Three stages of self

Kuwait Times - - Local - By Ne­joud Al-Yagout

In the Qu­ran, there are three stages of the self: al nafs al am­mara bil su (the self­com­manded/in­clined to­ward evil), al nafs al lawwama (the (self)-blam­ing self), and al nafs al mut­maana (the re­as­sured self). If we pon­der the state of the world, it is ap­par­ent that many of us, on this planet, are in­clined to­wards evil. This is man­i­fested in hu­man traf­fick­ing, our er­ro­neous sys­tem of dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth, im­pe­ri­al­ism, cap­i­tal­ism, greed, self-ob­ses­sion, dic­ta­tor­ship, the use of in­tox­i­cants, gam­bling, slav­ery, ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of men and women, ma­te­ri­al­ism, con­sumerism, and evil dis­trac­tions and per­ver­sions which, though once con­sid­ered il­licit and shame­ful, are now per­me­at­ing the main­stream. When we no longer flinch at what is go­ing on around us, when we do not stand up for jus­tice, when we for­get acts of wor­ship, we be­come en­gulfed in dark­ness. Only the straight path (al sirat al mus­taqeem) de­signed for us by our Cre­ator can trans­form the sta­tus quo; and in a world where he­do­nism is du jour, ad­dress­ing the evil that lurks within us is es­sen­tial in or­der to ad­here to God’s com­mand­ments and up­hold our covenant with Him.

Imag­ine a world where we fol­low the path to­ward God; imag­ine a world with­out casi­nos, night­clubs, bars, usury, adul­tery, crime, and pornog­ra­phy. Imag­ine a world where du­ti­ful wor­ship­pers erad­i­cate poverty by spend­ing in vol­un­tary char­ity (sadaqa) and the an­nual re­quire­ment of alms­giv­ing (za­kat). Imag­ine a world with­out greed, with­out trans­gres­sion, with­out in­jus­tice. This is all pos­si­ble when we are God-con­scious and when we take our roles as di­vine am­bas­sadors se­ri­ously. Each of us is in­vited to strive against evil by com­pletely sur­ren­der­ing our de­sires, our am­bi­tions, our ac­tions, our thoughts-ev­ery­thing-to God. The more we hum­ble our­selves in His pres­ence, the more God ex­alts us. And, para­dox­i­cally, the more we as­cend on the spir­i­tual lad­der, the more peo­ple will con­sider us re­gres­sive, even back­ward. But what is more im­por­tant: God’s plea­sure or so­ci­ety’s? And why are we afraid of be­ing con­sid­ered back­ward? In a world as upside-down as ours, where vice is con­sid­ered a right, be­ing called back­ward is awe-in­spir­ing; it re­flects our mod­esty, piety and in­ner strength. If be­ing back­ward means pray­ing to God, shun­ning sins, and invit­ing one an­other to self-pu­rifi­ca­tion, then be­ing back­ward is ac­tu­ally the way for­ward for us. When peo­ple ar­gue that Is­lam is not com­pat­i­ble with the mod­ern world, we should be elated, not ashamed. The mod­ern world is a mess. The only thing com­pat­i­ble with our world to­day is evil.

Why would we ever want to ad­just our religion to the sick­ness we wit­ness to­day or fit our religion into a way­ward sys­tem? Is­lam is not com­pat­i­ble with moder­nity, but it is com­pat­i­ble with God’s ways, which are eter­nal and good. God was, is, and will al­ways be the cure for hu­man­ity. We have man­i­fested a filthy play­ground in which we equate lib­er­al­ism with free­dom and cap­i­tal­ism with dig­nity. Our de­sires are our pri­or­ity. And what does our beloved God say about those who are slaves to their de­sires in the Qu­ran? Have you seen he who has taken for his God his de­sire, and God has led him astray upon knowl­edge and has sealed upon his hear­ing and his heart and placed over his sight a veil? So who will guide him after God? Will you not re­mem­ber? (Su­rah AlJathiya 45:23). Are we go­ing to fol­low our de­sires or fol­low God? When we be­gin to feel an ounce of guilt at fol­low­ing our de­sires, when we be­gin to cringe in shame that we are not fol­low­ing the ways of God, the stage has been set for al nafs al lawwama.

