Islah translates as betterment, repair, rectification, reformation, improvement, renovation, optimization and restoration.
Islah e nafs is the main topic of Tasawwuf.
It is a synonym of tazkia e nafs. That is, purification of nafs. That is, one of the four basic Prophetic tasks as stated in Al-Jum’a : 2, “He is the One who raised amidst the unlettered people a messenger from among themselves who recites to them His verses, and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the wisdom, while they were earlier in open error.”
It means improvement and purification of the moral characteristics of an individual. It includes development of good morals (fadhail), like repentance (tawbah), patience (sabr), gratitude (shukr), hopefulness (raja), fear of Allah (khauf), asceticism (zuhd), Oneness of Allah (tawheed), love Allah and Prophet (muhabba), yearning (shauq), (uns), acceptance (raza), sincerity (ikhlas), felicity (sidq), contemplation (muraqaba), humility (raw ashy), accountability (muhasabah), (fikr) and riddance of bad moral characteristics (razail) like lust (shahwut), afflictions of speech (afaat e lisan), anger (ghasb), hatred (keyna), envy (hasad), love of the worldly (hubb e dunya), stinginess (bukhul),greed (hirs), love of status (hubb e jah), showing off (riya), arrogance (takabbur), narcissism (ujub), looking at the prohibited (bud-nazri), illicit love affairs (dunyawi eshq).
It must be clear that these moral characteristics are the driving force for an individual’s action. If they have not been purified and rectified following of the Shariah rules is not effectively possible. Moreover, even if one forces himself to act, the external forms of worship done remains deficient.
These unrefined morals lead one to get involved in the prohibited actions and omit the good actions.
Praying salah hastily is an example from our daily activities. It shows the lack of muhabba, shauq, uns, ikhlas, sidq, muraqaba, fikr and presence of hubb e dunya.
Seeing what is prohibited is due to presence of shahwut and lack of khauf, muraqaba, muhabba.
Discord, quarrelling and sarcasm, even within spouses is due to arrogance, envy, affliction of speech and lack of muhabba and self sacrifice.
In this same manner the reason of all sinful activities can be traced to the non purified morals.
The method of achieving islah is via
1. Knowledge of these morals,
2. Consultation with a mentor to correctly diagnose their lack or presence in one’s self,
3. Following the treatment prescribed and
4. Re-consultation to confirm effective cure or failure of therapy.
These steps are repeated until a stable state is achieved. In this the seeker is constantly cognizant of his deficiencies and effectively strives to improve on them.
Wa ma tawfeeqi illa billah