Propulsion of life is fueled through egotistical devices
In the last column that I wrote, I spoke about the concept of the spiritual heart and its interconnections within the human body. Today, I’d like to touch upon another quality within humanity that I find is imperative in understanding how and why others act the way they do. This particular quality can help us understand questions like: “What is the fuel source to move people towards their desires?” or “What would cause happiness within someone from that (negative) situation?” The quality that is central to these questions is what Muslims call in Arabic, Nafs.
Although all of humanity is born with a pure origin and positive inclination, outward events, adult figures and observations tend to create an inward system within us that can be pretty ugly. This pure and natural stage that humans originally start in is called the “Fitrah.” Fitrah can be thought of as instinct or even common sense but tends to apply in a spiritual perspective. Muslims believe that we are all born free of sin and we incline towards monotheism naturally. But Fitrah also plays a factor into the conscious that we all implement throughout our daily lives.
Nafs, as I have mentioned earlier, can be translated as ego or as “the self,” depending on context. When looking at “the self” perspective, it is very similar to “Self” in Jungian psychology. It is a combination of the total personality, which are the conscious, the subconscious and the ego. I would like to focus more on the ego aspect of the Nafs. The different kind of “driving” Anfus (plural form of Nafs) that all of us harbor.
The first Nafs drive that I’d like to bring into light is a drive that stems from our nature as creatures. This drive is a drive to chase after the bare minimum necessities in life without much thought about the reason of life, chasing after food, drink, lust and partying for example. Although satiating your hunger, thirst and carnal desires aren’t inherently wrong, there should be an implementation of deeper thoughts about life. As for deeper thoughts, I point towards righteous acts, good mannerisms and an overall balance between the daily grind physically and daily grind spiritually. This drive can be labeled as a drive similarly within other animals.
The second Nafs drive is a drive that stems within our more archaic origins. Early humans struggled and fought in manners that I believe most of us cannot truly conceptualize. Fighting and competing against others for hunt and land spawned within us — a predatory drive. This drive is a drive that, in its essence, causes someone to want to overcome those around them, treating others as objects as opposed to humans, and even inflicting pain without any remorse to reach an end goal. We can see qualities from this drive being reflected on certain people’s rhetoric, mannerisms and even actions.
The third Nafs drive is the most evil of all drives. It emerges from the original enemy to humans: the devil himself. This demonic drive is a drive that contains aspects of arrogance, ostentation, deceit, lying and/or pride. We see today various celebrities or well known figures that partake in these actions, and sometimes, they’re even glorified. This glorification, I believe, stems from a warning from God: “Then why, when our punishments have come to them, did they not humble themselves? But their hearts became hardened, and Satan made attractive to them that which they were doing” (6:43). Seeing the actions of Satan and how it has angered God, Satan stated he would entice humanity into acts similar to his. Being that Satan is the sworn enemy of God and humanity, wouldn’t it be hypocritical to try to mimic his actions?
In conclusion, these three Nafs are three egotistical drives that can propel individuals through a lifestyle of enmity, anger or even pure laziness. Focusing within and fighting these negative drives can lead to a more positive spiritual life. Realizing one’s actions in the past while avoiding those shortcomings in the future leads to a more conscious approach in our interactions with others and ourselves. It is our actions, emotions and mannerisms that create social cohesion, and these traits are radiated through a constructive spiritual life. And verily, Allah knows best.