The human self is a “bulldog” …and the human self is a “poodle”

Sawt Al Umma, Issue 109, 30 December 2002

When injustice opens fire on justice, the heart begins to darken. When ugliness murders beauty in broad daylight, the heart becomes darker. When sin sits on the throne of life mandating that the human self massages its toes in salty water, then the heart becomes extremely dark. At this moment the heart loses its transparency, gracefulness and tenderness and urgently calls out for a life-buoy as it cries out: “Nothing prevails but faith, and none prevails but Allah”.

The human self (Ar: nafs) is something nafies or ‘priceless’ and more precious and valuable than all the wealth and power of the world and its other illusions. Most people don’t come to know this until it’s too late. A person is born with soul and body in harmony. A person’s soul is from the light of heaven (Ar: -samaa). The Arabic word samaa is from samu which means exaltation or height. A person’s body is held down to the earth by gravity. It is from the earth, and everything it needs to sustain it is to be found in the earth or grows from it, like wheat, rice and fruit. In the end, the body returns to the earth. The soul, on the other hand, returns to its exalted place on high. That’s why we usually say when someone dies that his soul went up. We don’t say it went down. The body descends to earth. The soul ascends to heaven.

Just as the body is visible, so too is its sustenance. The soul is invisible and so too is its sustenance which comes to it from its source from above. We feel it when we see a newborn baby smile or laugh and say ‘the angels are playing with him’. This is true. The baby is still innocent and pure, in the natural state in which it was created (Ar: al-fitra) and will stay this way until it reaches maturity

Sayedna Abu Huraira (r.a.a.) said that Allah’s Messenger (s.a.a.w.s.) said: “There is no new born baby that is not born in a state of al-fitra. Then his parents cause him to be a Jew, a Christian or a Magian just as an animal gives birth to a whole animal. Do you see any deformity in it?” Then Abu Huraira said “Read if you wish “The natural state in which people are created by Allah. There is no substitute for Allah’s creation” (Al Rum: 30) (Sahih Muslim, Part 4, pp 2047, #2658).

If a child dies before reaching maturity, it will go to heaven no matter what its parents may or may not believe. This is true of all children who die before maturity because we only become accountable after reaching maturity.

Another name for al-fitra is the ‘complete’ or ‘perfect’ self (Ar: al-nafs al-kamila). It is the original self which Allah (s.w.t.) created from the light of His prophet (s.a.a.w.s). – a light with which we are all born. The Quran says: ‘And know that in you all is Allah’s messenger.’ (Al-Hujurat:7). Responsibility begins after maturity. Responsibility means to carry out one’s obligations. Reward and punishment begins after maturity.

Sayedna Abu Huraira (r.a.a.) reported that Allah’s Messenger (s.a.a.w.s.) said “If a servant commits a sin a black spot or stain is etched on his heart. If he repents it is erased but if he does it again then it gets bigger until it occupies the greater part of his heart. This is the “rust” that Allah mentions “Nay! Rather, it is rust on their hearts” (Al Mutafifiyin:14) (Al-Mustadrik ala Al-Sahahiyn by Imam Al-Hakim. Part 1, pp 45, 6/6).

When a person commits a sin, a black spot is etched on his heart or more precisely, on the layer that surrounds the heart. This black spot is on the complete self. It deflowers its transparency and scars its purity. This is what Allah (s.w.t.) describes as az-zujaja or a glass. ‘His light is like a niche inside which is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. It’s as if the glass is a brilliant star lit from a blessed olive tree, neither from the east nor the west. Its oil seems to give off light of itself even though it has not been touched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides whoever He wills to His light. And Allah draws analogies for people and Allah knows everything’ (An-Nour: 35)

The black spots accumulate on the heart…on the “glass” whose surface is stained on the outside… like an electric light bulb on which a dark layer forms veiling the light and eventually blocking it out altogether. This is what happens to the light of the heart with the accumulation of sins…. layer after layer until the light of the heart disappears. This thick dense layer that surrounds and covers the heart is called “rust” (Ar: raan), Allah (s.w.t.) says: “Nay! Rather, it is rust on their hearts from what they used to do” (Al Mutafifiyin:14) The spots are also called “locks (Ar: aqfaal) Allah (s.w.t.) says “..Or are there locks on the hearts?” (Mohamed: 24) Another name for them is “coverings” (Ar: al-akinna). Allah (s.w.t.) says: “And they say: Our hearts are under coverings from that to which you call us, and there is a heaviness in our ears” (Fussilat: 5). They are also called “veils” (Ar: hujub). Allah (s.w.t.) says “Between us and you is a veil” (Fussilat: 5). The other name for them is “casings” (Ar:  aghlifa) Allah (s.w.t.) says “They said ‘our hearts are encased” (Al-Baqara:88).

