Friday, May 20, 2022

The Quran and the Psychology of Human Behaviour - Nafs

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam 20 May 2022 The Quran uses the word Nafs and the closest in concept and meaning to it is ‘cognitive self’. What is Nafs? It is our self-aware, feeling and thinking self which makes us uniquely what we are. What is it that we have apart from our physical body? • We have instincts such as the instinct to avoid pain and seek pleasure, • Needs such as the need for security, association, appreciation, and respect • We have our life’s experiences in the form of memories, acquired knowledge, patterns of thinking, beliefs, prejudices, intellectual suppositions, common sense • We have emotions, feelings, likes and dislikes, habits formed by conditioning or by what we habitually do. • We also choose our goals or the purpose of our life. • We also have an acquired moral code or the criteria of right and wrong and the power of reasoning to negotiate with all the above, override instinct, conditioning, habit, likes and dislikes to choose what we know is right and eschew what is wrong and to pursue our life’s cherished goals. All this forms our Nafs. It represents our true self but has no existence outside of the body. Nafs is often translated as soul. However, the Quran does not support the concept of an immortal soul that has an existence outside of our living, wakeful, and conscious body. The English word soul is also used to mean a person, self, inner-self, innermost being, conscience and consciousness. When used in this sense, it means Nafs but not when it means an immortal immaterial spirit. Nafs is not static and is ever-changing with our experiences and from the choices that we make. Good deeds purify it and make it strong and evil deeds weaken it. Nafs as Feelings وَتَحْمِلُ أَثْقَالَكُمْ إِلَى بَلَدٍ لَّمْ تَكُونُواْ بَالِغِيهِ إِلاَّ بِشِقِّ الأَنفُسِ إِنَّ رَبَّكُمْ لَرَؤُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ 16:7 And they (animals) carry your loads to a land which you could not have reached except with great trouble (feeling of distress) to yourselves (Alanfusi). Indeed, your Lord is surely Most kind, Most Merciful. The Nafs makes demands on us from our sense of duty وَلَمَّا دَخَلُوا مِنْ حَيْثُ أَمَرَهُمْ أَبُوهُم مَّا كَانَ يُغْنِي عَنْهُم مِّنَ اللَّهِ مِن شَيْءٍ إِلَّا حَاجَةً فِي نَفْسِ يَعْقُوبَ قَضَاهَا ۚ وَإِنَّهُ لَذُو عِلْمٍ لِّمَا عَلَّمْنَاهُ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ (12:68) And when they entered in the manner their father had enjoined, it did not profit them in the least against (the plan of) Allah: It was but a necessity of Jacob´s nafs, which he discharged. For he was, by our instruction, full of knowledge (and experience): but most men know not. Nafs Is Al-Ammara Bissu or Nafs Is the Enjoiner of Evil The senses are prone to temptations. For example, Yusuf (pbuh) was sought to be seduced when he had grown into an adult by the Aziz’s wife who had adopted him when he was a child. Yusuf (pbuh) says that he does not absolve himself of the blame for being human; his senses are also prone to the temptations of desire even when such desire is illegitimate. It is only through the mercy of God that he could save himself from temptations that may have led him to do an evil act. (12:53) "Nor do I absolve my own self (Nafsi): the senses are certainly prone to the evil temptations (Nafs al-Ammara Bissu), unless my Lord do bestow His Mercy: but surely my Lord is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful." 20: 96 قَالَ بَصُرْتُ بِمَا لَمْ يَبْصُرُوا بِهِ فَقَبَضْتُ قَبْضَةً مِّنْ أَثَرِ الرَّسُولِ فَنَبَذْتُهَا وَكَذَلِكَ سَوَّلَتْ لِي نَفْسِي He replied: "I saw what they saw not: so I took a handful (of dust) from the footprint of the Messenger, and threw it (into the calf): thus did my Nafsi suggest to me." وَأُحْضِرَتِ الأَنفُسُ الشُّحَّ 4:128 And the Alanfusu are swayed by greed فَطَوَّعَتْ لَهُ نَفْسُهُ قَتْلَ أَخِيهِ فَقَتَلَهُ فَأَصْبَحَ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ 5:30 Then prompted to him his Nafsuhu to kill his brother so he killed him and became of the losers Here Nafsuhu is “his feeling self” with its inclinations, temptations, envy, fear, greed, etc. Nafs al-Lawwama or the self-reproaching conscience (75:1) I do call to witness the Resurrection Day; (2) And I do call to witness the self-reproaching conscience: (Eschew Evil). (3) Does man think that We cannot assemble his bones? (4) Nay, We are able to put together in perfect order the very tips of his fingers. (5) But man wishes to do wrong (even) in the time in front of him. Nafs al-Lawwama may be described as that part of the Nafs that causes cognitive dissonance when what we do is contrary to what we believe is the right thing to do. Our sense of right and wrong, or the values of our society, are learnt in the same manner as we learn our mother tongue. We imbibe our values and sense of right and wrong while learning to communicate since what we learn through our interactions is not just the language but also the values of the society with which we interact. This further gets refined based on our efforts directed towards acquiring the necessary knowledge for leading a moral life. The cognitive dissonance may be dealt with honestly by changing our actions to conform with what we believe is right or we may succumb to our temptations and do evil acts. We may even rationalize such behaviour. Cognitive dissonance is also described as the voice of conscience and is experienced by all persons who have moral values. Those who are amoral and the psychopaths, do not experience cognitive dissonance. For such people, the ends justify the means, and their end is self-gratification. Such people are adept liars and deceivers as they do not have to contend with cognitive dissonance or suffer remorse or guilt, and therefore, they have no scruples. They can take on any colour like a chameleon to deceive. Their victims walk into their trap taken in by their superficial charm which they can put on for the occasion. Since they are not bothered by pangs of conscience, the amoral can slip into any role with ease to get what they want. The traits of those who are amoral include a grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, manipulation, lack of empathy, and impulsiveness. Nafs al-Lawwama is a Check on Nafs al-Ammara Bissu وَأَمَّا مَنْ خَافَ مَقَامَ رَبِّهِ وَنَهَى النَّفْسَ عَنِ الْهَوَىٰ (79:40) And for such as had entertained the fear of standing before their Lord´s (tribunal) and had restrained (their) nafs from lower/vain desires, Good Deeds Strengthen the Nafs and Evil Deeds Weaken It Charity in any form, forgiveness and every good deed purifies and strengthens it and every evil deed harms it Seeking Forgiveness to Repair the Damage to Nafs (3:135) And those who, having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their Anfusahum, earnestly bring Allah to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins,- and who can forgive sins except Allah?