Cleaning out the closet feels great. You go through all of your stuff, throw away whatever you don’t want, and give away things you don’t need. In the end, you know you are left with more space, a clean area, and peace of mind. Now that Ramadan is around the corner, this is a great time to take account of ourselves and go through a very similar process with our soul. What negative feelings or thoughts hide in the shadows of our hearts? Are we even aware of how this “stuff” spreads toxicity throughout our soul, which then seeps into our relationships? When we rid ourselves of emotional “baggage” we free up space in our hearts to soak in all the positive outcomes of Ramadan.
To begin this spring cleaning, it is helpful to reflect on the following verse:
“O you who have believed, fear Allah. And let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow – and fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.” (Surah Al Hashr, 59:18)
It is only when we allow ourselves to truly take account of what is in our hearts that we are able to process what we find. Who are we avoiding? What grudges do we hold? What negative thoughts do we ruminate over? Once we are able to face what lurks within, we can figure out ways to get over them. Actually writing down the answers to the above questions has been proven to be a helpful way to start tackling the toxic thoughts we store in our main processing center. Next, let us think about how Allah, Exalted is He, prescribes the process of purification.
“Those who spend in the way of Allah both in affluence and hardship, who restrain their anger, and pardon others. Allah loves such good-doers.” (Surah ‘Aal `Imran, 3:134)
Why does Allah mention giving money, first in the time of ease, then in the time of difficulty, before addressing two emotional strengths? And even then, why does Allah mention exercising control over anger before excusing others (a higher level of forgiveness)?
Perhaps practicing gratitude in times of prosperity prepares one for the ability to acknowledge blessings, even during times of hardship. What effect does this type of training have on one’s understanding? We may consider the possibility that engaging in a constant state of gratitude develops satisfaction. Additionally, gratitude in the form of donation fosters a sense of compassion – being able to connect with others by connecting with something similar within ourselves. Gratitude, which leads to satisfaction and compassion creates an environment in which anger is less likely to develop, since anger is a reflection of turmoil that exists within the individual. So in a way, satisfaction despite life’s challenges allows one to engage with others from a place of peace within.
We see a very inspiring application of part of this verse in the following exchange between Ali ibn Al-Husain (also known as Zayn Al-Abideen), the great-great-grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and his servant. Abdur-Razzaq As-San’ani (d.211 AH) said: A slave-girl of ‘Ali bin Husain was pouring water on him while he was preparing for prayer. Accidentally the jug slipped from her hands and fell on his face causing his face to be injured. He raised his sight towards her in anger. She recited ((Those who restrain anger)). He said to her: ‘I have restrained my anger’. She then recited ((…who pardon people)). He said: ‘I have forgiven you’. She further recited ((…And Allah loves the doers of good)). He said: ‘Go now you are free’.
Imagine that – spending in the way of Allah, is a demonstration of gratitude which promotes satisfaction and compassion. That compassion, in turn, prevents the early sprouting of anger and rage. Keeping anger at bay facilitates the ability to think rationally and process possible reasons why someone may be worthy of your forgiveness. These three qualities of being charitable, controlling anger, and forgiving others put us on the path of ihsan (excellence). And Allah loves those who exhibit ihsan (as mentioned in the verse above, 3:134).
So let’s recap spring cleaning for the soul. First, take stock of your negative feelings towards aspects of your life and towards others. Sometimes this process makes us feel uncomfortable, so we shut down the introspection and abort it prematurely. Allow yourself to sift through these nagging negative thoughts and try to evaluate them. Are these negative thoughts really worth the mental and spiritual drain? Do others really deserve the old grudge? This exercise alone may already diminish your list of bad feelings.
Next, turn towards the positive, and put it into action – give. Give when you have abundance, and give when you are struggling (remember it doesn’t have to involve money). Next, work on controlling your anger and find ways to prevent it before it takes control of you. Need some tips on anger management? Here is a handy article. And finally, learn to pardon and forgive others – out of compassion for their circumstances, lack of understanding, or just for the sake of Allah. This entire process is not easy and comes with a great deal of work, yet the results are rewarding on many levels.
May Allah make this spiritual cleansing a successful process of purification before the greatest month of all – Ramadan. Ameen.
This article was taken with slight editorial modifications from The Muslim American Society.