WHAT IS TAZKIYAH NAFS IN ISLAM?

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What is tazkiyah nafs in Islam? What is tazkiyah nafs in quran? Tazkiyah nafs meaning in islam…

The Almighty created Adam -upon him blessings and peace-, the father of all human kind, in Paradise and through him, made man the most honored created being. As a result of this heavenly privilege, however, the Almighty willed that mankind toil to deserve an eternal and blissful life in Paradise.

THE REALITY OF THE NAFS

The Almighty created Adam -upon him blessings and peace-, the father of all human kind, in Paradise and through him, made man the most honored created being. As a result of this heavenly privilege, however, the Almighty willed that mankind toil to deserve an eternal and blissful life in Paradise. As desired by the Almighty’s design in past eternity, Adam -upon him blessings and peace- committed that well-known blunder in paradise, as a result of which he was sent out from Paradise to this world; though paradise remained his original homeland, while this world a land of exile and trial. Man’s subsequent return to Paradise has thus become a matter of reward and merit, for which he has to successfully undergo a variety of tests.

For such reasons, among all creation, the Almighty has given human beings unique characteristics. The Almighty willed to design mankind in accordance with the quality of their praiseworthy and blameworthy deeds, ranging from “the lowest of the low (asfal al-safilin)” to “the highest of the high (a‘la al-‘illiyin).” In other words, being the pearl of all creation, man possesses an inborn capacity towards good and evil; and thus his high or low position among creation depends on the way he uses his will. The success of man in this undertaking is proportional to his personal success in enhancing his good qualities and, at the same time, curbing his evil aspects. The merit of a human being becomes evident in this battle ground where the good and evil features stake conflicting claims over the control of the person.

According to Sufis, the negative and positive inclinations that exist in man have two locale or focal points in “the animal soul” and “the lordly soul”.

The animal soul is a subtle faculty that enables man to stay alive in this world and to keep his biological existence under control. It is also called “life” or “self”.  Since the animal soul keeps running its basic operations in the human body even while a person is asleep, most of the biological functions in the body are involuntarily carried on during sleep. But the lordly soul leaves the body during sleep, to return to it once again the moment a person wakes up. The animal soul sets the body in motion, makes it speak, and enables it to operate all the other basic bodily functions. The animal soul leaves the body by death. Its location is between the brain and the heart, from where it spreads out to the whole body and undertakes its main operations through the circulating blood. This soul is related to “the temporal and created world (alamu’l-khalq)”[1] and constitutes the starting point of human actions. If untrained, this soul may exercise negative influences over a human being.

The lordly soul refers to the human soul which the Almighty had breathed of His spirit. It is this quality that differentiates a human being from the rest of creation. The lordly soul belongs to “the world of unconditioned existence (alamu’l-amr)”[2] and accompanies the human body so that man may perform good deeds. By way of, and thanks to, this soul which the human body dresses, man leads a decent and observant lifestyle in servanthood and obedience. The lordly soul does not perish or disappear with the death of the body; though by death the effect of the lordly soul over the body comes to an end.

Man gives directions to his life depending on the exact nature of the battle taking place in his inner dimension between the animal and lordly souls. When the lordly soul wins the battle, man becomes inclined towards good deeds and morality. But when the animal soul takes the control, man becomes inclined towards all kinds of sin and immorality. Man’s responsibility for his actions is based on his preferences and decisions between good and evil deeds. Since man is given a capacity to perform his actions in accordance with his free will, and thereby take his animal soul under control to a certain extent, he is liable for what he does and eligible for both reward and punishment.

The human ego constitutes one of the biggest obstacles that stand in front of man in this world of tests and trial.  For this reason, in general, we think of the human self, or nafs, as a negative concept. In reality, however, the  self has positive qualities embedded in its essence. To make this essence appear in all its glory, man must instead polish the nafs from all kinds of dirt through spiritual purification.  Man should continually keep himself busy with striving for good causes in this world so that he could reach a blissful life in the world to come, as every man shapes his own eternal life in this world and reaps whatever he sows. Depending on the quality of his deeds, each person will attain a pleasant or an unpleasant life in the Hereafter. In one respect, we might even say that it is man himself who writes his own destiny in this life.

One of the essential conditions of eternal happiness and salvation for man is to mature the lower self or the ego to a proper degree of ripeness, so as to accustom it to offering good deeds. A self that lacks this ripeness is similar to an aggressive and untamed horse, which takes its rider to destruction, rather than to his intended destination. A saddled horse, on the other hand, properly trained and bridled, takes its rider peacefully to the destination, however dangerous the road might be. Likewise, an untamed and uncontrolled self cannot take its possessor to the sublime and celestial aims of life.

In fact, the self, or nafs, functions as a two dimensional vehicle. While it has a potential to elevate man’s value to the peaks of maturity and make him the pearl of all creation, it might also degrade his value to the lowest of the low. The  self, therefore, has a potential to head towards both directions, like a two-edged knife. When properly trained it heads towards the good; though if not, it recklessly heads towards evil.

Every human soul that remains deprived of spiritual guidance and control, functions like a dark curtain of ignorance that covers the surface of realities. But as mentioned above, despite the obstacle of the ego, if a person purifies himself by salvaging his soul from the hands of immoral characteristics, he can reach advanced points even higher than that of angels. For the merit of every end is proportionate to the level of difficulty experienced and of the obstacles overcome for the sake of reaching this end.

Immoral characteristics in the soul interfere with the communication between the Almighty and the servant. Only through the practice of the required spiritual methods can one remain firm against these relentless interferences; and this means an equally relentless struggle against the ego’s lowly temptations and desires. Such a course of action requires a persistent and determinate toil. In this context, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- says,

اَلْمُجَاهِدُ مَنْ جَاهَدَ نَفْسَهُ

“[The real] struggler (mujahid) is the one who struggles against his own self.” (Tirmidhi, Fadailu’l-Jihad, 2; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, VI, 20)

Although the struggle against the lower self, or the ego, does not kill it, it nonetheless takes it under control. In fact, Sufism does not so much aim at utterly destroying the self, as withholding it from transgressing and immunizing it against lowly desires and inclinations. The Sufi way undertakes this operation in accordance with Divine instructions. In this regard, Ghazzali compares man’s position with a rider and says, “The nafs is the spirit’s saddled beast. If a person lets go of the bridles of the nafs and follows its direction, his destruction becomes unavoidable. If he tries to destroy the self (as it is in the case of certain Hindu religions and mystical philosophies), then he is bound to remain behind on the path of reality, without any saddled beast. Better you hold on tight to the bridles of the beast and make use of it.”

Following this course of action in dealing with the self is a requirement, and moreover, an essential part of the prophetic method in human education. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- did not approve of the attitude of refraining totally from eating, drinking and living a family life for the sake of devoting the entire energy to worship. He repeatedly underlined the fact that such a monastic practice of complete self-isolation was not a part of Islam. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- hence showed the possibility and methods of accomplishing spiritual progress whilst leading a life in society.

On the other hand, during the course of this education, which is a difficult struggle indeed, a wayfarer encounters certain states and stations of the nafs. One of the most dangerous afflictions the nafs encounters whilst advancing on the spiritual path is the risk of ascribing an existence to itself and dragging itself thereby into self-conceit.  Detrimentally, this is where the hidden arrogance and pride takes control. In the course of struggling against the lower self, even small mistakes are inexcusable, as they allow the lower self to return to its original starting point.

Since the lower self is always on alert and waiting in ambush, one should never feel safe from its deception and harm. For this reason, a believer should constantly be aware of the possible dangers and tricks that come from his own nafs. He should meet them with a sound judgment and rein them in with a determination inspired by Divine revelation.

How can we purify the  self, man’s saddled beast, when it has innate evil temptations? Furthermore, what kind of spiritual levels are waiting to be reached in the course of this training of purification?  Now, it is time for us to focus on these two questions.

The question is whether or not you will be able to acquire a rose-like nature. What this means is that even though you see all kinds of thorns in the garden of this world, you are not to act as a thorn yourself; however severely injured you might be by them. You should instead try to be like a rose, which, despite the chill of winter, blossoms all the same…

THE PURIFICATION OF THE LOWER SELF, OR NAFS

The word tazkiyah means to cleanse and purify. It also denotes increasing, improving, and a blessing. From this semantic perspective, tazkiyah comprises the entire process of spiritual education.

Purifying the nafs means is to cleanse it primarily from unbelief, ignorance, evil thoughts, false convictions and immorality. In other words, the purification of the  self is an act of cleansing aimed at eliminating all kinds of theoretical and practical impurities. This process ends in filling the nafs with good religious and moral qualities, such as sound belief, knowledge, gnosis, wisdom and spirituality.

The Sufi purification concentrates on lessening the lowly desires of the nafs, breaking its authority over the body and establishing the spirit’s authority instead. This occurs only through practices of abstinence that strengthen the will-power against the lower self; and this involves a strict self-discipline with regards to food, sleep and speech. Sufism thus outlines the methods of disciplining the soul through three interconnected concepts: little of food (qillatu’t-taam), little of sleep (qillatu’l-manam), and little of speech (qillatu’l-kalam). In establishing a spiritual authority over the nafs, these rules constitute the earliest steps. It should also be borne in mind that a wayfarer should not exaggerate the practice of these rules. Since our body has been entrusted to us by the Almighty, we have to keep in mind the need to deal with it in moderation.

