I Want to Fight My Soul, so What is the Way?

By Nawwl Bin Abdullh

 Adapted with slight modifications from a translation by Ab Iyd Amjad Rafq


All Praise is due to Allh the Rabb of all the Worlds and prayers and peace upon the best creation of Allh.

To proceed:

We hear many complaints from the people. Most of their complaints are related to their souls, which command them what is evil. They also complain about the evil of their actions. One of them says:

Indeed I have been put to trial with four, they did not afflict me
Except due to my misfortune and wretchedness
Ibls, the world, the soul and the desire
How will this end when they are my enemies, all of them

So we find some of them saying I have tried many times, repeatedly, to turn my soul away from committing these specific acts of disobedience but my efforts have failed.

Another one says: I tried to get my soul to perform acts of obedience (to Allh), good and righteous deeds but I am not able to remain firm upon them, I leave them so quickly.

And we hear a third one say: I have repented from many evil actions and promised myself that I would not commit them again. However after the passing of time and being occupied much it did not take long before I returned to them. In fact I fell into others and increased in them.

If we were to look at the condition of these people we would realise that among the reasons for their not being able to dominate and control their souls and not being able to remain firm upon what they have promised themselves is their lack of striving against their souls. In fact they have left the fetters and reins for the soul so that it leads them and plays with them however it wills. The soul is such that if it is not fought against and controlled it commands its possessor to commit evil and obscene deeds. These people, because they have not fought against their souls and controlled them in that which Allh loves and is pleased with, are not able to remain constant in their (good) actions. For this reason it is necessary for them to control their souls for Allh's pleasure and His obedience. Not that it should control them and as a result destroy them

It is vital that a person launches a war against his soul. One which is not haphazard or aimless but rather a firm and determined one in which he uses the weapons of faith (mn), sincerity to Allh (ikhls), patience (sabr) and supplication (du). He uses them until he is able to overcome this mischievous enemy which is concealed between the two sides of his body [the soul, which commands the evil]. As a result he tames and pacifies it and makes it obedient, humble and submissive to the command of Allh.

For this reason we find that Ibn al-Qayyim (rh) says: Since the jihd against the enemies of Allh outwardly (i.e. physically) is a branch of the jihd of the servant against his own soul for the sake of Allh...

The jihd that is greater and mightier than the jihd against the disbelievers and pagans is the jihd of a person against his own soul for the sake of Allh, just as the Messenger of Allh said: The Mujhid is the one who struggles against his own soul in Allhs obedience. [Tirmidh who said it was Hasan Sahh and Al-Albn  said: Its isnd is good]

And when a person is not able to struggle against his own soul and overcome it in that which Allh loves, he will not be able to fight against the external enemy, nor overcome it. How can he, when he is defeated and weak, both mentally and spiritually, and cannot even gain control of his own feeble soul?

Before entering into the discussion of how to fight against the soul it is necessary to mention a little section about the soul and its nature. Then we shall mention the cure for the soul and the way to purify it from its desires and lusts, if Allh wills.

The Reality of the Soul

The soul continuously calls its owner to transgression, preference of the world, the desires and love of the delights and pleasures. But Allh calls His servant to fear of Him, awe of Him and forbids the soul from its whim. He has prepared a mighty reward for the one who follows His command. The Exalted said:

And as for the one fears the standing in front of His Lord and restrains the soul from impure evil desires and lusts, verily, Paradise will be his abode. [Srah Nzit 79:40-41]

The soul in its essence calls and commands the evil. Allh the Exalted said:

Verily the (human) self is inclined to evil, except when my Lord bestows His Mercy (upon whomsoever He wills). Verily, my Lord is Oft-Forgiving, Most-Merciful. [Srah Ysuf 12:53]

The soul was originally created ignorant and given to transgression. Knowledge, guidance and righteousness are things that befall it due to inspiration from its Lord and then by the struggle against it by its owner and his nurturing it and engaging it in jihd. Allh the Exalted says:

And those who strive in Our way We shall guide them to our paths and verily Allh is with the doers of good (muhsinn). [Srah Ankabt 29:69]

Allh Azzawajall guaranteed the one whom He found trying and striving (against his soul) that He will be with him, will help him and will bring into reality his wish or desire (of domination over his soul). What then can a man desire after that?

