Nafs

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Nafs (نَفْس)is an Arabic word (cognate of the Hebrew word "Nefesh" נפש) occurring in the Qur'an and means self, psyche,[1] ego or soul. In its unrefined state, "the ego (nafs) is the lowest dimension of man's inward existence, his animal and satanic nature."[2] Nafs is an important concept in the Islamic tradition, especially within Sufism and the discipline of gnosis (Irfan) in Shia Islam.

Three principal stages of nafs[edit]

There are three principal stages of nafs specifically mentioned in the Qur'an. They are stages in the process of development, refinement and mastery of the nafs.[3] [4]

The inciting nafs (an-nafs al-ʾammārah)[edit]

In its primitive stage the nafs incites us to commit evil: this is the nafs as the lower self, the base instincts.[5] In the eponymous Sura of the Qur'an, Yusuf says "Yet I claim not that my nafs was innocent: Verily the nafs incites to evil."[Quran 12:53]

Islam emphasises the importance of fighting the inciting nafs. One tradition holds that Muhammad said after returning from a war, "We now return from the small struggle (Jihad Asghar) to the big struggle (Jihad Akbar)". His companions asked, "O prophet of God, what is the big struggle?" He replied, "The struggle against nafs."[6]

The Qur'an enjoins the faithful "to hinder the nafs from lust",[Quran 79:40] and another traditional narration warns that "the worst enemy you have is [the nafs] between your sides."[7] Rumi warns of the nafs in its guise of religious hypocrisy, saying "the nafs has a rosary and a Koran in its right hand, and a scimitar and dagger in the sleeve."[8]

Animal imagery is often used to describe the nafs. A popular image is a donkey or unruly horse that must be trained and broken so that eventually it will bear its rider to the goal.[9] Rumi compares the nafs to a camel that the hero Majnun, representing the intellect ('Aql), strains to turn in the direction of the dwelling-place of his beloved.[8]

The self-accusing nafs (an-nafs al-luwwāmah)[edit]

In Sura al-Qiyama the Qur'an mentions "the self-accusing nafs".[Quran 75:2] This is the stage where "the conscience is awakened and the self accuses one for listening to one’s ego. One repents and asks for forgiveness."[10] Here the nafs is inspired by your heart, sees the results of your actions, agrees with your brain, sees your weaknesses, and aspires to perfection.

The nafs at peace (an-nafs al-muṭmaʾinnah)[edit]

In Sura al-Fajr the Qur'an mentions "the nafs at peace".[Quran 89:27] This is the ideal stage of ego for Muslims. On this level one is firm in one’s faith and leaves bad manners behind.[10] The soul becomes tranquil, at peace.[10] At this stage, followers of Sufism have relieved themselves of all materialism and worldly problems and are satisfied with the will of God.

Four additional stages of nafs[edit]

In addition to the three principal stages, another four are sometimes cited:

The inspired nafs (an-nafs al-mulhamah)[edit]

This stage comes between the 2nd and 3rd principal stages. It is the stage of action. On this level "one becomes more firm in listening to one’s conscience, but is not yet surrendered."[10] Once you have seen your weaknesses and have set your targets, this ego inspires you to do good deeds and to be on the plus side. The Sufis say that it is important that whenever you think of good, you must immediately act upon it. Abbas Bin Abdul Muttalib lays down three rules:[citation needed]

  1. Ta'Jeel or Swiftness. A good deed must be done immediately and there should be no laziness.
  2. Tehqeer or Contempt. You must look at your good acts with contempt otherwise you will become self-righteous.
  3. Ikhfa or Secrecy. You must keep your good acts secret otherwise people will praise you and it will make you self-righteous.

According to the Qur'an, charity should be given both secretly and openly. In Muhammad Asad's translation of the Qur'an, 14:31 reads: "[And] tell [those of] My servants who have attained to faith that they should be constant in prayer and spend [in Our way], secretly and openly, out of what We provide for them as sustenance, ere there come a Day when there will be no bargaining, and no mutual befriending."

