Nafs, Spirit & Heart

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

 ‘Ali ibn Abi Thalib (k.w.) said, "You are the clear book in which every letter Manifests a True Meaning."

Kuma’il (r.a.), accompanying ‘Ali (k.w.) in the suburb of Kufa, a city of Iraq, asked: "Show me my nafs and help me to become aware of it."  Nafs is a singular term that has been translated as self, nature and also as ego.

Sayyidina ‘Ali (k.w.) replied, "Of which nafs are you eager to become aware?"

"Is there more than one nufus?" asked Kuma’il (r.a.).

Sayyidina ‘Ali (k.w.) explained, "Yes, there are four: nafs of growth; nafs of sensibility; nafs of pure intellect; and nafs of wholeness and Divinity.  Each one of the nufus has powers and qualities of its own.

The powers of the nufus of growth are energies of attraction, circulation, digestion and repulsion; its qualities are to increase and decrease.  The nafs of sensibility has the power of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching; its qualities are lust and anger.  The powers of the nafs of pure intellect are thought, remembrance, awareness, patience, and its qualities are wisdom and virtue.  The nafs of wholeness and Divinity, has the highest virtues: survival in annihilation; patience in misfortune; honour in poverty; and richness in adversity; the qualities of the nafs are submission and satisfaction in Allah.  This is the nafs that the Allah Almighty Breathes into the human being from His Spirit and is the part which Returns to Him.”

A discussion on human spirit will take us beyond the realm of dust into the realm of celestial, from body to spirit.  It is said our spirit represents our identity.  This is what we must come to know if we are to appreciate our personal identity.  If we enter this realm of spirit, then we need to discuss corporeal appearances, physical manifestations, and qualities and stages which exist in the transition between the world of physical manifestations and the ultimate realm of inner meaning, all of which are explained in the teachings of Islam: in verses of the Holy Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet (s.a.w.).

It is important to remember that no matter how we categorise the construction of a human being; a human being is not merely a structure of heavy physical and fine spirit.  There are many levels and stages between the absolute matter and that of the absolute soul; many gradations between the dense material world and the fineness of the spiritual world exist in the human being.

Many cultures and spiritual beliefs have ascribed to the levels and stages of the human soul, including the existence of souls after physical death until one arrives as the level of the Holy Spirit.  Muslim philosophers and thinkers have written volumes of interesting and most fascinating books on this subject.  While relying on the verses of the Holy Qur'an, they have offered their discoveries to the readers.

Hujjat ul-Islam Imam al-Ghazzali (r.a.) says: "You are Created of body which can be seen by the physical eye and an inner being, or meaning, which can be loosely called nafs, heart, or life.  Your inner being and reality can be understood by your insight or clear-sightedness.  The meaning of inner being is the reality of a human being, and the physical system is like the object to this King."  This reality is called a heart, and sometimes nafs.  The heart is the seat of Divine understanding.  This heart is not a physical heart; it is not a heart similar to that of other animals.  Rather, it is a spiritual heart, a heart that is eternal; a center to understanding Allah (s.w.t.).


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