بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the most Merciful.
إِنَّ الْحَمْدَ لِلَّهِ ,نَحْمَدُهُ ,وَنَسْتَعِينُهُ وَنَسْتَغْفِرُهُ , وَنَعُوذُ بِاللهِ مِنْ شُرُور أَنْفُسِنَا وَمِنْسَيِّئَاتِ أَعْمَالِنَا ,مَنْ يَهْدِهِ اللهُ فَلَا مُضِلَّ لَهُ , وَمَنْ يُضْلِلْ فَلَا هَادِيَ لَهُ , وَأَشْهَدُ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ وَحْدَهُ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا عَبْدُهُ وَرَسُولُهُ
Verily, all praise is for Allah. We praise Him, we seek His assistance and we ask for His forgiveness. And we seek refuge in Him from the evils of our selves. Whoever Allah guides, none can misguide. Whoever He misguides, none can guide. And I bear witness that there is no deity other than Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and messenger.
أعوذُ بِٱللَّهِ مِنَ ٱلشَّيۡطَٰنِ ٱلرَّجِيم
Seek refuge in Allah from Satan, the expelled.
بِسْ مِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the most Merciful.
قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا
Qad aflaha man zakkaha
He has succeeded who purifies it,
وَقَدْ خَابَ مَن دَسَّاهَا
Waqad khaba man dassaha
And he has failed who instills it [with corruption].
(Surah Ash-Shams, Quran 91:9-10)
My dear brothers and sisters, it was a saying of the elders of the scholars attributed to the Prophet.
من عرف نفسه فقد عرف ربه
Man arafah nafsahu man arafah rabbahu
The one who knows themselves, knows their Lord.
Part of knowing Allah is knowing our own selves. What are the values and principles that we live by? What are the factors that go into every decision that we make? It’s so important for us to understand ourselves so that we don’t get lost with everything that happens. It’s easy to be good when times are good. But when there are calamitous times, when there are tragedies, when there are difficult times, then that’s when the metal is tested. That’s when the true self comes forth. Allah tells us:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَلْتَنظُرْ نَفْسٌ مَّا قَدَّمَتْ لِغَدٍ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
Ya ayyuha allatheena amanoo ittaqoo Allaha waltanthur nafsun ma qaddamat lighadin waittaqoo Allaha inna Allaha khabeerun bima taAAmaloona
O you who have believed, fear Allah. And let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow – and fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.
(Surah Al-Hashr, Quran 59:18)
He says be mindful of Allah, and every nafs, every self should search for what they will bring forward on the Day of Judgment. Be mindful of Allah because he knows what you will do. He is well-informed of everything that you do.
وَلَا تَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ نَسُوا اللَّهَ فَأَنسَاهُمْ أَنفُسَهُمْ
Wala takoonoo kaallatheena nasoo Allaha faansahum anfusahum olaika humu alfasiqoona
And don’t be like those who forgot Allah and as a result, they forgot themselves.
(Surah Al-Hashr, Quran 59:19)
He made them forget themselves. When we forget Allah, we become lost. We are made to forget our own selves. What are we actually doing? How are we actually spending our life? So it’s even more important to understand ourselves. That’s what I’d like to talk about today.
Let’s focus on nafs – the self. It has these two forces. Many a time they are competing forces. There is the physical body, which has desires, hunger, and thirst. When you do not provide it with what it requires, then you feel the physical pain. When it is hungry, you feel the physical pain of hunger. When you are thirsty, you feel the physical pain of thirst. That is one part of your nafs, the physical body that says yummy food, funny television, shiny iPhone 13, that all goes back to that physical one.
The other force is the Ruh, the spiritual force. That spiritual force predates the physical one. Allah tells us in the Quran that all the souls are gathered together and were made aware of the oneness of Allah and the Lordship of Allah. And after the Ruh leaves that physical body, then the physical body is dead. It returns to the dirt. But the spirit continues, the Ruh continues to its next phase.
The spirit, the Ruh also has needs, just like the physical body requires food and requires drink and other things. The spirit also has needs. The spirit must also be fulfilled. The spirit must also be satisfied. The spirit’s food must also be sought, it’s thirst must be quenched, but the pain from the lack of spirit, lack of spiritual fulfilment, that pain is not a physical pain, but rather it is spiritual.
We live in a society that is increasingly irreligious and we also live in a society that is increasingly more sad, more depressed, more lonely. There is a connection between these things. Mental health is real, no denying that, but a part of that is the spirit that needs to be fed and nourished. So these two competing forces, the physical and the spiritual, what is their relationship and how do they evolve within our lifestyle?
Allah describes the nafs with three different adjectives in three different places in the Quran and each place, each context, defines that stage of the nafs.