- and are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done.(136) For such the reward is forgiveness from their Lord, and Gardens with rivers flowing underneath,- an eternal dwelling: How excellent a recompense for those who work (and strive)! Nafs Al-Mutma`Inna or the Nafs That Is Content and At Peace Those who will be successful in the Hereafter are described as the Nafs al-Mutma`inna or those whose conscience is at peace with self (89:27) To the persons whose Nafs or consciousness is at peace and satisfied (Nafs al-Mutma`inna) will be said (28) "Come back thou to thy Lord, - well-pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him! (29) "Enter thou, then, among My devotees! (30) "Yea, enter thou My Heaven! Whose Nafs will be completely content and at peace? Those who dealt with their cognitive dissonance honestly and acted in accordance with what they truly believed to be right, and when they felt there was a discrepancy between their actual and ideal selves, made sincere efforts to bridge the gap. The Nafs that will be in peace will be those who know that they did their best with the best of intentions and remaining true to their own selves and beliefs and to the best of their knowledge, using every opportunity to do what was best under the given circumstances. They are those who are satisfied with their lives in every way and did not yield to greed, envy, hate, anger, and carnal desires and who remained grateful to Allah for all that they received. A disbeliever in God/religion could be a spiritual person and be inclined toward goodness and be at peace with himself and his world. Such a person has no interest in attacking others for their beliefs or to crusade against religion. Such persons who are at peace with themselves and with Allah will enter Heaven as per Surah 89. Such a state is not possible as Yusuf (pbuh) says without the Grace and Mercy of Allah. Nafs Which Is Not At Peace with Itself Without belief in God, people will tend to suppress their cognitive dissonance with rationalization, succumb to their lower desires, will be greedy for more of everything, be envious of those who are better off, hate others for what they are, and feel insecure and defend their faults/mistakes. The Nafs that is unsatisfied are those who die wanting to live longer, dissatisfied with what they could achieve or feel unfulfilled in some respect. The Nafs that has not found its equilibrium and is in a constant state of agitation are the maladjusted persons. Nafs that is unable to believe or disbelieve and uncomfortable with its uncertain state, is in a constant need of affirmation of its reasons for disbelief. Such persons will argue ad-nauseum and defend their views as if their very life depended on it. They try to defend their position with their own self-serving “necessarian theology” holding their own designer god to be true and the God of the scriptures as false because of their personal discomfort with its verses. They are unable to reject the religion and move away nor accept it. They cannot even take comfort from the verse “Let there be no compulsion in religion” and move away because there are consequences in the Hereafter for deviating from the religion of Allah. They are unable to accept that religion is from God nor are they sure that it is man-made. So, neither will they believe nor start their own man-made religion with their designer god and their necessarian theology. Surely, there is a way to move towards resolution and find peace by seeking refuge in Allah and discarding their designer god and necessarian theology. Else, their struggle and state of unrest and agitation will continue. While to doubt everything and question everything is a sound principle to make progress in the sciences, it is a dumb rule to follow with the scriptures. Do question, find your answers, and move on one way or the other. The Nafs that harbours hatred for the believers and their religion, and is an enemy of religion, is satanic. Shun such people. (3:118) O ye who believe! Take not into your intimacy those outside your ranks: They will not fail to corrupt you. They only desire your ruin: Rank hatred has already appeared from their mouths: What their hearts conceal is far worse. We have made plain to you the Signs, if ye have wisdom. Each one of us knows to what extent we have attained the status of Nafs al-Mutma`inna. Such a Nafs is fearless, optimistic, free of hatred and certainly not paranoid. Paranoia is a sign of a Nafs that is ill at ease with self and its environment. Over a period, from the moral choices that a person makes, it becomes instinctive for one who has attained Nafs al-Mutma`inna, to desire what pleases Allah and to abhor what Allah dislikes. The Nafs Dies كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ Every Nafsin shall have a taste of death (29:57, 21:35, 3:185) In this part, we have seen that Nafs means our feeling, thinking, discerning, prone to temptations, rationalizing self and our reproaching, correcting, controlling conscience which prevents us from indulgences that we have learnt to consider immoral or unethical, in a state of wakeful consciousness. It is what makes us the unique individual or self or being that we are, which lives and ultimately dies. Death is for both the body and the Nafs. The aim should be to attain the status of Nafs al-Mutma`inna Also Read: The Quran and the Psychology of Human Behaviour ----- A frequent contributor to, Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He has spent years studying Quran in-depth and made seminal contributions to its interpretation. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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