The seventh of the maladies of the heart is to indulge in the appetite (shahwat) or desires or pleasures of the nafs. Ugliness of these types of actions of the nafs is clearly communicated in the âyats of the Qur’ân. Furthermore, it is also communicated in the Qur’ân that following the desires of the nafs causes one to depart from the path of Allâhu ta’âlâ. For, the nafs always wants to deny the existence of Allâhu ta’âlâ and to be intransigent or to rebel against Him. Following the desires of the nafs in every matter culminates in worshipping the nafs. Anyone who follows their nafs either lapses into disbelief or deviates into a heresy or plunges into committing harâms (acts prohibited by Islam). Abû Bakr Tamistânî ‘rahimahullâhu ta’âlâ’ says, “The fortune of not following the desires of the nafs is the biggest treasure of this world. For, the nafs is the greatest of all veils between Allâhu ta’âlâ and His slave”. Sahl bin Abdullah Tustarî [d. in 283 Hijrî in Basra] ‘rahimahullâhu ta’âlâ’ says, “The best of all worships is not to follow the desires of the nafs.” Islâm bin Yûsuf Balhî ‘rahimahullâhu ta’âlâ’ once gave a gift to Hatam-ul-Esam ‘rahimahullâhu ta’âlâ’ When Hatam accepted the gift the people around him asked him if his accepting the gift would not mean to follow the desires of his nafs. In reply, Hatam told them that by accepting his gift he made himself lowly and made him superior, and he added, “If I didn’t accept his gift, that would make myself superior and him lowly. And, my ‘nafs’ would love that!” Rasûlullah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sal-lam’ at the end of a long hadîth said, “Three causes lead a person to disaster: being stingy, following the desires of the nafs, and being a conceited person.” Imâm al-Ghazâlî ‘rahimahullâhu ta’âlâ’ said that the veil which prevents you from receiving the help of Allâhu ta’âlâ is self love (’ujb). In other words it is one’s not seeing one’s own imperfections and seeing one’s worships as worthy. Îsâ (Jesus) ‘alaihis-salâm’ said to his apostles, “Oh my apostles! The wind has extinguished many a light. Likewise, ’ujb (self-love) destroys many acts of worship and eliminates their thawâb.”

It is reported that once Rasûlullah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sal-lam’ said, “I am very much afraid that my Ummat (Muslims) will catch two vices. They are: following the desires of the nafs and forgetting about death and running after the world.”Following the desires of the nafs prevents one from obeying the commandments of Islam. To forget death causes one to follow the desires of one’s nafs.

In another hadîth, Rasûlullah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sal-lam’ said, “The existence of wisdom in a person manifests itself by his control over his ‘nafs’ and by his preparation of the things that will be beneficial after death. The sign of idiocy is one’s following the desires of one’s nafs and then expecting forgiveness and mercy from Allâhu ta’âlâ.” According to this hadîth, following the desires of one’s nafs and then expecting forgiveness and admittance to Paradise without repentance is symptomatic of idiocy. Expecting something without taking the actions which would produce that expected result is called wishful thinking (tamannî). On the other hand, expecting something after taking the actions that would produce the result is called hope or expectation (rajâ). Wishful thinking leads one into laziness. Expectation on the other hand is the cause of work and production. Desires of the nafs are called fancy (hawâ). The nafs always loves and wishes harmful things; this evil tendency is inherent in its nature. The following stanza reflects this truth very clearly:

Always be on guard against your nafs.
Never trust your nafs.
It is an enemy to you,
Worse than seventy devils!

The harm caused by following the desires of the nafs by committing forbidden actions and disliked actions (makrûhs) is very obvious. The nafs’s wishes are all bestial desires. And these bestial desires are all related to mundane necessities. As long as a person tries to satisfy these necessities, he will be delayed to prepare necessities of the Hereafter. One important point that should be noted by everyone is that the nafs will never content itself with (the enjoyments which Islam permits and calls) mubâhs. As long as a person satisfies all of its permissible desires, the nafs will ask for more. If a person keeps satisfying its demands in an increasing pattern, the nafs will keep asking for more! It will never be satisfied and finally will coax man into forbidden things. Furthermore, utilizing permissible things in excess causes grief, suffering and diseases. A person who uses permissible things in excess will become a selfish and base person who always thinks of his bestial passions and pleasures.