The Quran describes the outermost layer of blackness around the heart as the “evil-commanding self ” (Ar: al-nafs al-amara bis-su). Allah (s.w.t.) says: “And I do not say I am innocent, most surely (man’s) self is oft evil- commanding, other than that in which my Lord is merciful’ (Yousuf:53). The layer after that is called the “self-accusing self ” (Ar: al-nafs al-lawwama). Allah (s.w.t.) says: ‘I do not swear by the day of resurrection or the self-accusing self” (Al Qiyamah:1-2). The third layer is called the “inspired self” (Ar: al-nafs al-mulhama). Allah (s.w.t.) says:” And the self and Him Who made it perfect, Then He inspired it to understand what is right and wrong for it” (Ash-Shams:7-8). The fourth self is described as “self-assured” (Ar: al-nafs al-mutmainna ). Allah (s.w.t.) says: ‘O you who are self- assured, return to your Lord’ (Al Fajr:27-28).  This means to return to what is right. The final two layers are called the “well-pleased self” (Ar: al-nafs al-radiya) and the “well-pleasing self” (Ar: an-nafs al-mardiya) which follow in close succession. Allah (s.w.t.) says:” Return to your Lord, well-pleased (with Him), well-pleasing (to Him) (Al Fajr:27-28).

What remains if all these layers are removed is the “complete self” (Ar: an-nafs al-kamila). This is the first self…. transparent, pure, crystalline and natural. “The nature made by Allah in which He has made men; there is no altering of Allah’s creation; that is the right religion, but most people do not know” (Ar-Rum:30).

It is a person’s own actions that change the “complete self”. It is a person’s bad actions that encompass his heart. His heart is the “king”, the center of power. His senses are his kingdom and his subjects. The heart sends out instructions to the intellect to exercise control over his senses (his subjects). But if the heart is covered with layers of insulated darkness (rust, locks, coverings, veils, casings) the connection between the heart and the intellect is broken and such a person will become purely materialistic. There will be nothing spiritual about him. This will prevent him from believing in what is hidden from him. He will only believe what he can see or touch or what his intellect can absorb in the same way as the Banu Israel who said “O Musa, we will not believe in you until we clearly see Allah” (Al Baqara: 55), or those who link their belief in Allah with their eyes. When they saw a people worshipping a calf they said: “Make us a god to worship like the ones they have” (Al Aa’raf:138)

Not everything can be understood on the level of the intellect. For example, two people – one whose intellect  is (connected) with his heart and another whose intellect is separated from his heart  – listening to the story of  Sayeda Mariam (r.a.a.), the pure virgin -may Allah be pleased with her – who is among the elect women of the worlds- will have very different reactions. While the first, whose intellect is connected with his heart is unable to comprehend the wisdom behind a pure unmarried virgin giving birth to a baby boy who speaks in the cradle and yet who remains a virgin,  that person’s acceptance of such a change in the natural law of things arises because the heart knows more than the intellect. It is the seat of faith. In this case, the intellect asks the heart and the heart responds by saying ‘It is Allah’s power and what happened is beyond your comprehension. It is my specialty. You should therefore remain silent and not enter into any speculation about the purity of Sayeda Mariam. Moreover, you should be in awe of Allah’s power and be aware of your minuteness. And you should instruct your senses or subjects particularly your tongue to refrain from uttering a single letter of insult concerning Sayeda Mariam.”

The second person, the one in whom the connection between the heart and intellect is broken, will begin to ‘rationalize’ the story he has heard. He will be forced to consider only two possibilities. He will either say it never happened or he will speculate about the purity of Sayeda Mariam (r.a.a.). The intellect here is like a junior officer with limited understanding. What he should do is consult with his commanding officer (the heart) to understand what was beyond his understanding. If the connection is broken he will continue to act on his own making wrong decisions until he goes astray. When Iblis overpowers the heart (the king), the senses are left free to speculate about things of which they are ignorant. They become increasingly caught up in life’s harshness and its dryness. We can also see this in the story of the prophet’s night journey into heaven. If these two men were to hear the story of the night journey the man whose heart is not transparent (representing in this instance the non-believers from among the people of Mecca) begins to ‘rationalize’ the story. He will calculate how long it normally takes to travel by camel from Mecca to Jerusalem and back. It takes months. He will therefore not believe the story. The man whose intellect is connected to his heart, represented in this instance by Sayedena Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (r.a.a.), will repeat what Sayedena Abu Bakr (r.a.a.) said: ‘I believe him when he brings me news of heaven. Should I not believe him when he brings me news of earth? If that is what he said, it is the truth.”

