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FaithLifestyle

You and Your Nafs: Practical Steps to Discipline Yourself

It’s important to remember that feeling motivated to stay on top of our nafs and its desires is great – but being disciplined about it is brilliant. And most importantly – that our success is only through the permission of Allah (S.W) so we must never forget to renew our intentions before taking up any action and seeking His aid.

It’s important to remember that feeling motivated to stay on top of our nafs and its desires is great – but being disciplined about it is brilliant. And most importantly – that our success is only through the permission of Allah (S.W) so we must never forget to renew our intentions before taking up any action and seeking His aid.

We live in a fast-paced world where everything feels just that – fast. The concept of instant gratification is one we need to spend time thinking about and pondering upon. Our society thrives off of this concept and encourages us to fulfill any desire we may have almost in the same instant of having it. 

The latest phone, those new shoes that are expected to be released next week, that bag you saw your friend with today; if you want it, why not get it? It’s easy to hop onto Amazon and click a button to order the item, and if 2-3 working days are just too long to wait, that’s why Amazon Prime exists, right? What was Nike’s slogan? Just do it. And why not? Surely getting what we want shouldn’t always be a bad thing, right?

Right. And getting what we want isn’t always a bad thing – but that’s very much dependent on the context of the situation. You’re in urgent need of a piece to repair a bed you’ll need for a guest tomorrow – Amazon Prime is perfect in this instance. You’re not however, in need of the latest gadget, car, or handbag.

To constantly be giving in to any desire and want you may have strips you of any opportunity to learn patience and restraint. As Muslims, these two characteristics are of the utmost importance for without them, we can’t get very far. The life of this world is a constant test in every direction, knowing how to remain patient and steadfast can only aid us.

Nafs is an Arabic word mentioned in the Quran which literally means “self”. Every one of us has a nafs and is in constant battle with it, as Allah (S.W) mentions in the Quran:

إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ

The (human) soul is certainly prone to evil.”

(Quran 12:53)

Giving the nafs what it wants can be very dangerous, as it makes it stronger and our ability to restrain it weaker. Instant gratification is one of the quickest ways to give your nafs exactly what it wants. It’s important for us to remember that society makes profit from us each time we give into certain desires. That includes spending unnecessary money, overeating, etc. 

But how can we train ourselves to recognise when our nafs wants us to act? 

Firstly, reminding ourselves that it is our nafs that whispers to us to fulfil desires that are either impermissible or frowned upon is a step in the right direction. And second, having practical steps in place can also be very useful. We can start with a quote by the scholar Ibn Qayyim (r.a):

“The five corrupters of the heart are: excessive socialising, wishful thinking, attachment to others besides Allah, eating to one’s fill and sleep.”

(Madaarij as-Saalikeen, vol. I, pp 443-9)

Looking at these points below individually can help us turn them into practical steps to disciplining our nafs:

Excessive Socialising

Socialising is not a problem if done with moderation and if one’s company is beneficial. But spending too much time in the company of others can decrease the amount of time we spend speaking to our Creator and doing acts of worship.

How do we know when we are over socialising though? Perhaps a good indication is when the topics being spoken about become pointless and may be classified as idle talk. Is there an intention with what is being said, what is it? Is this conversation pleasing to Allah?

Wishful Thinking

Having a healthy idea about reality is very important, and Islam certainly provides this. However, spending time wishing things were different than what they are can create issues in the long run.

Rather than having unrealistic expectations, why not look at the situation for what it is and search for the goodness within it? Allah has a plan for each of us, and if we try to reflect on what it is we may learn from a certain situation we can benefit from it.

Attachment To Others Besides Allah (S.W)

When we are attached to something, it is often the thing we spend the most time thinking about. Whether that may be a person, money a job – we find it consumes most of our energy and time.

Occupying our time with the remembrance of Allah throughout the day can bring us back to the realisation that it is only He who can fulfil our every need. We can do this by ensuring we’re trying to have undivided attention during our salah, times of dhikr, and when reading Quran. That way, in reminding our hearts, we hope our hearts in turn begin to remind us when we need it most.

Eating To One’s Fill

Medically, overeating can be very damaging to our body. Forcing our stomachs to tolerate more food than it is able can only lead to discomfort in the long run. We can tackle this bad habit by remembering what the Prophet (S.A.W) said:

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

 “A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach. It is sufficient for a human being to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight. But if he must (fill it), then one third of food, one third for drink and one third for air.”

(Sunan Ibn Majah 3349, Book 29, Hadith 99)

Before eating, it’s important we take portions that are not too little and not too much. Sitting in an upright and appropriate manner, eating slowly, and drinking enough can also aid us in this.

Sleeping Too Much

Sleeping too much has also been proven to be medically damaging to our bodies. It raises the risk of chronic diseases and can make you feel extremely unproductive.

A good way to ensure we are getting the correct amount of sleep is by sleeping at a reasonable hour and using an alarm clock to wake us instead of our phones. Planning our sleep around our prayers is also a good idea; aiming to sleep early to ensure we don’t miss Fajr and sleeping after Isha when the prayer is quite late.

And Finally!

It’s important to remember that feeling motivated to stay on top of our nafs and its desires is great – but being disciplined about it is brilliant. And most importantly – that our success is only through the permission of Allah (S.W) so we must never forget to renew our intentions before taking up any action and seeking His aid.

رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِنْ لِسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي

Rabbish rahli sadri wa yassirli amri wah lul uqdatan min lisaani, yaf kahu kauli

“My Lord, expand for me my breast [with assurance] and ease for me my task and untie the knot from my tongue that they may understand my speech.”

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