THE STATES OF THE SELF

A person with a purified soul represents a masterpiece of the Supreme Artist –the Almighty- as he has become a platform of the manifestations of Divine disclosures.

According to a classification well-known to Sufi circles, in the process of spiritual training and perfection, the human nafs may assume seven types of states and stations. Now let us go into a more detailed examination of these states.

a. The Evil-Commanding Self (an-nafsu’l-ammara)

This is the lowest and most disobedient state of the human self. It removes a servant from his Lord and incites him to engage in evil activities. The word “ammara” means overly commanding. A nafs stuck in this state insatiably follows carnal and sensual desires. This is a self under the yoke of lust and a friend of Satan; it has a strong penchant for following its selfish desires and committing sin.

The mark of a person in the state of the evil-commanding self is that he inconsiderately follows the selfish and carnal desires of his ego, without showing the least resistance. Similarly, he unconditionally follows the devilish whisperings that come from within. The evil-commanding self might even be more dangerous for a person than Satan. Pointing to this reality, Ibn Ataullah al-Iskandari says, “The most you should beware of is your ego. Not only does it work against you, it also remains with you until death. Satan at least leaves man during Ramadan, the month in which all the devils are handcuffed. But by the fact that we see murder and theft even during the month of Ramadan, we understand that it is not Satan who leads man to commit these crimes, but the evil-commanding self instead.”

In the Quran, the Almighty declares,

اِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ

“Surely the nafs of man is a persistent enjoiner of evil.” (Yusuf, 53) This is the self in its evil-commanding state.

In Sufi terminology, the evil-commanding self is symbolized by the image of a poisonous serpent. Through this symbolization, Sufi calls careful attention to the venom of this self. Poet Nevizade Atai uses this image in his poetry when he says, “Each immoral character trait resembles a serpent; and the serpent king is the evil-commanding self.” For this reason, every believer of right mind must be engaged in a continuous combat against the evil-commanding self. Human reason and personal will are the two essential weapons to help the believer in this combat. Many a person, who had once attained to spiritual blessings of enormous caliber, has ended up in dismay by becoming ensnared by ignorance for a mere split-second.

In this respect, the Quranic narrative of the encounter between Zulaykha, the wife of the Potiphar, and Yusuf -upon him blessings and peace- abounds in vital clues in understanding the nature of the evil-commanding self. Yusuf -upon him blessings and peace- grows up to become an exceptionally handsome man; and Zulaykha becomes passionately attracted to him, as the Quran reads, “…She, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him from his self: she closed the doors and said, ‘Come, take me!’ He said, ‘The Almighty be my refuge. Surely my lord has given me a goodly lodging. Surely the evildoers do not prosper. For she desired him; and he would have taken her, but that he saw the proof of his Lord. So was it, that We might turn away from him evil and abomination; he was one of Our devoted servants.” (Yusuf, 22-24)

Thanks to the help of Allah, glory unto Him, however, Yusuf was saved from falling weak to the seductions of Zulaykha, who represents none other than the evil-commanding nafs.  Being the weaker servants of the Almighty we are, we need to turn our faces towards Him in supplication and fear, and ask for His help for immunity against the evil seductions of our own egos.

Here, the Almighty offers us words of wisdom. He commands us not to even approach misdeeds, lest their destructive natures hold sway over us. In this sense, it is forbidden for a male to stare at a female who jurisprudentially is a stranger to him, as a seemingly innocent look might actually open the door to adultery.  Indeed the story between Zulaykha and Yusuf –upon him peace- comprises a multilayer of meanings, for us to reflect on the various aspects of worldly trials.

Yusuf –upon him peace- was an angel-like young man, with a majestic beauty never before seen. On seeing him for the first time, the local women cut their fingers and were too captivated to feel either the pain or the blood trickling down their palms. Had Yusuf -upon him blessings and peace- been elderly man devoid of any desire for the opposite gender, the test he was made to undergo would not have been all that difficult.

Zulaykha was had three things the ego is infatuated with the most: fortune, fame and lust. She was young and beautiful, flaunting a charm that could lure many to fall at her feet. To heighten the matter, Zulaykha had the door firmly locked, before she made her move. Amid such an enticing moment of concealed privacy that eases the path of committing the sin, Zulaykha called out to Yusuf –upon him peace-, to ‘Come and take me.’ Facing a sight that could melt the resistance of the strongest of wills, the Almighty tells of the difficulty of the situation even for a man like Yusuf –upon him peace-: “Had he not seen Our evidence, he too would have inclined to her…”

There and then, Yusuf –upon him peace- pleaded, ‘Let the Lord be my refuge’, and by so doing, he showed that the only and surest way to get out of that extremely difficult position would the haven provided by the Almighty. This equally underlines the fact that a solid practice of the Divine fear is necessary to attract Divine help. In other words, it is only through strengthening the feelings of Divine fear that a person could resist the strong temptations of the evil-commanding self. In fact, rejecting the seductions of a young, beautiful and wealthy woman, in private, is one of the most difficult things to do for a healthy young man.

