Shaykh Ahmed er Rifai
Mujahada: Striving Against Your Nafs
Bismillah er Rahman er Rahim
I struggled against my nafs (egoistic self; man’s animal nature). I realized on the paths I followed that there are no better deeds acceptable to the Divine than the ones done in accord with the sunna (way or exemplary actions) of the Prophet, peace be upon him.
It is related that Haqq (The True; Allah’s name or attribute Al Haqq) the Most High told Musa (Moses), peace be upon him, “O Musa, you must approach Me with entities that do not exist within My treasures and ask for My nearness with them.” Musa said, “O Lord! What can possibly be missing in your treasures?” Upon this, the Divine address was heard, “My treasures are full of azamat (greatness) and jabbarut (compelling power), but there is no humility, broken-heartedness nor poverty. I am very close to the broken-hearted. O, Musa, no one can earn closeness to Me better than with these things.” Those who earn nearness to Allah undoubtedly respect Allah very much and they have very good adab (manners; the correct way to act in any given situation).
To obey Allah’s orders rightfully is for hope of attainment of His nearness. To avoid Allah’s prohibitions is for fear of Him.
It is impossible to attain nearness to Allah without showing effort or doing good deeds. You cannot go on the path of Allah with nafs and desire or whim, because nafs will degrade you, even at your first step.
Know that all of your property, your nafs, your nasab (family lineage), ilm (knowledge), riches, sons, daughters, miracles, virtues, good deeds and whatever else comes to mind are nothing but memories. You will attain Divine nearness if you praise and thank your Master and respond to Him with humility and poverty. If you respond to Him with ghafla (heedlessness; mindlessness; ignorance) and takabbur (vanity; pride) you will be wronging yourself.
Those who are tactful thank and praise Allah all of the time. These people say, “Allah has granted us ilm, I have been blessed by inspiration and talent from Allah.” They do not say, “I am better than you, greater than you,” or “I am more honored than you.” These kinds of words and claims are produced by nafs because of being in the lower levels. These words are produced by the language of the stupid.
Allah the Most High says in Qur’an-i Karim (The Generous Qur’an), “washkuruli wa la takfurun.” (“Be thankful to Me and do not be ungrateful.”) (Sura Baqara 2:152)
Those who have tact do not claim any superiority over others. What are you bragging about? Your father? Your father is Adam, peace be upon him, and most of his children are unbelievers. Some of the children of the prophets are like this. Are you bragging about your ilm? Shaytan (Satan) has read all the pages of existence. What kind of situation is he in? Are you proud of your riches? Qaruun (Korah, Pharaoh’s slave-driver) was stricken with the affliction of having a lot of riches and then met with oblivion.
On the other hand, let us examine these incidents:
Ibrahim (Abraham), peace be upon him, was spared from burning in the fire because he depended on Allah.
Musa, peace be upon him, won over Pharaoh by admitting to Allah his poverty.
Yunus (Jonah), peace be upon him, saved his honor and name through niyya (intention; direction of will) to Allah, saying, “La ilaha illa anta subhanaka inni kuntu minaz zalimin.” (“There is no God save You! Be You glorified! Lo! I have been a wrongdoer.” (Sura Anbiya 21:87) Again, by surrendering to the divine decree and by his obedience, his trust in Allah proved right.
Prophets, messengers, awliya (protecting friends; saints), siddiqs (truthful, loyal ones), salihs (sinless pure ones; sincere ones) are all in this way.
If you consider yourself an alim (person of knowledge; scholar), but in fact are ignorant and call yourself one who has reached Haqq, but in fact are in separation, do not blame anyone else.
I cannot tell you to leave the means of making a living or to stay away from trade and crafts. This is your livelihood. Only observe Allah’s rights and wrongs when doing these things.
