Jihad al-Nafs is coined from two Arabic words; jihad meaning struggle and nafs which roughly translates to ego. Basically, jihad al-Nafs is the struggle against evil ideas, desires and powers of lust, anger and insatiable imagination. It is a gauge of our ability to place all of the aforementioned under the dictates of reason and faith in obedience to Allah's commands and purging all evil ideas and influences from one’s soul. It is the most compulsory form of jihad and includes the personal jihad against one's ego (nafs), against unbridled passions (hawa), against the Devil (shaytan) and against being worldly (dunya). Islamic teachings indicate that the one who succeeds in this struggle can rise above and even beyond the level of angels, and one who fails in this struggle will descend to a level lower than the level of animals, and may even be grouped among the legions of the devil.
Three Levels of Jihad al-Nafs
1. The lowest of these levels is nafs al-ammarah bi’l-su - the soul that constantly incites to evil. This unweaned soul is the abode of a multitude of incessant cravings and anything that deflects one away from Allah.
'And I do not acquit myself. Indeed, the soul is a persistent enjoiner of evil, except those upon which my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.' -Q 12 V 53
2. The soul that incites to evil is gradually trained and begins to give way to nafs al-lawwamah - the reproachful soul. This soul is man’s active conscience which is afflicted with regret, remorse and self-reproach whenever the Divine Will is disobeyed and elements of the lower soul resurface.
'And I swear by the reproaching soul [to the certainty of resurrection].' -Q 75 V 2
3. After much discipline, the reproachful soul is further purified of any opposition to Allah’s Will and nafs al-mutma’innah - the tranquil soul then begins to predominate. It is this soul that is most worthy of divine assistance and acceptance.
'[To the righteous it will be said], "O reassured soul, Return to your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing [to Him], And enter among My [righteous] servants And enter My Paradise.' - Q 89 V 27-30
Over the course of Jihad al-Nafs, a person's inborn disposition, upbringing, spiritual striving (mujahadah) and self-discipline (riyadah) and of course, Allah’s enabling grace (tawfiq) are all very important factors in the purification of one's soul.
Let us all remember that one cannot be victorious against his external enemies unless he has won the battle against his own internal enemies.
'And [by] the soul and He who proportioned it, And inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness, He has succeeded who purifies it, And he has failed who instills it [with corruption]'. - Q 91 V 7-10
'But as for he who feared the position of his Lord and prevented the soul from [unlawful] inclination, Then indeed, Paradise will be [his] refuge.' Q 79 V 40-41
- And Allah knows best. May Allah forgive me if I am wrong and guide us to the right path. Ameen.