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The Attributes and Names

of the Ranks and Stations of the Nafs


in its Striving and Elevation
A Translation of a Classic Text

by Mahmoud Mostafa

As has been made clear to us previously, there are three primary


enemies and causes of destruction and misguidance for humani-
ty:

1. The desires of the ego (Hawa Al Nafs). Also known as the hid-
den lust. This is the first and most dangerous of the enemies for
through its existence the other two enemies exist and without it
there is no existence to the inner enemies of the Nafs. This enemy
is inside the very essence of the human being, i.e. in his nafs, in
the left half and is inspired to transgression (Fujur). It is the op-
posite of the right side of the soul that is inspired to conscious-
ness (Taqwah).

The transgression of the nafs is contained in its desires and its de-
sires mean its lust for immortality (Me!) and sovereignty (bound-
less greed and covetousness). This enemy is the main cause of the
self-oppression of humanity. This oppression leads to either deni-
al and polytheism or to misguidance, disobedience, and sins.
There is no remedy for these two desires except through constant-
ly reminding the nafs of its mortality and the certainty of death.

"Verily, the Nafs commands to harm except for those upon whom
my Lord has mercy" (Yusuf-53)
2. The desire for the ornaments of the world (Shahwat Al Dunia).
This is the second enemy but it is outside of the human being's es-
sence. It is the weapon of Iblis that he displays before the lustful
eyes of the ego's desire. Thus he makes it like a mirror that at-
tracts the nafs and seduces it so that it stirs and moves toward in-
equity and attachment to its desires and the love of the material
world that leads it to drown in the world's false and perishing
ocean.

The only remedy for this desire is to become aware and certain of
the fleeting nature of this world and of the necessity of losing
one's attachment to it. It is to know the world for the temporary
abode and place of trial and test that it is. It is to understand that
this world is part of a continuum; before it was the abode of the
atom (Dar Al Zhar) and after it will come other stages that are the
world of the Isthmus (Alam Al Barzakh). The desires of the world
are five as explained in the Quran:

"The love of desires has been made beautiful to people; for wom-
en, offspring, gold and silver, beautiful horses and cattle, and cul-
tivation." (Al Imran-14)

3. Satan is the third enemy (Shaytan Al Rajeem). He is also exter-


nal to the human being's essence. His role is to seduce, mislead,
and make beautiful all that is false and forbidden and repugnant
in this world in order to cause the nafs to become attached to the-
se things through its desires. He has no means other than to em-
bellish and tempt the ego and no weapon except to energize and
stir the two inner desires of the ego, the "Me" and "Greed" so that
the human being will inflate himself and in turn increase his sep-
aration. In this way Satan leads the human being to either denial
and polytheism or to disobedience and sins. There is no remedy
or prevention for this other than the constant remembrance and
seeking refuge in Allah and in putting one's trust in Him.

"Verily, Satan is your enemy so take him as your enemy." (Fatir-


6)

The ascent or descent of the Nafs depends on the degree of reme-


dy and protection from these three enemies. So the Nafs either
ascends to the station of "…the most beautiful station." Or it may
descend to the station of "…the lowest of the low."

The Quran mentions five levels for the human soul. The basic lev-
el is the one in which we are born which is called the Blaming Self
(Nafs Al Lawwama). If it is neglected and left to its whims and de-
sires it will descend to the station of the Commanding Self (Nafs
Al Ammara). And if it is developed and cared for through effort
and resistance to its desires it will, God willing, ascend to the
highest levels of closeness, contentment, and love for Allah and
His Prophet. These higher levels are three, the first one above the
Blaming Self is the Secure Self (Nafs Al Muttma'ina), followed by
the Content Self (Nafs Al Radiyah), and finally to the Gratified
Self (Nafs Al Mardiyyah) and that is the self that reaches its natu-
ral place and station which is "…the most beautiful station."

The Gnostics (Arifun) have detailed and explained this matter


and made it easy for the Muslim to know it and act upon it thus
making immunity and remedy easy. They made the levels seven in
number within the scope of the five mentioned in the Quran.