Prophet Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace- says that the Almighty will shade seven types of people on Judgment Day; on a day when there will be no other shade. Mentioned in this list is “A man who refuses the invitation of a charming, noble woman for illicit intercourse and says, ‘I fear the Almighty’.” (Bukhari, Adhan, 36)

The soft belly of human psychology is usually exposed when one receives kind compliments, upon which he loses his self-control. But this did not happen to Yusuf -upon him blessings and peace-, as Divine protection sheltered him from falling into this trap; after all, he was a God-fearing servant, with a perfected nafs (an-nafsu’l-kamila). Divine protection strengthened Yusuf against the deceptions that otherwise may have come from the way of the evil-commanding self.

There is a further lesson to be taken from the encounter. Zulaykha threatens Yusuf –upon him peace- with throwing him into prison, should he desist from complying with her sexual desires. With a purified self that constantly inspired in him the fear of the Divine, however, Yusuf –upon him peace- responded to her call by stating “My Lord, prison is dearer to me than that they call me to.” (Yusuf, 33) Yusuf further sought refuge in the Almighty against her feminine tricks and pleaded, “Yet, if You do not turn me from their guile, then I might yearn towards them, and so become one of the ignorant.” (Yusuf, 33) His preference of prison over complying with her desires gives an idea of the intensity of Yusuf’s –upon him peace- fear of the Almighty.

From this Quranic story, we may conclude that the only medium of inner resistance man has against all kinds of temporal temptations is the heart. It is only the heart that can decisively reject the deceptive charms of the world and seek refuge in the Almighty.

The Holy Quran states that the strongest weapon to protect a believer against the disaster wrought by the evil-commanding self is the embodiment of Divine fear. In this respect, another Quranic instance that sheds light on the reality of the nafs is to be found in the story of Musa -upon him blessings and peace-.

Musa -upon him blessings and peace- received the mission of prophethood on the mount of Sinai, where he was told to, “‘Cast down your staff’. And when he saw it quivering like a serpent, he turned about retreating, and turned not back. [The Almighty said], ‘Musa, come forward, and fear not; for surely you are in security.” (al-Qasas, 31) The Almighty showed a glimpse of his infinite power to Musa -upon him blessings and peace- through the staff. In turn, Musa -upon him peace- became acquainted with the power of the Almighty through what he had seen in the staff.

The Almighty appointed Musa -upon him blessings and peace- as a prophet and made him draw nearer, where He spoke to him. The Almighty entrusted Musa -upon him blessings and peace- with certain responsibilities and said to him, “And what is that in your right hand, Musa?” (Taha, 17) Musa -upon him peace- replied, “It is my staff; I lean upon it, and with it I beat down leaves to feed my sheep; other uses also I find in it.” (Taha, 18) Then the Almighty said to him, “Cast it down, Musa!” (Taha, 19) Musa –upon him peace- complied with the Divine order and “So he cast it down, and behold it was a serpent sliding.” (Taha, 20) When he saw this miraculous event, the frightened Musa -upon him peace- started running away, but the Almighty said to him, “Take it, and fear not; We will restore it to its first state.” (Taha, 21)

Some exegetes of the Quran present allegorical and spiritual interpretations of this encounter, drawing attention to the inner meanings implied by the event. Accordingly, when Musa -upon him blessings and peace- cited some functions of the staff and mentioned that he leaned on it, the Almighty ordered him to throw it away, because in reality the only authority to lean on is the Almighty.

The ego and things related to it transpired before the eyes of Musa –upon him peace- in the form of a terrifying serpent.  There, Musa -upon him peace- saw the real nature of the nafs, from which he fled in fear. In an allegoric language, Musa -upon him peace- then received the following assurance:  “This serpent, Musa, stands for the attachment to temporal things; though the Almighty is the real source of attachment. Once the attachment to the world becomes materialized and the person sees it for what it is, he flees with fright. Now that you have been given the quality of tawhid, of the oneness of your Lord, how could it be that you depend on the staff to lean on and to see to your other needs? This is befitting of a true grasp of tawhid. The first step of tawhid is to leave all other means aside and embrace an unconditional trust in the Almighty. It is to Him you must submit yourself.  Better you leave all other desires and devote yourself completely to the Almighty.”

The Sufis also say, “Those who have heard the Almighty’s call and have seen the light of His beauty, abandon dependence on all avenues of support other than Him. On the grace of the Almighty do they lean on, whereby they salvage themselves the deceptive desires of the self.”

It is the evil-commanding self that makes man feel indifferent towards real happiness and everlasting joy, by placing artificial and fleeting pleasures before his eyes. The evil-commanding self causes man to undervalue his original merit, making him plummet down from the highest degrees of Paradise to the lowest ditches of Hell.

