We have seen how the words of Isa al Masih (PBUH) had power teach with authority, to heal people, and even to control nature. He also directed his words to expose the condition of our hearts – to cause us to examine our inner person as well as the outer. We are all very familiar with outer cleanliness, which is why wudu before prayers is performed and why eating halal meat is practiced. The prophet Muhammad (PBUH), according to hadith said that
“Cleanliness is half of faith…” (Muslim Ch. 1 Book 002, Number 0432)
But the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) wanted us to also think about the other half – that of our inner cleanliness. This is especially important because though we humans can see the outside cleanliness or uncleanliness of other people, for Allah it is different – He sees the inner. When one of the kings of Judah who outwardly kept all the religious obligations, but did not keep his inner heart clean the prophet of that time came with a message that stated:
For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9 of Zabur)
As that message declared, inner cleanliness has to do with our ‘hearts’ – the ‘you’ that thinks, feels, decides, submits or disobeys, and controls the tongue. The prophets of Zabur had declared that it was the thirst of our hearts that was at the root of our sin. Our hearts are so important that Isa al Masih (PBUH) emphasized this in his teaching by contrasting it with our outer cleanliness. Here is how the Injil records the different times that he taught about inner cleanliness or purity:
Clean the Inside as well as the Outside
(In the following discourse ‘Pharisees’ are mentioned. They were the Jewish teachers in that day, very similar to imams of today. Isa (PBUH) mentions giving a ‘tenth’ to God. This was the required Jewish Zakat.)
37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.” (Luke 11: 37-44)
Touching a dead body made a Jew unclean according to the Law. When Isa (PBUH) said that people walk over ‘unmarked graves’ he is saying that they are becoming unclean without them even ‘knowing it’ because they are neglecting the inner cleanliness. It is an easy trap for a believer to only be concerned about outer cleanliness and forget the inner – and so become as unclean as the unbeliever who has no regard for any obligation.
The heart defiles the religiously clean person
In the following teaching, Isa al Masih (PBUH) quotes from the prophet Isaiah (PBUH) who lived 750 BC and wrote in the Zabur. (see link here for historical timeline of Isaiah)
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”…
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:1-20)
In this encounter with the teachers of Jewish law, Isa al Masih (PBUH) pointed out that we are quick to build our religious obligations from ‘human traditions’ rather than from the message of God. At the time of Isa al Masih (PBUH), the Jewish leaders ignored their obligation before Allah to care for their aged parents by giving their money to religious causes instead of helping their parents. The religious cause were really only man-made traditions. Today it is much the same. One scholar declares that a certain thing is haram while another says it is halal and we do not look to the message of the prophets in that matter. But Allah is very concerned with the uncleanness coming from our hearts. This uncleanness will result in our condemnation on the Day of Judgment much quicker than breaking human traditions.
Beautiful on the Outside but on the Inside full of wickedness
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23: 25-28)
In this discourse, Isa al Masih (PBUH) is stating what we all have seen. Following outward cleanliness can be quite common amongst believers in God, but many of us believers are still full of greed and indulgence on the inside – even the people of religious importance. Obtaining inner cleanliness is necessary – but it is much harder. Allah will judge our inner cleanliness very carefully. So the issue raises itself: How do we clean our hearts so that we can enter the Kingdom of God on the Day of Judgment? We continue in the Injil to find an answer.