1. The Commanding Self (Nafs Al Ammara).

The remembrance that is appropriate for its treatment is La Illah


Illa Allah (There is no god except God). It is the lowest level of the
self and the worst. In it is found extreme desire and lust for im-
mortality and sovereignty. Thus it is attached to the worst of
characteristics from which we have been warned by Allah and His
Prophet. For example self-admiration, arrogance and pride,
hardness of the heart, oppression of creatures, love for exposing
the faults of others, lying, gossip, back-biting, envy, jealousy, crit-
icism, undeserved self-praise, bitterness, attachment to what be-
longs to others even if it possesses what is better, lack of con-
tentment, constant complaining, lack of gratitude, blindness to its
blessings, wishing for increase without effort, extreme selfishness,
greed and covetousness that knows no limit, love of control, and
love of self and its desires, hatred for those who criticize it even if
it is for its own good and love for those who praise it even if it is in
hypocrisy, rejection of advice and counsel, and only talking about
itself.

This Commanding Self is generally divided into two levels:

• The Animal Self (Nafs Al Hayawaniyyah); this is the self


that runs after sensual desires and material possessions
without regard for right or wrong, justice or inequity, lawful
or unlawful. It is drowned in the pleasures of possessions,
sex, and adornments. It is characterized by lewdness, evil,
and lack of humanity. It abhors religion and loves itself self-
ishly. It knows neither fullness, nor humility, nor thankful-
ness, nor honor, nor manners.
• The Satanic Self (Nafs Al Iblissiyyah); is even lower than the
Animal Self because its love for itself has taken it to the
stage where it competes with Allah in His divinity and lord-
ship. "I am your lord supreme…" as Pharaoh proclaimed,
and "I am better than him…" as Iblis contended.
The Commanding Self is the one with the ill heart. If the heart is
not healed, the nafs continues in its ways until the heart is blind-
ed and then it is finally sealed.

The root of this level of the self is that it's convinced that it is per-
fect and that others are flawed and that everyone will die but it
will remain immortal. It got its name because of its constant de-
mands and its numerous calls to satisfy its desires. So it demands
a thing and before it attains it, it demands another thing and so
on without end. The human in this state is the friend and beloved
of Satan and the enemy of the Merciful. "Except those upon
whom Allah shows mercy."

2. The Blaming Self (Nafs Al Lawwama)

Its healing remembrance is Allah (God). This is the self in its orig-
inal state of birth into the world as Allah says, "By the One who
brought the self to equilibrium inspiring it with its transgression
and its consciousness." (Shams-7:8)

This is the self that has been touched by Allah's Mercy so that
when it commits a sin or falls into disobedience, it blames itself
and turns to forgiveness and repents to its Sustainer. Then it
holds on to obedience until it slips back into sin then it turns to
forgiveness and repentance and so on.

It has grasped what the Prophet said, "All humans are prone to
sin and the best sinners are those who repent."

It is a self that is in constant fluctuation between obedience and


disobedience. One time it is heedless and falls and another it is
aware and resists.
This is the natural station which we start from at birth and from
there we descend or ascend. Its sign is the fluctuation between the
characteristics of the people of this world and the people of the
next world. It is not in the same evil condition as the Command-
ing Self but the two desires of immortality and sovereignty are
still active in it although in a much reduced or weakened condi-
tion. This is the first stage of salvation for the self and the first
step toward its purification and success.

3. The Inspired Self (Nafs Al Mulhamah).

Its remembrance is Hu (The Divine Pronoun HE). This is the self


that has ascended through effort and commitment to its true way
from the station of the Blaming Self to the station of the self that
is constantly seeking forgiveness and repentance regardless of its
guilt or innocence. This is due to its certainty that the root of its
attributes is imperfection, fault, weakness and incompletion.

At this level the self is inspired with the early stages of love for
good wholesome deeds (Amal Saleh), and for the Quran and Tra-
ditions of the Prophet. It is also inspired with love of remem-
brance (Zhikr) and to seeking forgiveness (Istighfar) and to cor-
recting its intentions (Niyyah) and renewing its repentance (Taw-
bah).

This is the last level of danger for the self for it is still vulnerable
to descending to the lower stages of Blame and Commanding. At
this stage the two desires for immortality and sovereignty are
dormant except in passing thoughts.
4. The Secure Self ((Nafs Al Muttma'ina)

Its remembrance is Haqq (Truth). It is the self that has ascended


to the first station of development and the ladders of light toward
intimacy, contentment and love for Allah. Its refinement is at-
tained through increasing commitment and honest and sincere
fulfillment of its obligations with respect to the true way in all its
aspects particularly with respect to human relationships and con-
duct before acts of worship as the Prophet said, "The Way (Deen)
is in conduct," and, "The best of you in character is the best in
faith."