A person dominated by the evil-commanding self is stubborn and conceited, even when meeting the means that might take him to his own eternal happiness and salvation. In a way, he finds pleasure in looking down upon people around him, lying, backbiting, and keeping himself busy with cheap and useless things. He cannot safeguard himself from impurity. The number of people dominated by this malicious nafs is quite large. They act heedlessly and ignorantly, preferring the fleeting tastes of the world to the everlasting joys of Paradise and to the indescribable delight of witnessing the Lord’s Beauty in the world to come.

When dominated by the evil-commanding self, the rational soul becomes enslaved to the animal soul; and humanly qualities disappear from the scene to leave the stage to animal characteristics. Regarding this, the Holy Quran says, “We have created for Hell many jinn and men; they have hearts, but understand not with them; they have eyes, but perceive not with them; they have ears, but they hear not with them. They are like cattle; nay, rather they are further astray. Those – they are the heedless!” (al-Araf, 179)

People under the grip of the evil-commanding self also delude themselves concerning the Almighty. They continue committing all sorts of sins, but still naively hope that the Lord will show mercy and forgive them regardless. In a way, they see themselves safe from the Almighty’s wrath when they say, with much sarcasm, “We will not end up with unbelief, unless we regard an unlawful thing as lawful. So there is no need for us to rush to repent; we will do that one day, anyway.” Addressing this deluded feeling of safety, the Quran declares, “O men, fear your Lord, and dread a day when no father shall give satisfaction for his child, and no child shall give satisfaction for his father whatever. Surely the Almighty’s promise is true; so let not the present life delude you, and let not the Deluder delude you concerning The Almighty.” (Luqman, 33)

These kinds of misleading thoughts come from the insidious whisperings of the lower self and Satan, so that man may easily commit sins and use this line of logic to standardize his immoralities. Furthermore, those who are drawn within the darkness of the evil-commanding self do not feel any energy to perform charitable acts, even though they might benefit from these acts immeasurably in the world to come. And when it comes to keeping themselves away from harmful deeds, they take no action at all. If they perform a tiny piece of good deed, they regard this as a huge accomplishment, as something to be proud of. Even though they might occasionally feel repentant over their wrongdoings, the strength of their repentance is too weak to decisively change their general condition.

A believer with an evil-commanding self is similar to a sick person who needs treatment. The most basic spiritual measure he is expected to take is to call his self to account continually, so that he might promote his position from the evil-commanding self towards the self-blaming nafs (an-nafsu’-lawwama). The believer should be mindful of the fact that his All-Powerful Lord knows everything and think of the interrogation he will go through in the grave and on Judgment Day, and of the suffering and agony in Hell. He should accordingly repent and take resolute action. But this repentance must be serious and sincere. His whole existence, his tongue and heart, ought to participate in this action. Otherwise, repenting merely with the tongue will never provide the desired objective; it is a hypocrites’ repentance, which itself is need of further repentance. The remorse of a person, who outwardly repents while continuing to commit sins, is dubious. This is disrespect to the Ultimate Authority to Whom all acts of repentance are directed. Real repentance is to feel a deep remorse about wrongdoings and to earnestly ask the Almighty’s forgiveness.

On the other hand, in order for a servant to save himself from the control of the evil-commanding self, he needs to observe the rules of the Shariah and understand the real nature of the declaration of the oneness of the Almighty’s (kalimatu’tl-tawhid i.e. la ilaha illa Allah). When uttering “la ilaha”, the servant is expected to erase everything other than the Almighty from his heart. Carnal passions, especially, are to be removed from the heart, since they distance the servant from his Lord. Once these things are eliminated from the heart, the servant is ready to establish the reality of “illa Allah” therein. This way, the servant realizes his innate incapability and nothingness, and thus makes a sincere effort to improve his religious degree from blind imitation to genuine comprehension. His faith thereby grows deeper and stronger in the heart and leads him servant to further good deeds and higher spiritual ranks.

b. The Self-Blaming Nafs (an-nafsu’l-lawwama)

Those who reproachfully call their evil-commanding self to account and strive to save themselves from its negative and evil characteristics, spiritually proceed forward to the self-blaming nafs. Such people do not deceive themselves with an unfounded reliance on the Almighty’s unlimited mercy, which is what the evil-commanding self whispers to keep them away from a real commitment to make solid changes in their conditions. These people blame their self regarding their wrongdoings and asking the Almighty’s forgiveness, they repent. We might mention the following two types of people who fall under this category. The first type is the knowledgeable people who do not act in full accordance with their knowledge and fail to put their theoretical knowledge to proper practice. But they are nonetheless aware of their shortcomings and feel sincere remorse. The second type are those who shed tears and ask the Almighty’s forgiveness in religious gatherings; but when they leave these meetings, they go back to committing the same sins as before.

