In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Tazkiyah al nafs - part 1



"Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)." - Quran 13:11 Surah Ar-Rad(The Thunder)

Struggle With One's Nafs (Ego)

Nafs is an Arabic word occurring in the Qur'an meaning self, psyche, ego or soul. Nafs is an important concept in the Islamic tradition, especially in Sufism, where in its unrefined state, "the ego (nafs) is the lowest dimension of man's inward existence, his animal and satanic nature."

The Holy Prophet, Peace be upon him, used to ask Allah to protect him against his ego: " Allahumma la takilni ila nafsi tarfatain - Oh Allah, don't leave me in the hands of my ego for even a split second (literally, the time it takes to blink an eye or less than that)."

Those who have defeated and broken down their Nafs(ego), has led a path of success, and peace in their spiritual lives as well as their daily lives, while those who surrendered to the demands of their Nafs(ego), took a path of destruction, and confusion. The Nafs(ego) is separated into 7 stages (development of soul), and the lowest of the Nafs, is Nafs Al-ammara(The Commanding Self), which is also called the "animal soul", at this level the Nafs is unpurified, and is considered lower than animal instincts , one of the reason is when an animal is hungry, it kills another to satisfy his hunger, while the Nafs, can never be satisfied even if it had the whole world and everything in it, the Nafs(ego) would keep demanding more, nothing can satisfy the Nafs(ego).

Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said:
"If the son of Adam had a valley full of gold, he would like to have two, for nothing fills his mouth except dust. And Allah forgives him who repents to Him." [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 76, Number 447]


The Most Beloved Prophet (Salla Allahu ta'ala alayhi wa Sallam),
said to his companions returning from a battle:

"You have returned from a smaller battle to a greater battle."

He was then asked by the companions,

"What can be a greater battle than that we have just fought?"

He (Salla Allahu ta'ala alayhi wa Sallam), answered,

"The battle against one's nafs".





Characteristics Of Nafs

In its primitive state the nafs has seven heads that must be defeated:


False pride (Takabbur)

Greed (Hirs)

Envy (Hasad)

Lust (Shahwah)

Backbiting (Gheebah)

Stinginess (Bokhl)

Malice (Keena)



"There are two kinds of people, one are those whose Nafs have overcome them and led them to ruin because they yielded to them and obeyed their impulses. The other kinds are those who have overcome their Nafs and made them obey their commands."


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. Rumi compares the nafs to a camel which the hero Majnun, representing the intellect ('Aql), strains to turn in the direction of the dwelling-place of his beloved.


Fighting the Nafs is not an easy task, it does take time and tremendous effort, but it is achievable. Trying to control yourself when angry, being forgiving, caring for everyone, being generous, being humble, love for your enemies and everyone else, etc..... will take a lot of struggling to bring the Nafs under control, it is something which everyone must do and is vital very essential to reach the higher self, and all great achievements requires time and effort.

Just like the body needs to be wash from impurities everyday, so does the Soul, the Self and the Heart. If you are praying day out and day in without purifying yourself, without fighting your inner Ego and bringing your carnal desires under control, they will act as a wall against you and your prayer. You won't pray without performing wudu (Ablution) or else the prayer won't be valid, then why are you praying to God with a heart full of dirt, hate, hypocrisy, with an ego full of impurities, such as jealousy, envy, greed, will your prayer count then? Ask yourself this question, how can your prayer be accepted and answered, if you stand up before your Lord to pray but your Nafs(ego), is making you think about your personal life problems, your work, families, having anger and hatred in your hearts towards someone. Think about how you want to present yourself before, Allah Subhanahu wa-ta'ala , if you went to a King of course you would be on your best behavior and will look your best.

Before standing up for prayer our heart must be clean, Prophet Muhammed(peace be upon him) said, "Verily, all actions are but driven by intention and for everyone is what he intended." [Al-Bukhaari and Muslim], and intention comes from the heart. Our Nafs(ego) must be under control and our thoughts, feelings, heart must be for only Allah Subhanahu wa ta'ala only.


According to al-Ghazzali, the soul can be understood by its three closely related synonyms, of the nafs , or soul; qalb , or heart; ruh ( or spirit; and aql ), or intellect. The nafs, or soul, is the most general in definition. Al-Ghazali divides the nafs to refer to two different meanings. It refers to the immaterial entity, commonly refered to as the ego, or lower self, in which are the animal faculties which oppose the rational faculties. This is the nafs referred to in the famous prophetic hadith of the greater jihad (struggle) being that against the enemy in your own breast, or the nafs. The second and more crucial meaning is also of the immaterial entity, that of man's real nature and essence. This is the soul capable of being pulled up towards the heavenly world from which it has initially arisen and been created. Therefore the nafs refers to the general soul which has both the animal faculties that often pull oneself down, as well as the higher faculties that can ascend oneself towards the divine. One of the greatest obstacles is bringing one's carnal desires (nafs-ul-ammarah) under control. In this regard, the struggle with one's carnal soul has been regarded as a Jihad-e-Akbar (Great battle), in contrast to Jihad-e-Asghar (Smaller Battle, which is fought on the actual battlefield).