[Imâm ar-Rabbânî ‘rahimahullâhu ta’âlâ’ a great Walî, comments on the present subject as follows: “The origin of all existing beings is Adam. Adam means nonexistence. While nothing, except Allâhu ta’âlâ, existed, He knew their existence in nonexistence. In other words, things existed in His knowledge. Allâhu ta’âlâ made His Attributes reflect on these Adams in His knowledge and thus made the origin (asl) of these existent beings become a reality. Then He moved these origins (asl), which were in His Knowledge, into the external realm. Thus existences came into being. Present existence materialized out of nonexistence through the manifestations of His Attributes. It is similar to the case of an apple seed’s being the origin of an apple. In order to understand the nature of human beings, let us contemplate about the image of an object in a mirror. The image that appears in the mirror is a reflection of the light coming from the object. The mirror is like Adam or nonexistence. The soul and spiritual heart of a human being are similar to the light. The mirror is similar to the body of a human being and brightness of the mirror is similar to the nafs. The origin of the nafs is nonexistence or Adam, and it has no relationship to the soul or to the spiritual heart.” A person who indulges in the desires of his nafs always steps out of the bounds of Islam. Since animals do not possess wisdom and nafs, they always use things that they need when they find them. They only shy away from things that hurt them physically. Islam neither prohibits utilization of vehicles that provide a comfortable and peaceful living, nor dissuades from enjoying useful worldly pleasures. Islam commands Muslims to follow the guidelines set out by the religion and wisdom for acquiring and utilizing these things. The goal of Islam is the comfortable and peaceful living of human beings in this world and in the next. Accomplishing this goal rests with following the wisdom and abstaining from the desires of the nafs. If wisdom had not been created, human beings would always follow the desires of the nafs and fall into disasters. If the nafs did not exist, human beings could not multiply and lead a civilized life. Also, without the nafs, human beings could not obtain rewards for struggle against the nafs. Furthermore, without the nafs, human beings could not rise above the grades of angels. Our Prophet ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sallam’ said, “If animals had known the knowledge you possess about the things that would happen in the life after death, you could not be able to find any meat to consume!” Animals would not be able to eat or drink, therefore, lose weight and perish because of their fear of the punishments in the Hereafter. If human beings did not possess nafs, similar to animals, they, too, would be unable to eat or drink because of the fear of the punishment, and thus would be unable to live. Continuation of daily lives of human beings depends on the oblivious nature (ghaflat) of their nafs and its fondness for worldly flavours. The nafs is like a sword with double blades, or a medicine which possesses strong poisonous properties. Anyone who uses this medicine in accordance with the prescription given by the doctor benefits from the useful properties of the medicine. Inversely, anyone who uses this medicine in an extreme fashion will perish because of the poisonous properties of the medicine. Islam does not prescribe destruction of the nafs. On the contrary, it recommends the nafs be tamed so that it should be utilized for doing useful deeds.]

Two types of struggle (jihâd) against the nafs is employed in order to prevent the nafs from transgressing against the guidelines set by Islam. The first one is called “riyâzat”. “Riyâzat” is a person’s resistance against the temptations of his nafs. This is accomplished by utilizing two means: wara’ and taqwâ. “Taqwâ” means not doing forbidden actions, or in other words, it is a way of living wherein one does not commit forbidden actions in one’s daily affairs. Wara’ means abstinence not only from harâms (forbidden acts) but also from a superfluity in the mubâhs (acts, enjoyments and flavours which Islam permits). The second type of struggle (jihâd) against the nafs requires performing things that the nafs dislikes. This is called mujâhada. All the acts of worship are mujâhada because the nafs does not like to perform worship. These two types of struggles tame the nafs and mature human beings and strengthen their souls and lead them to the way of Siddîqs (people who have attained the highest degree of piety), martyrs (Shahîds) and pious (Sâlih) Muslims. Allâhu ta’âlâ is not in need of the worships of His creatures. Transgression of His creatures will by no means harm Him. He commanded these aforementioned things in order to tame the nafs and in order to make a struggle against the nafs.

