Enslavement of the Nafs

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Allah has prescribed that through Islam, we should discipline our nafs, purify it, and instruct it to act according to the obedience of Allah. To Allah belongs all of creation and all commandments.

Our Nafs has the capacity to encourage good and evil. It is the inner self which Allah describes has three stages. They can be better understood with Freud’s psychoanalytical theory of personality in which he makes reference to symbolic concepts of the three qualities of consciousness.

The three stages of the Nafs include:

  1. Nafs al-‘Ammara Bis-soo’ (The soul that urges evil)
  2. Nafs al-Lawwaama (The self- reproaching soul)
  3. Nafs al-Mutma’inna (The tranquil soul)

The three qualities of consciousness are as follows:

  1. The id
  2. The ego
  3. The Superego

The id is the section of our personality that is the source of our bodily needs, wants, impulses and desires. It is the human’s instinctual drive. Similarly the Nafs al-‘Ammara Bis-soo’ is the self that calls towards that which is evil. It has no limits and knows no morality nor does it judge between what is right and wrong. Rather it is purely dependent on our own desires. We have certain desires and inclinations that differ between people, for example some people have this drive to shop excessively whereas others have a drive and an inclination to have sexual intercourse. Our struggles with this nafs is different but the responsibility to restrain these urges is upon us all. This is the lowest stage of our nafs as it cannot be controlled and according to Freud, id is savage and immoral. It only takes into account its desires and if a person doesn’t struggle against their desires then they have been enslaved and shackled to it.

Allah says in the Qur’aan:

And I do not acquit myself. Indeed, the soul is a persistent enjoiner of evil, except those upon which my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.

(Surah Yusuf 12: Verse 53)

It only seeks to satisfy its desires with the enjoyments of this world.

The second stage of the self is the Nafs al-Lawwaama, which is commonly known as the self-reproaching soul. It is the combination of both sections of our personality, the ego and superego. In this stage the Nafs is constantly at war with itself because the ego has to reconcile and make a balance between the reality of one’s desires and the satisfaction of both the id and super ego. In essence the ego takes reality into account when dealing with situations whilst the superego adds morality to the action. In most cases they conflict each other and even though they may reach an agreement on the same decision, the reasons of the superego is purely based on moral values whilst the ego’s reasons are based on what others will think or the consequences of the action. “Thus the ego, driven by the id, confined by the super-ego, repulsed by reality, struggles … [in] bringing about harmony among the forces” (Navaneedhan, 2011).

Allah makes an oath by this nafs in Surah Al-Qiyaamah verse 2:

I swear by the Day of Resurrection,

And I swear by the reproaching soul [to the certainty of resurrection

(Surah Al-Qiyaamah 75: Verses l-2)

A true believer is one who upbraids and questions not only the sins he commits but also the good he does. The believer is one who is conscious of their actions and their intentions for doing everything. They constantly reflect on the deeds they intend to perform for example- ‘why did you smile at your brother, was it to attain the pleasure of Allah or for some worldly gain. Why did you not aim to do more good deeds today, why did you say this statement or lower your gaze, was it to please Allah or to look pious.” This person is constantly reproaching himself. It is understandable if he reproaches himself and feels regret for sins he has committed but why should he criticise himself on the good he does? Because he should strive to reach the highest forms of good deeds and to perform them with complete ikhlaas (sincerity) towards Allah. Which is a struggle, therefore the true believer reproaches himself and is conscious of his intentions for everything he does. He feels regret for the sins he falls into and purifies his intentions constantly for the good he does.

The final stage of the soul is theNafs al-Mutma’inna which is the highest and the most purest stage. It is the stage in which our soul is tranquil and our desires are at ease with the laws and commands of Allah most high. It knows what is right and finds no difficulty in performing righteous deeds, nor does it desire excessiveness in this worldy life. Rather it is pleased with what Allah has provided him with and focusses more on bettering his hereafter. This is the nafs that we should all strive to achieve because as Allah mentions in the Qur’aan, Jannah is prepared for this individual. Allah says:

To the righteous it will be said], “O reassured soul, Return to your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing [to Him],And enter among My [righteous] servants And enter My Paradise.

