Freedom from sin

To clarify all of this we have to bear in mind the following points. Everyone of us have basically two sides to him or herself. On the one hand is the physical body, which forms the subject of modern medicine, and on the other hand there is the non-physical side which psychologists and others attempt to understand. Our non-physical self we know as our emotions, our thoughts and feelings, our passions and desires even our complexes. These non-physical elements we collectively refer to as our “self”.

The earlier and later scholars of tassawuf used the term’s al-nafs al-insani (human soul) to refer to our emotional and rational nature and the term al-nafs al-hayawani (vital or animal soul) to refer to the element that animates the body and gives it perception. The vital soul is also the source according to them of our passions and physical drives like hunger, anger and sex. Now the “nafs” according to al-Kurdi includes or comprises of both of these dimensions. It is one integral entity also called the “ruh” or spirit when it is still in its pure state prior to creation. Once the “ruh” enters the body and gives it life it acquires a new character. It aquires an outer dimension called the vital soul (al-nafs al-hayawani) and an inner dimension called human soul (al-nafs al-insani). Now as a result of these changes the “ruh” is now called the “nafs“.

As a footnote we must bear in mind that the word “qalb” or heart, is also often used to refer to our inner selves or our emotions, rationality and beyond. The word “nafs” or self, is also often used to refer specifically to the outer vital soul or our passions and desires.

In all of this it crucial to understand that our passions and our desires, our thoughts and emotions, if kept unchecked and undisciplined and unpurified, are the most important source of sin. Our thoughts and emotions can reach great and noble heights only if we are able to free them from the incessant fire of our drives and passions. When we are dominated by our passions and desires we are at the level of development called al-nafs al-ammarah bi al-su’ or the evil self. In this condition our passions determine the way we think and feel and consequently act. The great vices of pride, arrogance, envy, slothfulness, hate and greed develop. This is the veil that imprisons us and prevents the nur of the Divine Presence from penetrating our hearts and minds.

And as we are subjected to the discipline of knowledge, salah, fasting and other ‘ibadaat we gain mastery and greater control over our selves. As a result our thoughts and feelings are increasingly purified, deeper levels of the “ruh” or “nafs” are uncovered or if you will deeper functions of the mind are realized and awakened. Once the passions quieten down and the inherent tendencies of the “ruh” start to emerge and awaken we have progressed to the level of al-nafs al-mutma’innah or the peaceful self.

Friends and peer groups


The final general cause of sin we having a look at is the impact of social circles on the direction people take in their lives. It is crucial that we look at this matter in a balanced and mature fashion. Many parents we talk to have the tendency to place all the blame of their child’s misbehavior on the circle of friends. This is not entirely correct, indeed in this kind of judgment we are denying our children their independence and their sense of individual responsibility. The same points apply in the case of the disgruntled wife towards her husband and vice versa. In saying this we are not denying that the group has an impact.

The point here is that we have to look at both the individual and the social circle. In the previous essay we briefly looked at the nafs and its basic impulses and drives and how that impacts on our behavior and our relationship with Allah, the Most High. This is sufficient to prove that the individual carries a large portion of the responsibility. We need to work hard on excavating and reviving our own spiritual tendencies and on disciplining the rebellious elements in our selves. We also have the added responsibility of assisting our families to those same ends. Much of the work starts in the family and on the relationships inside the family. It amounts to denial to simply blame the circle of friends for all the woes of the world. This however is not the complete tale. It would be equally shortsighted to ignore the influences outside the family.

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