We continue with our topic of the three voices that speak to us and what to do about them. Over the last two weeks I spoke about the first of them which was Shaytaan. Today we will speak about the second voice which is even more dangerous and that is the voice of our own Nafs (desire). And about the third voice which if we heed and obey, then we can never go wrong.
Nafs (نَفْس) is an Arabic word occurring in the Qur’an, literally meaning ‘self’, and has been translated as ‘psyche’, ‘ego’, ‘soul’, ‘desire’, and ‘breath’. In the context of this Khutba we will take the meaning as ‘desire’.
Abdullah ibn Amr (R) reported that Rasoolullahﷺ said, “None of you (can) have faith until his desires comply with what I have brought.” (Nawawi 40 Ahadith)
Anas bin Malik (R) reported that Rasoolullahﷺ said, “The son of Adam grows old, but two (desires) in him remain young: desire for wealth and desire for life.” (Muslim)
Islam is the name of a practice, not a theory. The one who practices Islam is a Muslim, not the one who only knows about Islam but doesn’t practice. Our eternal fate will be decided on the Day of Judgment based on what we did, not on what we knew. It is important to know because without correct knowledge, we can’t practice Islam correctly. The purpose of acquiring knowledge is not for its own sake but so that we can practice our religion. Practice starts with wanting to practice and that is why the right desire to please Allahﷻ by following the Sunnah of Rasoolullahﷺ is so important. It is essential for us to recognize our desire and see what it is trying to lead us towards and to correct that focus so that we can hope for Allahﷻ’s forgiveness and Jannah.
It is the nature of the self (Nafs) to lead towards sin. Allahﷻ told us:
وَمَآ أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِىٓ إِنَّ ٱلنَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌۢ بِٱلسُّوٓءِ إِلَّا مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّىٓ إِنَّ رَبِّى غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
Yusuf 12: 53 And I do not seek to free myself from blame, for indeed the Self is ever inclined to evil, except those shown mercy by my Rabb. Surely my Rabb is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
Anyone who thinks it can’t happen to him must remember that this is Yusuf (AS) speaking. If he says this about his Nafs, there is nobody living today who can say that he is more pious, stronger, or more blessed and protected than was the Nabi of Allahﷻ, Yusuf (AS). If he saw his Nafs as a danger, what must we do? This is the Law of Entropy in a manner of speaking. To be stronger, faster, more physically and mentally agile, to gain knowledge or skills, to have a good marriage or children, in short, to have anything of value, we need to make effort. If we do nothing, we just get weaker, slower, more disconnected with the world, more stupid and so on. Our nature is to regress, to slide down the slope. To be inclined to sin doesn’t mean that it is good. It is what will happen if we don’t take steps to prevent it. The good news is that it is all preventable. To prevent us from slipping, Allahﷻ sent His Book and His Messengerﷺ and commanded us to obey him and follow him in all aspects of life. We spoke about Shaytaan’s deception and that Allahﷻ told us that Shaytaan has no power us. He can only whisper and tempt but he can’t force us to disobey Allahﷻ. The Nafs, however, is a part of us. In Ramadan Shayateen are chained but the Nafs is free. The Nafs does whatever we have trained it to do. That is why childhood conditioning is so important. A child is never too young to learn. Children learn from the time they open their eyes. We fool ourselves that children don’t understand. Then we are horrified at what we taught them, even if inadvertently. If we have been trained to be obedient to Allahﷻ, the Nafs will be inclined to obedience. If not, it will guide us to what appeals to it.
The Nafs is the animal part of our being and is drawn to what all animals are drawn towards, which is excess in physical pleasures. Gluttony, all addictions, the desire to have the biggest, shiniest, fastest and whatnot are all signs of the rule of the Nafs. Just look at our advertising today. See who the so-called ‘Influencers’, the social icons, the role models of society are, and you can see what’s happening and what we are being mind-steered towards. We are a society where a pop singer or actor is paid more for a single performance than a teacher earns in their entire career and yet we lament how society is becoming more and more corrupt. The truest rule of life is, ‘You only get what you pay for.’ Just look at your life and you will see how true it is. The sooner we wake up to this, the sooner we will change. That is why Allahﷻ ordered us to enter Islam completely, not partially.
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱدْخُلُوا۟ فِى ٱلسِّلْمِ كَآفَّةً وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا۟ خُطُوَٰتِ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنِ إِنَّهُۥ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ
Baqara 2: 208 O believers! Enter Islam wholeheartedly (completely) and do not follow Shaytaan’s footsteps. Surely, he is your sworn enemy.