Rumi says: "your worst enemy is hiding within yourself, and that enemy is your nafs or false ego."

"The Mathnawi" of Maulana Jalaluddin Mohammad Balkhi Rumi (r.a), considered to be Rumi's master work, is one of the best known and most influential works of both Sufism and Persian literature. In the Mathnawi, Rumi refers to the Nafs sometimes as the " nafs-ammara (animal soul)" or the "bodily soul." This enemy, Rumi says, develops, the more it is fed, the stronger it becomes to fight with you; and the stronger it becomes, the more it dominates your better self. There comes a day when man is the slave of this enemy which is hidden within himself. The worst position is to have an enemy which one does not know. It is better to have a thousand known enemies before one than to have one within one and not to know it.

Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (ra)
Suppressing his Nafs & Encounters with Shaytaan

"The charms of this world, it's ornaments, and it's desires kept coming to me, in all their shapes and forms, but Allah (almighty and glorious is he) would always shield me from being influenced by their attraction. The devils would also come to me in various disturbing guises, and they would engage me in combat, but Allah would always strengthen me against them. My own lower self (nafs) would adopt a certain attitude towards me: at one time it would humbly beseech me to let it have what it wanted, then at another time it would engage in a fight with me, but Allah would always help me to keep it under control. I took my lower self sternly to task, and whenever a particular method of spiritual discipline proved effective for this purpose, at an early stage, I would embrace it, grasp it firmly with both my hands, and continue to apply it on a regular basis".

"I stayed for a long period of time in the ruin areas of the big cities, taking my lower self (nafs) to task by applying the method of spiritual discipline. Thus I spent one year eating food from the dumps, without drinking any water, and one year drinking water. Then I spent a whole year drinking water, but without eating any food from the dumps, and another year without eating, drinking or sleeping. I did fall asleep once, in the great porch of chosroes (Iwan Kisraa) on a bitterly cold night. I experienced a seminal emission in my sleep, so I got up and went to the bank of the river, where I performed a major ritual ablution. In the course of that night , I experienced forty seminal emissions, and I performed the major ritual ablution forty times on the bank of the river. Then I climbed back onto the porch, afraid of falling asleep yet again. I also stayed for two years in the ruins of al-karkh (an ancient suburb of Iraq), when my only nourishment was the papyrus plant (bardii). At the beginning of each year, a man would come to me with a jubba made of wool".

"I entered into a thousand different states of being (alf fann), in order to obtain relief from this world, and my condition could only be diagnosed as dumbness (takhaarus), a craziness (balam) and insanity (junun). I used to walk barefoot amid the thorns and other hazards. If anything scared me, I would venture straight into it. Never did my lower self (nafs) prevail upon me, in the effort to get what it wanted, nor did anything ever seduce me with it's worldly charm".

Shaikh Umar said: "I once heard our master, Hadhrat Shaikh Abd al-Qadir Al-jilani (ra) say: "Spiritual states (ahwaal) used to come upon me unexpectedly, in the early stage of my wandering, so I would adopt to them, take possession of them and disappear into them, away from my ordinary existence. I would run at high speed, though quite unaware that I was doing so, and then, when the unusual condition left me, I would find myself in a place far removed from the place that I had been t the outset. On one such occasion, the spiritual state (haal) came upon me while I was in the ruined area of Baghdad. I ran for the space of an hour, quite unaware that I was running. When I recovered my normal consciousness, I found myself in the region of Shashtar, where the distance between me and Baghdad was that of a twelve day journey. As I stood there reflecting on my situation, a woman came up to me and said: "Does this really strike you as something surprising, when you are none other than Hadhrat Shaikh Abd al-Qadir Al-jilani (ra)?".

It was Shaikh Uthman as-siraafini who said: "I once heard our master, Hadhrat Shaikh Abd al-Qadir Al-jilani (ra) say: "I used to sit in the ruined areas by night and by day, and I did not take a lodging in Baghdad. The devils used to come to me in ranks, in the guise of men bearing weapons of various kinds, and assuming the most alarming shapes and forms. They would engage me in combat, pelting me with fire. Yet even in the face of these terrifying assaults, I would find within my heart an inexpressible sense of reassurance. I would hear a voice saying from somewhere deep inside: "Stand up and attack them, O abd al-qadir, for we have already reinforced your strength, and we have come to your support with our invincible assistance.!" Sure enough, as soon as I launched a resolute attack against them, they would flee away to right and left, returning to wherever they had came from.