In other words, during the process of purifying the lower self, a servant should keep himself away from excess in either direction. He should not overdo spiritual exercises in the name of taking the self under complete control; for Islam commands moderation in all states and actions, and warns people against all kinds of exaggerative behavior.  Furthermore, neither is it not possible to eliminate the self all together, nor is this required by religion. Instead, a believer is expected to purify his self in the sense of bridling and training it in accordance with Divine instructions.

The act of training and purifying the self is itself the most decisive factor in determining the nature of man’s ultimate end; whether it will be one of destruction or happiness. To fulfill this process of purification, a servant should readily submit himself to Divine will and resist against his lustful passions and indecent expectations. Every believer should be aware of his shortcomings, weaknesses and ignorance. At the same time, he should truly comprehend the absolute glory and power of Allah, glory unto Him, and regulate his actions accordingly. If the believer is successful in this undertaking, then his ‘evil commanding self’ (Yusuf, 53) becomes purified from immorality and thus turns into a praiseworthy self.

On account of the immense level of difficulty involved, man’s struggle for purifying his self is regarded as ‘the greater jihad’, in the sense of being a jihad against the lower self.  The term was in fact used by the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- on their return from the grueling Campaign of Tabuk, where he said to his marching Companions, “Now we are returning from the smaller jihad to the greater jihad.”

Tabuk was indeed an overwhelming campaign. From beginning to end, Muslims found themselves in a highly difficult situation, fighting on two fronts against both the hypocrites and the whispers of Satan. It was a scorching hot summer wreaked by a severe drought. The destination moreover demanded a long march through an area unsuited for travelling on foot.  Making matters more difficult was the fact that it was the annual harvest season. When the Companions were informed that an incomparably huge Byzantine army was waiting for them near Tabuk, the battle suddenly looked more challenging than ever. The Muslim army of thirty-thousand men travelled approximately one-thousand kilometers and back. When they were finally returning to Medina, they were virtually reduced to skin and bones, with the campaign taking its toll on their exhausted bodies. It was in this backdrop that the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was making a statement to the Companions by drawing their attention to the greater struggle that awaited them. Naturally, the Companions were left amazed and they asked the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, “What could be a greater jihad than this one?” To that the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- responded, “Yes, now we are returning from the smaller jihad to the greater jihad…the jihad against the lower self.” [3]

Renowned, on the other hand, is the story of the three Companions who failed to take part in the Tabuk campaign. Even though they had attended all the previous military campaigns, the three Companions failed in their duty to obey the Prophet Muhammad’s -upon him blessings and peace- command at this one instance, without any excuse. When the Muslim army came back from the campaign, the three Companions were spiritually excluded from the community; the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- and the other Companions severed all communications with them. The three Companions subsequently felt an indescribable remorse over their failure and weakness to join the campaign.[4]

Now we need to stop and consider that if such an overwhelming physical jihad was considered “the smaller jihad”, and the failure to attend nonetheless came at a great cost for the Companions mentioned, what about the cost of failing to attend “the greater jihad”? As mentioned above, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, described man’s struggle for purifying his self as “the greater jihad”.  Abandoning this type of jihad would surely incur more tragic consequences for man in the presence of the Almighty. Considering the enormity of this responsibility, every believer of right mind must get his act together, and call himself to account before the Divine Judgment catches him. In this context, the Lord’s warning in the Quran is quite powerful: “What, did you think that We created you only for sport, and that you would not be returned to Us?” (al-Muminun, 115) Similarly, another Quranic verse says: “What, does man reckon he shall be left to roam at will?” (al-Qiyamah, 36) The Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- also says, “A mindful person is he who takes his lower self under control, calls it to account, and performs good deeds for the world to come. A foolish person is the one who expects something good from the Almighty in vain, while following the desires of his lower self.” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 25; Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 31)

Consequently, every believer should be mindful of the characteristics of his self and the responsibility he carries for its purification.  He should take great care and use the appropriate methods, in order not to fall victim to the nafs in the process. The Almighty warns us against the tricks of the lower self and says:

اَ رَأَيْتَ مَنِ اتَّخَذَ اِلٰهَهُ هَوٰيهُ اَ فَأَنْتَ تَكُونُ عَلَيْهِ وَكِيلاً

“Have you seen the one who has taken his caprice as his god? Will you be a guardian over them?” (al-Furqan, 43) Prophet Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace- also underlines the importance of this fact and says: “Concerning my community, I fear most about the possibility that they will follow the desires of their lower selves.” (Suyuti, Jamiu‘s-Saghir, I, 12)  Purifying the self  is therefore of vital importance and a huge responsibility for every believer. The Almighty mentions this fact in the following verse of the Quran:

قَدْ اَفْلَحَ مَنْ زَكّٰيهَا وَ قَدْ خَابَ مَنْ دَسّٰيهَا

“Prosperous is he who purifies it (the nafs), and failed has he who seduces it.” (as-Shams, 9-10) In other words, he who corrects his self will reach his destination safe and sound, while he who leaves his self to wallow in its excess and arrogance will face utter disappointment. This means that the nafs includes two functions, working in the opposite poles. If one follows it unconditionally, he would end up in an eternal loss. But if one trains the self  and takes it under control, he could reach a spiritual level even higher than that of angels. The self is the unique means that can lead one to both directions.

Although all good deeds come with an outward aspect, they always have an essential, inner dimension to be discerned. Charity, for instance, outwardly appears as lending a helping hand to the needy; but actually and inwardly, it inspires the self towards the good and beautiful. In this way, good deeds feel at home in the self and the spirit becomes intimately acquainted with them. Likewise, reciting the Quran, which includes the most beautiful and truthful words, paying careful attention to its advices and putting its instructions into action represent some basic means to correct the self. A servant who organizes his whole life in accordance with the Quran becomes safe from the deceptive whispers of his self and thus pursues the main objective in life, which is none other than to attain to the pleasure of the Lord. His heart then becomes receptive to the Divine disclosures. When the servant attains this high level of spiritual perfection, the unseen realm becomes visible for him and the universe presents itself as it is; an open book of wisdom and wonder. Therefore, every believer should be mindful of the Quranic commands and prohibitions, so that he does not risk his eternal happiness and salvation both in this world and the world to come.

The Holy Quran offers many verses in relation to purification of the soul. The term ‘purification’ (tazkiyah)” in these verses comprises three main aspects:

  1. The Almighty’s purification.
  2. Prophet Muhammad’s -upon him blessings and peace- purification.
  3. A person’s own purification of his nafs.
  4. Purification by the Almighty

The Almighty says in the Quran,

فَلاَ تُزَكُّوا اَنْفُسَكُمْ هُوَ اَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ اتَّقٰى

“Hold not yourselves purified; The Almighty knows very well him who is the Almighty-fearing.” (an-Najm, 32) The late exegete Elmalılı Hamdi Effendi gives the following interpretation for this verse: “Do not be proud of yourselves and assume yourselves to be sinless, faultless and purified. For you might have many faults, but not be aware of them.” Regarding the same verse of the Quran, Alusi, another exegete, comments, “It is narrated that this verse was revealed concerning a group of people who would say, ‘We have our prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage to save us!’ It is more appropriate for a servant to keep his acts of worship and good deeds undisclosed, lest they become contaminated with self-conceit and lip-service. But without having such a negative intention, it is fine for the servant to talk about his good deeds to encourage others to do the same.”

In another Quranic verse, the Almighty says, “Have you not seen those who claim themselves to be pure? Nay; only The Almighty purifies whom He will.” (an-Nisa, 49) Here, it is a self-acclaimed pureness, stemming from pride. In reality, purification is dependent upon a person’s piety which itself is consequent upon practice. Piety, in turn, is an inner quality whose reality is known only by the Almighty. For this reason, a pureness declared only by the Almighty is admissible, and not any self-acclaimed assertion of purity. In this context, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- would pray, “O Lord…grant to my soul the sense of Your fear and purify it; for You are its Best Purifier; its Protecting Friend and Guardian.” (Muslim, Dhikr, 73) Similarly, another Quranic verse underlines the importance of the Almighty’s own purification as follows: “If not for the favor of the Almighty upon you and His mercy, not one of you would have been pure, ever, but The Almighty purifies whom He wills, and The Almighty is All-hearing, All-knowing.” (an-Nur: 21)

All these reports clearly state that purification belongs in reality to the Almighty, Who, by way of His limitless favor and mercy, enables His servant to practice good deeds and guides him to the means of purification. The servant, therefore, should keep himself away from conceit and self-promotion, and instead hold the Almighty as the actual Purifier. The servant should be mindful of the fact that his entire personal efforts towards purification will be useless in the Hereafter, unless the Almighty purifies him. This mindset provides the ultimate means to reach eternal salvation. Even though purification might be attributable to the servant with respect to personal will and effort, and to prophets and spiritual masters with respect to providing guidance and teaching, in the final analysis, purification is attributable only to the Almighty, Who creates the means of purification for His servant and enables him to find these means.

  • Purification by the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace-

In its description of the Blessed Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- duties, the Quran mentions the following qualities:

كَمَا اَرْسَلْنَا فِيكُمْ رَسُولاً مِنْكُمْ يَتْلُوا عَلَيْكُمْ اٰيَاتِنَا وَ يُزَكِّيكُمْ

وَ يُعَلِّمُكُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَ الْحِكْمَةَ وَ يُعَلِّمُكُمْ مَالَمْ تَكُونُوا تَعْلَمُونَ

“Just as We have sent among you, of yourselves, a Messenger, to recite Our signs to you and to purify you, and to teach you the Book and the Wisdom, and to teach you that you knew not.” (al-Baqarah, 151) “Truly the Almighty was gracious to the believers when He raised up among them a Messenger from themselves, to recite to them His signs and to purify them, and to teach them the Book and the Wisdom, though before they were in manifest error.” (Al-i Imran, 164)

These Quranic verses clarify the three principal duties the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was entrusted with:

  • Conveying the Almighty’s Signs to Human Beings

Conveying the Divine revelation prophets receive marks the beginning of their prophethood. Yet, this is also the first step and the basic and broadest ground to enable human beings to reach the desired destination.