And Ibn al-Qayyim (rh) said: The travellers to Allh, in all their different paths and diversity of their ways are agreed that the soul is a barrier between the heart and Allh and that it (the heart) will not come close to Him, the Sublime, or arrive to Him except after killing his soul, abandoning it by opposing it and being victorious over it

For this reason, it is obligatory upon us to fight and strive against it in order to travel (by this striving) in the straight path and to the clear success which Allh Azzawajall has prescribed for us and which the best of the creation of Allh, Muhammad has explained to us.

Know that striving against the soul does not occur except by four ways. Whoever follows them and applies them to his soul will have fought against it and protected it with the help of Allh. Ibn al-Qayyim (rh) has mentioned these ways and they are as follows:

Firstly: By holding the soul to account
Secondly: By opposing it and not following its whims and desires
Thirdly: By making it patient in Allhs obedience
Fourthly: By making it patient in refraining Allhs disobedience


The First Way: Holding the Soul to Account

The destruction of the soul and the heart and their corruption is due to the neglect of calling the soul to account. There are very few amongst Allhs servants whom you will find calling their souls to account. One will ask it constantly: What did I intend with that word of mine, or that advice I gave, or when I called unto Allh or when I commanded the good and forbade the evil (on a particular occasion)? Was that word which my tongue engaged upon and which my mouth uttered a word sincerely for Allh? Did I desire the Face of Allh with it? Or did I desire a portion of the world with it? What did I desire with that action, whether it was prayer, charity, fasting or putting and end to a certain evil? What did I hope for from it and what was the desire behind it? Did I hope for reward from Allh for it and His pleasure, or was my hope for reward and praise from Allhs creation, showing off and seeking to be heard of?

In such a way does he question his soul and hold it to account for every word, movement and moment of rest. What did I hope for from it? And what did I desire by it?

May Allh show mercy to Al-Hasan al-Basr who said: You will not find a believer except that he is (constantly) holding his soul to account. What did I intend with that word of mine? What did I intend with my food? What did I intend with my drink?

Imm Ahmad wrote: The intelligent person is the one who controls his own soul (calls it to account) and acts (in preparation) for what comes after death..., and what is after death? After death is the barzakh. After death there is accountability and punishment. After death are the Scales (upon which the deeds are weighed) and the Sirt (the bridge over Hellfire) and then it is either Paradise or Hellfire. So what have we prepared for what comes after death?! ...and the incapable person is the one who makes his soul follow its whim and has many expectations from Allh.

Such a person is the one who says Allh will forgive me, Allh will show mercy upon me, he covets all these things from Allh and yet he does not perform the righteous actions and falls into many sins and acts of disobedience. Righteous actions are one of the means of entering Paradise. It is not sufficient for someone to have expectations (from Allh) without making some effort and sacrifice and striving with his soul to perform righteous actions. Allh Azzawajall frequently links mn with righteous actions and it is also one of the ways of entering into Paradise. We ask Allh to grant us His Gardens.

Umar ibn al-Khattb said: Call your souls to account before you are called to account and weigh your souls (i.e. your actions) before you are weighed for it will make the accountability easier for you tomorrow if you call your selves to account today [Reported by Ahmad in his Musnad]

Mlik ibn Dnr (rh) said: May Allh show mercy to a servant who said :Are you not the perpetrator of this action? Are you not the perpetrator of that action? Then he rebukes it, strikes it and confines it to the Book of Allh and is becomes its master and guide. 

How many souls are their who control and lead their owners into the darkness and then into destruction and refuge is sought from Allh! Let a person therefore, be the leader, the commander and the forbidder of his soul and not the soul of him.

And Al-Hasan (rh) said: A believer is a guardian over his soul. He calls his soul to account for the sake of Allh. The reckoning on the Day of Judgement will be light upon a people who call themselves to account in the world and the reckoning on the Day of Judgement will be hard on a people who take this matter lightly.

