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The Glorious Quran: وَمَا أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِي ۚ إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ

And yet, I am not trying to absolve myself: for, verily, man’s inner self does incite him to evil. (12:53, only relevant portion of ayat quoted)


The Prophet (PBUH) said: المجاهد من جاهد نفسه في طاعة الله عز و جل

The fighter in Allah’s way is he who fights against his ego in obeying Allah azza wa jal (Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, Tabarani, Hakim)


Sufyan al-Thawri r.a. said: “I never dealt with anything stronger against me than my own ego; it was one time with me, and one time against me”


حضرت شيخ عبد القادر جيلاني رحمة الله عليه: تو نفس كي تمنا پوری کرنے میں مصروف ھے اور وہ تجھے برباد کرنے میں-


Floriano Martins: The deeper I go into myself the more I realize that I am my own enemy.”

Our whole life is, first and foremost, a constant struggle for peace and security.  There are many who look to gain power or riches or glory or any other loftier station in life but unless the basic requirement of peace and security is not met, other ideals are hard to achieve. Man’s basic instinct is to protect himself within and without against the enemy as he perceives it…may it be man or beast or forces of nature. For this end, for protection within, habitation and fortresses are built; and for protection without, arms and ammunitions designed and developed; clothing and attire suited to climatic changes made, etc. And yet, all these are but external threats which will, at the most, harm human existence, which is mortal anyway. As Muslims we believe that life after death is the everlasting, immortal life. So are we doing anything to protect that life from the disaster of punishment in the hereafter which will be never-ending, and much worse than the worst calamity we can ever face in this life?


To secure lasting happiness in the Hereafter, we need protection within and without, just as we need for this worldly life. We all know one enemy of our spiritual life…Shaitan. As Allah ta’ala warns us repeatedly:

“and follow not the footsteps of Shaitan. Verily, he is to you an open enemy.” (Quran 2:168)
Shaitan is the eternal enemy of humans. Humans are warned of this by making mention of this expression in so many verses of Quran e Kareem such as: “Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan; Do not fall for him; do not follow him; indeed he is a manifest enemy to you.” (Quran 2:168, 208-209; 12:5; 36:60-64; 6:142; 17:53; 35:6; 43:62)


However, he is our enemy from without as he can only make the dunya and its sins attractive so we are drawn towards them and away from Allah ta’ala’s pleasure. He has no power physically to make us commit sin. He can only tempt us with no authority to impose anything.
It is clearly announced in the following verse addressing Shaitan that he has no authority over humans:

“– you shall have no authority over any of My servants, unless it be such as follow you being rebellious (against Me, as you are),” (Quran 15:42) As it is explained in the verse, Shaitan cannot force a human to do his will. In fact, a related verse announces as: “ …And yet, he had no authority over them (to compel them to do anything), except in that (by testing humankind through him) We distinguish those who truly believe in the Hereafter from those who are in doubt concerning it.” (Quran 34:21)


So the primary characteristic of the Shaitan, besides his arrogance and defiance, is that he has no power other than the power to cast evil suggestions into humans and jinn. Shaitan challenged Allah ta’ala…”Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left…”  (Quran 7: 14-18) These are all external directions….never did he say “from within”. So then, what are we doing about the even more dangerous enemy within, our nafs or ego? It can not only suggest and tempt, it can go a step further and become a helper of our external enemy Shaitan, in making us sin and please him, thereby displeasing our Lord Allah ta’ala.

“Know that the body is like a town and the intellect of the mature human being is like a king ruling that town. All the forces of the external and internal senses he can muster are like his soldiers and his aides. The ego that enjoins evil (nafs ammara), that is, lust and anger, is like an enemy that challenges him in his kingdom and strives to slaughter his people. The body thus becomes like a garrison-town or sea-outpost, and the soul like its custodian posted in it. If he fights against his enemies and defeats them and compels them to do what he likes, he will be praised when he returns to God’s presence, as God said: “Those who strive in the way of Allah with their wealth and lives. Allah hath conferred on those who strive with their wealth and lives a rank above the sedentary” (Quran 4:95).  ‘Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din’ by Imam Al-Ghazali on Jihad Al-Nafs [Fighting the Ego]”


There are three principal stations of nafs that are specifically mentioned in the Glorious Quran.

