Nafs and its impulse

By Ghulam Rasool Dhelvi

Islam gives paramount importance to the proper functioning of nafs (soul). In Islamic terminology, the Arabic word nafs has been interpreted in two ways. First, it means ones complete self or existence, as is illustrated in this Quranic verse: And remember your Lord inside your nafs (self) (7:205).

Second, it refers to a specific part of ones existence that makes up sentiments, tendencies, desires, appetites and passions.
Nafs has been most often used in the Quran with the latter meaning, as in the following verse: Verily, the nafs commands to harm except for those upon whom my Lord has mercy (Yusuf: 53) Going by this, nafs is a part of ones physical self that stands in complete contrast to ones spiritual being called ruh (spirit) something which descends directly from God to man, and which is pure, clean and innocent and, hence, cannot err.
On the contrary, nafs is contained in carnal desires lust, boundless greed and material pleasures; it lures man to transgress the boundaries of God. The impulse of nafs is the root cause of all evils and vices, oppression, corruption, atrocities and other heinous crimes and sins dominating the world. There is no way for us to curb the devastating impulses of the nafs except by constantly remembering God and reminding ourselves of the mortality of our worldly life and certainty of our death.
In Islam, both ruh (spirit) and nafs (self) have been greatly valued and emphasised unlike the physical body which is not all that substantial in the process of attaining higher relationship with God. The Holy Quran mentions three spiritual stages relating to nafs. One has to pass through all these stages to be near God.
The first stage is nafs-e-ammara (the inciting self), that incites people to indulge in vicious acts by instigating their base instincts. That is why it is categorised as the lower self. This nafs resides in the world of senses and is controlled by carnal desires. Fighting the temptations of this nafs is counted as true Islamic jihad.
The Prophet said in his farewell pilgrimage: The mujahid is he who engages in jihad (struggle) against his own self for the sake of obeying God.
Once, after returning from a defensive war, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) addressed his companions: We are returning from a minor jihad to a greater jihad. His companions asked, Oh Prophet, what is the greater jihad? He replied, The struggle against nafs (i.e. nafs-e-ammara).
The second stage is nafs-e-lawwama (self-cursing soul), where human soul reaches a point that if he commits a sin, the conscience wakes up and curses him for his evil doing. It is this self-criticising soul that compels a man to confess his crime. God mentions this nafs in this verse: And I do call to witness the nafs that blames (75:2). A person should reach at least this stage to find mercy of God. The second stage begins with self-introspection and ends with an awakening of moral senses.
This paves the way for the third and the highest stage, i.e. nafs-e-mutmainna (the satisfied soul), where the human being reaches an abode of perfect peace, purity, rectitude and enlightenment. God refers to this nafs: O soul at peace, return to your Lord, well pleased and well pleasing. Enter you among my servants! Enter My Paradise (89:27).

 

Extracted fromasianage

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