And Ibn Kathr (rh) said: The believer (constantly) returns to his soul (holding it to account) so he says: What did I intend by this action?! What is for me and what is for it?! By Allh I shall never return to it. If it is an act of disobedience for example, it is a way of guarding his soul. He asks it constantly and calls it to account with an intense and hard reckoning in this world so that the reckoning on the Day of Judgement is easy.

How Do I Call Myself to Account?

Holding oneself to account is of two types: One before the action and the other after the action.

The First Type: It is necessary for the one who calls himself to account before he engages upon saying something particular or a particular action or any action for that matter, that he stops and looks with clear insight, not with his whim or desire, at this action. Is this action in itself good for him, will he acquire recompense and reward for it from Allh? Or is this action disobedience which will lead to earning evil and increasing ones burdens?

If he sees that this action is good and there is benefit in it for his religion, his life and the Hereafter he then moves onto another matter.

And this is to see whether Allhs Face, His pleasure and the home of the Hereafter is desired by this action or is it merely for showing off, fame and seeking to be heard of? If he had desired Allhs Face by it then he should proceed with this action, whilst relying upon Allh and seeking help from Him.

When he has finished from his action it is still necessary for him to call himself to account after he has acted. This enables him to see whether he made it sincerely and purely for Allh or whether he was deceived (into thinking that it was) and satisfied with just merely performing the action, perhaps due to the praise of people. Then he forgets his initial desire and intention which was seeking the Face of Allh. Was it better for him to perform that action or to fall short in executing it and abandoning it?

For this reason we find that the Prophet has strongly encouraged us to be quiet if we do not find any good and useful words to speak. He said: Whoever believes in Allh and the Last Day let him speak good or remain silent. [Reported by Bukhr and Muslim] Imm an-Nawaw said: When a person desires to speak, if there is definite goodness in his words for which he will be rewarded then let him speak and if it does not appear to him that there will be good in his words and that he will be rewarded then he should refrain from speaking.

When a servant is strict and hard upon himself in such a way he will travel upon the path of goodness and success as a result of it. However, if he abandons his soul and neglects it he will be lead to the path of destruction and ruin by it, and into committing sins very easily without having the desire to seek forgiveness and repent from them.

The Second Type: Calling the soul to account after the action has been completed. This itself is of three types:

The first: A person brings the soul to account for an act of obedience which was performed and which fell short in fulfilling Allhs right. This means that it was not performed in the best possible way. The right of Allh upon the servant in every act of obedience consists of six matters:

  1. Sincerity in the action (for the sake of Allh alone),
  2. Pure devotion to Allh in it,
  3. Following and imitating the Messenger in it,
  4. Seeing and observing excellence in it
  5. Seeing Allhs Benevolence in it
  6. Seeing ones shortcomings (in performing this action) after all of this.

So a person will call himself to account. Has he considered all these things with care and attention, the way they ought to be? And did he fulfil them all in this action?

The second: A person calls himself to account for every action that he did, the abandonment of which would have been better for him than actually doing it.

The third: A person calls himself to account for a matter that is mubh (permissible - with no reward or punishment resulting from it). Why did he do it? And did he desire the Face of Allh and the home of the Hereafter by it so that he will have profited and succeeded? Or did he desire by it, the world and its temporary rewards and delights as a result of which he loses that success

A person will call himself to account so that one day when he is sixty years old he will be counting his days and will find that they are twenty-one thousand and six-hundred in number. He lets out a scream and says: Woe be to me, I will meet my Lord with twenty-one thousand sins.

How will it be when there are thousands of sins in a day?! Then he falls to the ground unconscious, and dies.

Let us therefore, look at the strictness and intensity of the way he called himself to account and the way in which he saw his sins to be against him. What then, will our condition be?!

One amongst the Salaf would choose a certain time, late at night, to call his soul to account. He would ask himself about the obligatory duties first and if he found any deficiency in them, he would complete them, either by fulfilling them or by making up for them.

Then he would call his soul to account with respect to the forbidden matters since he did something which the Shareeah has forbidden or which the Prophet () warned against. So he would make up for it by seeking forgiveness from Allh and then being remorseful and repenting from it.