  • The Act of Purification

The gist of the belief in the oneness of Allah, glory unto Him, (tawhid) can be realized only through cleansing the human lower self from inner filths like unbelief, polytheism, and sin. Furthermore, this Divine message may feel at home only in peaceful and tranquil souls. The best example of this fact can be observed in the lives of the Companions of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. In spite of having committed the gravest of sins during their pre-Islamic lives, when they found the right guide in the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- teaching and spiritual training, they ended up purifying their nafs to become the most distinguished people on earth. Maturing and perfecting themselves, they left a lasting legacy for the Muslim generations to follow; a legacy set to last until the Final Hour.

  • Teaching the Book and Wisdom

At this stage comes the Book, which explains the rules and regulations that mankind ought to follow. This Book is the Holy Quran. A person’s spiritual qualities determine his comprehension of the spirit of the Quran. In reality, the Quran is to be read and comprehended by the heart. And as for the eyes, they are simply means for the heart.

Since the Quran, human being, and universe all come into existence through manifestations and disclosures of Divine Names, they represent a limitless treasure of secrets. These secrets and wisdoms open themselves to a person in proportion to his level of spiritual purification and maturity. The teaching of wisdom comes at the end of all these stages; for the Almighty allows only those who have purified their nafs to comprehend the wisdoms and secrets of the Quran. The Quran itself represents the disclosures of Divine Names in the format of “Speech” so that the human mind might have access to them.

The verses of the Quran mention purification together with the teaching of the Book and Wisdom. This fact indicates that those who possess unpurified nafs  cannot attain to the true knowledge of things, and most importantly, of the Quran. Their knowledge will not benefit them, even if they might possess some bits of it. Since knowledge and wisdom are of invaluable importance, they do not dwell in ordinary places. A heart set to become a dwelling place for knowledge and wisdom, is to be freed of all kinds of useless and dangerous grimes. For this reason, prophets first convey the Divine signs, and then embark upon purifying the hearts of those to whom they have conveyed the signs.  It is only at the end of this process that prophets teach the Book and Wisdom to persons who have thus become spiritually purified. The secrets embedded in this universe open themselves gradually only to those who possess a heart purified in the manner mentioned. Those who possess such hearts may even become springs of wisdom in their own right.

The exoteric dimensions of Prophet Muhammad’s -upon him blessings and peace- duties and instructions will be maintained until the end of the world, through the attentive efforts of Muslim scholars who recite the Quran and teach others its commands and prohibitions. As for the esoteric dimensions of his activities, they will also be perpetuated until the Last Day, by virtue of the industrious efforts of spiritual masters who undertake the mission of purifying hearts and souls.

  • A Person’s Own Purification of His Self

Regarding a person’s purification of his own self, the Holy Quran reads, “By the nafs and He Who shaped it and inspired it to wickedness and righteousness! Prosperous is he who purifies it, and failed has he who seduces it [by way of ignorance and sins].” (as-Shams, 7-10) According to the requirements of this Quranic statement, the prosperous and saved ones will only be those whom the Almighty has purified by freeing them of sins and equipping them with His blessings and fear. Another Quranic verse describes the distinguished position of such people in the world to come as follows, “Enter you among My servants! Enter you My Paradise!” (al-Fajr, 29-30) Still another verse says,

قَدْ اَفْلَحَ مَنْ تَزَكّٰى وَ ذَكَرَ اسْمَ رَبِّهِ فَصَلّٰى

“Prosperous is he who has purified himself and mentions the name of his Lord, and prays.” (al-Ala, 14-15) The command to purify mentioned in the last verse is quite significant. The servant is expected to: 1) First cleanse his heart, body and possessions from all negativity and immorality; which 2) results in the unveiling the curtains of ignorance that stand between the servant and the Almighty; 3) after which, with a body nurtured by lawful food and a heart mindful of the Almighty, the servant enters into the realm of mature servanthood and spiritual enjoyment.

The exegete Bursawi interprets this Quranic verse in the following: “This verse indicates that a servant is expected to cleanse his soul from all kinds of things declared by Islam as unlawful, to purify his heart from the love of the world, to direct his attention only to Lord as much as his capacities allow and to even withhold his mind from remembering anything other than the Almighty.” Underlining the same quality are the words Abu Bakr Kattani uttered in his deathbed: “I would never talk about my deeds out of the fear of allowing the intrusion of hypocrisy; but since my death is just around the corner, I feel I should say a few things for your sake. I have been a watchful doorkeeper at the gate of my heart and have done my best to keep it closed to anything other than the Lord…and in the end my heart acquired such a quality that I became a stranger to everything but the Lord.”

According to Ibn Abbas’ interpretation, the word tazakka (as-Shams, 14-15) means “a person’s declaration of the statement there is no god but Allah (la ilaha illa Allah).” (Qurtubi, Jami, XX, 22) The logic behind this interpretation lays the fact that cleansing the heart from unbelief and polytheism marks the first step of the process of purification. The first part of the declaration of the Almighty’s oneness (kalimatu’t-tawhid) begins with a negation (la); namely ‘there is no god’ (la ilaha). This indicates that a believer is expected to empty his heart and whole existence of all kinds of negative moral characteristics, which resemble minor deities. Then comes the confirmation ‘but Allah’ (illa Allah), which is when the heart becomes ready to receive and to be filled with the Divine light of tawhid. An anonymous poet voices this quite beautifully when he says:

Empty your heart of everything other than the Lord
For He does not visit a place with no proper host

Regarding this act of purification, Ibrahim Dasuqi -may Allah sanctify his secret-remarks, “Son…Do not ever fall prey to conceit, even if you be spending your days fasting and nights praying; and even if you have a clean spirit that enjoys a close relationship to the Lord. Do not ever be defeated by pride and let your ego get the better of you; for many a dervish who has, has ended up in destruction.”

Another saint Hatam Asamm -may Allah sanctify his secret- says, “Do not ever be deceived by luxurious palaces, fruitful gardens and green pastures; for there is no garden more beautiful than Paradise. Still, remember what happened to Adam –upon him peace- right in the middle of Paradise? With a desire to stay there forever more, he stretched his hand out to the ‘the forbidden fruit’, only to be punished and expelled to the world by the Divine Will. Do not ever be deceived by the abundance of your deeds of worship and personal qualities. For despite his unique many personal qualities, Balaam the son of Boer ended up in destruction, even though one time the Almighty had taught him His Greatest Name. (ismu’l-azam).[5] There is an enormous lesson to be taken in that incident alone.   

Come to your senses and do not ever be deceived by the abundance of your knowledge and deeds. Have you not heard of what happened to Satan, who had erstwhile been endowed with a great amount of knowledge and had performed many acts of worship to go with it? Therefore, beware of the tricks of Satan and the ego, against which Our Compassionate Lord warns us:  ‘[Satan] said, “Now, for Your perverting me, I shall surely sit in ambush for them on Your straight path.”’ (al-Araf: 16) And again, ‘[Satan] said, “My Lord, for Your perverting me I shall deck all fair to them in the earth, and I shall pervert them all together.”’ (al-Hijr, 39)

Do not fool yourself by feeling secure on the basis of sitting in the company of worshippers and ascetics; for a merely outward accompaniment is useless. Have you not heard of the story of Thaalaba,[6] who used to attend the gatherings of the Prophet Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace-? But he would sit just there emotionlessly, for which he met a terrible destruction.

Even though he was the son of a prophet, Nuh’s -upon him blessings and peace- son arrogantly played deaf to his father’s message and thought he was self-sufficient. And when destruction came his way, his mere blood relation to his father did not save him. 

And Lut’s –upon him blessings and peace- wife…She was on friendly terms with unbelievers and sinners, though she had not the least understanding of what was going on in her own house. Blinded in the darkness of unbelief, she could not see the light of guidance.

So rely only on the Almighty and no-one else; since apart from Him, no knowledge, deed, wealth, offspring or friend can guarantee your eternal happiness.”

The Quranic verses aforementioned (al-Ala, 14-15) state that only those who have purified themselves and overcome the negative desires of their lower selves will be the ones to prosper. This means that those who have not completed their act of purification will not be able to reach real happiness and salvation. Further testifying to this fact are other Quranic verses, one of which declares,

اِنَّمَا تُنْذِرُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ بِالْغَيْبِ وَ اَقَامُوا الصَّلٰوةَ

وَ مَنْ تَزَكّٰى فَاِنَّمَا يَتَزَكّٰى لِنَفْسِهِ وَ اِلَى اللّٰهِ الْمَصِير

“You can only warn those who fear their Lord in the Unseen and perform the prayer; and whosoever purifies himself, purifies himself only for his own soul’s good. To The Almighty is the homecoming.” (al-Fatir, 18) From this, we can draw the conclusion that prophetic instructions and warnings help only those whose hearts are filled with sincerity for and fear of the Almighty; and who offer their daily prayers, as well as other deeds of worship, in this mindset.

