The Methodology of Imam Khomeini (r) in the Purification of the Soul                 

The Methodology of Imam Khomeini (r) in the Purification of the Soul

Mirza Abbas

The main purpose of any seminary is to train its students to become true human beings and all the other sciences which are taught are, in reality, means of achieving this main purpose. Those who study in the hawza (seminary) must reach a point where they are capable of providing this training (tarbīyah) to their communities and link these communities to their spiritual guides and heads so that constructive tarbīyah can take place. Hence for those who are present in the hawzas, it is very important to utilise the opportunities to find a trainer (murabī) and embark upon the path of `being and becoming` otherwise all they accumulate is information which, instead of rectifying and clarifying their beliefs, will create confusion and ambiguity.

On the other hand, the principle of spiritual wayfaring is that the trainer will come to the trainee when he is ready for training. This clearly reflects the Divine principle of purification that one has to struggle for purification after which God will then provide, as the Holy Qur'an says: `Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you` (33:33) Finally for all those who are eager (mushtāq) to embark on the journey of spiritual wayfaring- in the hawzas or outside- they have to create the link to the trainer.

According to Imam Khomeini (r), the role of a teacher on this path is indispensable, as we will later read. The following is an introduction written by my teacher ayatollah Tahriri (d) in the book 'nameha-e 'irfani e imam Khomeini titled `The Importance of the tahzib of nafs (training of the soul) according to Imam Khomeini` It is not possible to discuss the personality of a person (Ayatollah Khomeini) whose life was annihilated in the eternal Beloved God. What can be known of him is nothing but a drop from the ocean of his knowledge and understanding. Inspired by his remarkable writings I have tried to extract from it a few points in relation to akhlaq (ethics) and tarbīyah (training of the soul) inorder that we may benefit from it. By focusing upon the Qur'an, Sunnah and the way of the awliya (friends of God or saints), we understand the importance of training of the nafs (self).

The Qur'an has clearly stated that `You are Sublime Morality` (68:4) and also that the Prophet (saw) is a `Mercy to the whole creation` (21:107). Benefiting from this mercy is only possible if one reads and understands the Qur'an in the right way, in fact it is for this very reason that messengers of God have been sent to mankind. God has reminded humans of this in the Holy Qur'an (3:163). It is obvious that one who has dedicated his life to the Qur'an and has been annihilated in the love of God would indeed focus upon this significant issue of tarbīyah. The reality of utilizing and understanding the Qur'an is also dependant upon this phenomenon; in fact, Imam Khomeini realised this, and has concentrated his writings on this issue. As he writes in the commentary of 'aql and jahl that: `Harmonization of the energies of the nafs is the essence of human perfection and the conclusion of perfection is dependent upon it and forgetfulness of this is a major loss.

For Man as long as he is in this world the possibility of harmonizing and achieving the goal of perfection is possible. (aql and jahl Khomeini,1378, P. 152).` The Best Period for tarbīya Man, as long as he is in this world, has the opportunity to change his innerself towards God and organize his life so that he may achieve eternal felicity. However this also depends upon on the stage of life he is at and how he has modified and organized himself. Imam Khomeini in describing this truth has pointed out, that the most influential stage of life is while a person is young and this makes it easier to accomplish the goal of changing the inner self. Imam Khomeini's letters to his son are famous among the scholars of the hawza and are a significant point of reference for the phenomenon of tarbiyah. In one of the letter he writes: `One must certainly focus that the tawba (returning with forgiveness to God after committing a sin) and purification of nafs and training of the batin (inner-self) is easier at a young age. At an old age the hawa of the nafs, self-appreciation, accumulation and love of wealth, is much greater compared with at a young age. The soul of a youth is subtle and easily structured changed and modified, he is dynamically affected in a session discussing ethics and he is more attracted towards spirituality than an old person.

The youth must be careful that they do not get trapped by shaitan (Satan) or by their nafs (soul) as death is closer to young and old in a like manner and no youth is guaranteed to reach an old age and as a matter of fact active events which brings death are closer to the young than to an old. My advice to you my son is to utilize this young age of yours through keeping good company; in the company of those who love spirituality, who do not have love of this world and those who have what is required of this world and are away from sins and the company of these men will help you stay steadfast on the path of purification. Make sure you do not attend meetings of those who have forgotten God as this might 'retract opportunities' (salb-e taufiq) - blessings of God to do well and purify oneself – which can never be replaced. Do not allow the opportunity of self purification ever leave you.' (aql and jahl Khomeini, 1379, Vol.16, P.212).

