The Soul and the Nafs

[By Mujlisul Ulama]

The Soul and the Nafs — are they the same?

They are not the same. The soul (rooh) is a celestial and a superior substance. It is distinguished from the nafs which is an evil propensity whose abode is below the navel in the human body. The location of the Rooh is on the right side in line with the heart. The nafs is a grossly evil capacity which drives man to nothing but evil. In its evil and rebellious stage it is known as Nafs-e-Ammaarah because it commands only evil and transgression. By Mujaahadah (striving against its dictates and denying it is evil pleasures) it becomes subdued and recognizes a degree of goodness and the need to rise above the evil and satanic desires. By the permanent process of Mujaahadah the nafs passes through various stages of development and reformation.

The Rooh is the actual life-giving entity. Very few have been given knowledge about the Rooh. About the Rooh the Qur’aan says:

“They ask you about the Rooh. Say: the Rooh is among the Commands of my Rabb, and only a few have been given knowledge about it.”

The Rooh reacts under the direction of the Aql (Intelligence) and the Nafs (the evil propensity). If the Aql in man predominates and is able to restrain and subdue the Nafs, the Rooh becomes elevated and soars higher and higher into the spiritual and intellectual realms. On the otherhand, if the Nafs succeeds in asserting its base and bestial influence over the Rooh, the Aql failing in its obligation, then the Rooh degenerates. It becomes corrupt and is debased. It falls to levels lower than the level of even beasts.

In its highest stage of spiritual development which has no ceiling, the Nafs is described as Mutmainnah (at peace, at rest in the state of tranquility) where it automatically acts obediently in submission to Allah’s commands. It then has donned a spiritual mantle.But even in that stage of high spiritual development, the devotee of Allah Ta’ala has to keep a constant guard over his Nafs. The Nafs is liable to again degenerate and revert to its former self of base and crass materialism and bestiality. Thus, the struggle against the Nafs is a perpetual one. It is an ongoing process which endures until man is in this earthly abode, hence Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) described the struggle against the Nafs as ‘Jihaad-e-Akbar’ or the Greatest Battle.

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