The Secure Self has entered the pathways, methods and means of
protection and healing through self-accounting, resistance, striv-
ing, and devotion. These efforts bear the fruit of certainty in the
truth that Allah alone is the Actor. He is the cause and motivator
of everything for there is no god but Him and no Lord but Him.
And that Allah in all of his actions is merciful and generous. He
knows the best interests of the self. This certainty leads to confi-
dence in Allah. It leads to confidence in His mercy and generosity.
The self becomes confident that what is with Allah is better and
more enduring than whatever is in its possession or in the posses-
sion of others. In this way it reaches complete confidence in its
Lord; He is the one who knows what is best for it and He is the
best of Sustainers (Rabb) and the best of Trustees (Wakeel). So
the self becomes secure and ceases to occupy itself with anything
other than what it has reached confidence in, that is its Lord Al-
lah.

The self in this station expands in its capacity beyond efforts and
devotions toward repentance. Once it is secure with Allah it occu-
pies itself with additional stations such as hope (Rajaa') and fear
(Khawf) and trust in Him (Tawwakul). In this station the Secure
Self is in constant remembrance of Allah both on the tongue and
in the heart.

"Is it not through remembrance of Allah that hearts become se-


cure?" (Raad-28)

This is the first level of completion (Kamal) of the self. The heart
begins to shine with the light of consciousness. The ego's power
begins to shrink so that purity, refinement, clarity, and light dom-
inate the heart so that it becomes the Secure Self. In this station
the desires of immortality and sovereignty become completely
veiled and they are returned to their true owner who is Allah.
Now the self begins to show its true attributes that were previous-
ly hidden; these are the attributes of servanthood (Ubudiyyah),
helplessness ('Ajz), humility (Zhull), poverty (Faqr), need
(Ihtiyaj), and annihilation (Fana').

5. The Content Self (Nafs Al Radiyah).

"Return to your Lord content…" (Fajr-28)

Its remembrance is Hayy (Living). As the Secure Self ascends to


its Lord the lights of the heart increase and fill the entire body
transforming the sensual desires of the ego to the desire for what
the Prophet brought in the Quran and Traditions. Its desires are
now solely for these things and it is totally content with its Lord.
Now hardship and ease are the same to it as are harm and benefit,
and withholding and giving because it has become certain after
becoming secure that every action and deed is from Allah alone;
He is its Master, Sovereign, and Creator. He is the one who grants
it Mercy and Compassion. He is the one who is Tender and Be-
nevolent toward it. Everything that is from its Beloved is accepted
by it and it is content with it. It is content with whatever Allah
wishes to do with it.

At this level the self's creed is that if it is tried it is patient, and if it


is given it is thankful, and if it is deprived it is accepting, and if it
is wronged it is forgiving. It has now become the self with a
wholesome and sound heart. It fluctuates in all its states between
trust (Tawwakul) and relegation (Tafweed), and contentment (Ri-
dah) and surrender (Tassleem) to Allah. The characteristic of this
self is constant cheerfulness, gratitude, and thankfulness no mat-
ter what happens.

This is the second stage of the Complete Self (Nafs Al Kamilah),


which is the station of servanthood. By ascending to this level the
Content Self has entered into the first stage of "…the most beauti-
ful station." This station is connected to the station above it.

6. The Gratified Self (Nafs Al Mardiyyah).

"Return to your Lord Content and Gratified." (Fajr-28)

Its remembrance is Qayyum (Self-Subsistent). At this stage the


self is not only content with its Lord it is also gratified by Him.

"Allah is content with them and they are content with Him."
(Bayyinah-8)

The Prophet was asked "When shall we attain Allah's content-


ment with us?" he replied, "When you are content with your
Lord."

At this stage the light of the heart is completed. The heart advanc-
es from wholesomeness (Qalb Saleem) to a heart that is in total
awe (Khashiyah) of Allah, constantly inclined (Muneeb) toward
Him, imbued with modesty (Hayaa') toward Him in every condi-
tion.

"Whoever is secretly in awe of the Merciful and comes to Him


with a sound heart. Enter it in peace! This is the day of immortali-
ty. In it they shall have whatever they wish, and with Us is more."
(Qaf-33:35)

The folk of this station are the people of witnessing of the mani-
festations of the actions of the names of Allah (Mushahadat
Tajalliyyat Afa'al Allah). Their witnessing in their hearts to the
manifestations of Allah's power results in their awe in the face of
Allah's greatness and majesty in all of His actions that are essen-
tially the manifestations of His names. The folk of this station are
also gifted with unveiling and miracles to enable them to call peo-
ple to the love of Allah. These miracles are essentially for those
who deny and reject the truth but who are at the same time called
to Allah. So He sends to them miracles through the folk of this
station so that the egos of these people will submit to these mira-
cles and thus return through Allah back to the path of Allah. For
when Allah loves one of His servants He seeks Him and calls him
to Him. If once called the servant responds then he is brought
near otherwise Allah seeks him through trials, or through mira-
cles. For Allah's command must come to be and is utterly irresist-
ible.

