Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Soul in Islam

Category: SOUND

Each person is a whole entity, a union of mind, body, and soul. Islamic mystics/philosophers recognized this and using the Qur'an as a guideline, tried to map it out.

However, they start from complete scratch. The division isn't simply mind, body, and soul... those things are in there, but they are arranged more according to how they might literally be laid out, rather than simply having the most easiest abstract model to manipulate in your head.

There are three important terms. These are not the different parts, these are three completely different ideas described in the Qur'an. They are the Qalb (heart), the Nafs (Self), and the Ruh (soul).

I'll say it early here, the Ruh, or soul, is the thing encompassing our ideas of mind, body, AND soul... the literal thing. Who we are. And when using that word, it often refers to the highest levels of the Ruh, which has several levels... the lowest of which exist so that we can exist in this reality. So when you look at your hands, you are looking at literally YOU, your soul, in Islam. Perhaps a meaningless part of you, but one nonetheless as long as they are attached to your body.

The Qalb is kind of like the heart of the Ruh. The Ruh is the soul, but I can't use the word soul, because Ruh has a much more extensive definition. Imagine the Ruh as simply a body, and the Qalb as the heart/mind of it. If the Qalb is messed, the Ruh gets sick. We can directly act upon the Qalb which would then have an indirect effect upon the Ruh.

The Sufic goal is to develop a heart that is sincere, loving and compassionate, and to develop the heart's intelligence. This intelligence of the heart is deeper, and more grounded than the rational, abstract intelligence of the mind. It is said that when the 'eyes of the heart' open, one can see beyond the surface appearance of existence, and that when the 'ears of the heart' open, one can hear the reality of the truth behind the words.

-Sheikh Ragip

To do that, read the whole shebang above about Spiritual Intelligence. So while the Qalb concept resembles stuff we already know, it still is not a biological organ. Emotions, Sheikh Ragip says in one article, are not from the Qalb, they are from the Nafs or Self.

The Nafs is the philosophical Self. It can be ruled completely by our base desires or instincts, or be elevated into a really good representation of the deeper truths within (the divine connection of our soul). The Nafs was split into 5 aspects or levels in the Qur'an, but Islamic scholars have expanded those into 7. Going through the levels should be understood as a linear growth.


Level 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 immortality 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, criticism, undeserved self-praise, bitterness, attachment to what belongs to others even if it possesses what is better, lack of contentment, 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 selfishly. It knows neither fullness, nor humility, nor thankfulness, 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 lordship. "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 blinded and then it is finally sealed.

The root of this level of the self is that it's convinced that it is perfect and that others are flawed and that everyone will die but it will remain immortal. It got its name because of its constant demands 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."

Level 2 - The Blaming Self (Nafs Al Lawwama)

Its healing remembrance is Allah (God). This is the self in its original 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 Commanding Self but the two desires of immortality and sovereignty are still active in it although in a much reduced or weakened condition. This is the first stage of salvation for the self and the first step toward its purification and success.

Level 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 Traditions of the Prophet. It is also inspired with love of remembrance (Zhikr) and to seeking forgiveness (Istighfar) and to correcting its intentions (Niyyah) and renewing its repentance (Tawbah).

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.

Level 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 attained 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 conduct 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, striving, 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 confidence 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 possession 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 Allah.

The self in this station expands in its capacity beyond efforts and devotions toward repentance. Once it is secure with Allah it occupies 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 secure?" (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 dominate 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 previously hidden; these are the attributes of servanthood (Ubudiyyah), helplessness ('Ajz), humility (Zhull), poverty (Faqr), need (Ihtiyaj), and annihilation (Fana').

Level 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 Benevolent 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 (Ridah) and surrender (Tassleem) to Allah. The characteristic of this self is constant cheerfulness, gratitude, and thankfulness no matter 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 beautiful station." This station is connected to the station above it.

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

At this stage the light of the heart is completed. The heart advances 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 condition.

"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 immortality. 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 manifestations 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 essentially the manifestations of His names. The folk of this station are also gifted with unveiling and miracles to enable them to call people 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 miracles 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 miracles. For Allah's command must come to be and is utterly irresistible.

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 beautiful station" (Ihsan) which is the goal and desire of the heart of every servant.