Again, I cannot tell you to ignore your family and relatives, only to make sure that they do not take your focus away from Allah. I cannot tell you not to dress well, only urge that you do not do this to show off or claim superiority against the poor who cannot do that. Do not dress up to flaunt your body. This may lead you to falling into the pit of vanity. Otherwise, act basically according to the ayat (verse), “Qul man harrama ziynatallahillati akhraja li ibadihi wattayyibati minal rizq.” (“Say, who forbids adornments and good nourishment that Allah produced for his servants.”) (Sura A’raf 7:32) It is not forbidden to dress well and eat delicious food, but it is advised that you do not focus on them and fall into ghafla.
Clean and tidy up your hearts. This is much better than concentrating on outer garments. Allah’s gaze is not at your garments, but into your heart.
Do not fall into the bala (calamity; misfortune; trial) of vanity; know that pride and haughtiness are invitations for destruction. There is no way to the proximity of Allah for those who see everyone else lower and themselves higher. We are all poor creatures of Allah. Our beginning is a secretion considered a pollutant and our end is a rotting corpse, also considered a pollutant. The honor of our materiality is with aql (intelligence; mind; the power of understanding and discrimination). Aql is considered aql if it can take its nafs under control and keep it from transgressing the limits; otherwise it cannot be called “aql.” It happens like that in gemstones as well. A person without aql is left in a state of impurity without a gem in him, and this way he cannot proceed to a spiritual level or deserve a maqam (station; spiritual level).
What aql is supposed to do is save a person from ananiya (egotism). If it cannot save him from false claims, that aql loses its level of highness.
Knowing that we are created from earth and will go back into earth, the course we should take has to be one that is befitting the “between the beginning and the end” condition we are in. The divine preacher is present in each Muslim’s heart. If a person does not have preaching and advice from himself to himself, he will not benefit from any advice given to him by anyone else. How can the one who is unaware benefit from admonishment?
Please get your share of the advice that I am giving. “Whoever hides what he knows of the beneficial ilm will have a bridle of fire put on him on the Judgment Day.” Because I overpowered my nafs, it did not transgress. My person is happy now. When you, too, overpower your nafs and stop worrying about money, ancestral lineage, honor, property and possessions, you will be happy as well. My appeal to you is that if you do not check your nafs in every breath, they will not add you into the book of Insan-i Kamil (True or Mature Human Being in the intended sense by Allah).
When Allah sees that one of His servants is fit for love, He shows him his state of incompleteness and puts compassion and softness for all creation in his heart. He gets him used to being generous, his hand to being giving and his heart to being merciful. To make him abhor his nafs, He shows him his indecencies and makes his nafs lowly in his eyes.
Arifs (knowers, in the spiritual or inner sense) are in a constant state of melancholy, while the common people are joyful. But they [arifs] never fall into grief and they live a surrendered life. They speak less, cry a lot, laugh little and they want nothing but their real Beloved. They value nothing or hold nothing in importance except the annihilation of their indecencies and sins.
— excerpt from El Burhan ul Mueyyed (Confirmed Miracles), translated by Shaykh Taner Ansari
Advice from Shaykh Ahmed Rifai
It is advisable that you should stay away from some manners and make some manners your own:
- Jealousy is wanting people not to have what Allah has given them.
- Being conceited is thinking that you are better and above others.
- Lying is saying things that do not exist and trying to use that for your own benefit.
- Backbiting is talking badly about humanity.
- Greed is not being able to get your fill of worldly life.
- Wrath is boiling your blood for revenge (getting heated up and wanting revenge).
- Hypocrisy is acting superficial and being two-faced.
- Cruelty is following your nafs’ lust and pleasure.
- Try to diet to clean your soul (do not eat too much) to change a bad day and bad situation to a good day and a good situation. (If you do not diet, your nafs will be dominant; you can exchange this for a better day if you diet.)
- Time is a sword. If you do not pass your time with good and beautiful actions, it will cut you. You will be judged according to your actions.
- Being on friendly terms with Allah is the greatest wealth. Being on friendly terms with things that are going to die and with people whose hearts are dead is the greatest poverty.
- One should not complain to Allah. A wise and mature person does not complain to Allah.
- The actions of wise people are for Allah’s good pleasure. They do not want anything from Him for their nafs.