The first type of nafs that is mentioned is the inciting nafs, the commanding nafs. “I want this. I want that. I have to have it now today. Make the order. Pre-order it today. So I get it first day arrival. I have to have it now.” That’s nafsul-ammarah. Where is this mentioned? In the story of Yusuf (as) when the wife of the Aziz attempts to seduce Yusuf. And Yusuf mentions this weakness of men, of human beings, and he says that the nafs is an inciting and a commanding force. And that is the physical realm. That is the physical body inciting and commanding for its needs and its desires to be fulfilled, no matter the qaum.
Sigmund Freud even talks about this. As you are born, which is the selfish part? You might see the behavior of a toddler – how does the toddlers keep snatching from their younger siblings? They want everything- “mine, mine, mine…” This spirit is not used to this physical body. It’s getting used to it. It’s an immature spirit. It’s just come into the body. Of course it will be fully controlled by nafsul-ammarah, by the commanding self, by the inciting self, the self which wishes to claim, no matter the class.
Then the nafs evolves and begins to realize. That is where we have the nafsul-awwama – scolding nafs, the blaming nafs, nafs of reproach. You do something and then you feel bad about it. You feel guilty. We call it our conscience. My conscience is telling me this. My conscience is telling me that’s nafsul-awwama and that is where most people are. They don’t give in fully into the animal side, the physical side, and they have a connection to the spiritual side. They’re in-between those two.
Then the last evolution is the one which is mentioned in Surah Al-Fajr, when Allah addresses those that are entering paradise. He says:
يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ
Ya ayyatuha alnnafsu almutmainnatu
[To the righteous it will be said], “O reassured soul, oh, you content spirit. Oh, you content soul,
ارْجِعِي إِلَىٰ رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً
IrjiAAee ila rabbiki radiyatan mardiyyatan
Come back to your Lord now, fully pleased and fully content and fully satisfied.
فَادْخُلِي فِي عِبَادِي
Faodkhulee fee AAibadee
And enter among My [righteous] servants, And enter My Paradise.”
(Surah Al-Fajr, Quran 89:27-30)
“Be among My righteous servants, be among them, go and be among your peers, amongst the righteous servants and enter My gardens and enter My paradise, enter the abode, which I have prepared for you.”
This is to those who have been able to subdue the physical and been able to become content and to be fulfilled and to be satisfied. They’re not simply reaching for the next thing, but they’re content with their place in the world. Something which we seek, but which we are afraid of.
So, how do we get there? You can look at these three stages in a cynical way. You can plot them on a bell curve. I can say that there’s one group that is extremely focused on the physical, and then there’s the majority, which is the guilty – those that feel guilt when they do wrong. Then you have those on the other end, which are content where the spirit is satisfied.
But that’s a cynical way to look at it, because you say, “Well, I’m just part of the majority. Let me just concede, let me forfeit, let me surrender to where I am at.” But instead let’s look at the metaphor that Allah has given us for our journey.
This is not a curve. This is a journey. Each and every single one of us is somewhere, on our own Sirat, our own journey to Allah. That’s why Surah Al-Fatiha is first surah of the Quran. Its Ummul Quran – it is the mother of the Quran. In Arabic, when we say that something is the mother of something, it means it is the reference for something. It is the summary of something. It is the source of something. Imam Shafai wrote his great book on Islamic law and he called it, “Kitab ul Umm” – the mother book. Al-Fatiha is the mother of the Quran. It’s the reference point. It is the source of the Quran. It is the summary of the Quran. Every verse has meaning. We start with Allah’s mercy and His compassion in this journey that we’re on.
So don’t feel overwhelmed. Don’t feel like you have to give up. Don’t feel like you have to surrender and stop where you’re at and give up because you’re afraid that’s always where you’re going to be. But rather, start with Allah’s mercy and His compassion.
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
Start with His praise. Realize who He is. He is the Lord of everything. The Rabb, the nurturer of everything, the Nourisher, the Sustainer of everything.
His mercy and His compassion is repeated.
مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ
He’s the master of the Day of Judgment. We’re going to go to Him. That’s the end of the journey. The Day of Judgment is a part of that end of that Sirat (path).
And what is the means? The means by which we are on that journey.
إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ
You alone we worship , You alone we seek help from. That is the means of this journey. That every step of the way we’re engaged in that worship, in its broader definition. And we’re seeking help from Allah on that journey – اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ
We’re not alone on this journey, but rather there have been those who have been on this path before. So don’t feel like you’re going at it alone.
غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ
We also have the examples of those who are not on that path or who were, and then came off of that.
So we have these two competing forces, the physical and the spiritual. How do we nourish the spiritual, my brothers and sisters? We have gotten very good at nourishing the physical. The kinds of foods, the kinds of technology, the kinds of comfort, but the majority of the world can only dream of that. But when it comes to nourishing the spiritual, how are we doing that? How are we serving that part of ourselves? Because until we do, how will we ever continue on this Siratul Mustaqim?