Human being from the point of view of Imam Khomeini. Every institution (maktab) has an ideological and practical view of the nature of man. This is shaped by the scholars of that institution. Imam Khomeini has a unique understanding of insān (human being), he states: `Humans have been favoured by a divine and subtle favour which is the fitrah (sublime nature) amongst the creation and this fitra can be compared to an amana (trust) which God has given to man as the Qur'an states` (33:72). This is the fitrah of tawhid that transcends all of three levels of wujud (dhat, siffat and af'al ) even the realm of asma (Names) and annihilates (fani) in Him.

And whosoever does not attain this level has deceived God; and has been ignorant to the station of humanity and Lordship of the Lord; and has oppressed his own soul and God. Hence for 'the people of the heart' it is clear that this is possible for them with intellectual and spiritual exercises and with pure intentions as this station is for the mutaharun (56:79) (ibid, Vol.1, P. 9). In another place Imam states: `Oh nafs know that you are from the realm of the 'Absolute Names' and from the 'greater purgatory world' and this place does not belong to you and you have no choice but to return, hence love your origin and this love is due to 'iman (faith) as the Lord of jin and men have said. It is not in the fitrah of man to pay attention to anyone other than the absolute Perfect, all hearts and lives are towards Him and are only glorifying Him. The praise of everything is in reality His praise. As long as the glorifier is in veil (hijab) he must intellectualize this praise and must intend that it is for Him in reality. Those who are after perfection in reality love Absolute the Perfect (God) and no matter how much they try to achieve 'worldly perfection' in this world they will not be satisfied and this is the same in relation to knowledge and for power` (ibid, Vol.18, P. 443).

The Importance of Philosophy and Mysticism in purification of the soul (tahzib of nafs) Acquiring knowledge of philosophy and mysticism is of remarkable importance. However, their value is only in a utilitarian fashion and what is of real value is realising their purpose and achieving it. As he indicates, the `first step is through knowledge and this is also a great veil (hijab e akbar) and one must enter in it to get rid of hijab but (the way to get rid of it is by) looking into our conscious and maybe we will find a way`. In relation to philosophy and mysticism Imam Khomeini states: `Be cautious and vigilant and know that God is the only helper, from acquiring the animalistic pleasure which is for the quadrupeds.

Be careful of criticising the close ones even if you overshadow them in knowledge and this is the way of the wild beast. Be careful of favouring the close ones by providing them social status on the bases of what you have been given as this is the way of Satan (shayatin). In understanding the truth, do not bring the philosophy of philosophers, the gnosis of Gnostics and the theology of theologians in front of your eyes as these are all veils and strive to deteriorate and destroy you and they will become your eternal darkness (dhulamah)`. (ibid, Vol.1, P, 18). The Importance of Qur'an and Dua (Supplications) in tahzib of nafs The foundation of religious knowledge and understanding is the Qura'an and Sunnah which contains practical and theoretical knowledge of tarbīya.

The more precise one is in investigating these sources, the more insight one would have of purification and for this reason Imam Khomeini in relation to the status of the Qur'an states: `The Qur'an is the book of gnosis of God and the way towards Him and the ignorant from this path gets deviated and ends up doing tafsir on the bases of personal opinions what the infallibles (masumin) have clearly prohibited from doing so. This book has been revealed in a time and space which was considered to be the darkest of all time or uncivilized of all civilization and it was sent upon an individual who was living and continued to live in that period. This it-self is the greatest miracle of the Qur'an. Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism also utilises Qur'an and uses it as a base and the issues relating to mysticism have not been discussed in any book the way they have been in the Qur'an. (ibid, Vol.16, P. 209 - 210). In this similar manner he also writes; `We should not separate ourselves from the Qur'an as in it we find the supplications of a lover to his Beloved, and in it are the secrets that no one other than the Beloved understands and the possibility to understand to its complete sense does not exist either.

Only a few aspects of it are relayed by the household of revelation (wahy) to us and even then, it is in accordance with the capacity of the individuals. The most desired for this path are the supplications of the masumin and they take the hand of those who wants to be guided to the Truth and make him reach his goal. It is unfortunate that we are far away from it. (ibid, Vol. 18, P. 447). Imam Khomeini (r) points out to his son Ahmad Khomeini (r) that the duas that come from the masumin are considered to be the greatest guides for understanding God and furthermore for enhancing the believer with phenomenon of 'ubudiyyah through which the slave of the creation can relate to God. It is through 'ubudiyyah that one not only creates a relationship with God but it is also means of loving God. He says: `Let not the whispers of the ignorant make you forgetful of this phenomenon.` If it be the case that we spend all of our life thanking our Imams for providing us with what they have been provided, it is still insufficient. The Necessity of a Teacher in Ethics and training of the soul, according to Imam Khomeini `How is it possible that every science requires a teacher?