The Arabic word “lawm” means “to blame” or “to reproach”. Accordingly the expression an-nafsu’l-lawwama refers to the nafs which blames and reproaches itself over its wrongdoings and shortcomings. This type of self is aware of the fact that it does not diligently follow Divine instructions, for which he blames himself remorsefully. A person with the self-blaming nafs has effectively repented and protected himself from some of the negativities peculiar to the evil-commanding self. This means that his heedlessness and desire for committing sins are less in comparison with the evil-commanding self. But still, since his level of spiritual maturity is not yet perfected, he remains vulnerable to the lure of sins.

In the state of the self-blaming nafs, the rational soul is not enslaved unconditionally to the animal soul. Each time he commits a sin, he is overcome by remorse. Laying the blame on himself, he asks the Almighty’s forgiveness. But he cannot keep a secure and stable position in his repentance, as he has not yet overcome his lower self. Even though his conscience disapproves of misdeeds, he cannot completely protect himself from committing them and as is open to the negative external influences like peer pressure.

Generally stated, a person who possesses a self-blaming nafs is happy with his good deeds and sad with his bad deeds. He strives to protect himself from sensual desires and puts up a resistance. He is more strongly inclined to repentance. His heart has been enlightened by a little ray of spiritual light and his mind has been awakened, to a certain degree, against heedlessness. He has a more increased sense of observing Divine commands and offering righteous deeds, which are mostly for the sake of the Almighty. But since he is yet to receive the peace and tranquility supplied through Divine inspirations, he also carries a desire to make his deeds visible to others. This means that the evil-commanding self is somewhat still in action; though the servant does eventually blame himself over this weakness, too.

The Holy Quran cites this level of the human soul by vowing in its name:

وَ لاَ اُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ

“I swear by the self-blaming nafs.” (al-Qiyamah, 2) A delicate point needs emphasis, here. Self-blaming is not simply idle speech or lip service; for then, the desired result does not come true. There is a fine line between the “evil-commanding” and “self-blaming” nafs. If one feels proud of himself on the basis of the fact that he has practiced a little of self-blaming, this means that he is still under the control of the evil-commanding self. The Holy Quran refers to this occurrence in the following verse:

وَلَقَدْخَلَقْنَااْلاِنْسَانَوَنَعْلَمُمَاتُوَسْوِسُبِهِنَفْسُهُ

وَ نَحْنُ اَقْرَبُ اِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ

“We indeed created man; and We know what his nafs whispers within him, and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.” (Kaf, 16) The servant should therefore be alert against the secret whisperings and deceptions that come from the evil-commanding self, and take protective measures against the destructive feeling of security.

Here, another subtlety with regard to self-blaming needs to be underlined. Some lay the blame on themselves only with the intention to attract the attention of others, who may then praise him for his humbleness. Doubtless, this is typical hypocrisy. It is only through spiritual training that a servant can stand firm on repentance and keep himself away from wrongdoings. A person whose nafs is of a self-blaming nature may protect himself from misconducts, only under a spiritual guidance and environment. Although under normal conditions he would not go back to making his previous mistakes, some immoralities like hatred, jealousy and self-conceit still lie dormant in the heart; and this keeps the risk ever alive.

Under this spiritual guidance, a servant proceeds forth from the self-blaming nafs to the inspired self (an-nafsu’l-mulhama), through rabitah, an important method in spiritual training. Here, one always remembers his promise to his master to stay away from unlawful things and to observe religious commands. This promise enables him to imagine the spiritual presence of his master at all times, which acts as a medium for him to keep his act together. Constantly calling his self to account, he must remain fixed on his resolution to leave his immoral characteristics and act in repentance. He should then strive to replace these negative character traits with positive ones; for instance, he should replace self-conceit and jealousy with humbleness and non-envious friendship. He must not seek to single out the mistakes he sees in his friends and instead keep himself occupied with his own faults. He should remember that a believer is a mirror to his fellow-believer; thus should he look at him through an evil eye, he will of course see nothing but evil. But looking at him with a good eye, he will see only good qualities.

Persistence in remembering the Lord and keeping away from sins are also essential in this station, in order to enlighten the heart with the light of Divine love.

c. The Inspired Self (an-nafsu’l-mulhama)

By advancing through the evil-commanding self and the self-blaming nafs one reaches the inspired self, primarily through repentance, asking the Almighty’s forgiveness, staying away from sins and implementing the practices necessitated by spiritual guidance. At the level of the inspired self, the servant acquires the capacity of making correct distinctions between good and evil, which, of course, transpires thanks to the grace of the Lord. The servant also acquires a stronger resistance against the sensual desires of his self. He shuns everything that removes his heart from the Almighty. He cares little about how he is seen in the eyes of people; his sole concern is how he fares in the presence of the Almighty. The realities of faith are immovably reinforced in his heart. This particular state of the nafs derives its very name from the Quran: “By the nafs and He Who shaped it and inspired it to wickedness and righteousness!” (as-Shams, 7-8)