Sinners will pay the price of their own wrong-doings and face punishment. Nobody shall be able to offer any help in having their punishments reduced. Likewise good deeds will be of benefit only to those who have offered them. Thus, those who purify their nafs are effectively doing it for their own good.

Quite meaningful in this regard is the following verse of the Quran: “Only those of His servants who have knowledge fear the Almighty.” (al-Fatir, 28) The verse indicates that the more knowledgeable a servant becomes, the more he becomes conscious of the Lord in the depths of his heart. The hearts of those ingrained with heedlessness towards their Lord are, in effect, dead. Warning or counseling them is seldom of any use. The Quran (Yasin, 70) underlines this and states that the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- and the message of the Quran are of help only to those who are alive. To become spiritually alive, a person must nurture an inward fear of Allah, glory unto Him, and complement this outwardly by offering his daily ritual prayers diligently.

The reward of becoming purified of sins are the highest ranks of Paradise, as testified by the Quran refers in the following verse: “And whoever comes unto Him a believer having done deeds of righteousness, those, for them await the most sublime degrees; Gardens of Eden, underneath which rivers flow, therein dwelling forever.” (Taha, 75-76)

When a servant sets his heart only upon the Almighty, his reward becomes even greater; he becomes eligible, in the Hereafter, to witness the manifestations of Divine beauty and perfection (jamalullah), which are beyond the limits of linguistic description in this world. Whoever willingly directs his attention to the Lord alone and takes his Lord to be his sole concern, becomes freed of all kinds of petty, temporal concerns. As for acquiring the knowledge of the Divine (marifatullah), it begins with purifying the self, which then leads to a real understanding of its nature. The well-known Sufi phrase, “Whoever knows his nafs, knows his Lord” refers to this delicate relationship between the human nafs and the knowledge of the Divine.

In this day and age where human beings live under the yokes of materialism and self-centeredness that darken their soul, there are innumerable obstacles that hinder one from the all-important task of directing his focus on the reality of the human soul and other spiritual matters. There is therefore a greater need today for spiritual masters to correct our misplaced direction.

Muslim history is replete with exemplary personalities to take lessons from. One such figure is the Ottoman Sultan Selim I. On his returning from the campaign of Egypt, he heard that the people of Istanbul had flocked to the streets for a huge ceremony to welcome the victorious Sultan. But feeling uncomfortable with the idea, Selim instead delayed his entrance to Istanbul, over the concern that his ego would actually enjoy the pompous reception awaiting him. Summoning his confidante Hasan Can, he told him that they shall enter the city “only after sunset when everybody has returned home to avoid their cheerful applauses and greetings, lest they flatter our egos let it have the upper hand over us.” In line with the edict, the Muslim army entered Istanbul quietly after sunset without the least sign of ostentation. Selim was mindful of the dangerous aspects of the human ego and acted with due discretion. Thus, in effect, he was a ‘sultan’ in this regard as well.

A believer is expected to call his self to account and interrogate it on a frequent basis. He must always keep a watchful eye on his spiritual condition and progress. In Sufi terminology, this conduct is referred to as an ‘inward investigation’ (at-tafahhusu’l-batini). This cross-examination of the self, where all actions are reevaluated, should take place at least once a day. When one becomes accustomed to it, he becomes less insistent on his habitual wrongdoings. We shall now turn our attention to what Ghazzali says in this context:

“With the dawning of each day, a believer should sit together with his “self” right after his dawn prayer and reach certain agreements on the basis of certain conditions. This act is similar to a merchant’s agreement with his partner regarding their share-holdings, right before him submitting his capital to the partner. Meantime, the merchant does not neglect to give certain warnings to the partner. Likewise, a person should give the following warnings and instructions to his self. ‘My whole capital is my lifetime. When I lose my life, my capital also comes to an end, and profit and loss do not mean anything to me anymore. But now a new day begins. The Almighty has given me this day as a great opportunity. If he had made me dead, I would give anything just to return to this life again, even for a single day, to perform only good deeds.’  Now imagine that you were dead and you were revived to come back to this life again. This is that day; do not sully it with sins and disobedience. Do not waste any second of it, because every single breath is an invaluable gift from the Almighty.

Be mindful of the fact that a day is twenty-four hours. On the Day of Judgment, twenty-four closed boxes will be brought in front of man, for each day. When he opens a box and sees the rewards of good deeds performed within that hour, he shall realize that the box is filled with light, whereupon he will feel an inexpressible joy. Then thinking of the other rewards he might receive, he becomes absorbed by an inexpressible joy; so great that if the dwellers of Hell were to partake in a single share of this joy, they would have no longer feel any pain. When he opens the second box, he smells the terrible odor of the hour he had spent in disobedience. He is the overcome by regret so deep, that if the people of Paradise were to be given a share of his regret, they would completely forget the pleasures of Paradise. When he opens the third box, he sees that it is empty; the hour he spent sleeping or doing licit activities. Still, he feels a great regret over not putting that hour to good use, which would have helped him out on this day. His regret is comparable to that of a merchant when he fails to capitalize on a huge investment. Therefore, fill your box before it is too late; do not leave it empty. Being lazy will only compound the enormity of your loss.

Bodily organs function in support of the soul. We should keep a watchful eye on them and instruct our egos on the right way of using bodily organs. We must protect our eyes from looking at unlawful and useless things so that they do not keep our hearts busy in vain. We should protect our tongues from gossip, backbiting, slander, lie, self-promotion, criticizing others and fawning; instead, we must keep them busy with the remembrance of the Lord and make sure that they utter only good things. We should protect our stomachs from unlawful and doubtful food, and even decrease the consumption of the lawful. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- instructs us in this regard, saying, “Refraining from useless things is the sign of a good Muslim.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 11; Ibn Majah, Fitan, 12)  This means that a believer’s speech and silence should be of Divine remembrance and contemplation.

A believer must also be careful to fasten his acts of worship upon their proper destination. When he calls his self to account, he needs to make it sure that all of his deeds are performed uniquely for the sake of the Almighty, not for the sake of any other authority including his own self.

As a result of the purification of the nafs, the heart acquires the quality of ‘soundness’ (salim). A believer with a sound heart embodies three characteristics:

  1. He does not hurt anybody. This comes from a fear of the Almighty. The heart is protected from the evils of the ego, which brings exemplary character traits to the surface.
  2. He is never hurt of offended by anybody. This comes from a profound feeling of love. He never pays attention to the praises or censures of ordinary people. A poet summarizes these two characteristics and versifies, “The purpose of man and jinn on the garden of Earth…is to not hurt, devotee, and not be hurt”.
  3. He always prioritizes the pleasure of the Lord at all costs. On being compelled to make a choice between the worldly and the Hereafter, they never hesitate in choosing the latter.

In short, the Almighty has made this life a platform of trials and has assigned man to the task of returning to Him by overcoming the obstacle that is the soul; to transform its evil to good, the reward of which is incomparable to anything in this world.

May our Lord allow us all to overcome their lower selves!
Amin!
A person with a purified soul represents a masterpiece of the Supreme Artist –the Almighty- as he has become a platform of the manifestations of Divine disclosures.

THE STATES OF THE SELF

According to a classification well-known to Sufi circles, in the process of spiritual training and perfection, the human nafs may assume seven types of states and stations. Now let us go into a more detailed examination of these states.

  • The Evil-Commanding Self (an-nafsu’l-ammara)

This is the lowest and most disobedient state of the human self. It removes a servant from his Lord and incites him to engage in evil activities. The word “ammara” means overly commanding. A nafs stuck in this state insatiably follows carnal and sensual desires. This is a self under the yoke of lust and a friend of Satan; it has a strong penchant for following its selfish desires and committing sin.

The mark of a person in the state of the evil-commanding self is that he inconsiderately follows the selfish and carnal desires of his ego, without showing the least resistance. Similarly, he unconditionally follows the devilish whisperings that come from within. The evil-commanding self might even be more dangerous for a person than Satan. Pointing to this reality, Ibn Ataullah al-Iskandari says, “The most you should beware of is your ego. Not only does it work against you, it also remains with you until death. Satan at least leaves man during Ramadan, the month in which all the devils are handcuffed. But by the fact that we see murder and theft even during the month of Ramadan, we understand that it is not Satan who leads man to commit these crimes, but the evil-commanding self instead.”

In the Quran, the Almighty declares,

اِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَ مَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ

“Surely the nafs of man is a persistent enjoiner of evil.” (Yusuf, 53) This is the self in its evil-commanding state.

In Sufi terminology, the evil-commanding self is symbolized by the image of a poisonous serpent. Through this symbolization, Sufi calls careful attention to the venom of this self. Poet Nevizade Atai uses this image in his poetry when he says, “Each immoral character trait resembles a serpent; and the serpent king is the evil-commanding self.” For this reason, every believer of right mind must be engaged in a continuous combat against the evil-commanding self. Human reason and personal will are the two essential weapons to help the believer in this combat. Many a person, who had once attained to spiritual blessings of enormous caliber, has ended up in dismay by becoming ensnared by ignorance for a mere split-second.