Level 7 - The Complete Self (Nafs Al Kamilah)

Also known as the Self of Light (Nafs Al Nuraniyyah), the Muhammadan 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 whomever 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. Allah is the Forgiving and Merciful." (Al Imran-31)

Its outer remembrance is Qahhar (Compelling) and its inner remembrance is Wadud (Loving). This is the station of the completeness of servanthood to Allah through the completeness of following the teachings of His beloved, Muhammad, peace be upon 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 station of "Two bow's lengths or nearer." in the footsteps of the beloved, 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 Messenger and those who are loved by Allah and His Messenger. At this level the Completed Self becomes the mirror of the light of the essential Prophetic Muhammadan self so that it attains the complete 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 fluctuates in the lights of bliss in all its stations and states. It is an angelic self of light inside human bodies. The truth is that it is selfless; 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 receiving or deprived it would not know because love has overpowered 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 people 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, stillness, 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, worships, and serves Him. Whoever of the lovers obeys him, and loves him, and models his example in character, deeds, and worship, 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)


The Ruh is also split into 7 levels. But rather than stages of being like Nafs (our philosophical Self), these are more like stages of actual existence. What really is. Our actual physical/metaphysical self.

The soul or ruh is directly connected with the Divine, even if one is unconscious of that connection. The soul has seven levels or facets of the complete soul. These levels are: mineral, vegetable, animal, personal, human, secret and secret of secret souls. Each level represents the stages of evolution, and the process that it goes through in its growth. The soul is wholistic, and extends to all aspects of the person, ie: the body, the mind and the spirit. Each level of the soul has valuable gifts and strengths, as well as weaknesses. The goal is to develop the strengths and to achieve a balance between these levels, not forgoing the lower ones to focus only on the higher ones.

-Sheikh Ragip


The Mineral Soul

Basically, our tangible existence. Our atomic (matter) selves. Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Physics, etc.

The Vegetable Soul

This is related to our anatomy and physiology. This is our 'growing' self. Just like plants simply grow. This is us as we just go about the action of any living creature... self-sustainment and growth (although for humans that also implies emotional/intellectual growth too because of our nature). The Western idea of Behavioral Psychology starts here.

The Animal Soul

Our bodies. The 'body' of 'mind, body, and soul'. Desires, passions, fears, emotions, etc. An unbalance here would be like an emotional unbalance. In traditional Sufi orders, this is the first thing they 'fixed' in their students or mureeds. Ya, Sufis were basically some of the first 'psychologists' who recognized the specificity of these problems (emotional), and utilized techniques to 'heal' them. This 'soul' is the same essence as that of Behavioral Psychology (conditioned functioning) and Ego Psychology (all things Freudian).

The Personal Soul

Our minds. The brain and the nervous system. It allows us to come up with complex reactions to the environment through the use of planning and developing complex models of thought. This includes the the ego and the sense of self. This would correspond roughly to Cognitive Psychology.

The Human Soul

This is basically the Qalb described earlier. Humanistic Psychology parallels this.

The Secret Soul

The inner consciousness. The most deep-rooted sentience within us. It remembers our divine origin and it's inside the Qalb.

"And verily, ye know of the first form of creation. Do ye not remember?"
Qur'an, 56:62

This is what remembers that. The first form of creation, another massive topic on its own but it's when all the souls were created and were made to bear witness.

This is the origin of spiritual values, such as spiritual inspiration and creativity.

The Secret of Secrets Soul

I'm not sure if it's Secret of Secrets or Secret of Secret, but whatever. This is our divine connection. God knows.

These last two (if the last one can even qualify) would be grouped under Transpersonal Psychology.


Each level, or soul, has positive and negative aspects. Negative being when there is unbalance within that level. There must also be a balance between levels.

I also read that the last 3 souls or levels of Ruh can be damaged by substance abuse. Very seriously so. Maybe even irrevocably (the 'heart' can indeed be sealed and completely signed off after a certain point as described in the Qur'an). This means drugs, alcohol, or other chemical addictions that alter your perception and basically ANYTHING that disconnects you from reality, even mood-altering substances. You have to "keep it real". All things spiritual are synonymous with Truth. If reality is ugly, suffer it and you will undergo spiritual growth. We all know that and have heard it repeated in every human culture, civilization, or religion that ever was. Your body is a part of your soul as outlined above. That outline of Ruh shows WHY Spiritual Intelligence as described in the original thread works as it does. You can 'feed' input up through the souls but it HAS to start at the most BASIC levels (physical).


Source: Sheikh Ragip is also known as Dr. Robert Frager, who is a Harvard-trained psychologist and founder of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. The other quotes under Nafs were from a translation of a classic text by Mahmoud Mustafa. Props to Google.


Lada said...

Superb! Thanks a lot for posting this


As salaam walaykum waragmathula wabarakathu my sister to All. Shukraan for this amazing and very informative article it's truly beautiful and reminded me a lot about how I attaches myself to Allah through thikr and meditating on some of Allahs most beautiful names and started to Love Him and see Him Allah SWT in all his creation AllahU Akbar #Verily from Allah we come and to Him is our final return Alhamdulila ✌💚