There are three primary enemies and causes of destruction and misguidance for humanity:
1. The desires of the ego (Hawa Al Nafs). Also known as the hidden 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 opposite of the right side of the soul that is inspired to consciousness (Taqwah).
The transgression of the nafs is contained in its desires and its desires mean its lust for immortality (Me!) and sovereignty (boundless greed and covetousness). This enemy is the main cause of the self-oppression of humanity. This oppression leads to either denial and polytheism or to misguidance, disobedience, and sins. There is no remedy for these two desires except through constantly 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 essence. 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 attracts the nafs and seduces it so that it stirs and moves toward inequity 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 women, offspring, gold and silver, beautiful horses and cattle, and cultivation.” (Al Imran-14)
3. Satan is the third enemy (Shaytan Al Rajeem). He is also external 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 these things through its desires. He has no means other than to embellish 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 separation. 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 remedy 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 level 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 desires 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 natural 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 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.”
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.
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.
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’).
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.
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.
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)