  • nafs-al-ammārah: unruly animal self or soul that dictates evil.

إن النفس لأمارة باالسوء إلا من رحم ربّي

“The human soul is certainly prone to evil.” (Quran 12:53)

  • nafs-al-lawwāmah: struggling moral or self-reproaching soul.

وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ

“I call to witness the regretful self -the accusing voice of man’s own conscience.” (Quran 75:2)

  • nafs al-mutma’inna: satisfied, composed, God realized self.

يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ

“O thou human being that hast attained to inner peace!” (Quran 89:27)

It is our duty as Muslims and the followers of our Beloved Prophet Muhammadعليه السلام ليه watch (PBUH) to  keep watch and to deny our nafs ammara any gratification and lead it towards nafs lawwama…..which is the nafs of the true believer as it feels guilt and knows when it sins. Just as an unruly child is punished or a rebellious horse curtailed, so we should deal with nafs ammara. It needs to be tamed so we control it rather than it controlling us.


Yahya ibn Mu`adh al-Razi r.a. said: “Fight against your ego with the four swords of training: eat little, sleep little, speak little, and be patient when people harm you… Then the ego will walk the paths of obedience, like a fleeing horseman in the field of battle.” This is the Greater Jihad……especially in these times of fitnah.


Jabir r.a. reports that the Prophet (عليه السلام) returned from one of his campaigns and told his companions: “You have come forth in the best way of coming forth: you have come from the smaller jihad to the greater jihad.” They said: “And what is the greater jihad?” He replied: “The striving (mujahadat) of Allah’s servants against their idle desires.”

So what else can we do to help our nafs lawwama reach the lofty stage of nafs mutmainnah….our real goal? In the battle against our self the first step is trying with a sincere intent, asking Allah ta’ala for help and clearing our hearts of negative feelings. One of life’s paradoxes is that to reach higher we must lower ourselves. Allah ta’ala tells his Beloved Prophet (PBUH): “….Lower your wings for the believers” (Quran 26:215). The one for whom the whole universe was created, Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH), is being told to show such regard to the believers as an injured bird lays out its wings on the ground for the hunter who shot it. Rasul Allah’s (PBUH) life is the perfect example of mercy, compassion and humility. He is the role model for us in all aspects of our life. So then does it suit us to feed our ego and avenge, belittle or hurt any human being?


Hazrat Ali r.a. was fighting an unbeliever and succeeded in throwing him to the ground. He was about to thrust his sword into the kafir when the kafir spit on Hazrat Ali’s r.a. face. Hazrat Ali r.a pulled back and told him to go. The kafir was puzzled and asked him why. Hazrat Ali r.a. said, “Before you spit on me I was fighting for Allah’s cause but after you insulted me my intent to kill you might have been tainted to gratify my ego.”

There is also a beautiful hadith about a man that Prophet (PBUH) kept saying was destined for Paradise. Hazrat Abdullah bin Amar r.a found that it was because this man forgave everyone before he went to sleep every night.


Second thing we have to remember is that this is war between the good and the evil. We are spiritual warriors so be prepared for a fight. It’s not going to be easy! “If man follows the dictates of anger and appetite, the dominion of shaytan appears in him through idle passions [hawa] and his heart becomes the nesting-place and container of shaytan, who feeds on hawa. If he battles with his passions and does not let them dominate his nafs, imitating in this the character of the angels, at that time his heart becomes the resting-place of angels and they alight upon it” — Hassan Al-Basri r.a


There is a famous Cherokee proverb where a grandfather told his grandchildren that life is about a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil and his companions are anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment and deceit. The other wolf is good and his companions are joy, humility, confidence, generosity, truth, gentleness and compassion. The children asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?” The Elder looked them in the eyes and said, “The one you feed.”


To win this battle we need to:

  • Fear Allah ta’ala and submit to him.
  • Ask Allah ta’ala for guidance and help.
  • Perform the compulsory acts of worship like prayer, fasting, and perform good deeds.
  • Control anger and forgive.
  • Be patient in the face of adversity.
  • Avoid major sins like drinking, adultery, theft and minor sins like lying, backbiting, slander, etc.
  • Choose the company of the pious.