Then he would hold his soul to account for its heedlessness. If he had been heedless of what he had been created for he would make up for it with the remembrance of Allh, directing his attention towards Him and performing His worship. If he had been heedless with respect to a certain sin and went on to commit it, he would return to Allh, seeking forgiveness from Him, repenting to Him.

He then goes on to call himself to account about what he said and uttered on a certain day, or to what his feet walked towards or what his hands grasped or what his eyes saw or what his ears heard and so on. He would therefore, see whether his action was in agreement with what Allh is pleased with and whether he desired Allh with his action and made it sincerely and purely for Him. Or did a blemish or impurity mix with his action such as showing off or seeking to be heard of, or opposing the command of Allh (in the way that he performed his action).

Therefore, he throws against every one of his actions or his words two questions: For whom did I do it?! Was it for Allh or other than Him? This a question about sincerity to Allh. The other question: How did I do it?! Was it in agreement with the Book of Allh and the Sunnah? Was it in agreement with the Sharah or did it oppose and contradict the Sharah (this is a question about following and imitating the way of the Messenger of Allh .

There are Great Benefits in Calling the Soul to Account

Amongst them are:

1. Realising the shortcomings and weaknesses of the soul. Whoever does not know the weaknesses of his soul will not be able to put an end to them.

We can observe this quality in our Pious Predecessors. Due to the intensity with which they called their souls to account, they knew all their shortcomings and faults. Ynus bin Ubaid said: Indeed, I know of a hundred characteristics from among the characteristics of goodness and I do not know whether I possess a single one of them. Therefore, we find him to be the most knowledgeable of people of his own self. He knows what his soul is in need of and what it hopes for and other such matters.

And Muhammad bin Wsi said: If sins were to produce a smell, no one would be able to sit next to me

2. Knowing the right of Allh upon oneself. This will instill in the servant hatred of his own soul and its contempt. It will purify him from being amazed with his actions and also from showing off. Ibn al-Qayyim said: Verily, hatred of the soul for the sake of Allh is one of the characteristics of the Siddqn (the truthful and the sincere).

Imm Ahmad has mentioned in his book az-Zuhd that Wahb (ibn Munabbah) said: It has reached me that the Prophet of Allh, Ms, passed by a man who was calling upon Allh and was humbling himself. He (Ms) said: O my Lord, show mercy to Him as I have shown mercy to Him. Then Allh inspired to him: If he calls upon me until his...... I would not respond to Him until He looks at My right over Him.

Looking at the right of Allh opens the door towards submission, humility and defeat in front of Allh. The one who reflects about the condition of the people nowadays will find that most of them do the opposite of this. They look at their own rights upon Allh, at their needs from Him but do not look at the right of Allh upon themselves.

We will find one of them when he is inflicted with a calamity or misfortune on account of what his own hands have committed, angry, irritated and grumbling. He does not even ask his ownself: What is the cause of this misfortune, this calamity? And he is not aware that it is due to his sins and his disobedience to Allh.

Likewise we find that many amongst mankind have been cut off from Allh and their hearts have been veiled from knowing Him. To Allh then, is the complaint and there is no power nor movement except by Allh.


The Second Way: Struggling Against the Soul by Opposing it and not Following its Desires

Ibn Taymiyyah (rh) says: And this is by not following its desires and opposing what the soul desires. Opposing the soul occurs by opposing its desires and its desires do not arise except by following Shaytn. Therefore it is vital to oppose Shaytn and seeking refuge in and recoursing to Allh from his whisperings and his plans. Shaytn enters upon the soul and penetrates into it with two matters or from two doors. It is necessary for us to know them, oppose them and to close them tight in the face of Shaytn the Accursed and Rejected:

The First: Due to excessiveness and squandering. This happens by giving ones soul whatever it desires of food, speech, sleep and other such matters which the soul makes its owner aspire for, what it cannot do without and what it loves. Therefore it is incumbent upon a person that he does not give his soul its need and desire in its entirety. He should not be extravagant and excessive in giving it food, sleep and other such delights and pleasures. When he shuts this door, against his own soul and against Shaytn he will acquire peace and security.