When a sister converted, she was complaining. She said, “I was given books on prayer, and all the books said, first, do this position, then do that position. Then do this, then do that. But it didn’t have anything about the spirituality. All it had was the physical and the verbal. What should I be thinking about in my Salah? What should I be focusing on in my Salah? What is the purpose of Salah? What is the point of Salah?”
That’s where we have to evolve past just the physical. Because the Salah is a combination of the physical and the spiritual, and that’s what makes us afraid of the Salah.
“But if I commit to the prayer, what if it doesn’t work? If I commit to that Salah, what if it doesn’t work? What if I fail? What if I’m missing something, what if I’m not doing it right?”
We had a conversation last night about scholarships. For many people, they don’t apply because they’re afraid they won’t get it. They’ll say, “It’s waste of time.” But if everyone thinks that, then no one applies and no one gets it. They say, “we’ll just be applying, you are gaining benefits.” You’re applying to this scholarship. You’re getting the benefit of knowing how to apply for a scholarship and how to represent yourself and so on. And just by being in that position, you are starting on that trajectory. It’s the same with your prayer, my brothers and sisters.
Maybe we are afraid that we’re not achieving the spiritual goals of our prayer, but we have to come in with that fear and we have to put it out on the table and we have to be honest with Allah of where we are at and we cannot pretend. When we are able to come to the prayer with that truth, with that honesty, and that is where it will begin. That is where that process will begin to bear fruit. We don’t worry about the rest of everything, but we worry about where we are in this moment so that we can begin to nourish the spirit and that spiritual aspect, which we need today more than ever. So I ask Allah that He helps us to do that, that He helps us to bring the Ruh into our physical and to fulfill and nourish the spiritual side of ourselves. Ameen.
I wanted to mention what sparked this topic. With 9/11, the 20th anniversary being in 2021, I was reading about this Mauritanian man who memorized the Quran. A young boy, and one who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was detained in Guantanamo bay with no charge- detained indefinitely. Where the CIA would come and practice their enhanced interrogation techniques on him, which is another way to say all kinds of torture, all kinds of physical torture. He was there for 14 years, and they finally released him in 2016. Again, admitting that there was no charge, no evidence. They were holding him hoping for something to come up. But anyway, during his time in Guantanamo, he wrote two books.
One of those books was about his time in Guantanamo, and the other one was how to find happiness in a hopeless place. When he came out of Guantanamo, in many of the interviews that he did, he said, “I forgive everyone. I forgive all of the captors, the torturers. I forgive everyone.” But to be so apart from his physical self and to let his spiritual contentment take over, how do you get there even though your physical body has been through so much? That book that he wrote was turned into a movie and was released in 2020.
Not only that, but the guard who was watching and standing outside of his cell, became his friend and converted to Islam and they haven’t given him his passport in Mauritania. The guard actually visited him in Mauritania, even though they took 14 years of his life away from him. Think about that, my brothers and sisters, and think about how we can achieve that contentment and not become stuck simply in the physical side of our nafs because the physical side is just one part. So I ask Allah to help us to do that.
I ask Allah that He fulfills the needs of those in need. I ask Allah that He helps us to elevate ourselves and bring us closer to Him. I ask Allah that He gives us the highest levels of paradise, that He reunites us with our lost loved one. I ask Allah that He cures the sick. I ask Allah that He helps us to beat this pandemic. I ask Allah that He protects our children, I ask Allah that He guides us and protects. I ask Allah that He gives us a shade on the day when there is no shade, but His, Ameen.
عِبَادَ اللّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَيَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ
Servants of Allah. Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.
اُذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ الْعَظِيمَ يَذْكُرْكُمْ واشْكُرُوهُ يَزِدْكُمْ واسْتَغْفِرُوهُ يَغْفِرْ لكُمْ واتّقُوهُ يَجْعَلْ لَكُمْ مِنْ أَمْرِكُمْ مَخْرَجًا
Remember Allah, the Great – He will remember you. Thank Him for His favors – He will increase you therein. And seek forgiveness from Him – He will forgive you. And be conscious of Him – He will provide you a way out of difficult matters.
And, establish the prayer.
What did you think? Please share your reflections and questions below.
And come back next week for another khutbah!
As someone who’s trying to learn pray, this was very helpful
AlhamduLillah very inspiring kutbah, it clarified the Nafs according to Quran..
I am very pleased and happy to learn from this kutbah..
Allah (SWT) bless Imam sb and all of us….Aameen
Thankyou for helping out, great information.
Alhamdulillah. We’re glad you could benefit from this post 🙂
AlhamduLillah very inspiring kutbah