I don’t seem to be able to appreciate the difference between ‘nafs‘ and the whispers of Satan? What is this kind of jihad directed against? Our own ‘nafs‘ or Satan?
May Allah bless you for your efforts.
The Arabic word Nafs stands for human self/soul. The Almighty has sent man on earth for a test. To materialize this test the Almighty has attached different mundane attributes with this self for example basic needs of life, achieving the basic needs in better form instead of doing with simple attainment of these needs and sexual desires etc. Besides these the Almighty has provided a divine spark in the human being to balance the drive to the worldly desires. All these attribute of the human self need to be satisfied. We are not required to kill these natural desires and needs rather to qualify the test we are put through during this ephemeral life on earth. We only need to observe certain limits in fulfilling these needs. One is allowed to earn money and obtain food to kill hunger but one cannot impound other’s property. We can satisfy sexual urge by entering into recognized marital relationship but are not allowed to exercise fornication.
Our Nafs tends to meet its needs either way. It is only the divine spark and ability to differentiate between the good and the evil that can help us keep on the right path. Thus we are required to train our Nafs to meet its desires properly. The Almighty has not left us unequipped in our fight to control these desires but he has bestowed us with the divine spark mentioned above and reinforced this with the guidance revealed through prophets and messengers In fact purification of the self is the basic purpose of the religious guidance. The Almighty says:
It is He Who has raised among the unlettered ones a Messenger from amongst themselves, who recites to them his verses, purifies them and [and to obtain this goal] he teaches them the Book and the Wisdom, whereas before that they had been in manifest error. (Al Jumu`ah 62:2)
If we pay constant heed to the innate and the revealed guidance we can effectively control the desires and avoid being enslaved by Satan. The Holy Qur’an frequently refers to these qualities of the self.
If one purifies the Nafs according to the dictates of the religious guidance it assumes calmness under command and removes from itself the disturbance caused by the assault of desires. Another trait of the self-reproach. When one falls into committing a transgression owing to any reason it objects strongly, rebukes its owner for his neglect in obeying the commands of his master. If we fail to bridle the Nafs it does not envisage its return to God because of its keeping far away from the Almighty. In this state it ultimately gives up all protest and surrenders itself in total obedience to the call of passions and Satan.
It is with reference to fighting our transgressing desires and attractions that the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said:
The actual Mujahid is the one who strives against his self in obedience to God, the Mighty and Majestic. [Tirmidi: 1621, Ibn Hibban: 4706, Musnad Ahmad: 23997]
In the light of the foregoing explanation we can say that the Nafs is not an evil thing in its nature. It has potential of both evil and the good. We are adequately equipped to cope with the negative promptings of the desires of the self. To fight these negative inclinations is the basic target of man and is the basic qualification for the eternal bliss in the life hereafter. The Almighty says:
But as for he who feared the standing before his Lord (on the day of resurrection) and restrained the soul from [his] desire, then indeed, Paradise will be his refuge. (Al Nazi’at 79: 40 – 41)
As regards the matter of Satan it is an entity who suggests evil in our minds1. He does not have power to bring a pious and heedful person astray. We do not know the actual process with which it executes these evil suggestions in to the hearts of men. However, the Holy Qur’an indicates that these suggestions are identical to the suggestions and temptations by someone from among humans. It says:
Say: I seek refuge with the Lord of Mankind, the King of mankind, the God of mankind, from the evil of the slinking whisperer. [The slinking whisperer] who whispers in the breasts of men. Be he form among jinn or man. (Al Ikhlas114: 1 – 6).
The last verse clearly indicates that the whispering by Satan who is among the Jinn could be identical to the human seductive temptations.
The following saying ascribed to the Prophet [pbuh] indicates to the divine spark in man and the satanic suggestion from without.
Abdullah Bin Masood narrates: The Holy Prophet [pbuh] 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. Then he recited the verse: Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to commit immorality. (Tirmidhi: 2988)
I hope this helps
Tariq Mahmood Hashmi
November 3, 2003