In this article, we will learn how the uncouth and degenerate self can be changed so it possesses self-realisation and inward knowledge of Allah. The purpose of travelling on this journey is to become perfect ‘Kamil’ by getting rid of blameworthy habits and having praiseworthy ones. On the way, the traveller becomes pure by removing evil.
The persistent enjoyment of luxuries, worldly pleasures and gratifying appetites make the heart rusty. Since the heart controls the body, a rusty heart props up evil as it is overpowered by passion. The heart that was once the ruler has now become the conquered ‘a prisoner’. The longer the self is in this miserable position, it fails to focus on the meaning and purpose of life and continues to sin until ‘the heart becomes rusty like iron becomes rusty’. Someone asked the Prophet (peace be upon him), ‘What will remove rust from the heart?’ He (peace be upon him) replied, ‘The remembrance of death and the recitation of the Quran’ (Abu Dawud).
Stage One: The Inciting Self (al-Nafs al-Ammarah)
The only way to come out of this wretched and miserable state of the inciting self is through repentance. The Messenger (peace be upon him) said, ‘The one who repents from his sin is like the one who is sinless; repentance removes whatever has preceded it.’ The major veil of sins between the servant and the Lord is removed, he now perceives that which is from Allah, as he becomes fearful of punishment and hopeful of mercy. Progressing from the inciting to the self-critical self is a continuous effort.
While Satan still has influence over it, spiritual exercises like fasting, the night vigil, restricting speech, limiting interaction with people, remembrance of Allah, deep reflection, eating halal and avoiding forbidden things ensures that the inciting self loses its grip and is transformed into the reproachful self. To abandon the fleeting pleasures of the flesh and riddance of blameable habits like pride, hatred and jealousy, instead seek humility and the love of others.
Stage Two: The Critical Self (al-Nafs al-Lawwamah)
It is characterised by being reproachful, and self-critical of desire for glory and fame. There are still remnants of the inciting self in it. However, it acknowledges truth as truth and falsehood as falsehood. There is still a sense of seeking pleasure, it loves to be admired for its righteousness, but getting rid of this would lead to sincerity. At this stage, the traveller perceives himself as having created his own actions and therefore lacks sincerity in them because he does not see that Allah, Most Exalted is the Creator of all acts. He is therefore likely to complain, be weary and miserable due to conceit, arrogance, rancour and bad character. He may also be engrossed in unlawful earnings and other such things that inevitably lead to difficulty and anxiety. At this point, there is acceptance of Allah but the traveller is unable to rid himself of all blemishes and isn’t fully pious yet.
Learning to be Self-critical
The traveller pays attention to Allah alone as the reality of faith has dawned on him. His spiritual intelligence is growing rapidly, and everything other than Allah has become trivial in his eyes. The characteristics of this rank are complete submission to Allah, knowledge, forgiving people, inviting them to do good, being willing to accept their excuses and accepting the fact that Allah indeed controls everything.
These positive qualities are expressed in behaviour like weeping, agitation and the absence of fear and hope and enjoyment of singing and being moved to ecstasy, loving the remembrance of Allah, having joy in the presence of others, preaching words of wisdom, and knowledge and creative vision. This is the inspired self; it is the territory of combat and warfare. At this rank, the angels inspire and Satan whispers. The inspired self is not fully developed and is trapped between the angels and Satan. It is still in danger of plummeting to ‘the lowest of the low’ back to the rank of the inciting self, with all its evil traits, and that is why the path to the rank of perfection is so precarious. Although some of the veils are stripped away, others still remain.
The traveller does not deviate from the Shariah and takes pleasure in following the Prophet’s Sunnah. The serene self has mastery over itself, controls the senses and has the certainty of faith. The traveller’s spiritual intelligence is now a source of delight for others who listen when he speaks and are not bored. His tongue can express the words that Allah casts in his mind and he speaks with the authority of a true follower of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
He desires money only to assist others in serving Allah and helping others, this is a noble intention; he does not become distracted by earning money nor does he keep it secretly. The serene self does not see itself as better than others but only indebted to them, and guides others gently, respecting them and teaching them to love the path. It experiences serenity from the Kind, follows the Book, the Sunnah and the Shariah, and contemplates the beauty and the majesty of the Real.