This station is the last of the stations of faith (Iman) and through
it the self enters the presence of the station of "…the most beauti-
ful station" (Ihsan) which is the goal and desire of the heart of
every servant.
7. The Complete Self (Nafs Al Kamilah).

Also known as the Self of Light (Nafs Al Nuraniyyah), the Mu-


hammadan Self (Nafs Al Muhammadiyyah), and the Loving Self
(Nafs Al Muhibbah).

"Allah will bring folk whom He loves and who love Him; they will
be humble towards the faithful and stern toward the deniers.
They shall strive in the way of Allah and will not fear any blame
from the blamers. This is the favor of Allah that He grants whom-
ever He wishes among His servants. Allah is All-Encompassing
and All-Knowing." (Maa'idah-54)

"Then follow me and Allah will love you and forgive your sins. Al-
lah is the Forgiving and Merciful." (Al Imran-31)

Its outer remembrance is Qahhar (Compelling) and its inner re-


membrance is Wadud (Loving). This is the station of the com-
pleteness of servanthood to Allah through the completeness of
following the teachings of His beloved, Muhammad, peace be up-
on him. The one who reaches this station is blessed with knowing
the complete love of Allah for him and for His Prophet.

This is the Station of Beauty (Maqam Al Ihsan) and it is above all


the stations of faith that preceded it. In this station the servant
has completely attained the level of "…the most beautiful station."
And so enters into the light of His beloved, the Chosen, in the sta-
tion of "Two bow's lengths or nearer." in the footsteps of the be-
loved, Muhammad, peace be upon him.

It is the final level in the stations of the self. This station has no
end to its ascension and refinement. The people of this station
have nothing in their hearts but the love of Allah and His Messen-
ger and those who are loved by Allah and His Messenger. At this
level the Completed Self becomes the mirror of the light of the es-
sential Prophetic Muhammadan self so that it attains the com-
plete attributes of love and servanthood. In this station the self
enjoys the lights of manifestation of the Attributes and Essence of
Allah (Tajaliyat Al Siffat wa Al Zhat Al Illahiyyah) so that it fluc-
tuates in the lights of bliss in all its stations and states. It is an an-
gelic self of light inside human bodies. The truth is that it is self-
less; it has no choice and if given a choice it would chose only
what Allah loves and is pleased with. If it is asked whether it is re-
ceiving or deprived it would not know because love has overpow-
ered it and so it is totally unoccupied with causes. It is annihilated
through love (Hubb), fascination (Walah), and passion (Ishq) into
the light of the beauty of the essence of the Lord of causes who is
its Beloved and Protector. The people of this station are the peo-
ple of Divine Love and Passion. They are the people who follow
the true footsteps of Muhammad.

They are busy with their love and worship of the Truth and are
not distracted by creation except to fulfill their obligations. And
since they have become a mirror of the Muhammadan light they
are constantly in the Prophetic Presence. All their motions, still-
ness, words, and deeds are from Allah, through Him, to Him. All
of their hearts follow the Beloved and Elect, peace be upon him
because they have come to know through Allah that he (the
Prophet) is the first beloved, the first light that prostrates, wor-
ships, and serves Him. Whoever of the lovers obeys him, and
loves him, and models his example in character, deeds, and wor-
ship, gains the love of Allah.
The likes of these folk are the servants of Allah who have been
brought near (Muqarrabun) and have been selected and have
gained certainty that their first obligation, after servanthood, is to
love Allah and His Messenger. This is while keeping the Law, and
upholding its tenets. They are leaders of religious knowledge and
they are lights of gnosis in Truth. Through the lights of their
hearts the hearts of those around them are illuminated, and
through their remembrance mercy descends. They have all they
desire and they only desire love of Allah and His Messenger. They
do not seek this world, nor are they occupied by the next world.
All their concern is intimacy with Allah, to hear from Him, to be
near Him for they regard even a moment of separation as torment
greater than Hell.

"Truly, the God-conscious ones are in gardens and rivers, in a


place of truth in the presence of an Able Sovereign" (Qamar
54:55)