Thus, we will find that a person has been forbidden from excessive food and speech, letting the gaze wander too much, mixing with people and accompanying them in excess since giving the soul whatever it desires is among the things which if done excessively and continuously hardens to heart and makes it heedless. This leads to the hearts death and refuge is sought from Allh! Thus, the door of fasting has been opened and we have been urged to fast. Even voluntary fasting has been strongly encouraged. Fasting puts an end to the desire and excessive eating. Thus Islam has encouraged fasting and made it beloved to its adherents.

Likewise, there is an excellence attached to the night prayer (tahajjud). It prevents a person from excessive sleep. A person will strive against his soul and wage war against it in order to pray during the night and fast during the day. He will continue in this until his soul submits and humbles itself to these acts of worship. The soul will then find the joy and delight of fasting and praying at night.

It is also, from the wisdom of Islm that urges the Muslim to be silent unless he has something beneficial to say. The Messenger of Allh said: Whoever believes in Allh and the Last Day, let him speak good or remain silent. Perhaps, due to his excessive speaking and shouting he will not be on his guard from the danger of falling into backbiting, lying, slandering and other such matters.

The Second: Being ignorant and heedless of Allhs remembrance. Shaytn exhausts himself in gaining mastery over the soul so that he can prevent it from Allhs remembrance. The one who remembers Allh is in a strong fortress, protected from Shaytn as long as he does not forget or become heedless. Whoever becomes heedless, he will open up a small gap for the enemy by which he can get to him and then penetrate into his soul and whisper to it. This is why there is a strong encouragement and recommendation for making the various supplications and reciting portions of the Quraan during every moment and in every place until they become a sanctuary and a preventive measure for the one who uses them.

There exist, for example, supplications for the evening, the morning, for entering into the house and leaving it, for sleeping and awakening and others besides them. Fighting against the soul occurs by checking and curbing the defiance of its desires and its lusts. And with the abundant remembrance of Allh a preventive barrier is set up against every destructive lust or transgressing desire.

Ab Hafs said: Whoever does not oppose his soul at every moment and situation and does not make it perform those things which it dislikes, at all times, is deceived and has destroyed it (his soul).

Al-Hasan (rh) said: A believer becomes amazed with something (that he likes) and says: By Allh, I desire you and you are certainly one of my needs. But by Allh, there is no way towards you. How far you are, there is a barrier between me and you! 

A person knows what his soul wants and desires. It is therefore, essential for him not to give it everything that it covets and desires. It is also vital for him to confine and straiten his soul so that he does not go to excesses in giving it what it seeks.

We know that Umar (ra), when his wife desired a sweet (dish), forbade her from it because he knew than if she asks for a sweet (dish) today, she will ask for something else tomorrow which is greater. So he closed the door upon her at the very beginning. The condition of most people however, is that a person will be generous to his soul and shower upon his soul whatever it asks of him and even what it does not even ask of him. So his soul becomes tired and fed up due to his extravagance and excess. What is our condition then, when compared to that of our Pious Predecessors? We direct our complaint to Allh!!


The Third Way: Making the Soul Patient in Allhs Obedience

The soul runs away often from some acts of worship because they are amongst the things it does not desire. This continues due to certain causes prevent a person from desiring these acts of worship. Amongst them are laziness in performing acts of worship (such as prayer) and the love of sleep. As a result, the opportunity to perform much worship passes him by. It can also occur due to miserliness. A person will not give the obligatory charity or other things which are required of him so that they become endeared to the soul and the soul begins to aspire for them after it had been fleeing from them.

It is vital that there is a spiritual war, which can be intense and hard, but with a strong will, turning to Allh, making continuous du (supplication) to Allh and requesting His help in this act of obedience to Him, this matter will be made easy for him. And Allh will lighten his burden for him until these acts (of worship) are beloved to the soul.

All of this cannot occur except after fighting and struggling against the soul. A person will find himself in many trials and intense battles along with his capability of avoiding such actions. This means that a person, even though he is in need and capable of fasting, will not fast due to following his whims and even though he is capable he will not pray and as a result please his desires and his soul which commands the evil.