If human beings did not possess nafs, they would not be humans and they would possess the quality of angelhood. As a matter of fact, the human body has a variety of needs. For example, it is necessary to eat, drink, sleep, and rest. There is no doubt that a horseman cannot survive without a horse. Therefore, he takes good care of his horse. Similarly, a human being cannot function without a body. So, he must also take care of his body. Acts of worship are performed with the body. Once, they reported to our Prophet‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sal-lam’ that a certain person was performing worship continuously throughout the night without sleeping. He replied, “Most precious worships are the ones which are done on a continuous basis even if they are not much in quantity.” Worships which are done on a continuous basis cause a person to become a steady worshipper.

Performing worships means intending and following the commandments of Allâhu ta’âlâ. The commandments and prohibitions enjoined by Allâhu ta’âlâ are called “Sharî’at” or “Ahkâm al-ilâhiyya” or divine rules. Commandments are called “farz” and prohibitions are called “harâm”. It is reported that our Prophet said, “Perform worships as much as you can endure. Worships performed with joy and pleasure are most valuable.” A well rested person can perform worships with joy and pleasure. On the other hand, acts performed when you are tired physically and spiritually will cause languor. One should enjoy permissible things once in a while in order to regenerate a cheerful and restful attitude and get rid of tiredness. Imâm al-Ghazâlî ‘rahimahullâhu ta’âlâ’ says, “The body gets tired and does not want to move when one is consumed in excessive worshipping. At such instances one should comfort the body by either sleeping or reading the life stories of pious Muslims or by permissible entertainment. Doing these actions is better than worshipping without real desire.” The purpose of worshipping is to tame the nafs by way of mujâhada, on the one hand, and to attach the heart to Allâhu ta’âlâ by infusing it with elation, on the other. Rasûlullah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sal-lam’ states as follows in a hadîth-i-sherîf:

“Salât protects one from committing lowly and ugly actions.” This protection can only be obtained by performing the salât with strong desire and joy. Obtaining this strong desire and joy requires satisfying the permissible desires of the nafs as much as necessary. Following these guidelines means obedience to Islam. Permissible things which enhance the performance of worships are acts of worship themselves. The hadîth-i-sherîfwhich reads, “The sleep of a scholar is better than the worship of an ignoramus,” attests to our argument. It is makrûh, for instance, to perform the salât of tarâwih in a dozy manner. It should be performed with elation after getting rid of doziness. A salât performed amidst short dozes will cause slackness and oblivion.

[One should not be misguided by the above writings into the supposition that one could cease from performing worships because one is tired of performing them. In case of tiredness and languor, acts of worship are postponed;[14] they are not omitted. It is a grave sin to omit those acts of worship that are farz without (excuses which Islam dictates and which are called) ’udhr. (In case they are omitted, even for reasons which Islam justifies,) it is farz (obligatory) to make qadâ of them, (i.e. to perform them later.) And it is wâjib to make qadâ of those omitted acts of worship which are wâjib.[15] If a person omits those acts of worship which are sunnat, he will be deprived of their thawâb. If he omits them habitually without any ’udhr, he will be deprived (in the Hereafter) of the shafâ’at, (i.e. intercession of Rasûlullah) assigned for those acts of sunnat. Being tired or exhausted or reluctant is not an ’udhr (excuse) for postponing acts of farz until the time prescibed for their performance is over. Nor will it absolve the person guilty of the omission from the sin or the torment for the sin. It is written in the books teaching Islam’s credal tenets that it causes a state of kufr (disbelief) to disignore (Islam’s injunctions called) farz and harâm. Islam’s enemies are trying to misguide the younger generation on this vital point and thereby to demolish Islam from the interior. The one and only way of developing immunity from their misguidance is to read books of fiqh and ’ilm al-hâl written by scholars of Ahl as-sunnat and thereby to acquire effective information about farâiz (pl. of farz) and harâms.]