Sayeda Aisha (r.a.a.) said: When the prophet was taken on the night journey to the Al Aqsa mosque the people started to talk about it. Some of them returned to unbelief. Those who had faith and believed in it and heard about it went to Abu Bakr – may Allah be pleased with him – and said to him “Do you know that your companion claims that he was taken this night to the Bayt Al Maqdis ? (Abu Bakr) said; Did he say so? They said “Yes, he said so.” Abu Bakr said “ If he said that, he said the truth.” They said “Do you believe that he went this night to Bayt Al Maqdis and returned before sunrise?” He said “Yes, I believe what he says about things beyond that. I believe in the news of heaven in a short time” For this reason he is called Abu Bakr As- Siddiq (because he believed the prophet without question).

So too, when the Muslims were defeated at the battle of Uhud. Those who tried to rationalize the defeat said: ‘How could this have happened when Allah’s messenger was among us? His prayers are always answered”. Those whose hearts were illuminated considered the defeat of the Muslims to be a lesson to them all. The archers had disobeyed the prophet when he told them to stay in their positions. This was the reason for their defeat. The lesson here was that they shouldn’t have made light of what he told them. They absorbed the lesson and won all their subsequent battles. Allah (s.w.t.) says: “And know that Allah comes between a person and his heart” (Al Anfal: 24).

Each “self” described in the Quran has its own characteristics and things relating to it. As is clear by its name the “evil-commanding self” orders a person to do what is bad. Such a person finds self-satisfaction, in that and considers what he does to be a mark of being a ‘dude’ and of ‘having a good time’ in today’s vernacular of young people.

If this evil-commanding self is removed, the layer under it will appear. This is the “self-critical self’. This self is truly amazing. It comprises everything to be found in a court of law – the complexities of the crime, the prosecution, the defence and the judiciary. When a person does something bad (the crime) he begins to blame himself (the prosecution). At the same time he continues to minimize what he has done (the defence) by reminding himself that ‘Allah is Forgiving and Merciful’. Ultimately the judiciary will find him innocent of all charges or at least this is how he feels. This allows him to go out and do the same thing again – blaming himself again – pronouncing himself innocent again – committing the same crime again…and so on.

It may be however that such a person will find himself acting badly less frequently – weekly, monthly, yearly – until this layer is removed and the “inspired  self’ appears under it. This self is like a pendulum swinging between two opposites – between immorality and fear of displeasing Allah. The Quran says: “Whoever purifies it succeeds. Whoever hides it fails.” (Al Shams 9-10).

If this layer is removed the ‘self-assured self’ appears. This self is temptation (Ar: fitna) in the guise of modesty. Although one woman’s modesty and outer piety may be more apparent than in another woman, the first does things in secret which are anything but modest or pious. She is beautiful on the outside but dirty inside. It is called “self-assured” to reveal its faults. A person may feel he has fully complied with his obligations. Although he hasn’t done anything bad he feels he is above others and even better than others and beyond reproach. If this self was something good, Sayedena Abu Bakr (r.a.a.) after being told by the prophet (s.a.a.w.s) that he would go to paradise, would not have said: ‘I can’t be assured about Allah’s plan even if one of my legs was in paradise.’ Such a person tends to be so assured about Allah’s plan that you find him focusing on some of his own qualities rather than on those of Allah and this is sufficient for him. Allah (s.w.t.) says about such a person “And he entered his garden while he was unjust to himself. He said: I do not think that this will ever perish. And I do not think the Hour will come, and even if I am returned to my Lord I will most certainly find a returning place better than this.” (Al Kahf: 35-36). Supremely confident!!

If this layer is removed there appears what follows it which is the “well-pleased” self. Its fault is that it is always content and satisfied no matter what. This is a fault in itself. If such a person is guided to worship he will be content. If not, he will still be content. He will not exert any effort and will attribute this to Allah’s will. Allah (s.w.t.) says: “Whom shall we feed if Allah does not will him to be fed ?” (Yaseen: 47). This is a false kind of reliance on Allah.

If this layer is removed there appears another layer. This is the “well-pleasing” self It’s fault is imperceptible – acceptance of what it is in. Its success may be at the level of acceptance but it does not aspire to a higher degree.