An inspired self is receptive to Divine inspirations. One who is graced with this spiritual station begins to experience and share the inklings of the Divine grace and insights shone upon his heart. This is made possible by none other than a sincere and consistent observation of the Divine commands. An inspired self turns his attention to love and the spiritual world, which imparts unto him the quality required to receive Divine inspirations. Still, he needs to make sure that these inspirations are coming from the Lord and not from the devil. And to make this distinction, he needs the confirmation of a spiritual guide because even though the ego is all but left powerless in this state, it still retains a small yet dangerous power to overthrow the inspired self with its tricks and insinuations. For this reason, the inspired self is not the ultimate spiritual station and the inner qualities attained to thus far are still to be perfected.

In the state of the inspired self, even though they almost never transpire, immoral character traits still lie in ambush. An inspired self is still unable to enter the realm of realities insofar as he has not yet unchained his mind from the outward and habitual cause-effect relations of the sensory world. For this reason, he is not entirely free of doubts, melancholies, inner contractions, illusions and ambitions. The peace and joy of submitting oneself to the Lord has not yet come to be for him. His heart remains distressed by concerns of livelihood and is plagued by ambitions. Though he has today’s bread at hand, he is still worried about what he will eat tomorrow. His outward appreciation of the Divine attribute of “Provider” (Razzaq) is in conflict with his inner concerns. Such conflicts indicate that the quality and maturity of his contentment with the Almighty’s dispensations, his submission to and trust in Divine regulations have not reached perfection. He is therefore in further need of inner adjustments to spiritually rectify his conflicts.

An inspired self is obtained by through a certain level of success in training the nafs, mainly through abandoning things the nafs finds attractive and performing things it finds unappealing. However defeated the animal soul may be in this station, the rational soul has not yet completely actualized its moral characteristics. This actualization does not come merely by way of leaving things that are desirable to the self and performing things that are unattractive to it. In other words this actualization is not dependent only upon abstinence and austerity. In addition to all these, it requires the practice of Divine remembrance (dhikrullah). But here, there is another subtlety to be discerned. So long as the heart is preoccupied with worldly concerns and ambitions, it cannot reach the real delight of Divine remembrance and enjoy the ultimate spiritual tranquility. Hence, to rid the heart of these residues and realize Divine remembrance therein in the most proper sense of the term, one needs the spiritual guidance of a qualified master.

When a servant begins to experience a profound, ecstatic pleasure during his remembrance of the Almighty, he is truly on the path of reaching its real delight. Divine inspirations then find a way into his heart, making one acquainted with the secrets of all beings, leaving him in a state of inexpressible amazement and satisfaction. This is when he starts comprehending the real meaning of the Quranic verse,

اُدْعُاِلٰىسَبِيلِرَبِّكَبِالْحِكْمَةِوَ الْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ

“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good admonition.” (an-Nahl, 125) By duly taking lessons from this Quranic verse, every word he utters assumes a character of wisdom; for now he has become a distinguished servant receptive to Divine inspirations. In this spiritual state, the animal soul starts yielding itself to the rational soul, whereby the person is saved from being corrupted by lowly and sensual inclinations. The praiseworthy human characteristics of tolerance, patience and endurance become more dominant; and modesty, contentment and generosity start prevailing over the overall personality.

Be that as it may, the inspired self nonetheless carries something potentially dangerous. Falsely assuming to have reached perfection and to have completed the process of spiritual purification, the servant in this state can thus regress to heedlessness and self-conceit. For this reason, the servant should continue to be mindful of the fact that he is always under Divine surveillance and regulate his mindset accordingly. He should at the same time meditate on death, a common practice in Sufism aimed toward imparting a true understanding of the temporal nature of everything in this world. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- says, “Frequently remind yourselves of death; for keeping death in mind purifies man of sins and makes him feel indifferent towards the world. If you remember death while you are wealthy, it will remove the disastrous aspects of your wealth. If you remember death while you are poor, it will make you feel happy with your current condition.” (Suyuti, Jamiu‘s-Saghir, I, 47)

Omar –Allah be well-pleased with him- offers a similar advice when he says, “Call yourselves to account before you are called to account. Weigh your deeds before they are weighed on the Divine scale. Prepare yourselves for the Day of Judgment before you are brought to the presence of the Almighty, from Whom none of your deeds will be hidden.” (Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, I, 27)

d. The Tranquil Self (an-nafsu’l-mutmainna)

The tranquil self is the type of nafs that has been saved from inner afflictions. This spiritual safety is brought about by an assiduous observing of Divine commands and prohibitions. This self has thereby reached a real and steadfast faith, which results in a genuine happiness, peace and tranquility. Through a persistent remembrance of the Lord, the heart has been purified from doubts and uncertainties; it is at ease in a sincere feeling of gratitude for and praise of the Lord.