(Surah Al-Fajr 89: Verses 27-30)

Your place with your Nafs


Ibn Al-Qayyim has mentioned: The nafs is a single entity, although it’s state may change from Nafs al`Ammara Bissua, to Nafs al`Lawwama, to Nafs al`Mutma`inna which is the final aim of perfection.

Also Imam al-Aajurri (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

”How bad is the situation of the one who neglects to discipline his nafs and train it on the basis of knowledge; and how good is the situation of the one who pays attention to disciplining his nafs and knows what Allah has enjoined upon him and what He has forbidden to him, and is patient in going against the whims and desires of his nafs, and seeks the help of Allah the Almighty in doing so.” (Adab an-Nufoos, p.17 )

How do you know where you are with your Naf? It is said that your place with your nafs is according to the majority of your actions. It is part of human nature that we are inclined and desire certain things but we need to suppress these desires and not obey them. Our nafs will call to worldly pleasures and possessions but we have to make sure that it confirms to the laws of Allah and take control of this stallion otherwise it will be free till it is properly controlled. If you don’t control your nafs, it will end up controlling you. As we saw in the above verse, Jannah is reserved for those who control their desires (hawa) and the one who restrains from the call of their nafs.

Therefore we need to regulate and monitor it, so that you only give in to that which is permissible and is according to the laws and commands of Allah and so that you stop it from transgressing the limits Allah has set us. For example, we have a desire to drink in order to quench our thirst but there are limits. Allah has told us that there are certain drinks that are forbidden for the Muslim. Even if your nafs is inclined to drinking wine, it is the taqwa (fear, god consciousness) of Allah that causes you to suppress these desires and only drink from that which Allah has made halaal (permissible). But the problem arises when we let our desires take control and transgress the limits of Allah by looking, touching, drinking, eating, wearing what ever our nafs is inclined to. Our nafs then will dictate your every action. When you let your nafs take control then you have enslaved yourself to your desires and have taken it as your master. Allah says in the Quraan:

Have you seen he who has taken as his god his [own] desire, and Allah has sent him astray due to knowledge and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put over his vision a veil? So who will guide him after Allah? Then will you not be reminded? (Surah Al-Jaathiyah 45:23)

This individual abides by his lust, and whatever his lust portrays as good he implements it, and whatever his lust portrays as evil, he abandons it! Now your desires are dictating what you do, spend on, say, look at, love and hate- everything you do is based on fulfilling your desires. You have become the slave of your desires and have made it your lord. There is no doubt that the nafs is stubborn in that if you lower your gaze from that which is prohibited it will not let you abstain from looking and will urge you to look again. Despite the struggle, if your nafs is going to be stubborn in urging you to be inclined to the haram then you have to be stubborn in commanding your nafs to obey the commands of Allah. In order to fulfil the role of being a Muslim one has to submit to Allah alone and strive to not transgress the boundaries He has set despite the calls of his desires. In many cases it is our understanding of freedom that determines our enslavement-whether we are enslaved to our desires or our Creator.

The concept of Freedom

Without going into too much detail, the West encourage this mentality that religion restricts you and that material gains and possessions free you. By analysing this closely, it shows that there can never be absolute freedom, and that every type of freedom has limitations.

This mentality that “you can do whatever you want, whenever you want to” does give you freedom from the laws and guidance of Allah but now you have shackled yourself to your desires. Freedom has become something only found when enslaving yourself to your inclinations and desires but in reality, true freedom is when you enslave yourself to your Master who knows what is best for you in all aspects of life.

We have to know that desires aren’t blameworthy in it of itself unless you full it in ways that Allah has made forbidden.

Discipline and train your Nafs!

  1. Hold it to account

Muhaasabah is a person who holds himself to account and this is the best means to disciplining your nafs. Hold yourself to account before Allah holds it to account on a day when feet will stumble, hearts will tremble and skin colours will change out of the fear of Allah! Judge yourself before you are judged and weigh your deeds before they are weighed on the day of judgement.

