034 Refinement of the nafs (ego)
Islam is a divine order that tries to save human from everything his nafs idolized and to connect him with his real creator, Allah (swt). The basis of this order is "faith". This order aims at improving and nurturing the human by getting to know Allah (swt). Refinement of Nafs (tazkiyatun nafs) and Purifying the Heart (tasfiatul qalb) are two important stages of the maturation. This article is about "Refinement of Nafs".
Nafs is the self, which is composed of wishes and desires of the person. The ego, which expresses some wishes emerging from the vital needs for the person's life, is not what we call as nafs. The nafs that we mention about being refined is covered with evil desires and wishes that some of them has become passion because of continuous repetition. This is called "Nafs-i Ammara" (the evil-commanding nafs). "Nafs-i Ammara" is a nafs that doesn't know Allah nor pay attention to mind or heart. It pushes the person until it achieves what it wants by repeating them. Allah (swt) orders for such egos:
"The (human) soul is certainly incites to evil." [Yusuf, 53]
This kind of personality needs the knowledge of Allah (Swt) and a divine training. Otherwise, the person will cause problems for himself and the society.
Rasulullah (s.a.w) ordered in the Hadiths that:
"The nafs surrounding you is the worst enemy of yours." [Daylami]
"The strongest enemy of the human is his nafs, then comes his family." [Daylami]
The nafs is a powerful enemy and it is hard to overcome it without the help of Allah. On returning from a holy war Rasulullah (s.a.w) said, "We returned from the Small Jehad, now it is time for the Big Jehad". The companions of Rasulullah (s.a.w) asked "What is the Big Jehad, ya Rasulullah?" He answered, "It is the struggle with the nafs". In another Hadith, it is ordered that:
"The supreme Jehad is the one with the nafs in the way of Allah." [Tabarani]
It is seen that to control the nafs is not easy and it is a supreme Jehad. It cannot be done without the help of Allah (swt).
Ruknaddin Abul Fath hazrats stated that:
"Refinement of nafs is only possible with help of Allah and seeking refuge in Allah. It is ordered in Qur'an that:
"Yet I do not absolve myself (of blame): the (human) soul is certainly incites to evil, unless my Lord do bestow His Mercy: but surely my Lord is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful" [Yusuf, 53].
Nafs cannot be refined without the mercy and help of Allah. It is also ordered:
"Were it not for the grace and mercy of Allah on you, not one of you would ever have been pure: but Allah doth purify whom He pleases: and Allah is One Who hears and knows (all things)" [Nur, 21].
The sign of this mercy and grace is being shown his disgraces." And continues: "... If a small piece of light from divine grandness shines in the heart of a person, he will value all the important people in the world as soil. The realities of the world would not be important for him. As it covers his heart, he hates the animal characteristics of the realities of the world.
If a person counts on his small will rather than Allah (Swt) about refinement of his nafs, he will learn the reality by swearing to give up and break his oaths many times, as I did before.
Dear Readers, our hearts must not be blind. Nothing happens in the universe without the permission and order of Allah (swt). Even a leaf cannot move nor can a feather fly. Therefore, we must ask Allah's help for everything in our lives and devote ourselves to Him and trust Him. Allah (swt) Who is merciful and graceful always responds His servants.
A person must be intelligent and try to refine his nafs. Allah (swt) orders that:
"Truly he succeeds that purifies it, And he fails that corrupts it!" [Shams, 9-10]
In Hadith it is also ordered that:
"The smart person is the one who takes control of their self and acts for what which comes after death; and the foolish person is the one who simply follows their whims and then has false hopes with Allah." [Tirmidhi]
Abu Bakr Tamsitani ordered, "Salvation from obeying the nafs is the biggest blessing, because nafs is the biggest obstacle between the human and Allah (swt)".
Sahl bin Abdullah Tusteri hazrats also ordered that: "The most precious worship is not to obey the wishes of nafs"
We shouldn't let our nafs free but try to dominate it with the help of Allah and refine the nafs from all kind of evil things in order to reach salvation.