Our problem globally is selective obedience. Selective obedience is disobedience. Selective obedience is arrogance. Allahﷻ warned us:
أَفَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِبَعْضِ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ وَتَكْفُرُونَ بِبَعْضٍ فَمَا جَزَآءُ مَن يَفْعَلُ ذَٰلِكَ مِنكُمْ إِلَّا خِزْىٌ فِى ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَيَوْمَ ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ يُرَدُّونَ إِلَىٰٓ أَشَدِّ ٱلْعَذَابِ وَمَا ٱللَّهُ بِغَـٰفِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ
Baqara 2: 85 Do you believe in some of the Scripture and reject the rest? Is there any reward for those who do so among you other than disgrace in this worldly life and being subjected to the harshest punishment on the Day of Judgment? For Allah is never unaware of what you do.
Islam is a practice which like all practices benefits only those who follow it completely. Partial practice is not only useless but harmful. Let us wake up and take real benefit from this beautiful Divine blessing called Islam. How tragic that those who were given Islam as a gift seem to have so little value for it. We pick and choose and instead of benefiting from what Allahﷻ chose for us, we anger him by rejecting His gift. We can’t say that we weren’t warned. Let us step back from the brink before it is too late. That’s Istighfaar and Tawba – to repent and return to Allahﷻ.
If not, then Allahﷻ declared His Judgment for Ibaad-un-Nafs.
أَرَءَيْتَ مَنِ ٱتَّخَذَ إِلَـٰهَهُۥ هَوَىٰهُ أَفَأَنتَ تَكُونُ عَلَيْهِ وَكِيلًا
Furqan 25: 43 Have you seen ˹O Prophet˺ the one who has taken their own desires as their god? Will you then be a keeper over them?
Allahﷻ called following the Nafs over His Command, worship of the Nafs and ordered His Messengerﷺ not to intercede for that person. What can be a more severe warning than this, that it is time to change ourselves?
The final point about the Nafs is that all desires are transient, temporary, short-lived, and quickly depreciate. Anything new is exciting but the excitement wears off rapidly. For those who are grateful, it lasts a bit longer, but it is never at the first-day-first-show level. Just reflect on any wonderful experience that you had in life. First new car, first time you fly First Class, first anything that you enjoy; is not the same the second time you do that. Our enjoyment decreases, and it becomes mundane. That is why we have the term, been-there-done-that. That is why the Nafs seeks excess. Or newer experiences, more and more varied, often going off into the realm of the bizarre, even freaky.
That is what is happening around us in society all over the world, which rapidly slides towards all kinds of dangerous, even disgusting things, in the name of new experiences. Ask people today about their aspirations and you hear statements which reflect the greed mindset, more is better. We don’t take lessons from those who went before us, whose normal was a million times bigger that our wildest dream but who still left it all behind and went alone and naked, to give account to Allahﷻ. The Nafs is like a bottomless pit. No matter how much you put into it, it will never fill. Rasoolullahﷺ warned us about this greed.
Anas bin Malik (R) reported that Rasoolullahﷺ said, “If the son of Adam had a valley full of gold, he would want to have two valleys. Nothing fills his mouth but the dust of the grave. Yet Allahﷻ will relent to whoever repents to Him.” (Muttafaqun Alayhi, Bukhari & Muslim)
Let us wake up before we are woken up by Malakul Mawth from the stupor we call ‘living’, and the race to destruction we call ‘life’.
For those who repent and return to Allahﷻ, His Forgiveness is boundless.
إِلَّا مَن تَابَ وَءَامَنَ وَعَمِلَ عَمَلًا صَـٰلِحًا فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ يُبَدِّلُ ٱللَّهُ سَيِّـَٔاتِهِمْ حَسَنَـٰتٍ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا
Furqan 25: 70 As for those who repent, believe, and do good deeds, they are the ones whose evil deeds Allah will change into good deeds. For Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Allahﷻ is the Most Merciful, the Most Forgiving. Time to choose is now.
The last voice is the voice of Ar-Rahman. I don’t mean that Allahﷻ will speak to us, but that it is the voice of our conscience, our innate nature which Allahﷻ created which can differentiate between good and evil. But do we listen to it? To do that we must connect with Allahﷻ. We must know Allahﷻ. We must feel Allahﷻ’s presence in our hearts. We must love Allahﷻ over and above anyone or anything else. We must use our eyes not just to see things but to recognize the Glory of Allahﷻ around us. The amazing thing today is that thanks to the technology that Allahﷻ taught us, we are able to see His creation in such incredible detail as never before. But because we have not been trained to recognize Allahﷻ in His creation, we don’t see the creation as His signs. That’s truly tragic.