In this respect, the Quranic narrative of the encounter between Zulaykha, the wife of the Potiphar, and Yusuf -upon him blessings and peace- abounds in vital clues in understanding the nature of the evil-commanding self. Yusuf -upon him blessings and peace- grows up to become an exceptionally handsome man; and Zulaykha becomes passionately attracted to him, as the Quran reads, “…She, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him from his self: she closed the doors and said, ‘Come, take me!’ He said, ‘The Almighty be my refuge. Surely my lord has given me a goodly lodging. Surely the evildoers do not prosper. For she desired him; and he would have taken her, but that he saw the proof of his Lord. So was it, that We might turn away from him evil and abomination; he was one of Our devoted servants.” (Yusuf, 22-24)

Thanks to the help of Allah, glory unto Him, however, Yusuf was saved from falling weak to the seductions of Zulaykha, who represents none other than the evil-commanding nafs.  Being the weaker servants of the Almighty we are, we need to turn our faces towards Him in supplication and fear, and ask for His help for immunity against the evil seductions of our own egos.

Here, the Almighty offers us words of wisdom. He commands us not to even approach misdeeds, lest their destructive natures hold sway over us. In this sense, it is forbidden for a male to stare at a female who jurisprudentially is a stranger to him, as a seemingly innocent look might actually open the door to adultery.  Indeed the story between Zulaykha and Yusuf –upon him peace- comprises a multilayer of meanings, for us to reflect on the various aspects of worldly trials.

Yusuf –upon him peace- was an angel-like young man, with a majestic beauty never before seen. On seeing him for the first time, the local women cut their fingers and were too captivated to feel either the pain or the blood trickling down their palms. Had Yusuf -upon him blessings and peace- been elderly man devoid of any desire for the opposite gender, the test he was made to undergo would not have been all that difficult.

Zulaykha was had three things the ego is infatuated with the most: fortune, fame and lust. She was young and beautiful, flaunting a charm that could lure many to fall at her feet. To heighten the matter, Zulaykha had the door firmly locked, before she made her move. Amid such an enticing moment of concealed privacy that eases the path of committing the sin, Zulaykha called out to Yusuf –upon him peace-, to ‘Come and take me.’ Facing a sight that could melt the resistance of the strongest of wills, the Almighty tells of the difficulty of the situation even for a man like Yusuf –upon him peace-: “Had he not seen Our evidence, he too would have inclined to her…”

There and then, Yusuf –upon him peace- pleaded, ‘Let the Lord be my refuge’, and by so doing, he showed that the only and surest way to get out of that extremely difficult position would the haven provided by the Almighty. This equally underlines the fact that a solid practice of the Divine fear is necessary to attract Divine help. In other words, it is only through strengthening the feelings of Divine fear that a person could resist the strong temptations of the evil-commanding self. In fact, rejecting the seductions of a young, beautiful and wealthy woman, in private, is one of the most difficult things to do for a healthy young man.

Prophet Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace- says that the Almighty will shade seven types of people on Judgment Day; on a day when there will be no other shade. Mentioned in this list is “A man who refuses the invitation of a charming, noble woman for illicit intercourse and says, ‘I fear the Almighty’.” (Bukhari, Adhan, 36)

The soft belly of human psychology is usually exposed when one receives kind compliments, upon which he loses his self-control. But this did not happen to Yusuf -upon him blessings and peace-, as Divine protection sheltered him from falling into this trap; after all, he was a God-fearing servant, with a perfected nafs (an-nafsu’l-kamila). Divine protection strengthened Yusuf against the deceptions that otherwise may have come from the way of the evil-commanding self.

There is a further lesson to be taken from the encounter. Zulaykha threatens Yusuf –upon him peace- with throwing him into prison, should he desist from complying with her sexual desires. With a purified self that constantly inspired in him the fear of the Divine, however, Yusuf –upon him peace- responded to her call by stating “My Lord, prison is dearer to me than that they call me to.” (Yusuf, 33) Yusuf further sought refuge in the Almighty against her feminine tricks and pleaded, “Yet, if You do not turn me from their guile, then I might yearn towards them, and so become one of the ignorant.” (Yusuf, 33) His preference of prison over complying with her desires gives an idea of the intensity of Yusuf’s –upon him peace- fear of the Almighty.

From this Quranic story, we may conclude that the only medium of inner resistance man has against all kinds of temporal temptations is the heart. It is only the heart that can decisively reject the deceptive charms of the world and seek refuge in the Almighty.

The Holy Quran states that the strongest weapon to protect a believer against the disaster wrought by the evil-commanding self is the embodiment of Divine fear. In this respect, another Quranic instance that sheds light on the reality of the nafs is to be found in the story of Musa -upon him blessings and peace-.

Musa -upon him blessings and peace- received the mission of prophethood on the mount of Sinai, where he was told to, “‘Cast down your staff’. And when he saw it quivering like a serpent, he turned about retreating, and turned not back. [The Almighty said], ‘Musa, come forward, and fear not; for surely you are in security.” (al-Qasas, 31) The Almighty showed a glimpse of his infinite power to Musa -upon him blessings and peace- through the staff. In turn, Musa -upon him peace- became acquainted with the power of the Almighty through what he had seen in the staff.

The Almighty appointed Musa -upon him blessings and peace- as a prophet and made him draw nearer, where He spoke to him. The Almighty entrusted Musa -upon him blessings and peace- with certain responsibilities and said to him, “And what is that in your right hand, Musa?” (Taha, 17) Musa -upon him peace- replied, “It is my staff; I lean upon it, and with it I beat down leaves to feed my sheep; other uses also I find in it.” (Taha, 18) Then the Almighty said to him, “Cast it down, Musa!” (Taha, 19) Musa –upon him peace- complied with the Divine order and “So he cast it down, and behold it was a serpent sliding.” (Taha, 20) When he saw this miraculous event, the frightened Musa -upon him peace- started running away, but the Almighty said to him, “Take it, and fear not; We will restore it to its first state.” (Taha, 21)

Some exegetes of the Quran present allegorical and spiritual interpretations of this encounter, drawing attention to the inner meanings implied by the event. Accordingly, when Musa -upon him blessings and peace- cited some functions of the staff and mentioned that he leaned on it, the Almighty ordered him to throw it away, because in reality the only authority to lean on is the Almighty.

The ego and things related to it transpired before the eyes of Musa –upon him peace- in the form of a terrifying serpent.  There, Musa -upon him peace- saw the real nature of the nafs, from which he fled in fear. In an allegoric language, Musa -upon him peace- then received the following assurance:  “This serpent, Musa, stands for the attachment to temporal things; though the Almighty is the real source of attachment. Once the attachment to the world becomes materialized and the person sees it for what it is, he flees with fright. Now that you have been given the quality of tawhid, of the oneness of your Lord, how could it be that you depend on the staff to lean on and to see to your other needs? This is befitting of a true grasp of tawhid. The first step of tawhid is to leave all other means aside and embrace an unconditional trust in the Almighty. It is to Him you must submit yourself.  Better you leave all other desires and devote yourself completely to the Almighty.”

The Sufis also say, “Those who have heard the Almighty’s call and have seen the light of His beauty, abandon dependence on all avenues of support other than Him. On the grace of the Almighty do they lean on, whereby they salvage themselves the deceptive desires of the self.”

It is the evil-commanding self that makes man feel indifferent towards real happiness and everlasting joy, by placing artificial and fleeting pleasures before his eyes. The evil-commanding self causes man to undervalue his original merit, making him plummet down from the highest degrees of Paradise to the lowest ditches of Hell.

A person dominated by the evil-commanding self is stubborn and conceited, even when meeting the means that might take him to his own eternal happiness and salvation. In a way, he finds pleasure in looking down upon people around him, lying, backbiting, and keeping himself busy with cheap and useless things. He cannot safeguard himself from impurity. The number of people dominated by this malicious nafs is quite large. They act heedlessly and ignorantly, preferring the fleeting tastes of the world to the everlasting joys of Paradise and to the indescribable delight of witnessing the Lord’s Beauty in the world to come.

When dominated by the evil-commanding self, the rational soul becomes enslaved to the animal soul; and humanly qualities disappear from the scene to leave the stage to animal characteristics. Regarding this, the Holy Quran says, “We have created for Hell many jinn and men; they have hearts, but understand not with them; they have eyes, but perceive not with them; they have ears, but they hear not with them. They are like cattle; nay, rather they are further astray. Those – they are the heedless!” (al-Araf, 179)

People under the grip of the evil-commanding self also delude themselves concerning the Almighty. They continue committing all sorts of sins, but still naively hope that the Lord will show mercy and forgive them regardless. In a way, they see themselves safe from the Almighty’s wrath when they say, with much sarcasm, “We will not end up with unbelief, unless we regard an unlawful thing as lawful. So there is no need for us to rush to repent; we will do that one day, anyway.” Addressing this deluded feeling of safety, the Quran declares, “O men, fear your Lord, and dread a day when no father shall give satisfaction for his child, and no child shall give satisfaction for his father whatever. Surely the Almighty’s promise is true; so let not the present life delude you, and let not the Deluder delude you concerning The Almighty.” (Luqman, 33)

These kinds of misleading thoughts come from the insidious whisperings of the lower self and Satan, so that man may easily commit sins and use this line of logic to standardize his immoralities. Furthermore, those who are drawn within the darkness of the evil-commanding self do not feel any energy to perform charitable acts, even though they might benefit from these acts immeasurably in the world to come. And when it comes to keeping themselves away from harmful deeds, they take no action at all. If they perform a tiny piece of good deed, they regard this as a huge accomplishment, as something to be proud of. Even though they might occasionally feel repentant over their wrongdoings, the strength of their repentance is too weak to decisively change their general condition.