For many, this is a very painful in­ner strug­gle. Set in our ways, the devil will put up a fight along with our self. But, we are not to worry about the devil. God says that “...the devil has no author­ity over those who be­lieve in God and who put their trust in Him”(Su­rah An Nahl 16:99). And, as for our­selves, God Him­self in­forms us that He has full knowl­edge of “what [the] self-whispers to [us], and is “...closer to us than the jugu­lar vein” (in Su­rah Qaf 50:16). Thus, there is no need to fear. The One who knows us bet­ter than we know our very own selves is close, very close. We are not alone in this bat­tle both against the devil and against our in­ner self. With God as our guide, we can take on the chal­lenge of self-pu­rifi­ca­tion in pa­tience and per­se­ver­ance. One of the ways to tran­scend the sec­ond stage is to think about God con­stantly. Or in God’s words, to “re­mem­ber Your Lord within your­selves...” (Su­rah Al-A’raf 7:205).

Each time we find our­selves day­dream­ing or think­ing evil thoughts, let us re­turn our fo­cus back to The Mer­ci­ful One. Think­ing about death and the af­ter­life is also es­sen­tial. It places us in a frame of mind where we are stead­fast in acts of wor­ship. Many peo­ple er­ro­neously think that be­cause they avoid ma­jor sins and are du­ti­ful wor­ship­pers that they do not need pu­rifi­ca­tion. But mock­ery and in­sult­ing oth­ers (see Su­rah Al-Hu­ju­rat 49:11), spy­ing on oth­ers and back­bit­ing (see Su­rah Al-Hu­ju­rat 49:12) and ar­ro­gance (see Su­rah An Nahl 16:23) all fall into the cat­e­gory of evil. We have to give up neg­a­tiv­ity al­to­gether, within us and ex­ter­nally, in or­der to as­cend and so as not to slip back into evil ways. God has in­formed us in the Qu­ran that He “...does not change the con­di­tion of a peo­ple, un­til they change what is in them­selves.” (Su­rah Al-Raad 13:11).

So it is up to us to trans­form our­selves. We are also promised: As for those who strive in Us, we guide them to Our paths, and God is with the right­eous. (Su­rah Al Ank­abut 29:69). So the path of guid­ance and grace opens up to the right­eous ones who strive to­ward God.The last stage of the self is the one we as­pire to the most: al nafs al mut­maana. Imag­ine God Him­self ad­dress­ing our self, say­ing: “Oh re­as­sured self, re­turn to your Lord, pleased and pleas­ing and en­ter among my ser­vants and en­ter my Par­adise.” (Al-Fajr 27-30). The re­as­sured self is at peace in God’s par­adise, un­touched by evil, and free of self-in­crim­i­na­tion. It would be such a pity to miss this op­por­tu­nity to en­ter such a no­ble sta­tion. Our Cre­ator gave us a roadmap in the Qu­ran. Each word, each verse, each page, each chap­ter in­vites us to Par­adise. The Qu­ran re­minds us that “What hap­pens to us that is good is from God, what hap­pens to us that is evil is from our­selves...” (Su­rah Al Nisa 4:79). This re­minds us that be­fore we com­plain of our cir­cum­stances and sur­round­ings, let us ask how we con­trib­ute to evil. It takes courage to face the evil that lurks within us, but it is worth it. God is be­yond worth it. Be­yond. Be­yond. Be­yond.

— Cour­tesy of the TIES Cen­ter: The TIES Cen­ter is the so­cial and ed­u­ca­tional hub for English Speak­ing Mus­lims in Kuwait and aims at em­power Kuwait’s ex­pats through so­cial and ed­u­ca­tional ser­vices that pro­mote a pos­i­tive and pro­duc­tive role in so­ci­ety, and to fa­cil­i­tate op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­tra- and in­ter­faith in­ter­ac­tions that pro­mote so­cial sol­i­dar­ity. For more in­for­ma­tion, you can con­tact TIES at Tel:25231015/6; Hot­line:94079777; e-mail: info@ti­es­cen­ter.net.

KUWAIT: This photo taken circa 1924 shows Bedouin men at ease in Al-Safat; the huge open space within Kuwait’s walls where tribes­men could meet in peace and pro­tec­tion to trade and ex­change the news. (Source: ‘Kuwait in the Eyes of Early Pho­tog­ra­phers,’ Wil­liam Facey, Gil­lian Gran, Lon­don, 1989. Pre­pared by: Mah­moud Aakaria Abu Alella, re­searcher in her­itage, Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion)

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