A servant with a tranquil self has effectively replaced his immoralities with positive moral characteristics, having willfully followed Prophet Muhammad’s -upon him blessings and peace- exemplary character traits. His heart is now filled with patience, contentment and trust in the Almighty. The tranquil self belongs to people of piety, who have acquired certain knowledge of the Almighty. Their hearts continually busy with Divine remembrance. They have furthermore gained a profound comprehension of the inner meanings of religious instructions.

In explaining the tranquil self, Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624) states, “Up until the station of the tranquil self, acts of worship are performed by way of imitation (taqlid). But hereon, imitation is transformed to verification (tahqiq).”

Before reaching this level of certitude, a servant must embody ‘the state of haqiqah’, or ‘reality’. The tranquil self is a highly advanced level of spiritual maturity; a precious gift but an enormous responsibility at the same time. To draw a comparison, those whose rational faculty have not come of age cannot be held responsible for fulfilling religious duties, insofar as responsibility is dependent upon possessing the faculty of reason. In a similar fashion, a wayfarer newly initiated into a Sufi order is regarded as an innocent child with respect to the greater responsibilities of Sufism. Until he covers a certain distance in his spiritual training, his faults are treated with toleration; since in Sufism, spiritual maturity only comes with progress. But after having received a certain level of training, he is considered responsible for things that are not duties ordinary believers need to fulfill, as is the case of Shariah with respect to a child. Until he steps inside the door of the tranquil self, the wayfarer is not responsible for things that are regarded as shortcomings from the perspective of haqiqah. This responsibility begins only after the point when the wayfarer assumes the tranquil self, since it is here that he attains the maturity of haqiqah.

Following the same thread, there are things which are regarded permissible by Shariah, yet looked upon as small mistakes by tariqah. Furthermore, there are things regarded as small mistakes by tariqah, yet considered serious faults by haqiqah and marifah. For instance, according to Shariah, it is considered a waste to continue eating after reaching satiety. But according to tariqah, even eating to the level of satiety is considered waste. For haqiqah, on the other hand, it is a waste even if one eats just enough to survive while being unmindful of the Almighty’s presence. And finally, according to marifah, any piece food consumed without witnessing Divine disclosures therein is a waste, insofar as the Almighty presents a sign of His existence in every single thing.

By the grace of The Almighty, the tranquil self has reached reality (haqiqah), peacefulness (sakinah), and certainty (yaqin)[1]. It has become protected from worldly grieves and concerns, and in addition, it has received certain spiritual unveilings and inspirations.

In the state of the tranquil self, the veils of heedlessness and ignorance over the heart are lifted. At the level of ayn al-yaqin, the heart beholds realities beyond appearances. Furthermore, the heart has been made secure from doubts and uncertainties. It has attained a tranquility and peacefulness through a complete submission to the Almighty. A servant in this state wholeheartedly welcomes both exoteric and esoteric religious duties and fulfills their requirements appropriately. His reception and belief in these duties are so strong that even if entire humankind were to attempt to disprove his convictions, they would fail to raise any doubt in his heart; for the servant has already eye-witnessed the underlying mysteries through the window of reality.

With such unshakable faith, believers of this ilk have no fear. They confront all kinds of afflictions and difficulties. A typical example of this is to be found in Musa’s –upon him peace- encounter with the sorcerers. When the sorcerers realized the extraordinary nature of Musa’s –upon him peace- feats, they acknowledged them as miracles given by the Almighty. Thereupon, they arrived at an unshakable belief in the Lord and stood steadfast thereon, regardless of its lethal consequences with which the Pharaoh threatened them.  He tried to intimidate them by threatening to have their hands and feet diagonally cut off and then crucifying them, unless they openly turned their backs on Musa’s –upon him peace- message. The sorcerers’ response to the Pharaoh was simply the following, “Surely, to our Lord we are returning. And you take vengeance upon us only because we have believed in the signs of our Lord when they came to us. Our Lord, pour out upon us patience and let us die as Muslims [in submission to You].” (al-Araf, 125-126)

The sorcerers were more than willing and ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their faith; for the veils in front of the appearances of all things worldly had now been lifted and they were seeing things for what they really were through the spiritual light given to them. Their souls were of the type the Almighty refers to as:

يَآ اَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ

“O soul at tranquility.” (al-Fajr, 27)

On the basis of the above verse of the Quran, we can see that the states of the nafs prior to that of the tranquil self do not receive a Divine addressing. Only the tranquil self and the states beyond are privileged with this merit. In order for a servant to be worthy of this receipt, he needs to genuinely struggle to rein in his ego. The distinguished servants who enjoy the state of the tranquil self then gradually begin to move forward towards the three higher spiritual states in line; namely, the satisfied self (an-nafsu’r-radiya), the satisfying self (an-nafsu’l-mardiyya) and the perfect self (an-nafsu’l-kamila), respectively. The more successful a servant is in this progress, the closer he gets to his Lord.

