When Allah subhaanawata’aala creates a human, He infuses Ruh in them. Ruh is the spirit or soul of a person which is breathed into a person when they are in the womb, to breathe life into the developing foetus. The status of Ruh (Soul) is such as is mentioned by Allah in the Quran in the following verse:
Allah takes the souls at the time of their death, and those that do not die [He takes] during their sleep. Then He keeps those for which He has decreed death and releases the others for a specified term. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.
(Surah Az-Zumar 39: Verse 42)
Nafs is that part of Ruh which is handled by an individual. Nafs is one’s inner self. In the Quran, Allah has described three main types or stages of nafs. An individual can go through all three stages at one point in his life.
The three stages are:
1)Nafs al`Ammara Bissua (The Nafs that urges evil)
2)Nafs al`Lawwama (the Nafs that blames)
3)Nafs al`Mutma`inna (The Nafs at peace)
To better understand the concept of Nafs, we can compare it with Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality in which he states that there are three inherent components in one’s personality –
a) The id
b) The ego and
c) The superego
Nafs al`Ammara Bissua can be defined as the id. This is the animal stage of nafs in which a person’s actions are governed by his emotions and are mostly evil or harmful for the soul. A person cannot control temptation when in this stage. According to Freud, id is raw, savage and immoral. This stage of nafs is guided by the pleasure seeking principle. It doesn’t consider right or wrong and only takes into account the satisfaction of desires.
It is mentioned in the Quran:
And I do not acquit myself. Indeed, the soul is a persistent enjoiner of evil, except those upon which my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.
(Surah Yusuf 12: Verse 53)
The Nafs al`Ammara Bissua is guided by earthly desires and passions.
Nafs al`Lawwama is the second stage of nafs which comprises of the Freudian concepts of ego and superego. It is a self-critical stage during which an individual reviews his actions. Good deeds are thought upon and bad deeds are rejected. The ego here acts like the haram police. It decides which desires to fulfil and in what way. The superego is the ethical aspect of personality which considers only the right action regardless of the reality or consequences. The ego is one which decides what is to be done with a desire. Thus, Nafs al`Lawwama is the stage of conflict and the stage of decisions in which the good actions win majority of the times. In this stage, the nafs is also referred to as the soul that blames, as is mentioned in the Quran in the following verse:
And I swear by the reproaching soul [to the certainty of resurrection].’
(Surah Al-Qiyamah 75: Verse 2)
This stage of nafs shall be the one which blames an individual for all his evil actions on the day of judgement.
Nafs al`Mutma`inna is the highest and purest stage of nafs which perhaps Freud never dealt with. In this stage, our desires are at rest and one knows what is right and finds no difficulty or conflict of interest while performing the righteous deeds or actions. An individual is content with his worldly life and focusses more towards a better hereafter. This nafs is referred to in the Quran in the following verse:
To the righteous it will be said], “O reassured soul, Return to your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing [to Him],And enter among My [righteous] servants And enter My Paradise.
(Surah Al-Fajr 89: Verses 27-30)
Ibn Al-Qayyim has mentioned: The nafs is a single entity, although it’s state may change from Nafs al`Ammara Bissua, to Nafs al`Lawwama, to Nafs al`Mutma`inna which is the final aim of perfection.
Striving towards the best and the purest stage of nafs is to have total faith in Allah, be content with your worldly affairs, not be dissatisfied etc. All this can be achieved step wise by defeating the 7 evils of nafs, i.e. –
(1) False pride
(6) Stinginess and
Nothing can be achieved without Allah’s help. One needs to keep making dua to Allah to have control over our nafs along with working to conquer each evil.
In his book Jihad-un-Nafs, Imam Ghazali mentions –
The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhiwasallam said: “There are two impulses in the soul, one from an angel which calls towards good and confirms truth; whoever finds this let him know it is from God and praise Him. Another impulse comes from the enemy which leads to doubt and denies truth and forbids good; whoever finds this, let him seek refuge in God from the accursed devil.”
God has armed soldiers which He has placed in the hearts and souls of others of His world, and none knows their true nature and actual number but He. The limbs of the body, five senses, will, instinct, knowledge, wisdom, reflection, emotive and intellectual powers are among those soldiers.
Jihad against one’s own nafs is the primary war a believer has to wage. Indeed it is difficult to catch hold of your nafs and give it the Islamic shock treatment in today’s world when you are surrounded by accomplices of Satan working round the clock to darken your heart; let me tell you, they never leave even a tiny miny chance to do so! But in the end, when you triumph, it’ll be worth all the periods of angst and pain you went through. I pray Allah makes it easy for all muslims to gain control over their nafs, eliminate the evils from our hearts and makes us worthy enough to enter the Jannah! Ameen.