For example the science of fiqh or jurisprudence requires a teacher; discussions, discourses and the sciences which is quite subtle and complex and for which all the prophets and saints were sent to mankind do not require a teacher?` (aql va jahl Khomeini, 1371, P. 21-23) This advice of Imam Khomeini was for the benefit of all, but specifically for the Islamic Seminaries (hawza). He, in a sad fashion, indicates that due to the vacuum of such sciences within the hawzas, materialistic motives have entered the domain of religious scholars. In one of his famous works 'Jihad e Akbar' he asserts: `It is necessary that you purify yourself, so that when you become a head of an institution or a community you purify them and in this way take a step to rectify and build a society.` (Jihad e Akbar' Khomeini, 1371, P. 23). He warns the religious scholars to be careful of them and not to earn the punishment of hell after spending fifty or more years in the seminaries. `Make a plan for tahzib and tazkiya, find a teacher, and attend sessions where advice on ethics is given; it is not possible to purge one-self. If the seminaries go on the way they are, they will destroy themselves (ibid, P.24) Not having discussions on these issues and not having a teacher in ethics will open a door for an enemy in the ranks of religious scholars (ruhaniyah) and Imam clearly indicated this by commenting that: `The possibility of evil propagation and unclean hands intervening and portraying the phenomenon of having an ethical programme of rectifying one-self as unimportant, eventually corrupts the hawza` (ibid, P.25). In another of his books he writes: `In spiritual wayfaring it is required that one has a teacher and it is necessary that one follows the footsteps of his teacher` (Khomeini, 1378, P. 403)

We arrive upon the understanding that the knowledge of philosophy, ethics, spirituality and religion is important in tahzib of nafs and these sciences must be investigated and acquired about on the basis of the Qur'an and Sunnah as they must bring about certainty and guide us to the goal. This is the methodology of the scholars of ethics within Islam in that they also point out the good and the bad qualities of the nafs on that basis. The books of traditions seem to follow the same method in organizing the traditions; books such as bihar al anwar, makarim-e aqlaq, 'usul al kafi, tuhful 'qul, and in the muhajjatul baydha, jamiyah sa'adah and mehraj al sa'ada, taharah al'araq they are categorized in a more systematic manner. Imam Khomeini (r) also used a similar methodology when composing his works on ethics such as: sharh chal hadith and sharh of hadith 'aql and jahal.

Nevertheless, the unique aspect of his writing is that not only did he discuss issues relating to the ethics and the tarbīyah in the conventional sense, but rather he also used the Qur'an and Sunnah as its base. The other aspect of his works is different from previous scholars and this is due to the fact that he analyzes the root of good and bad characteristics or qualities and regards the source of all the good as the essence of human beings. He asserts that a true human being is the manifestation of the Names and qualities of God and in order that he reflects from his fitrah- as he is the source of all goodness- on these qualities. God puts man through trials and through perfect union with Himself, and man will realize his reality. On the contrary the source of all the bad conducts is due to the forgetfulness (ghafla) of the real self.

Humans in every dimension, desire ultimate perfection and when he is misled in understanding the reality of perfection, he initiates the bad conduct. The distinction between these methodologies compared to the previous ones are that: • Man is in relation with the real source and develops through it and in it. • The starting point of tarbiyah is clear and that is to create that link or relationship with the Ultimate Perfect • The foundation of this methodology is focused on God (the real Perfect) from the very beginning, contrary to the previous methodology where one is focused on one's nafs by striving to be away from any bad conducts and acquire good qualities. This methodology of Imam Khomeini has two major dimensions to it; 1. Being Goal Oriented This means that man arrives upon intuitive knowledge (marifat e shuhudi) in complete sense to God; where he does not even witness the multiplicity of the Divine Names, Attributes and Essence or on the other hand he does witness the annihilation of multiplicity in Unity. Through creating a sincere link with God and the fitrah of man, he understands that this reality and this type of understanding is only achievable through freeing ones nafs from all limitation and referring all perfection to Him and regarding Him as being far from all limitation. vigilant (muraqiba) and applying the shariyah in one's life.

