Nafs (Human Self)

 

A human being is made of two selves; the outer and the inner self. To make our outer self more presentable we read a lot of health magazines, exercise at gym etc. However the inner self which is not visible to us, but can be felt in varying degrees, demands the same effort, if not more, to make it healthy as it is only through the inner self will we be judged in the hereafter by Almighty Allah.

While there is an abundance of literature to help us make our outer self stronger, it is only the Quran which helps us in making our inner self stronger.

In this blog I will write about the types of Nafs (inner human self) as explained in the famous Tafsir of Quran Maariful Quran.

The Importance of knowing our Inner Self.

The strength of the inner self helps us in doing good and abstaining from evil. Learning about the types of the inner self and the rewards/consequence of each self, can help us to establish a direction and converge all our energies towards it. 

The three Types of Human Self

1. Nafs-e-Ammarah: When the human self is on its own (or untrained) it incites the man towards evil deeds, as the default behaviour of the Inner Self is attracted towards evil and animalistic desires. In this state it is known as Nafs-e-Ammarah.

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In 12:53, Hazrat Yusuf  image is explaining that man’s inner self often incites towards evil. And that he image does not absolve his inner self of blame.

A point to note here is that Hazrat Yusuf image belongs to a group of Allah’s chosen few i.e. HIS messengers who by default are innocent and not prone to commit any sins and therefore are at the highest level of respect amongst all mankind. But still he image is concerned about controlling his inner self. How important it is for us, then, to control our inner self?

2. Nafs-e-Lawwamah: By default the human self (nafs) will encourage man towards evil deeds, but when the man does not follow these desires because of fear of Allah and Akhirah, his self (nafs) turns into Nafs-e-Lawwamah.  This human self makes the man hate evil deeds, repent from any evil deed he might have committed and continuously seeks forgiveness of Allah. This state involves a constant battle to fight the evil urges and the weapon used is the fear of Allah and Akhirah. This Self is conscious of its own imperfections. While not completely cut off from the evils it does regret its evils and shortcomings. And it not only regrets its evil deeds but also regrets its pious deeds as it feels that they are not as high as the high status of the Almighty Allah.

The first stage (Nafs-e-Ammarah) is developed into the second stage (Nafs-e-Lawwamah) when we perform righteousness, and exert ourselves in Riyadah ‘ascetic discipline’ and mujahadah ‘spiritual struggle’.

However,

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In 75:2 Allah has sworn an oath by the self-reproaching conscience (Nafs-e-Lawwamah) in order to show honour for the believing souls who take account of their deeds, regret, and feel sorry for, their shortcomings and reproach themselves.

In the explanation of this Aayah, Mufti Taqi Usmani Sahab, writes in the Asaan Tarjuma-e-Quran, that Allah has placed this conscience inside every human being to help him differentiate between good and evil.

Therefore it is up to each individual to makes his conscience stronger by rigorously disciplining his self (nafs).

3. Nafs-e-Mutma’innah (the self at peace): In this state through continuous struggle against the evil desires, the human self reaches a state where the very urge to turn to evil deeds does not remain inside of him anymore. One can arrive at this state through spiritual strivings and/or with the help of guidance from a knowledgeable Shaikh. However even after attaining this state there is no certainty that one will stay in this state forever and would not be requiring any further struggle etc.

One’s self develops into this stage when it progressively performs righteousness and attains Divine nearness and applies the sacred laws of Shari’ah so rigorously that Shari’ah becomes his nature and develops a natural hatred for anything contrary to Shari’ah .

Three Levels of Suppressing [the Base] Self i.e. Nafs-e-Ammarah

Qadi Thana’ullah Panipati has written in his Tafsir Mazhari; that there are three levels of suppressing evil desires which are as follows:

First Level: In this initial level one just avoids false beliefs which are in conflict or incompatible with express texts [of the Holy Quran and established Sunnah and consensus of Sahaba and the Tabaieen. In this level, a person deserves to be called ‘Sunni Muslim.

Second Level: In this stage, one may think of committing a sin. Then he may remember that he has to account for his deeds before Allah [on the Day of Reckoning]. As a result, he abandons the thought of committing the sin. This behaviour requires of him to force his Nafs (Human Self) away from the evil desires and animalistic feelings. Sometimes he will succeed and sometimes his Nafs will succeed and make him succumb to his desires. This requires a constant struggle and one must not lose hope by stopping the effort. Ulema have explained that committing a sin is bad, but losing hope is Kufr and that Allah, in his extreme mercy, waits for the sinner to repent, so even if his Nafs makes him commit a sin, repenting on the sin, will nullify any long term negative impact on his Inner Self.

Therefore we must continue the struggle and In Sha Allah, we will find that with time, not succumbing to evil desires will make us stronger in battling our Nafs and even if we commit a sin, we should immediately repent.

In addition the complement to this level is that one abstains from doubtful things as well as those acts that are permissible but there is apprehension that if committed, they may lead one to slip into impermissible acts. Sayyidna Nu’man narrates that the Holy Prophet image said: “He who abstained from doubtful things has protected his honour and religion. He who indulged in doubtful things will eventually indulge in forbidden things.” The expression ‘doubtful things’ signifies those acts about which one is not certain whether they are permissible or not, both possibilities being equal.

The Third Level: The third and the highest level of suppression of the base self is that by abundant dhikrullah [remembrance of Allah] and constant mujahadah [spiritual struggle and endeavour against the evil passions] and riyadah [ascetic discipline], one’s self (nafs) is so cleansed and purified that the desires that tempts him to evil are totally eliminated. This is the special stage of Willayah [Divine friendship], which in Sufi Terminology is called fani fillah and baqi billah.

The Qur’an says regarding such people [addressing the Satan]:

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In 15:42, as per explanation from Mufti Taqi Usmani Sahab in Asaan Tarjuma-e-Quraan, Allah says that ‘My Servants’ are the ones who make a strong commitment that they will follow the commands of Allah and to do so will only seek Allah’s help. For such servants of Allah, Shaitan (Devil) not will be successful in taking them away from the straight path.

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The following Hadith also applies to the same category of Wali:

‘None of you can be a [perfect] believer unless his [base] desires of self follow my teachings.’

What if you cannot find a Shaikh

In order to identify one’s base desires ( as not all evil desires are easily identifiable to the common eye ), one needs the help of a knowledgeable and practicing Shaikh. He guides his students by identifying their base desires and by giving them remedies to cure them. He also helps them in making the struggle easier by constantly monitoring their progress.

However if one cannot find a Shaikh, then the following tip from Shaikh Naqshbandi as mentioned in Maariful Quran, can help us during the time, when we are not able to find the Shaikh.

“Recite istaghfaar abundantly and recite istaghfaar [seek Allah’s pardon] twenty times regularly after every prayer, so that it works out to a hundred times reciting it five times a day.”

[Vol 8 Page 700 – Maariful Quran)

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