The pleased nafs (an-nafs ar-raḍīyyah)[edit]

The stage comes after the 3rd principal stage. On this level "one is pleased with whatever comes from Allah and doesn’t live in the past or future, but in the moment."[10] "One thinks always: ‘Ilahi Anta Maqsudi wa ridhaka matlubi’. One always sees oneself as weak and in need of Allah."[10]

The pleasing nafs (an-nafs al-marḍīyyah)[edit]

On this level the two Ruhs in man "have made peace".[10] "One is soft and tolerant with people and has good Akhlaq (Arabic: أخلاق), good manners."[10]

The pure nafs (an-nafs aṣ-ṣāfīyyah)[edit]

On this level "one is dressed in the attributes of the Insan Kamil, the perfected man, who is completely surrendered and inspired by Allah."[10] One is "in full agreement with the Will of Allah".[10]

Full sequence of nafs development[edit]

Therefore the full sequence of the seven stages of the development of the nafs is as follows:

  1. The inciting nafs (an-nafs al-ʾammārah)
  2. The self-accusing nafs (an-nafs al-luwwāmah)
  3. The inspired nafs (an-nafs al-mulhamah)
  4. The nafs at peace (an-nafs al-muṭmaʾinnah)
  5. The pleased nafs (an-nafs ar-raḍīyyah)
  6. The pleasing nafs (an-nafs al-marḍīyyah)
  7. The pure nafs (an-nafs aṣ-ṣāfīyyah)

Dervishes from the Jerrahi school of Sufism are encouraged to study a text describing these stages of nafs as a nested series of cities.[4]

Characteristics of nafs[edit]

In its primitive state the nafs has seven characteristics that must be overcome:[citation needed]

  1. Pride (Takabbur)
  2. Greed (Hirs)
  3. Envy (Hasad)
  4. Lust (Shahwah)
  5. Backbiting (Gheebah)
  6. Stinginess (Bokhl)
  7. Malice (Keena)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Nurdeen Deuraseh and Mansor Abu Talib (2005), "Mental health in Islamic medical tradition", The International Medical Journal 4 (2), p. 76-79
  2. ^ Chittick, William (1983). The Sufi Path of Love. State University of New York Press. p. 12. ISBN 0-87395-724-5. 
  3. ^ Shah, Idries (2001). The Sufis. London, UK: Octagon Press. pp. 394–395. ISBN 0-86304-020-9. 
  4. ^ a b Frager, Robert (1999). Heart, Self and Soul. Quest Books. pp. 54–88. ISBN 0-8356-0778-X.  An imprint of the Theosophical Publishing House.
  5. ^ Schimmel, Annemarie (1975). Mystical Dimensions of Islam. University of South Carolina Press. pp. 112–114. 
  6. ^ Kabbani, Hisham. "Jihad Al Akbar". Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  7. ^ Nicholson, Reynold Alleyne (2008). The Kitab Al-Luma Fi L-Tasawwuf Of Abu Nasr Abdallah B. Ali Al-Sarraj Al-Tusi: Edited For The First Time, With Critical Notes And Abstract (1914) by Reynold Alleyne Nicholson. Kessinger Publishing. 
  8. ^ a b Nicholson, Reynold (1990). Mathnawi of Jalaluddin Rumi. Warminster: Gibb Memorial Trust. ISBN 0-906094-27-5. 
  9. ^ Nicholson, Reynold (2008). The Kashf Al-Mahjub: The Oldest Persian Treatise On Sufism (1911). Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0-548-94106-8. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Al-Haqqani, Shaykh Adil; Kabbani, Shaykh Hisham (2004). The Path to Spiritual Excellence. Islamic Supreme Council of America (ISCA). pp. 102–103. ISBN 1-930409-18-4.  See google book search

References[edit]

  • The three rules of Abbas Bin Abdul Muttalib and the section on Characteristics of nafs are translations from the Persian text Shahid ul Wojood, written two hundred years ago.[unreliable source?]
  • Hadith

External links[edit]