Explore the journey of self-purification and the common obstacles faced along the way. From negligence and pride to haste and despair, learn how to overcome these pitfalls and achieve inner growth. Discover guidance rooted in Islamic teachings to navigate the challenges on the path to spiritual enlightenment.

A responsible highway authority will erect a variety of warning signs in order to alert drivers to dangers and so ensure safe passage. Similarly, it is necessary that certain obstacles in the path of self-purification be identified for the benefit of the seekers of truth. Doing so will help them reach their destination safely. In broad terms, there are certain failings that can gradually separate one from one’s goal and against which it is important to be forewarned.

Negligence and Carelessness

This is a very common failing. One is, without doubt, drawn by nature towards a program of self-reform and may be granted some success. However, human beings are liable to forgetfulness and negligence. The Qur’an repeatedly warns against becoming one of those who are negligent. It is important therefore to be fully on guard, to value greatly any success, and to thank Allah profusely for it so that one may be deserving of more of His bounties. Conversely, a lack of appreciation, indifference, and negligence result in the loss of all that Allah has granted. The Qur’an says plainly of the Jews and Christians that they did not value their Scriptures and disregarded them; as a result, they fell prey to mutual differences and strayed from the straight path (Al-Ma’idah 5:13-14).

Pride and Arrogance

Believers who turn their attention to self-purification, shun misdeeds, and practice the virtues will grow in social prominence and respect. People will praise them for their integrity, gentleness, and piety. As they succeed in their efforts to attain piety and excellence, their virtues become the focus of attention. However, if they are not careful enough, they may fall into pride and suffer from complacency and conceit, and a superiority complex may trouble them. We must recognize that it is a satanic strategy to deceive the believers. Satan fell from divine grace on account of his pride. It is recorded that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “One with (even) an iota of pride will not enter Paradise” (Muslim).

To protect against pride and arrogance, we should not look to those who are inferior in knowledge and good deeds, but to those who occupy higher ranks in terms of piety, knowledge, and gnosis of Allah. We should always remember that Allah has presented the role model of the illustrious conduct of the messengers and Companions. In comparison with that model, we will always become aware of our inferiority to them, and that will protect us from falling prey to pride and arrogance. Once we suffer from the delusion that we have attained excellence, it marks the starting point of our decline and decay. We should, therefore, seek refuge with Allah against this, lest we are deprived of all that we have gained.

Desire for Perfection

It is people’s natural desire to attain the zenith of achievement in their chosen field. This ambition in itself is valuable. However, since human beings are fallible, they cannot maintain the same standard of excellence at all times. Some people are never satisfied with what they do, obsessed with the desire to achieve perfection. Failing to reach the highest standard, they lose heart and slide into despair and despondency. By definition, an ideal is something to be pursued; it is, in principle, always unattainable. As already indicated, the Prophet represents the role model for us to emulate the highest standard, which we cannot measure up to.


Human beings are instinctively hasty (Al-Anbiyaa’ 21:37), while the process of self-purification is long and drawn out. People cannot achieve straightaway what they wish and want in this respect, and they are exposed to many obstacles and hardships on the way. Perseverance and courage are needed to overcome these obstacles. Succumbing to impatience or hastiness is itself an impediment to success; whereas consistently and valiantly confronting the hardships and obstacles brings out the best in the seeker. Indeed, striving and steadfastness are essential elements of self-purification. People cannot attain high standards by acting hastily and impatiently.


Despair is a fatal disease. At times, it brings one into unbelief. Allah says,

(Never give up hope of Allah’s mercy. Certainly, no one despairs of Allah’s mercy, except the people who disbelieve.) (Yusuf 12:87)

In adverse circumstances, when the chances of success are remote, people are naturally inclined to lose hope and turn to cynicism or pessimism. However, even in the face of repeated failures, people must never despair of Allah’s mercy. Every failure should inspire renewed vigor to confront the unfavorable circumstances and persevere in the cause, in accordance with the promise of Allah,

(As for those who strive hard in Our cause, We will surely guide them to Our paths.) (Al-`Ankabut 29:69)


Human beings are prone to go to extremes when overtaken by passion. They often adopt an extremist position on particular issues, whether acts of worship or points of morality, overemphasizing certain matters at the expense of others. Islam enjoins human beings to seek balance and moderation in their outlook and warns them against extremism of any sort. People should therefore observe moderation in the effort to attain self-purification. It is reported on the authority of Anas that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Do not strain yourself in matters of faith lest Allah may treat you harshly.” In another hadith he warned, “Beware! Do not become entrapped by extremism. For people before you were destroyed on account of their extremism in faith.”

We have taken note of the obstacles and pitfalls on the road to self-purification. This should not give rise to the impression that people cannot make progress on this road. Certainly this is not that difficult. Human beings instinctively welcome goodness and are repelled by evil. There are lessons to be learned from every event in this universe, as well as from personal experience. People do not stand in need of joining some training course to assimilate these lessons. Furthermore, it is within people’s capacity to fulfill the obligations prescribed by Allah. Allah does not burden anyone beyond their capacity, for that would run counter to justice.

By  Abdur- Rashid Siddiqui