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The Journey of the Heart Back to Allah:

How to Heal Our Spiritual Diseases

(Part 8)

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6 – Part 7

The medicine tasted very bitter—so bitter that it was downright awful.

After taking it the first time I remember thinking to myself: “How was I going to take this every day for several weeks?”

But I knew I had to.

My doctor had prescribed it and there was no other alternative. Not taking it meant risking all sorts of medical complications.

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So for weeks I forced myself to take the awful stuff.

Finally, the entire course had been completed, and I was assured by my doctor that, by Allah’s will, I was well again.

Most of us are programmed to avoid discomfort; we avoid things that cause us pain, not just physical pain, but spiritual and emotional pain as well.

There are times, however, when as we grow in faith and try to get closer to Allah, we have to give ourselves some spiritual medicine, and sometimes, it can be a little bitter.

Buried Down Deep

Though not easy, we each have to look inside and honestly assess the state of our hearts.

We need to identify the spiritual diseases that plague us—the ones that make us think, say or do things that we know are not pleasing to Allah. This is not a simple task. It involves much reflection and contemplation to uncover the spiritual ailments we have buried deep within our subconscious.

Why do we have to do this?

Because doing so is essential if we are to worship Allah as He deserves to be worshipped. One brother writes:

“…this endeavor to dig deep down and push aside years of waste and clutter and discover hidden realities and horrible truths is vital to fulfilling our purpose in life – attaining a true state of submission (‘Uboodiyah) to the One (SWT).”

As discussed in the previous article, one of the first steps in this process is to understand the inclinations of our “selves” or our nufoos. When we look deep inside, under all the facades and fronts we put up in the company of others, we will uncover which type of nafs—the cattle-like, the predatory, the satanic or the angelic—is most dominant in us. Most of the times, we have a combination of all these types and must discipline the first three to allow the angelic type to prevail.

As we uncover these ailments, we must work to cleanse ourselves of them. This process doesn’t happen over-night, nor in a matter of weeks or months. Purifying the self is a life-long endeavor that we must incorporate into our daily lives.

Although there are many things that can help in the purification of the nafs, I would like to highlight three Insha’Allah.

The Right Kind of Knowledge

A lot of us are in a state of information overload. We see, hear and listen to so many different things every day. But at a very basic level, all of this information falls into one of two categories: either it helps increase our faith in Allah, or it distracts us from our journey to Him. Whether we realize it or not, our hearts are affected by every bit of information we feed them.

If we truly wish to purify ourselves, we need to give our hearts the right type of knowledge. Reading and understanding the words of Allah and the teachings of His Prophet (peace be upon him), reflecting on His creation and the signs therein, learning about the diseases of the heart and their cures—these are just some examples of the things we need to learn about on a regular basis to help keep our hearts spiritually healthy.

Reflection and Repentance

Secondly, as the world outside keeps moving faster and faster, we need to find time to reflect on what is going on inside. We must set aside time to look inward and understand why we do and say the things we do.

Sometimes we might find that we’ve followed the whims and desires of our nufoos, and have done or said the wrong things. When this happens we need to reflect on our mistakes and repent to Allah.

Other times, however, our nufoos act more subtly. They may not cause us to outwardly commit evil deeds, but rather, interfere with the sincerity of our good actions. They cause us to do things without focus or intention, or for the wrong reasons altogether.

Thus, it is useful to ask ourselves, is what I am about to say or do for the sake of Allah?

Is my nafs taking hold of my actions and becoming pleased with itself in a conceited and narcissistic way?

If we realize that it is the latter then we should again repent to Allah and ask His help in making our actions sincere for His sake alone.


Thirdly, as we increase in knowledge and reflect on the ailments that exist within us, we need to consciously struggle against the impulses that are generated from the cattle-like, predatory-like or satanic parts of our nufoos.

If all our nafs wants to do is eat, play and sleep excessively then we should discipline it and not obey. We shouldn’t deprive ourselves in a monastic, extreme sort of way, but in a way that emulates the moderation showed by the Prophet Muhammad himself.

Imam Al-Gazzali compares man’s position with a rider and says:

“The nafs is the spirit’s saddled beast. If a person lets go of the bridles of the nafs and follows its direction, his destruction becomes unavoidable. If he tries to destroy the self, then he is bound to remain behind on the path of reality, without any saddled beast. Better you hold on tight to the bridles of the beast and make use of it.”

As we struggle to bridle our nufoos, we must remember to ask that Allah facilitate our affairs and grant us spiritually healthy hearts. This constancy in du’a is a necessary ingredient for success. The Prophet used to make the following du’a:

“O Ever Living, O Self-Subsisting and Supporter of all, by Your mercy I seek assistance, rectify for me all of my affairs and do not leave me to my nafs, even for the blink of an eye.” (Abu Dawud, 5090)

It’s Our Choice

We live in a world where so much emphasis is placed on the external image we present of ourselves. What is less obvious – the states of our hearts and of our nufoos – often gets pushed aside as being less important.

But the state of our heart constitutes the core foundation for all our actions. When this core is neglected, then our actions, regardless of how good they may appear, become like a beautiful, but hollow, shell. On the outside it looks very impressive, but because it is empty, any pressure paced upon it will cause it to collapse upon itself.

We will not be able to journey to Allah with hollow actions that look good on the outside but are not founded on a sound heart. We’ll get stranded on our journey at the first sign of pressure. Thus we must continue to perfect our physical, outward forms of worship while also purifying our nufoos.

The presence of the nafs means we have a choice to make. Allah tells us that those who are successful are the ones who choose to purify their nufoos as they follow the guidance of Allah.

{He indeed shall be successful who purifies himself, And magnifies the name of his Lord and pray.} (87:14-5)

Their success is not only peace in this life, but Paradise in the Hereafter.

May Allah Almighty enable us to make the right choices, purify our nufoos, and be among those who are truly successful.

About Marwa Abdalla
Marwa Abdalla received her B.A. in political science from Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Texas, and is currently working toward a degree in Islamic Studies with the American Open University. She is interested in writing about Islam, marriage and family. Her writing has been published in a book entitled Toward the Well Being of Humanity as well as on numerous websites. She lives with her husband and three daughters in San Diego, CA.