All these selves, from first to last, can actually be likened to dogs of different breeds. One is a wild killer dog. Another is dainty and spoiled. All of them are products of our actions….our bad deeds which form a black covering over the heart causing it to lose it purity and transparency. Because of that, the heart needs to be healed. When someone spoils something don’t they need to repair it? A person who carelessly allows his health to deteriorate needs to see a doctor. A person who damages his car needs to see a mechanic. So too, a person who allows his heart to become darkened needs to find someone experienced in such matters. In this case, we have moved beyond the ‘preventive medicine’ of the preachers and clerics. The disease has taken hold and we are in need of surgery. Preachers and clerics do not have the knowledge. They do not have the means to remove the ‘rust’ or the ‘veils” or the ‘locks’ around the heart. Indeed such people could cause even more damage to the patient. Religious programs on television will not work. Congregational prayers on Fridays will not solve the problem. What such a person needs is a specialist…..a person to whom Allah has given the knowledge and means to heal or repair these kinds of diseases…a person who is able in the language of the Quran to break down the obstruction (Ar:  yaqtaham al-a’qaba) and untie the slave (Ar: yafoq al–raqaba) which is the surrounded heart. Such a person is called a “guide” (Ar: wali murshid)

Allah (s.w.t.) says: “Whoever Allah guides is rightly guided and for whoever is lost you will not find for that person a guide” (Al Kahf: 17). These words are directed to Allah’s Messenger (s.a.a.w.s.). Allah (s.w.t.) says to him ‘you will not find for that person…’.This means that when Allah (s.w.t.) wishes to guide a person it is the prophet who must find a guide for that person after Allah (s.w.t.) has given permission for that person to be guided. Elsewhere Allah (s.w.t.) says: “You cannot guide one you love but Allah guides whom He wills.” (Al Qasas: 56). If we imagine a theatre into which people are admitted free of charge it is the prophet (s.a.a.w.s.) who chooses the usher and it is he who issues the tickets. The owner of the theatre is Allah (s.w.t.). When Allah (s.w.t.) selects a person to enter the theatre he presents his ticket to the Messenger (s.a.a.w.s) and the guide begins the treatment. Allah (s.w.t.) has chosen the person to be guided. Allah (s.w.t.) Says: “ Say: guidance is Allah’s. He guides who He wills.’ (Al Imran 73). The first of those to be guided was Allah’s Messenger (s.a.a.w.s), Allah (s.w.t.) says: “Say: My Lord guided me to the straight way.” (Al Ana’am: 161). Then Allah (s.w.t.) delegated him to guide others. Allah (s.w.t.) says: “You guide to the straight way.” (Al Shura: 52). Then the Messenger (s.a.a.w.s). delegated others to guide peoples and communities. Allah (s.w.t.) says: “To every people a guide” (Al Ra’ad: 7). The guide is called in Arabic wali murshid.

When Allah (s.w.t.) wishes to guide someone, the prophet (s.a.a.w.s) finds a guide for that person. If Allah (s.w.t.) does not to wish to guide someone the prophet (s.a.a.w.s) cannot find a guide for that person. The guides are called ahl al-nazara with Allah’s permission and under the care of Allah’s Messenger (s.a.a.w.s) who treats the diseases of the heart. They represent centers for treatment and care of the sick human selves The guide removes the dark layer from the heart with the devices he has. To treat the diseased self he must perform a painless surgical operation. This is the secret why Allah (s.w.t.) orders the pupil to obey the teacher…and orders the follower (Ar: mureed) to obey his sheikh. This obedience is like the obedience of one who prays behind the one leading the prayer (Ar: imam) and this does not fall outside that person’s obedience to Allah (s.w.t.)

When the sheikh has removed the impurities from the heart a person returns to his original natural state of al-fitra. This is the complete self – pure, crystalline and transparent. The work of the sheikh is to re-establish once again the connection between the heart and heaven – going beyond the veils, rusts and locks. The presence of the sheikh (the specialist) is vital for the treatment to arrive at what Allah says: “O you who are self-assured, return to your Lord well pleased (with Him) well pleasing (to Him) and enter among My slaves and enter My paradise” (Al Fajr 27-30).  The words “enter among my slaves” means to join the sincere slaves of Allah about whom Allah said to Iblis: “You have no power over My slaves except those of your followers who deviate” (Al Hijr: 42) and about whom Allah says: “Oh My slaves there is no fear for you this day” (Al Zukhruf: 68) and those referred to by  Iblis when he said to Allah (s.w.t.): “By your Might, I will mislead them all except your sincere slaves among them” (Saad: 82-83). They are the ones about whom Allah (s.w.t.) said: “If my slaves ask you about Me, I am near” (AlBaqara:186)

Only Allah preserves from error and gives strength to do right.