A believer with an evil-commanding self is similar to a sick person who needs treatment. The most basic spiritual measure he is expected to take is to call his self to account continually, so that he might promote his position from the evil-commanding self towards the self-blaming nafs (an-nafsu’-lawwama). The believer should be mindful of the fact that his All-Powerful Lord knows everything and think of the interrogation he will go through in the grave and on Judgment Day, and of the suffering and agony in Hell. He should accordingly repent and take resolute action. But this repentance must be serious and sincere. His whole existence, his tongue and heart, ought to participate in this action. Otherwise, repenting merely with the tongue will never provide the desired objective; it is a hypocrites’ repentance, which itself is need of further repentance. The remorse of a person, who outwardly repents while continuing to commit sins, is dubious. This is disrespect to the Ultimate Authority to Whom all acts of repentance are directed. Real repentance is to feel a deep remorse about wrongdoings and to earnestly ask the Almighty’s forgiveness.

On the other hand, in order for a servant to save himself from the control of the evil-commanding self, he needs to observe the rules of the Shariah and understand the real nature of the declaration of the oneness of the Almighty’s (kalimatu’tl-tawhid i.e. la ilaha illa Allah). When uttering “la ilaha”, the servant is expected to erase everything other than the Almighty from his heart. Carnal passions, especially, are to be removed from the heart, since they distance the servant from his Lord. Once these things are eliminated from the heart, the servant is ready to establish the reality of “illa Allah” therein. This way, the servant realizes his innate incapability and nothingness, and thus makes a sincere effort to improve his religious degree from blind imitation to genuine comprehension. His faith thereby grows deeper and stronger in the heart and leads him servant to further good deeds and higher spiritual ranks.

  • The Self-Blaming Nafs (an-nafsu’l-lawwama)

Those who reproachfully call their evil-commanding self to account and strive to save themselves from its negative and evil characteristics, spiritually proceed forward to the self-blaming nafs. Such people do not deceive themselves with an unfounded reliance on the Almighty’s unlimited mercy, which is what the evil-commanding self whispers to keep them away from a real commitment to make solid changes in their conditions. These people blame their self regarding their wrongdoings and asking the Almighty’s forgiveness, they repent. We might mention the following two types of people who fall under this category. The first type is the knowledgeable people who do not act in full accordance with their knowledge and fail to put their theoretical knowledge to proper practice. But they are nonetheless aware of their shortcomings and feel sincere remorse. The second type are those who shed tears and ask the Almighty’s forgiveness in religious gatherings; but when they leave these meetings, they go back to committing the same sins as before.

The Arabic word “lawm” means “to blame” or “to reproach”. Accordingly the expression an-nafsu’l-lawwama refers to the nafs which blames and reproaches itself over its wrongdoings and shortcomings. This type of self is aware of the fact that it does not diligently follow Divine instructions, for which he blames himself remorsefully. A person with the self-blaming nafs has effectively repented and protected himself from some of the negativities peculiar to the evil-commanding self. This means that his heedlessness and desire for committing sins are less in comparison with the evil-commanding self. But still, since his level of spiritual maturity is not yet perfected, he remains vulnerable to the lure of sins.

In the state of the self-blaming nafs, the rational soul is not enslaved unconditionally to the animal soul. Each time he commits a sin, he is overcome by remorse. Laying the blame on himself, he asks the Almighty’s forgiveness. But he cannot keep a secure and stable position in his repentance, as he has not yet overcome his lower self. Even though his conscience disapproves of misdeeds, he cannot completely protect himself from committing them and as is open to the negative external influences like peer pressure.

Generally stated, a person who possesses a self-blaming nafs is happy with his good deeds and sad with his bad deeds. He strives to protect himself from sensual desires and puts up a resistance. He is more strongly inclined to repentance. His heart has been enlightened by a little ray of spiritual light and his mind has been awakened, to a certain degree, against heedlessness. He has a more increased sense of observing Divine commands and offering righteous deeds, which are mostly for the sake of the Almighty. But since he is yet to receive the peace and tranquility supplied through Divine inspirations, he also carries a desire to make his deeds visible to others. This means that the evil-commanding self is somewhat still in action; though the servant does eventually blame himself over this weakness, too.

The Holy Quran cites this level of the human soul by vowing in its name:

وَ لاَ اُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ

“I swear by the self-blaming nafs.” (al-Qiyamah, 2) A delicate point needs emphasis, here. Self-blaming is not simply idle speech or lip service; for then, the desired result does not come true. There is a fine line between the “evil-commanding” and “self-blaming” nafs. If one feels proud of himself on the basis of the fact that he has practiced a little of self-blaming, this means that he is still under the control of the evil-commanding self. The Holy Quran refers to this occurrence in the following verse:

وَ لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا اْلاِنْسَانَ وَ نَعْلَمُ مَا تُوَسْوِسُ بِهِ نَفْسُهُ

وَ نَحْنُ اَقْرَبُ اِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ

“We indeed created man; and We know what his nafs whispers within him, and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.” (Kaf, 16) The servant should therefore be alert against the secret whisperings and deceptions that come from the evil-commanding self, and take protective measures against the destructive feeling of security.

Here, another subtlety with regard to self-blaming needs to be underlined. Some lay the blame on themselves only with the intention to attract the attention of others, who may then praise him for his humbleness. Doubtless, this is typical hypocrisy. It is only through spiritual training that a servant can stand firm on repentance and keep himself away from wrongdoings. A person whose nafs is of a self-blaming nature may protect himself from misconducts, only under a spiritual guidance and environment. Although under normal conditions he would not go back to making his previous mistakes, some immoralities like hatred, jealousy and self-conceit still lie dormant in the heart; and this keeps the risk ever alive.

Under this spiritual guidance, a servant proceeds forth from the self-blaming nafs to the inspired self (an-nafsu’l-mulhama), through rabitah, an important method in spiritual training. Here, one always remembers his promise to his master to stay away from unlawful things and to observe religious commands. This promise enables him to imagine the spiritual presence of his master at all times, which acts as a medium for him to keep his act together. Constantly calling his self to account, he must remain fixed on his resolution to leave his immoral characteristics and act in repentance. He should then strive to replace these negative character traits with positive ones; for instance, he should replace self-conceit and jealousy with humbleness and non-envious friendship. He must not seek to single out the mistakes he sees in his friends and instead keep himself occupied with his own faults. He should remember that a believer is a mirror to his fellow-believer; thus should he look at him through an evil eye, he will of course see nothing but evil. But looking at him with a good eye, he will see only good qualities.

Persistence in remembering the Lord and keeping away from sins are also essential in this station, in order to enlighten the heart with the light of Divine love.

  • The Inspired Self (an-nafsu’l-mulhama)

By advancing through the evil-commanding self and the self-blaming nafs one reaches the inspired self, primarily through repentance, asking the Almighty’s forgiveness, staying away from sins and implementing the practices necessitated by spiritual guidance. At the level of the inspired self, the servant acquires the capacity of making correct distinctions between good and evil, which, of course, transpires thanks to the grace of the Lord. The servant also acquires a stronger resistance against the sensual desires of his self. He shuns everything that removes his heart from the Almighty. He cares little about how he is seen in the eyes of people; his sole concern is how he fares in the presence of the Almighty. The realities of faith are immovably reinforced in his heart. This particular state of the nafs derives its very name from the Quran: “By the nafs and He Who shaped it and inspired it to wickedness and righteousness!” (as-Shams, 7-8)

An inspired self is receptive to Divine inspirations. One who is graced with this spiritual station begins to experience and share the inklings of the Divine grace and insights shone upon his heart. This is made possible by none other than a sincere and consistent observation of the Divine commands. An inspired self turns his attention to love and the spiritual world, which imparts unto him the quality required to receive Divine inspirations. Still, he needs to make sure that these inspirations are coming from the Lord and not from the devil. And to make this distinction, he needs the confirmation of a spiritual guide because even though the ego is all but left powerless in this state, it still retains a small yet dangerous power to overthrow the inspired self with its tricks and insinuations. For this reason, the inspired self is not the ultimate spiritual station and the inner qualities attained to thus far are still to be perfected.

In the state of the inspired self, even though they almost never transpire, immoral character traits still lie in ambush. An inspired self is still unable to enter the realm of realities insofar as he has not yet unchained his mind from the outward and habitual cause-effect relations of the sensory world. For this reason, he is not entirely free of doubts, melancholies, inner contractions, illusions and ambitions. The peace and joy of submitting oneself to the Lord has not yet come to be for him. His heart remains distressed by concerns of livelihood and is plagued by ambitions. Though he has today’s bread at hand, he is still worried about what he will eat tomorrow. His outward appreciation of the Divine attribute of “Provider” (Razzaq) is in conflict with his inner concerns. Such conflicts indicate that the quality and maturity of his contentment with the Almighty’s dispensations, his submission to and trust in Divine regulations have not reached perfection. He is therefore in further need of inner adjustments to spiritually rectify his conflicts.

An inspired self is obtained by through a certain level of success in training the nafs, mainly through abandoning things the nafs finds attractive and performing things it finds unappealing. However defeated the animal soul may be in this station, the rational soul has not yet completely actualized its moral characteristics. This actualization does not come merely by way of leaving things that are desirable to the self and performing things that are unattractive to it. In other words this actualization is not dependent only upon abstinence and austerity. In addition to all these, it requires the practice of Divine remembrance (dhikrullah). But here, there is another subtlety to be discerned. So long as the heart is preoccupied with worldly concerns and ambitions, it cannot reach the real delight of Divine remembrance and enjoy the ultimate spiritual tranquility. Hence, to rid the heart of these residues and realize Divine remembrance therein in the most proper sense of the term, one needs the spiritual guidance of a qualified master.