If you hold your actions and intentions to account in this life than bi ithnillah it will be made easier for you on yawmul-qiyaamah. We need to be conscious of our intentions and our shortcomings and we need to take the appropriate measures to better ourselves. This implies that you are taking steps to prepare for the day of judgement, because it is not enough to just recognise the problem and not try to rectify it. As they say “watch your thoughts before they become words; watch your words before they become actions; watch your actions before they become habits; watch your habits before they become part of your character; and watch your character before it becomes your destiny.”

The one who has truly fallen short is the one who just follows his desires on false hopes that Allah will forgive him. Yes Allah’s mercy exceeds His wrath and your sins are never too big for the Mercy and Forgiveness of Allah but you have to take steps to rectifying your sins and not intend to sin the next day after ‘repenting.’ To change requires true hope in Allah and this is dictated by your steps to repent sincerely to Him, restrain from haram and strive to do good deeds despite the struggle of the nafs.

2. Recognise that the Struggle is long term

There is no easy fix to dealing with your nafs and for some people it may take years before they leave a bad habit. But it does become easier over time, as your urges decrease. It is inevitable to not make mistakes in life, but to give up on the struggle to change, is immediately giving up on any hope in Allah and entering Jannah and shackling yourself to your nafs. It is a sign of true belief, that you continue to struggle against your desires even after falling short.

Consistency helps in this struggle. Have a program that you will be consistent in fulfilling. It is said that “neglecting yourself (nafs) for even an hour, destroys exercise that was done for a year” SubhaanAllah! And when you really think about it, this is so true. For example if you skip your workouts for 2 weeks, the “feel good” chemicals begin to drop by day two causing you to crave fatty foods, your muscles start to stiffen by day three, then by week two your body begins to lose muscle and gain fat at the same time. Your body just goes into this “reverse mode” therefore ruining a year’s work of building muscle and getting fit. Similarly if you neglect training the nafs and you lose consistency then all that effort will just go down the drain.

Be consistent in nourishing the soul and what better way to do this then by reading the Qur’aan. By pondering its meaning and implementing its teachings you will see the effect of it on your Nafs. It is better for you to read a few verses a day rather than a chapter every three months. The best deed in the sight of Allah is the one that is consistent.

3. Bad environments

This might be an obvious one but stay away from environments and people who call to the urges of your Nafs! Sinning is contagious and if the people around you are sinning then you will sin as well.

4. Self-control is an art and like any art it takes some great practice to master it

LEARN ABOUT THE DEEN!! Gaining beneficial knowledge is a big factor in controlling your nafs. As Ibn al-Qayyim stated Jihad al Nafs (Jihad against one’s self/desires) was of four kinds:

1: Striving to learn the teachings of Islam (without which one cannot attain success and happiness in this world or in the Hereafter

2. Striving to make oneself act upon what they have learned, knowing without acting brings no benefit.

3 . Striving to call others to Islam and teaching those who do not know about it. (Otherwise one will be one of those who conceal that which Allah has revealed of guidance and teaching, and it will not benefit him or save him from the punishment of Allah)

4. Striving to bear patiently the difficulties involved in calling people to Allah and the insults of people; bearing all that for the sake of Allah.

May Allah have mercy on us, for our efforts in disciplining ourselves and our families. Pay heed to Allah and make yourselves adhere to that. May Allah help us control our whims and desires. May Allah protect us from all the evils we fall into knowingly and unknowingly and may Allah protect us from the shackles of our desires and grant us the ability to praise Him and thank Him and submit to Him alone.



  1. Freud, “The Ego and the Id, XIX,” 2nd Edition, Hogarth Press, Richmond, 1923.

Navaneedhan, C. G. (2011). Balance of Internal Drive, Ego and Super Ego through Sel-Hypnosis. Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, 4.




One thought on “Enslavement of the Nafs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s