Refinement of the nafs is controlling the never ending desires and wills of nafs, being saved from its passions and addictions, teaching the nafs to accept what Allah gives, disciplining it by nurturing its desires and training it to have its desires by the limits of religion rather than unlawful ways.
In brief, "refinement of the nafs" means controlling the negative desires and wishes of the nafs that may harm himself as they are excessive.
Allah (swt) ordered in a Hadith Qudsi that:
"Struggle with your nafs! Because your nafs is my enemy."
In Hadith, it is also ordered that:
"The supreme Jehad is the one with the nafs." [I. Neccar]
This Jehad with the nafs is achieved by doing Riyazah and Mujahadah.
"Riyazah means not performing the actions that nafs wishes."
"It is done by taqwa and wara. Taqwa means avoiding the things that are forbidden by religion. Wara means to avoid using the permissible things not more than needed, besides things that are forbidden by religion." (Muhammed Hadimi)
Self-discipline is helpful only when it is achieved within the frame of our religion's definition. Otherwise, it won't be helpful. "People understood that self-discipline meant starving and fasting. However, it is more difficult and helpful to eat as our religion orders than fasting for years. When a person is offered delicious food and he accepts only the amount that is ordered by our religion, which will be a superior self-discipline. If a person, who performs worship for a thousand of years and self-discipline with a difficult struggle, doesn't obey Rasulullah's order, all of his works will not be valuable. It is useless like a mirage in the desert." (Imam-i Rabbani)
Sharafuddin Ahmet bin Yahya Muniri orders that:
"Islam doesn't order suppressing the lust and rage of the nafs but to make use of it according to the religion by controlling both of them. Riyazah is not used to suppress them, but to train them in accordance with the religion."
Mujahadah means performing the unwanted and difficult actions for the nafs. In brief, it is worship and obedience to Allah's orders. "Worship means both training the nafs by struggling, and relieving the heart by having a spiritual connection with Allah (swt)." (Ali ibn Amrullah)
"The evil ideas that nafs reminds to a person are surpassed only by struggle (worship and obeying Allah's orders)". (Muhammed Hadimi)
Muhammed Masum hazrats orders that:
"The youth is the most precious times of a life. It is when a person is healthy and strong. As the time passes, we become older. Unfortunately, we leave reaching to Marifetullah (Knowledge of Allah) to the last phase of our lives, which are dreams... We spend the most honorable times of our lives on reaching the desires of the nafs which is the most harmful and worst thing."
"Allah (swt) created human and djinn to make them reach Marifetullah, His will and love. The strongest obstacle that prevents a person from reaching Marifetullah is his nafs."
The reason of all prohibitions and orders of the religion and Riyazah and Mujahadah to obey them is to train the nafs to stop its wild wishes. The wishes of the nafs diminish as one obeys the rules of religion. As the visions of these heart-capturing desires disappear, the signs of Allah in the heart become clear. Muhabbetullah (love for Allah) replaces the love for the world in the heart.
[The meaning of Allah's signs becoming clearer in the heart is metaphorical. It means dhikr and remembrance of Allah in the heart. Allah is excluded from all kind of thoughts, opinions, illusions, dreams and envisions in mind or heart. All of these envisions are created by Allah in our minds and they are not Allah Himself. Allah doesn't resemble anything that is created by Him.]
When the visions of world emerged in the heart because of the desires and wishes of nafs (ego characteristics as covetousness, arrogance, jealousy, vindictiveness) disappear, it is called "Fanaa" status. When the dhikr of Allah becomes continuous, it is called "Baqaa" status.
Refinement of the nafs helps someone achieve Fanaa stage although it is not enough for Baqaa stage. Therefore, the heart must be purified. I hope to write about purifying the heart in my next article.
Be entrusted to Allah.
Dr. Ismail Ulukus