in excessive eating and drinking from Maghrib to Fajr? What will happen to it if our worship is devoid of attention and humility?
Purification of the Mind
The mind or ‘aql is the organ of intellect. In it resides our thoughts, decisions, reflections, and creativity. It also processes the inputs from the five senses (hearing, vision etc.) and interprets them and forms conclusions. It is what makes us different from animals.
Cleansing of the mind is as important as cleansing of the self, and perhaps more than cleansing of the body. Our self feels the need for food, but it is the mind that decides whether to take it or not. The same goes for guidance and worship.
The problem is, the mind is not always rational. It can be biased by negative thoughts, whispers from Satan and even by the darker desires of the nafs. Indulging in physical desires also weakens our brain-power. Overeating, for example, reduces blood flow, and thus oxygen supply, to the brain and thus hampers its functioning.
These biases are like shrouds that cover up and smother the rational mind. When this happens, there remains no different between us and animals. Allah says:
And We have certainly created for Hell many of the jinn and mankind. They have hearts with which they do not understand, they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear. Those are like livestock; rather, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless. (7:179)
In Ramadan, we weaken the biases of the nafs, thus removing one shroud from the mind. Secondly, Satan is locked up and that removes another shroud. Finally, we nourish the mind by connecting with the Quran.
The Quran corrects our thought-process and preconceived beliefs and shows us how to think. It sharpens our insight provides us the lens through which we can look at the world clearly.
Allah tells us repeatedly in the Quran:
Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an, or are there locks upon [their] hearts? (47:24)
Point to Consider:
In order to reflect on the Quran, it is not sufficient to recite it meaninglessly. Connect with the Quran according to your abilities and strengths. If you know Arabic, take your time to ponder on the verses. If you don’t, refer to translations and explanations/tafsir. My favorite source of tafsir is Bayyinah.tv. What’s yours?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
Page, Linda. Detoxification: All You Need to Know to Recharge, Renew and Rejuvenate Your Body, Mind and Spirit! Carmel Valley, CA: Traditional Wisdom, 2002. Google Books. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
Colbert, Don. Get Healthy through Detox and Fasting. Lake Mary, FL: Siloam, 2006. Google Books. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)