That is why Allahﷻ showed us how to educate. First know the creator. Then research in the creation. The result is automatic and beautiful.
إِنَّ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱخْتِلَـٰفِ ٱلَّيْلِ وَٱلنَّهَارِ لَـَٔايَـٰتٍ لِّأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَلْبَـٰبِ
ٱلَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ ٱللَّهَ قِيَـٰمًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَـٰذَا بَـٰطِلًا سُبْحَـٰنَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ ٱلنَّارِ
A’al Imraan 3: 190-191 Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the day and night there are signs for people of reason. ˹They are˺ those who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth ˹and pray˺, “Our Lord! You have not created ˹all of˺ this without purpose. Glory be to You! Protect us from the torment of the Fire.
But instead of teaching in this way, we have separated science from theology and created a gulf between the Word of Allahﷻ in the Qur’an and His Word in creation. Both are His Ayaat – His signs. That is why we have Ulama who are ignorant about science and Muslim scientists who can’t even recite Sura Fatiha correctly and neither sees this as a problem.
When we know Allahﷻ and learn to listen to His guidance which is the Book of Allahﷻ and the teachings of His Messengerﷺ, the Sunnah of Rasoolullahﷺ, then our hearts open to His Commands. We take comfort from what He said about how close He is to us. There is no time to speak about these Ayaat in any detail but let me just give you a sample. He said:
وَلِلَّهِ ٱلْمَشْرِقُ وَٱلْمَغْرِبُ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا۟ فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ ٱللَّهِ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ وَٰسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ
Baqara 2: 115 To Allah belong the east and the west, so wherever you turn you are facing ˹towards˺ Allah. Surely Allah is All-Encompassing, All-Knowing.
For the one who recognizes this, Allahﷻ asked. What is our response?
أَلَيْسَ ٱللَّهُ بِكَافٍ عَبْدَهُۥ وَيُخَوِّفُونَكَ بِٱلَّذِينَ مِن دُونِهِۦ وَمَن يُضْلِلِ ٱللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُۥ مِنْ هَادٍ
Zumar 39: 36 Is Allah not sufficient for His slave? Yet they threaten you with other ˹powerless˺ gods besides Him! Whoever Allah leaves to stray will be left with no guide.
The gods that we are threatened with are not stone idols, but technology and ideas. We believe in those more than we believe in the Word of Allahﷻ. And that is Shirk and idolatry as surely as praying to a statue. Just ask how many hours we spend in our phones and how many hours in the Qur’an? Ask which we get tired of first: Qur’an and Khatira, Khutba, or TikTok? Ask what we look towards first when we have any problem, dua or technology? Do we factor Allahﷻ into our lives at all?
For those who recognize that He is in our lives anyway and we love that and want to connect with Him, He reassured us and said:
وَمَن يَتَّقِ ٱللَّهَ يَجْعَل لَّهُۥ مَخْرَجًا
وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَحْتَسِبُ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُۥٓ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ بَـٰلِغُ أَمْرِهِۦ قَدْ جَعَلَ ٱللَّهُ لِكُلِّ شَىْءٍ قَدْرًا
Talaq 65: 2-3 And whoever is mindful of Allah, He will make a way out for them, and provide for them from sources they could never imagine. And whoever puts their trust in Allah, then He ˹alone˺ is sufficient for them. Certainly Allah achieves His Will. Allah has already set a destiny for everything.
And told us to ask Him and promised to give us what we ask. But do we?
وَقَالَ رَبُّكُمُ ٱدْعُونِىٓ أَسْتَجِبْ لَكُمْ إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ يَسْتَكْبِرُونَ عَنْ عِبَادَتِى سَيَدْخُلُونَ جَهَنَّمَ دَاخِرِينَ
Ghafir 40: 60 Your Rabb has proclaimed, “Call upon Me, I will respond to you. Surely those who are too proud to worship Me will enter Hell, fully humbled.”
Three voices and three choices. But only one will lead to success in this world and the next. Allahﷻ left us free to choose but sent us guidance both in word and practice. He gave us example after example of what happens when we accept guidance and when we don’t. Then He left us free to choose. He will respect that choice and will give us whatever we choose. What do we want to choose?