"Then a single devil would come to me from amongst them, all by himself, and would say to me: "Go away from here, or else I shall do this, and I shall do that". He would warn me of many dreadful consequences, so I would slap him with my hand, and he would flee away from me. I would then say: "There is no might, and no strength, except with Allah, the all high, the all glorious (laa hawla wa laa quwwata, illa billahi l-aliyyi l-azim)", and he would be consumed by fire, as I watched him burn.

"On one accasion, I was approached by a figure whose appearance was utterly repugnant, and who had a disgusting stench about him. "I am iblis," said he, "and I have come to you in order to act as your servant, for you have thwarted all my efforts, and you have thwarted all the efforts of my followers." I said to him: "go away, for I do not trust you." At that very moment, a hand came down from above him and struck him on the skull, with such force that he plunged right into the ground.

"Then he came to me a second time, holding in his hand a dart of fire, with which he attacked me. Just in the nick of time, a man wearing a veil rode up to me on a gray mare, and handed me a sword. Iblis immediately beat a quick retreat".

"When I saw him a third time, he was sitting at some distance from me, shedding tears and heaping dust on his head, as he said: "I have totally despaired of you, O Abd Al-Qadir!" I responded to this by telling him: "Be off with you, O accursed one, for I shall never cease to be on my guard against you!" He said: "This is far more agonizing then the grappling irons of the torment of Hell!"

"I was then made witness to the disclosure of my snares, traps and illusions, so I said: "What are these?"and I was told: "These are the snares of this world, which iblis sets to catch the likes of you." So I chased him off with angry words, and he turned away in flight.

"I devoted one whole year to addressing the problems posed by those snares and traps, until I found a solution to them all. Then I was made witness to the disclosure of many influences, affecting me from every direction, so I said: "What are these?" and I was told: "These are the influences exerted on you by your fellow creatures, and you are affected by them." I therefore devoted another year tackling the problems posed by those influences, until I had found solutions from them all, and achieved detachment from them.

"Next I was made witness to the disclosure of my own inner content (baatin), and I saw my heart was dependent on many attachments. "What are these?" I inquired, and I was told: "These are your self-will (iraada) and your personal preferences (ikhtiyaarat)." I therefore devoted another year to problems posed by those factors, until I had found solutions to them all, and my heart was safely delivered from them.

"Then I was made witness to yet another disclosure, this one concerning my lower self (nafs). I could see that it's sicknesses were still thriving, it's passionate desires were still alive, and it's devil was still rebellious, so I devoted another year to tackling that state of affairs. The sicknesses of my lower self were therefore cured, the passion died, the devil surrendered, and the whole affair became the business of Allah (exalted is he). I was left in a state of isolation, with all existence (wujuud) left behind, and I had not yet arrived at my goal".

"I was therefore attracted to the gate of absolute trust in the Lord (tawakkul), through which I might enter to reach my goal. As soon as I came to that gate, I found a huge crowd milling around it, so I moved on past it. Then I was attracted to the gate off thankfulness (shukr) through which I might enter to reach my goal. At this gate too, I encountered a huge crowd, so I moved on past it. I was then attracted to the gate of affluence (ghinaa), through which I might enter to reach my goal. Here again, I encountered a huge crowd, so I moved on past it. I was then attracted to the gate of nearness (qurb), through which I might enter, to reach my goal. As before, I encountered a huge crowd, so I moved on past it. Then I was attracted t the gate of direct vision (mushaahada), through which I might enter, to reach my goal. The gate was likewise surrounded by a huge crowd, so I moved on past it".

"I was next attracted to the gate of poverty (faqr), and lo and behold, it was quite empty! When I entered inside it, I rediscovered everything that I had left behind. The greatest treasure was laid open to me there, and I came across the mightiest splendor, wealth everlasting, and pure freedom. All relics of the past were obliterated, all previous attributes were annulled, and the second ecstasy (wajd) arrived"



The Commanding Self (nafs al-ammara)

The Blaming Self (nafs al-lawwama)

The Inspired Self (nafs al mulhimah)

The Satisfied Self (nafs al mutmainnah)

The Consenting Self (nafs al radiyah)

The Consent-Given Self (nafs al mardiyyah)

The Purified Self (nafs al safiyyah)


7 Levels of

Islamic Ideology, Nafs, Rooh, Soul, Spirit