However, we find that another person fasts voluntarily, although he is not in need of fasting voluntarily (to curb his desires) and neither does his soul aspire towards fasting. Yet he still declares war upon his soul and fights against it (with fasting and prayer) so that he makes it do what he desires and not let it make him do what it commands and desires.

Therefore, patience when accompanied with performing those actions (such as prayer and fasting) upon which the soul perseveres is considered the greatest and most perfect form of patience as Ibn Taymiyyah (rh) has explained. And Ibn al-Qayyim (rh) said: Verily, having patience in obedience (to Allh) occurs by performing an act of obedience, then guarding it and being persistent in (performing) it.

This is the thing which very few amongst us are able to do, that we show patience in continually observing obedience to Allh and persisting in such obedience. This is because the soul gets bored with it and does not have the desire to perform it another time. At this stage showing patience and realising the great excellence this action has in the sight of Allh is required. The actions most loved by Allh are the ones which are performed continuously, even if they are small actions. The Messenger of Allh used to love, when he performed an action, that he remained constant upon it.

The saying of the Prophet to Abdullh bin Umar: Do not be like so and so who would pray during the whole of the night and then abandoned it, was nothing but a means of encouraging him to be constant in his good actions. It is also necessary that along with being continuous in ones actions, a person also beautifies them and excels in them and this occurs with having Ikhls (sincerity) and dings them in accordance with the command of Allh and His Messenger .

The Fourth Way: Fighting Against the Soul and Making it Patient in Refraining from Allhs Disobedience

This means that a person holds his soul to account in order to make himself distant from falling into disobedience while also bearing in mind that the reasons and motives of falling into the sin are numerous. Among such reasons are the strength of ones youthfulness and manhood, since the youth are known to love the pleasures and joys of this world.

When a person turns away from an act of disobedience even though he has the opportunity and is capable of performing it, he has turned his soul away from the unlawful and has opposed his soul, pleasing Allh thereby, and being obedient to Him. He has struggled with his soul and fought against it with a strong and intense battle. As a result of this he overcomes and dominates it and he will receive success and prosperity in this world and the Hereafter with the permission of Allh.

And Shaikh-ul-Islm (rh) said: Showing patience in (avoiding) the unlawful things is more excellent than showing patience in calamities and afflictions. Whoever abandoned an act of disobedience although he was capable of performing it is one whose fight against his soul is most intense and most excellent. This is because he left a thing which his soul tempted him with and made him aspire for. So he opposed it and was capable of defeating it.

This is why the youth who is tempted by a women of rank and beauty and says to her: I fear Allh will be amongst the seven whom Allh will shade on the Day when there will be no shade except for His, because he prevented his soul from committing what it desired and wanted and at the same time he was capable of performing it.

Likewise, the one who lowers his gaze although he has the opportunity and capability to look at something unlawful is amongst those who fight against and deter their souls. Along with that he will receive a mighty reward in this world and the hereafter.

Also, the one who keeps his hearing away from the forbidden things such as music and singing, backbiting, slandering and lying, is a fighter against his soul and he will obtain a reward from Allh if his action was to please Allh.

A similar analogy can be made for every matter that makes a person distant from his Lord or earns His anger. It is vital for a person to be far from it and to oppose his soul in performing it.

And how excellent is the saying:

Oppose the soul and shaytn and protect it (the soul)
They (seem to) give you sincere advice, so restrain them both

Therefore, a person must oppose his soul and call it to account constantly. As a result of this he must make it patient in doing acts of obedience and refraining from acts of disobedience. He should also make it patient in being continuous in performing the righteous actions so that he ascends with them, to the highest of positions, to the pleasure of Allh and to everlasting happiness.

I ask Allh, the Most High and the Powerful to benefit us with what He has taught us and to teach us that which will benefit us and that He forgives our mistakes. We ask him to help us against our souls and that He does not leave us to rely upon ourselves for a single moment, verily, He is capable of that and Allh knows best.

Prayers and peace upon our Prophet Muhammad and upon his family.

Written by
Nawwl bint Abdillh
May Allh forgive her, her parents and all the Muslim men and women.

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