Always be on guard against your nafs
Never trust your nafs
It is an enemy to you
Worse than seventy devils
The seventh of the maladies of the heart is to indulge in the appetite (shahwat) or desires or pleasures of the nafs. Ugliness of these types of actions of the nafas is clearly communicated in the ayats of the Quran. Furthermore, it is also communicated in the Quran that following the desires of the nafs causes one to depart from the path of Allah u Taala. For, the nafs always wants to deny the existence of Allah and to be intransigent or to rebel against Him.
Anyone who follows their nafs either lapses into disbelief or deviates into a heresy or plunges into committing Harams. Abu Bakr Tamistani (R.A) says “The fortune of not following the desires of the nafs is the biggest treasure of this world. For, the nafs is the greatest of all veils between Allah and His slave”. Sahl bin Abdullah Tustari (R.A) says, “The best of all worships is not to follow the desires of the nafs.” Islam bin Yusuf Balhi (R.A) once gave a gift to Hatam-ul-Esam (R.A) when Hatam accepted the gift the people around him asked him if his accepting the gift would not mean to follow the desires of his nafs.
In reply, Hatam told them that by accepting his gift he made himself lowly and made him superior, and he added, “If I didn’t accept his gift, that would make myself superior and him lowly. And, my ‘nafs’ would love that!” Prophet (SAW) at the end of a long hadith said, “Three causes lead a person to disaster: being stingy, following the desires of the nafs, and being a conceited person.”
Imam al-Ghazali (R.A) said that the veil which prevents you from receiving the help of Allah is self love (Ujb). In other words it is one’s not seeing one’s own imperfection and seeing one’s worships as worthy. Isa/Jesus (A.S) said to his apostles, “oh my apostles! The wind has extinguished many a light. Likewise, Ujb (self –love) destroys many acts of worship and eliminates their Thawab.”
It is reported that once Prophet (SAW) said, “I am very much afraid that my ummat (Muslims) will catch two vices. They are: following the desires of the nafs and forgetting about death and running after the world.” Following the desires of the nafs prevents one from obeying the commandments of Islam. To forget death causes one to follow the desires of one’s nafs.
In another hadith, Prophet (SAW) said, “The existence of wisdom in a person manifests itself by his control over his ‘nafs’ and by his preparation of the things that will be beneficial after death. The sign of idiocy is one’s following the desires of one’s following the desires of one’s nafs and then expecting forgiveness and mercy from Allah.”
According to this hadith, following the desires of one’s nafs and then expecting forgiveness and admittance to paradise without repentance is symptomatic of idiocy. Expecting something without taking the actions which would produce that expected result is called wishful thinking (tamanni).
The origin of the nafs is nonexistence or Adam, and it has no relationship to the soul or to the spiritual heart. A person who indulges in the desires of his nafs always steps out of the bounds of Islam. Since animals do not possess wisdom and nafs, they always use things that they need when they find them. They only shy away from things that hurt them physically.
Islam neither prohibits utilization of vehicles that provide a comfortable and peaceful living, nor dissuades from enjoying useful worldly pleasures. Islam commands Muslims to follow the guidelines set out by the religion and wisdom for acquiring and utilizing these things. The goal of Islam is the comfortable and peaceful living of human beings in this world and in the next.
Accomplishing this goal rests with following the wisdom and abstaining from the desires of the nafs. If wisdom had not been created, human beings would always follow the desires of the nafs and fall into disasters. If the nafs did not exist, human beings could not multiply and lead a civilized life. Also, without the nafs, human beings could not obtain rewards for struggle against the nafs.
Furthermore, without the nafs, human beings could not rise above the grades of angels. Our Prophet (SAW) said, “If animals had known the knowledge you possess about the things that would happen in the life after death, you could not be able to find any meat to consume!” Animals would not be able to eat or drink, therefore, lose weight and perish because of their fear of the punishments in the Hereafter. The nafs is like a sword with double blades, or a medicine which possesses strong poisonous properties. Anyone who uses this medicine in accordance with the prescription given by the doctor benefits from the useful properties of the medicine.
At last Islam provides some guidelines through which one can prevent the nafs from transgressing, one is “Riyazat” and another one is “Jihad”. Riyazat is a person’s resistance against the temptations of his nafs. This is accomplished by utilizing two means: Wara’ and taqwa. “Taqwa” means not doing forbidden actions, or in other words, it is a way of living wherein one does not commit forbidden actions in one’s daily affairs. Wara’ means abstinence not only from Harams (forbidden acts) but also from a superfluity in the mubahs (acts, enjoyments and flavours which Islam permits). The second type of struggle (Jihad) against the nafs requires performing things that the nafs dislikes. This is called mujahada.
All the acts of worship are mujahada because the nafs does not like to perform worship. The month of Ramadan gives us the best training how to achieve these things so that we can succeed in both the worlds. These two types of struggles tame the nafs and mature human beings and strengthen their souls and lead them to the way of Siddiqs (people who have attained the highest degree of piety), martyrs (Shahids) and pious (Salih) Muslims.
Authors are Ph. D Research Scholars, Department of Sociology, University of Kashmir