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The Nafs: Between Passion and Determination

The Nafs: Between   Passion and Determination
All praise is due to Allah and may His choicest salutations   continue to descend upon our Master and Leader Muhammad who personified   perfection of character and resolve.

“And so We have bestowed the Book as a heritage unto   servants that We choose and among them are some who sin against themselves;   and some who follow a middle course (between right and wrong) and some who by   the permission of Allah are foremost in deeds of goodness. That indeed is the   highest grace” (35:32)

Allah has blessed man with the potential to do good as   well as the ability to do wrong. Human beings are not inherently sinful…   they are equally capable of both good and evil. They have been blessed with   passion and emotion together with resolve and determination. These attributes   are located within the nafs. Those that yield to the impulses of the nafs   become slaves of their desires while those who are able to overcome the   dictates of the nafs become the vicegerents of Allah.

The strength to overcome the dictates of the nafs does   not come from physical ability or capacity, but from strong willpower. “Great   souls have strong willpower; feeble ones have only great wishes.” Wish-making   is a passive activity which generally flows from belief in luck, whilst a   strong will is dynamic action based on belief in a higher purpose of our   existence – on the love of Allah and fear of giving account for our deeds in   His court.

Three stages of   development of the nafs:
1. The first stage is called: An-nafs-ul-ammarah ‘the   self that tempts (to evil)’

2. The second stage is called: An-nafs-ul-lawwamah ‘the   self that blames’ or ‘the self-reproaching conscience’.

3. The third stage is called: An- nafs-ul – mutmainnah –   ‘the Soul at Peace”

The first stage: Nafs:   An-nafs-ul-ammarah ‘the self that tempts (to evil)’
“The soul is certainly prone to evil”   (12:53) The raw state of the soul is that it coerces us into fulfilling all   our wants, impulses, desires, appetites, habits, fears, and angers. This is   the Nafs that by its very nature directs us towards evil and vice. Shaitaan   is considered to be the ally of this soul. One of the reasons of fasting   during the month of Ramadan is to tame the nafs by exercising moderation and   restraint with regards to human bestial and carnal desires.

The second stage:   An-nafs-ul-lawwamah ‘the self that blames’ or ‘the self-reproaching   conscience’.
“And I do call to witness the soul that   rebukes” (75:2). This Nafs cannot rest in any one state. It often   changes, it remembers and forgets, it submits and opposes , it loves and   hates, it rejoices and become sad, it accepts and rejects, it obeys and   rebels. When it succumbs to desire, it is consumed by guilt. This nafs is   engaged in an inner struggle referred to as the ‘greater jihad’ – The inner   battle between passion and determination.

The third stage: An-   nafs-ul – mutmainnah – ‘the Soul at Peace”
“O Soul in complete rest and satisfaction!”   (89:27) This nafs is tranquil as it finds great solace and peace in the   certitude of reward and Divine pleasure. It waits for its time of departure   from this physical world into the everlasting reality of life after death. It   submits itself to the will of Allah never dissatisfied or complaining, and   never wavering in its faith.

Ibn al-Qayyim states that: “The Nafs is a single   entity, although its state may change…” It may regress to a lower state or   may progress to a higher level depending on the level of struggle against it.   Nabi (saw) once asked his companions: “What do you think about a companion   who, if you treat him nicely, feed him, clothe him, still he would throw you   in all sorts of troubles – and if you insult him, and keep him hungry and   naked, he would do what is good for you?

The Sahabah (ra) said: O’ Prophet of Allah! There cannot   be a companion worse than him in this whole world!” He replied: “By Him in   whose hands rest my life, your nafs is such a companion.” (Qurtubi) He   further said: “A strong person is not the one who overcomes people, but one   who overcomes his nafs.” ( Majma’ ul-zawa’id)

The three stages of the nafs ultimately determine the   three levels of our relationship with the Quran. “And so We have bestowed the   Book as a heritage unto servants that We choose and among them are some who   sin against themselves; and some who follow a middle course (between right   and wrong) and some who by the permission of Allah are foremost in deeds of   goodness. That indeed is the highest grace” (35:32)

1. Those who wrong   themselves – They are subjugated by the   An-nafs-ul-ammarah -the self that tempts (to evil)’ They are unable to submit   to ‘what is right’ and abstain from ‘what is wrong.’ They are generally   indifferent to Quranic teachings and justify their wrongdoing. They see the   Quran as a collection of ancient tales – A Book containing law that is   irrelevant or irrational.

2. Those who sit on   the fence
– Those who see-saw between   obedience and disobedience. They are at the second stage of development –   An-nafs-ul-lawwamah – ‘the self-reproaching conscience’. They display a   lukewarm commitment to the teachings of the Quran wavering between obedience   and disobedience, even though have a conscience that drives them to feel   remorse and regret each time they rebel against the law of Allah.

3. Those who are   foremost in the doing of good
– Those   who possess “ An- nafs-ul – mutmainnah’ – ‘the Soul at Peace.” They are   moderate in temperament but extreme in following principle. They demonstrate   a wholehearted commitment to the teachings of the Quran in the belief that   the Quran contains law that is most perfect and most just.

May Allah T’aala purify our souls and may He grant us the   ability to be among “Those who are foremost in the doing of good”

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