e. The Satisfied Self (an-nafsu’r-radiya)

This is the nafs that has persistently kept its focus on the Almighty; and by continually considering itself to be in Divine presence of The Almighty, it has embodied a highly advanced level of piety. The satisfied self is now content and satisfied with his Lord. Not only has it left his personal will aside, it has further annihilated it within Divine will. In the words of the Quran it has returned to its Lord

اِرْجِعِىاِلٰىرَبِّكِرَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً

“…satisfied, satisfying”. (al-Fajr, 28)

The spiritual state of ‘satisfaction’ refers to how the servant meets all kinds of afflictions, which come from the Almighty, with patience and hospitality. After all, this is what the Almighty expects him to do; to rest satisfied with whatever Divine Will metes out: “Surely We will test you with something of fear and hunger, and diminution of goods and lives and fruits; yet give good tidings unto the patient.” (al-Baqarah, 155)

Patience, in the truest sense, is to welcome everything that comes from the Lord with contentment, whether it be good or evil. Indeed, everything comes from Him alone; they comprise innumerable manifestations of His disclosures. Only those who have the ability to peer into the real nature of both blessings and tribulations merit the title “patient” mentioned in the verse. They are always satisfied with Divine fate and never show the least sign of disobedience or complaint. For them, everything, good or evil though they may seem, is predestined.  This is the spiritual caliber those who possess a satisfied self.

The tests and afflictions a satisfied self undergoes are much more difficult to endure than those of the previous spiritual states; for the higher the self ascends, the thornier the path becomes. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- explains this delicate balance when he says, “Among mankind, it is the prophets who are subjected to the most challenging tribulations…and then come those who are closest to them. People face tribulations in proportion with their levels of piety.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 57)

Only after having overcome the obstacle of the lower self can man can reach a level of spiritual maturity that enables him to meet tribulations with endurance and rest content with Him, Who sends all these troubles. As great a reward this spiritual maturity is, it only comes at the end of an enormous show of patience and endurance. In the eyes of a believer with a satisfied self, everything in the world deserves the same treatment, regardless of whether it causes joy or grief. Since his heart is detached from the world, worldly pleasure temporal and pain are on level par to him. With a full-fledged insight into the fact that everything really comes from the Almighty, he is content with everything, both good and evil. As the poem reads:

Whatever comes from You is fine,
Whether a rosebud or a spine!
A robe of honor or a shroud,
Your grace is fine, so is your wrath!

We should keep in mind, however, that the actual practice of what has been mentioned in the poem above regarding the characteristics of the satisfied self is extremely difficult. It is only in the state of the satisfied self that a servant is allowed to speak such assertive utterances. At all times else, he should keep his lips sealed so that it may not say untimely and inappropriate things along the spiritual journey. Otherwise, such premature statements would be tantamount to nothing but unjustifiable claims; and if the Almighty were to test the truthfulness of such words, one would end up in utter failure.

In the spiritual state of the satisfied self, the servant begins to have an insight into Divine Secrets. He comprehends the meaning of Divine Oneness and spiritual realities become unfolded in front of his eyes. He is given the honor of receiving the special disclosures of Divine Names and Attributes. His character becomes an overflowing spring of goodness, beauty, and truth. He is a welcoming observant of Divine commands and prohibitions. He performs all deeds of worship purely for the sake of the Almighty and hence does not feel the least exhaustion in their practice. Outwardly speaking, acts of worship can be tiring. Yet inwardly speaking they are filled with spiritual objectives that annul their otherwise tiresome appearance; objectives that take the servant through the spiritual stations and grant him the blessing of spiritual unveilings. But even these are not really the main objectives. The ultimate objective is the Almighty alone. Should the servant forget this truth and prioritize the receiving of spiritual unveilings, for instance, it would mean that he will be thwarting nothing but his own progress.  This is a loss of orientation that equally ends up exhausting the servant. Thus, from the beginning of the spiritual journey to the end, the servant should not have any kind of purpose and intention in his mind other than the Almighty.

The Almighty is nearer to us than our jugular veins. The most important thing for us is to become aware this nearness and prepare ourselves for its realization. The Almighty is satisfied with His servants, as long as they do their very best to remain steadfast on His straight path and rest satisfied with His providence.

f. The Satisfying Self (an-nafsu’l-mardiyya)

The satisfied self is in need of a further spiritual perfection. To receive and fully benefit from all the Divine disclosures shone upon its heart, the satisfied self must at the same time seek to become ‘satisfying’ for the Almighty as well. In other words, being satisfied with the Lord does not suffice; also expected, in return, is the Lord’s satisfaction. The satisfaction must not be one sided and should come from both directions, as it were.  Even though the attribute of “satisfying” refers to the Almighty, it is the servant who is in fact expected to make the effort to actualize this satisfaction. This nuance makes this quality attributable to the servant himself, and thus to his nafs. It could therefore be said that while the satisfied self refers to the spiritual state of those who are content with the Almighty, the satisfying self refers to the Almighty Who, in turn, is content with them.