When a servant begins to experience a profound, ecstatic pleasure during his remembrance of the Almighty, he is truly on the path of reaching its real delight. Divine inspirations then find a way into his heart, making one acquainted with the secrets of all beings, leaving him in a state of inexpressible amazement and satisfaction. This is when he starts comprehending the real meaning of the Quranic verse,

اُدْعُ اِلٰى سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَ الْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ

“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good admonition.” (an-Nahl, 125) By duly taking lessons from this Quranic verse, every word he utters assumes a character of wisdom; for now he has become a distinguished servant receptive to Divine inspirations. In this spiritual state, the animal soul starts yielding itself to the rational soul, whereby the person is saved from being corrupted by lowly and sensual inclinations. The praiseworthy human characteristics of tolerance, patience and endurance become more dominant; and modesty, contentment and generosity start prevailing over the overall personality.

Be that as it may, the inspired self nonetheless carries something potentially dangerous. Falsely assuming to have reached perfection and to have completed the process of spiritual purification, the servant in this state can thus regress to heedlessness and self-conceit. For this reason, the servant should continue to be mindful of the fact that he is always under Divine surveillance and regulate his mindset accordingly. He should at the same time meditate on death, a common practice in Sufism aimed toward imparting a true understanding of the temporal nature of everything in this world. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- says, “Frequently remind yourselves of death; for keeping death in mind purifies man of sins and makes him feel indifferent towards the world. If you remember death while you are wealthy, it will remove the disastrous aspects of your wealth. If you remember death while you are poor, it will make you feel happy with your current condition.” (Suyuti, Jamiu‘s-Saghir, I, 47)

Omar –Allah be well-pleased with him- offers a similar advice when he says, “Call yourselves to account before you are called to account. Weigh your deeds before they are weighed on the Divine scale. Prepare yourselves for the Day of Judgment before you are brought to the presence of the Almighty, from Whom none of your deeds will be hidden.” (Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, I, 27)

  • The Tranquil Self (an-nafsu’l-mutmainna)

The tranquil self is the type of nafs that has been saved from inner afflictions. This spiritual safety is brought about by an assiduous observing of Divine commands and prohibitions. This self has thereby reached a real and steadfast faith, which results in a genuine happiness, peace and tranquility. Through a persistent remembrance of the Lord, the heart has been purified from doubts and uncertainties; it is at ease in a sincere feeling of gratitude for and praise of the Lord.

A servant with a tranquil self has effectively replaced his immoralities with positive moral characteristics, having willfully followed Prophet Muhammad’s -upon him blessings and peace- exemplary character traits. His heart is now filled with patience, contentment and trust in the Almighty. The tranquil self belongs to people of piety, who have acquired certain knowledge of the Almighty. Their hearts continually busy with Divine remembrance. They have furthermore gained a profound comprehension of the inner meanings of religious instructions.

In explaining the tranquil self, Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624) states, “Up until the station of the tranquil self, acts of worship are performed by way of imitation (taqlid). But hereon, imitation is transformed to verification (tahqiq).”

Before reaching this level of certitude, a servant must embody ‘the state of haqiqah’, or ‘reality’. The tranquil self is a highly advanced level of spiritual maturity; a precious gift but an enormous responsibility at the same time. To draw a comparison, those whose rational faculty have not come of age cannot be held responsible for fulfilling religious duties, insofar as responsibility is dependent upon possessing the faculty of reason. In a similar fashion, a wayfarer newly initiated into a Sufi order is regarded as an innocent child with respect to the greater responsibilities of Sufism. Until he covers a certain distance in his spiritual training, his faults are treated with toleration; since in Sufism, spiritual maturity only comes with progress. But after having received a certain level of training, he is considered responsible for things that are not duties ordinary believers need to fulfill, as is the case of Shariah with respect to a child. Until he steps inside the door of the tranquil self, the wayfarer is not responsible for things that are regarded as shortcomings from the perspective of haqiqah. This responsibility begins only after the point when the wayfarer assumes the tranquil self, since it is here that he attains the maturity of haqiqah.

Following the same thread, there are things which are regarded permissible by Shariah, yet looked upon as small mistakes by tariqah. Furthermore, there are things regarded as small mistakes by tariqah, yet considered serious faults by haqiqah and marifah. For instance, according to Shariah, it is considered a waste to continue eating after reaching satiety. But according to tariqah, even eating to the level of satiety is considered waste. For haqiqah, on the other hand, it is a waste even if one eats just enough to survive while being unmindful of the Almighty’s presence. And finally, according to marifah, any piece food consumed without witnessing Divine disclosures therein is a waste, insofar as the Almighty presents a sign of His existence in every single thing.

By the grace of The Almighty, the tranquil self has reached reality (haqiqah), peacefulness (sakinah), and certainty (yaqin)[7]. It has become protected from worldly grieves and concerns, and in addition, it has received certain spiritual unveilings and inspirations.

In the state of the tranquil self, the veils of heedlessness and ignorance over the heart are lifted. At the level of ayn al-yaqin, the heart beholds realities beyond appearances. Furthermore, the heart has been made secure from doubts and uncertainties. It has attained a tranquility and peacefulness through a complete submission to the Almighty. A servant in this state wholeheartedly welcomes both exoteric and esoteric religious duties and fulfills their requirements appropriately. His reception and belief in these duties are so strong that even if entire humankind were to attempt to disprove his convictions, they would fail to raise any doubt in his heart; for the servant has already eye-witnessed the underlying mysteries through the window of reality.

With such unshakable faith, believers of this ilk have no fear. They confront all kinds of afflictions and difficulties. A typical example of this is to be found in Musa’s –upon him peace- encounter with the sorcerers. When the sorcerers realized the extraordinary nature of Musa’s –upon him peace- feats, they acknowledged them as miracles given by the Almighty. Thereupon, they arrived at an unshakable belief in the Lord and stood steadfast thereon, regardless of its lethal consequences with which the Pharaoh threatened them.  He tried to intimidate them by threatening to have their hands and feet diagonally cut off and then crucifying them, unless they openly turned their backs on Musa’s –upon him peace- message. The sorcerers’ response to the Pharaoh was simply the following, “Surely, to our Lord we are returning. And you take vengeance upon us only because we have believed in the signs of our Lord when they came to us. Our Lord, pour out upon us patience and let us die as Muslims [in submission to You].” (al-Araf, 125-126)

The sorcerers were more than willing and ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their faith; for the veils in front of the appearances of all things worldly had now been lifted and they were seeing things for what they really were through the spiritual light given to them. Their souls were of the type the Almighty refers to as:

يَآ اَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ

“O soul at tranquility.” (al-Fajr, 27)

On the basis of the above verse of the Quran, we can see that the states of the nafs prior to that of the tranquil self do not receive a Divine addressing. Only the tranquil self and the states beyond are privileged with this merit. In order for a servant to be worthy of this receipt, he needs to genuinely struggle to rein in his ego. The distinguished servants who enjoy the state of the tranquil self then gradually begin to move forward towards the three higher spiritual states in line; namely, the satisfied self (an-nafsu’r-radiya), the satisfying self (an-nafsu’l-mardiyya) and the perfect self (an-nafsu’l-kamila), respectively. The more successful a servant is in this progress, the closer he gets to his Lord.

  • The Satisfied Self (an-nafsu’r-radiya)

This is the nafs that has persistently kept its focus on the Almighty; and by continually considering itself to be in Divine presence of The Almighty, it has embodied a highly advanced level of piety. The satisfied self is now content and satisfied with his Lord. Not only has it left his personal will aside, it has further annihilated it within Divine will. In the words of the Quran it has returned to its Lord

اِرْجِعِى اِلٰى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً

“…satisfied, satisfying”. (al-Fajr, 28)

The spiritual state of ‘satisfaction’ refers to how the servant meets all kinds of afflictions, which come from the Almighty, with patience and hospitality. After all, this is what the Almighty expects him to do; to rest satisfied with whatever Divine Will metes out: “Surely We will test you with something of fear and hunger, and diminution of goods and lives and fruits; yet give good tidings unto the patient.” (al-Baqarah, 155)

Patience, in the truest sense, is to welcome everything that comes from the Lord with contentment, whether it be good or evil. Indeed, everything comes from Him alone; they comprise innumerable manifestations of His disclosures. Only those who have the ability to peer into the real nature of both blessings and tribulations merit the title “patient” mentioned in the verse. They are always satisfied with Divine fate and never show the least sign of disobedience or complaint. For them, everything, good or evil though they may seem, is predestined.  This is the spiritual caliber those who possess a satisfied self.

The tests and afflictions a satisfied self undergoes are much more difficult to endure than those of the previous spiritual states; for the higher the self ascends, the thornier the path becomes. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- explains this delicate balance when he says, “Among mankind, it is the prophets who are subjected to the most challenging tribulations…and then come those who are closest to them. People face tribulations in proportion with their levels of piety.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 57)

Only after having overcome the obstacle of the lower self can man can reach a level of spiritual maturity that enables him to meet tribulations with endurance and rest content with Him, Who sends all these troubles. As great a reward this spiritual maturity is, it only comes at the end of an enormous show of patience and endurance. In the eyes of a believer with a satisfied self, everything in the world deserves the same treatment, regardless of whether it causes joy or grief. Since his heart is detached from the world, worldly pleasure temporal and pain are on level par to him. With a full-fledged insight into the fact that everything really comes from the Almighty, he is content with everything, both good and evil. As the poem reads:

Whatever comes from You is fine,
Whether a rosebud or a spine!
A robe of honor or a shroud,
Your grace is fine, so is your wrath!