Shaykh Abul-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Ja’far al-Kharqani (d. 1033) talks about the negative psychological traits which must be avoided in the struggle towards purification. They are also known as al-Akhlaqu ‘dh-Dhamimah (the ruinous traits) or the Tree of Bad Manners:

  1. al-ghadab– anger: considered the worst of all the negative traits. It may easily be said that anger is the source from which all other evils flow. The Prophet (PBUH) states in a hadith: “Anger (ghadab) blemishes one’s belief.”
  1. al-hiqd– malice or having ill-will toward others; You must replace hiqd with kindness and look upon your brother with love.

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” ― Abraham Lincoln


  1. al hasad– jealousy or envy; a person inflicted with this disease wants others to lose blessings bestowed on them by Allah.


  1. al-‘ujb– vanity or having pride because of an action, possession, quality or relationship.


  1. al-bukhl– stinginess: The cause of bukhl is love of the world, if you did not love it, then giving it up would be easy. Bukhl can be material or emotional. To cure this desease, one must force oneself to be generous, materially and emotionally, even if such generosity is artificial till it becomes second nature.


  1. al-tama/al-hirş  – Greed – excessive desire. Seeking to fulfill worldly pleasures through forbidden means is called tama’.


  1. al-jubn– cowardice: the necessary amount of anger for the sake of Allah ta’ala (ghadab) is called bravery (shajā’at). Anger which is less than the necessary amount is called cowardice (junb). Imam Shafi says, “A person who acts cowardly in a situation which demands bravery resembles an ass.” A coward would not be able to show ghayrat for his wife or relatives when the situation requires it. He would not be able to protect them and thus will suffer oppression (zulm) and depreciation (ziliat).


  1. al-batalah– indolence or sloth, a deadly sin.


  1. al-riya’ – ostentation or showing off….it means pretension, i.e., a person’s performing deeds for the next world to impress the idea on others that he is really a pious person with earnest desire of the akhirah while in fact he wants to attain worldly desires.


  1. al-‘azamah– superiority or claiming greatness: the cure is to humble oneself before Allah.


  1. al-ghabawah wa ‘l-kasalah– heedlessnessand laziness; “the heart needs nourishment, and heedlessness starves the spiritual heart.”


  1. al-ghamm/hamm– depression/anxiety: passion (hawā) causes anguish (ghamm) whenever we lose faith in taqdeer, destiny, and allow reason to represent as painful the loss of any desirable object which can cause the soul unbearable suffering. We must first understand that Allah is al-Razzaq (the Provider), and submit and be content with the will of Allah. O God, Your will; nothing less, nothing more, nothing else.


  1. al-manhiyat– Eight Hundred Forbidden Acts


  1. ghaflah– neglect and forgetfulness of Allah ta’ala: the ghāfilün, are those who “know only a surface appearance of the life of this world, and are heedless of the hereafter.” (30:7)*
  2. kibr– arroganceor regarding one’s self to be superior to others. The Prophet (PBUH) states in a hadith: “A person who has an atom’s weight of conceit in his heart will not enter Paradise.”


  1. hubb-e-dunya– love of the material world. The Prophet (PBUH) has said: “Love of the world is the root of all evil.” If this ailment is treated and cured, all other maladies flowing from it will also disappear.


The heart must be purified of these illnesses. Outward adherence to the five pillars of Islam is not sufficient.

.       إِلَّا مَنْ أَتَى اللَّهَ بِقَلْبٍ سَلِيمٍ  يَوْمَ لَا يَنْفَعُ مَالٌ وَلَا بَنُون


On that Day, neither wealth nor children will be of any benefit, only he [will be happy] who comes before Allah with a sound heart free of evil. (Quran 26:88)


اللهم الهمنى رشدى و اعذنى من شر نفس (الترمزى)

اے اللہ ! میرے دل میں میری ہدایت ڈال اور مجھے میرے نفس کی برائی سے بچا

O Allah! Inspire my heart to guidance and save me from the evil of my nafs (soul) (Tirmizi)


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