In the state of the satisfied self, immoral characteristics have by now disappeared, replaced instead by positive qualities. Those who have reached this spiritual state see all creation through the vantages of affection, mercy, love, generosity and forgiveness. Since all creation is the artwork of the Almighty, wherever they look, they only see goodness. A servant in the state of the satisfying self calls himself to account in the most riveting correct manner and meditates on it. At every breath, he is mindful of the underlying reality of creation and the nature of his own self, with an unyielding awareness of its devilish whispers.

Also in this spiritual state, the servant also completely submits himself to his Lord under all circumstances. Whatever it be that comes from the Almighty, he welcomes it; knowing it is nothing but a Divine manifestation. And at the end of his temporal life, he is inducted among those whom are given the glad tidings of Paradise by the Almighty right before they are invited to enter it: “Return to your Lord, satisfied, satisfying!” (al-Fajr, 28) Indeed,

رَضِىَاللّٰهُ عَنْهُمْوَ رَضُوا عَنْهُ

“…the Almighty is well-pleased with them, and they are will-pleased with Him.” (al-Bayyinah, 8)

A servant who has attained such spiritual perfections sees everything from the vantage point of haqq al-yaqin; of an assured knowledge based on personal spiritual experience. By the will of the Almighty, he may even become acquainted with certain secrets of the unseen world. Because of his spiritual exertion, the Almighty brings him closer to Him, to the point where He virtually becomes his eyes that see, ears that hear, tongue that speaks. The words and behavior of such a person then begin to exercise a deep influence on persons around him.

The spiritual manifestations he had previously witnessed as a ‘satisfied self’ are now digested and internalized, becoming an integral part of his mindset. A relentless patience and trust in the Almighty have now become the dominant traits of his character.

By resorting to the exemplary moral conduct of prophets, we might to offer some examples of this spiritual state. For instance, Yaqub -upon him peace-, after having been afflicted with all kinds of sufferings, confided in his Lord, though by merely saying, “So patience is most fitting” (Yusuf, 18). Likewise was the case of Ayyub -upon him blessings and peace-, who suffered from heavy bouts of illnesses and afflictions. Even though people around him persistently encouraged him to pray to his Lord to stop his sufferings, Ayyub -upon him peace- did not follow their advice and replied, “The Lord gave me eighty years of a healthy life. The only way I would feel comfortable to ask him for a cure would be after I suffered at least eighty years of illness.” Ibrahim -upon him peace- presents another splendid example. When about to be thrown into the raging fire, the angles came to offer him help, only to have Ibrahim -upon him peace- decline their offer. “The One Who has ignited this fire”, he said, “knows my situation…so I do not want anything from you.”

According to the conventional Sufi classification, the levels of the human nafs throughout the spiritual path of purification are divided into these six categories. But some Sufi masters talk about an additional stage called the perfect self (an-nafsu’l-kamila) or the pure nafs (an-nafsu’s-safiya).

g.    The Perfect Self (an-nafsu’l-kamila)
/ The Pure Nafs (an-nafsu’s-safiya)

The perfect self is a type of soul that has become thoroughly purified by way of the spiritual process. It is a pure, mature and sublime nafs. In this spiritual state, the nafs receives all kinds of heavenly secrets. This state is only a gift from the Almighty. Personal efforts cannot guarantee the attainment of the perfect self; it is a God-given spiritual quality, a mystery of Divine predestination.

The station of the perfect self is also called “the station of guidance”, insofar as the Lord entrusts those, who have attained to this state, with the responsibility of guiding other people. Their words and actions are rendered influential, to facilitate the correction of the wrongdoings and faults of others. When a person with a perfect self meets a sinner, he instantly understands his condition; and through an exemplary conduct, informs him of the remedies he needs to save him from his inner and spiritual illnesses. Feeling remorseful over his ways, the sinner then comes around to himself, and leaves acting heedlessly, so long as his heart is not sealed or locked to spiritual realities.

[1]        Yaqīn is an Arabic word meaning certain and evident knowledge. There is no place for doubt in yaqīn. In yaqīn, the heart has reached a satisfaction regarding the reality of the thing in question. Yaqīn also refers to getting beyond the apparent cause-effect relationships and seeing the reality of things clearly by means of faith. Qushayrī asserts that yaqīn is of three kinds:

         Ilm al-yaqīn: Certainty based on report or narration.

         Ayn al-yaqīn: Certainty based on eye-witnessing.

         Haqq al-yaqīn: Certainty based on personal spiritual experience.