The calculation of actions (Muraqiba and Muhasiba) of the nafs will bring about perpetual remembrance (dhikr) and this will open the gates of felicity (sa'adah) to man and put him on the straight path. If he does not do this, he will be abusing the truth and through this he will abuse himself. This abuse in the form of being forgetful or violating- the primary is worse than the later. Imagine God leaving or forgetting about His creation. Or 'if you forget God, God will forget you and what will happen of you after that?' For this reason, a few of the benefits of muraqibah and muhasabah of the nafs can be pointed out as: • Control over one's nafs and vigilance in every step. • God consciousness and stronger belief in God. • An entire change in vision in relation to the Creator and creation • Uprooting of the bad qualities of the nafs as one tries to control it by focusing all activities for the pleasure of God alone. The principles of muraqibah and muhasiba can be harmonious with man's social activities and responsibilities. Furthermore, this was the way of the prophets and the saints of God for establishment of the truth.

On one hand they were fully integrated into the society and at the same time they were secluded as to achieve and establish the truth that one must cut oneself off from other than God. This was quite apparent in the life of Imam Khomeini and he has pointed this out clearly in his speeches and writings. He asserts in one of his works: `What I have mentioned does not mean that one secludes oneself from the society and has no relationship with it, this is a quality of one of the ignorant ones or (darvishan) those who want to open a pseudo-spiritual shop. The way of prophets and the greatest amongst them (may the blessings of God be upon him and all the prophets) was never like this. The fourteen masumin, the heads of Gnostics, those who were sublime from any limitation and in complete proximity to God stood against the oppressor, took part in social issues and were part of the society and have taken pains to establish justice… My son neither the detachment of the Sufis from the societies is a proof of their attachment to God, nor is the attachment into the society and establishing a government.

What is of importance and value is the intention and balance in action. (aql va Jahl Khomeini, 1379, Vol. 18, P.511-512) Through this style the greater Jihad is carried out and the root of corruption: shaitan, is uprooted and by this, one achieves victory and arrives upon the true perfection, while doing so also guides others on this path, as Imam Khomeini states: `Those who reach this station or a similar station have never secluded themselves from the creation. On the contrary they got engaged with the society and guided the society`. (ibid, Vol.16, P. 210). Conclusion The issue of tarbiyah is the foundation of the teachings of all prophets and saints which Imam Khomeini has extremely emphasised upon it in all levels. He regards tarbiyah as increasing in ones understanding of religion for the sake of God through having good scholars in that field and good trainers in the field of ethics and spirituality. It is through this phenomenon that the societies are trained and protected from any deviation and undue influences. The possibility does exist and many books might have been written that by implementation of the shariyah and without having a particular teacher or a trainer one could reach spirituality and reality of things, which is considered as the tariqah of majdhubin but Imam Khomeini clearly regards this as against the norm and as unusual for the natural law (sunnah).

He says the possibility is there but it is usually not the case and in this relation he says: `Although it is possible, at times, that one may attain higher spiritual stations without encountering the veils of terminologies and the sciences. Such a thing is unusual, contrary to the way of natural law and happens very rarely. Hence, the way to God-seeking is that one should at the outset devote his time to the remembrance of God, acquire the knowledge, the Names and the Attributes of that Sacred Essence in the usual way of the Scholars and teachers (mashayikh) of that science. Then, by the means of theoretical and practical exercises and seriousness, he should open his heart to the ma''arif, and this will undoubtedly yield results. If he is not one of those familiar with the terminologies, he can obtain results through the remembrance of the Beloved and by preoccupying his heart and mind with that Sacred Essence. It is certain that, this preoccupation of the heart and inward attention will become the means of his guidance, and God, the Exalted, will assist him. The concealing curtains will rise from his eyes and he will somewhat retreat from those vulgar forms of scepticism. And, perhaps, he may find his way to the ma'arif with the special grace of God Almighty. Indeed He is the Lord of bounties`. (Jihad e Akbar' Khomeini p.457)


1-The first publication came in the year 1382 of the Iranian calendar by the efforts of Muhammad Badihi and Mahmud Najafi and printed by the Tashiyyu Publications


Khomeini, Ruhullah Musawi. (1379) Shahifa imam, Tehran: Muassisa e Tanzim wa Nashr e Asar Imam Khomeini.

(1371) Sharh-e chahal hadith, Tehran: Muassasa e Tanzim wa Nashr e Imam Khomeini.

(1378) Sharh-e hadith-e junud-e 'aql wa jahl, Tehran: Muassasa e Tanzim wa Nashr e Imam Khomeini.

(1371) Jihad e akbar, Tehran: Muassasa e Tanzim wa Nashr Imam Khomeini