We should keep in mind, however, that the actual practice of what has been mentioned in the poem above regarding the characteristics of the satisfied self is extremely difficult. It is only in the state of the satisfied self that a servant is allowed to speak such assertive utterances. At all times else, he should keep his lips sealed so that it may not say untimely and inappropriate things along the spiritual journey. Otherwise, such premature statements would be tantamount to nothing but unjustifiable claims; and if the Almighty were to test the truthfulness of such words, one would end up in utter failure.

In the spiritual state of the satisfied self, the servant begins to have an insight into Divine Secrets. He comprehends the meaning of Divine Oneness and spiritual realities become unfolded in front of his eyes. He is given the honor of receiving the special disclosures of Divine Names and Attributes. His character becomes an overflowing spring of goodness, beauty, and truth. He is a welcoming observant of Divine commands and prohibitions. He performs all deeds of worship purely for the sake of the Almighty and hence does not feel the least exhaustion in their practice. Outwardly speaking, acts of worship can be tiring. Yet inwardly speaking they are filled with spiritual objectives that annul their otherwise tiresome appearance; objectives that take the servant through the spiritual stations and grant him the blessing of spiritual unveilings. But even these are not really the main objectives. The ultimate objective is the Almighty alone. Should the servant forget this truth and prioritize the receiving of spiritual unveilings, for instance, it would mean that he will be thwarting nothing but his own progress.  This is a loss of orientation that equally ends up exhausting the servant. Thus, from the beginning of the spiritual journey to the end, the servant should not have any kind of purpose and intention in his mind other than the Almighty.

The Almighty is nearer to us than our jugular veins. The most important thing for us is to become aware this nearness and prepare ourselves for its realization. The Almighty is satisfied with His servants, as long as they do their very best to remain steadfast on His straight path and rest satisfied with His providence.

  • The Satisfying Self (an-nafsu’l-mardiyya)

The satisfied self is in need of a further spiritual perfection. To receive and fully benefit from all the Divine disclosures shone upon its heart, the satisfied self must at the same time seek to become ‘satisfying’ for the Almighty as well. In other words, being satisfied with the Lord does not suffice; also expected, in return, is the Lord’s satisfaction. The satisfaction must not be one sided and should come from both directions, as it were.  Even though the attribute of “satisfying” refers to the Almighty, it is the servant who is in fact expected to make the effort to actualize this satisfaction. This nuance makes this quality attributable to the servant himself, and thus to his nafs. It could therefore be said that while the satisfied self refers to the spiritual state of those who are content with the Almighty, the satisfying self refers to the Almighty Who, in turn, is content with them.

In the state of the satisfied self, immoral characteristics have by now disappeared, replaced instead by positive qualities. Those who have reached this spiritual state see all creation through the vantages of affection, mercy, love, generosity and forgiveness. Since all creation is the artwork of the Almighty, wherever they look, they only see goodness. A servant in the state of the satisfying self calls himself to account in the most riveting correct manner and meditates on it. At every breath, he is mindful of the underlying reality of creation and the nature of his own self, with an unyielding awareness of its devilish whispers.

Also in this spiritual state, the servant also completely submits himself to his Lord under all circumstances. Whatever it be that comes from the Almighty, he welcomes it; knowing it is nothing but a Divine manifestation. And at the end of his temporal life, he is inducted among those whom are given the glad tidings of Paradise by the Almighty right before they are invited to enter it: “Return to your Lord, satisfied, satisfying!” (al-Fajr, 28) Indeed,

رَضِىَ اللّٰهُ عَنْهُمْ وَ رَضُوا عَنْهُ

“…the Almighty is well-pleased with them, and they are will-pleased with Him.” (al-Bayyinah, 8)

A servant who has attained such spiritual perfections sees everything from the vantage point of haqq al-yaqin; of an assured knowledge based on personal spiritual experience. By the will of the Almighty, he may even become acquainted with certain secrets of the unseen world. Because of his spiritual exertion, the Almighty brings him closer to Him, to the point where He virtually becomes his eyes that see, ears that hear, tongue that speaks. The words and behavior of such a person then begin to exercise a deep influence on persons around him.

The spiritual manifestations he had previously witnessed as a ‘satisfied self’ are now digested and internalized, becoming an integral part of his mindset. A relentless patience and trust in the Almighty have now become the dominant traits of his character.

By resorting to the exemplary moral conduct of prophets, we might to offer some examples of this spiritual state. For instance, Yaqub -upon him peace-, after having been afflicted with all kinds of sufferings, confided in his Lord, though by merely saying, “So patience is most fitting” (Yusuf, 18). Likewise was the case of Ayyub -upon him blessings and peace-, who suffered from heavy bouts of illnesses and afflictions. Even though people around him persistently encouraged him to pray to his Lord to stop his sufferings, Ayyub -upon him peace- did not follow their advice and replied, “The Lord gave me eighty years of a healthy life. The only way I would feel comfortable to ask him for a cure would be after I suffered at least eighty years of illness.” Ibrahim -upon him peace- presents another splendid example. When about to be thrown into the raging fire, the angles came to offer him help, only to have Ibrahim -upon him peace- decline their offer. “The One Who has ignited this fire”, he said, “knows my situation…so I do not want anything from you.”

According to the conventional Sufi classification, the levels of the human nafs throughout the spiritual path of purification are divided into these six categories. But some Sufi masters talk about an additional stage called the perfect self (an-nafsu’l-kamila) or the pure nafs (an-nafsu’s-safiya).

  • The Perfect Self (an-nafsu’l-kamila)
    / The Pure Nafs (an-nafsu’s-safiya)

The perfect self is a type of soul that has become thoroughly purified by way of the spiritual process. It is a pure, mature and sublime nafs. In this spiritual state, the nafs receives all kinds of heavenly secrets. This state is only a gift from the Almighty. Personal efforts cannot guarantee the attainment of the perfect self; it is a God-given spiritual quality, a mystery of Divine predestination.

The station of the perfect self is also called “the station of guidance”, insofar as the Lord entrusts those, who have attained to this state, with the responsibility of guiding other people. Their words and actions are rendered influential, to facilitate the correction of the wrongdoings and faults of others. When a person with a perfect self meets a sinner, he instantly understands his condition; and through an exemplary conduct, informs him of the remedies he needs to save him from his inner and spiritual illnesses. Feeling remorseful over his ways, the sinner then comes around to himself, and leaves acting heedlessly, so long as his heart is not sealed or locked to spiritual realities.

The heart is the battlefield of good and evil, piety and impiety, the angelic and the devilish. Hearts twist and bend for either angelic or devilish inclinations, endlessly quivering amid their manifestations.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, Sufism, Erkam Publications

[1]        Alamu’l-khalq: This world is bound by time and space and constituted by created beings. Alamu’l-khalq is also called “the temporal or visible world”. Things that we perceive through our five senses come from this world.

[2]        Alamu’l-amr: This world is free of the concepts of time and matter and has come into existence merely by the Divine command “Be!”.  It is also designated by the terms “the spiritual or unseen world”. Subtle realities such as the intellect, soul, spirit, heart, and secret belong to this world.

[3]        Suyuti, Jamiu’s-Saghir, II, 73

[4]        The names of these three Companions were Murarah ibn Rab al-Amri, Hilal ibn Umayyah al-Waqifi and Kaab ibn Malik, the poet. The three Companions had taken part in all the previous battles; except for Kaab -Allah be well-pleased with him-, who was absent only at Badr. The world had suddenly narrowed in their eyes, constricting their hearts, now that they were ignored by the entire Muslim society because of their misjudgment in remaining behind from Tabuk. Worst of all was the fact that the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- had shunned them to a point where he did not even respond to their greetings. The entire earth had become estranged; even their wives were like strangers. There was nothing they could do about it, except for weep, day and night. They were like melted candles from their incessant crying. They had done a mistake but that did not distance them from being sincere, upright; neither did it shake their trust in Allah, glory unto Him, nor did it divert them away from remorse and repentance. Fifty days had gone by when they were finally rewarded for their honesty and genuine repentance in the form of the Quranic verse: “And to the three who were left behind, until, when the earth became strait for them, for all its breadth, and their souls became strait for them, and they thought that there was no shelter from God except in Him, then He turned towards them, that they might also turn; surely God turns, and is All-compassionate.” (at-Tawbah,118-119) For a more detailed analysis of this subject-matter see Osman Nuri Topbaş, The Chain of Prophets, IV, 289-294.

[5]        See, al-Araf, 175-176.

[6]        At the beginning, Thaalaba used to spend his whole time in the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- mosque and listen to his teachings. But in time he started accumulating some wealth and became possessed by the love of the world. Gradually, he started missing daily prayers in the mosque and finally left the Muslim community altogether. He went so far that he even rejected to pay his required alms-giving to the community. But at the end he faced a terrible destruction. Tabari, Tafsir, XIV, 370-372; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, II, 388.

[7]        Yaqīn is an Arabic word meaning certain and evident knowledge. There is no place for doubt in yaqīn. In yaqīn, the heart has reached a satisfaction regarding the reality of the thing in question. Yaqīn also refers to getting beyond the apparent cause-effect relationships and seeing the reality of things clearly by means of faith. Qushayrī asserts that yaqīn is of three kinds:

         Ilm al-yaqīn: Certainty based on report or narration.

         Ayn al-yaqīn: Certainty based on eye-witnessing.

         Haqq al-yaqīn: Certainty based on personal spiritual experience.

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