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Nafs is an Arabic word meaning self, psyche[1] or soul. In Sufi teachings, it means more of false ego, where "the ego (nafs) is the lowest dimension of man's inward existence, his animal and satanic nature"[2].


Three Principal Stages of Nafs

There are three principal stages encountered of Nafs which are specifically mentioned in the Quran. They are stages in the process of development, refinement and mastery of the Nafs or ego.[3] [4]


Nafs-i-ammara (The Commanding Self)

The Quran refers to "the Nafs commanding to evil" ([Qur'an 12:53]). In its primitive stage, the ego tells one to commit evil. This is what Sufis refer to when they speak of fighting Nafs. The prophet Muhammad said after returning from a war, "We now return from the small struggle (Jihad Asghar) to the big struggle (Jihad Akbar)". His companions asked, "Oh prophet of God, what is the big struggle?". He replied, "The struggle against Nafs"[5]. However, this hadith has been graded as weak.

It has seven heads that must be defeated:

  1. False Pride (Takabbur)
  2. Greed (Hirs)
  3. Envy (Hasad)
  4. Lust (Shahwah)
  5. Back Biting (Gheebah)
  6. Stinginess (Bokhl)
  7. Malice (Keena)

Nafs-i-lawwama (The Self-Accusing Self)

The Quran refers to "the self-accusing Nafs" ([Qur'an 75:2])This is the stage of awakening. On this level the conscience is awakened and the self accuses one for listening to one’s ego. One repents and asks for forgiveness. Here the Nafs is inspired by your heart, sees the results of your actions, agrees with your brain, sees your weaknesses, and aspires to perfection.

Nafs-i-mutma'inna (The Self At Peace)

The Quran refers to "the Nafs at peace" ([Qur'an 89:27]). This is the ideal stage of ego for Sufis. On this level one is firm in one’s faith and leaves bad manners behind. The soul becomes tranquil, at peace. At this stage Sufis have relieved themselves of all materialism and worldly problems and are satisfied with the will of God.

Four Additional Stages of Nafs

In addition to the three principal stages, another four are sometimes cited

Nafs-i-mulhama (The Inspired Self)

This stage is between the 2nd and 3rd principal stages. It is the stage of action. On this level one becomes more firm in listening to one’s conscience, but is not yet surrendered. Once you have seen your weaknesses and have set your targets, this ego inspires you to do good deeds and to be on the plus side. Sufi says that it is important that whenever you think of good, you must immediately act upon it. Abbas Bin Abdul Muttalib lays down three rules:

  1. Ta'Jeel or Swiftness. A good deed must be done immediately and there should be no laziness
  2. Tehqeer or Contempt. You must look at your good acts with contempt otherwise you will become self-righteous
  3. Ikhfa or Secrecy. You must keep your good acts secret otherwise people will praise you and it will make you self-righteous
  • Comment: Charity should be given both secretly and openly, as mentioned in Qur'an 14:31 "[And] tell [those of] My servants who have attained to faith that they should be constant in prayer and spend [in Our way], secretly and openly, out of what We provide for them as sustenance, ere there come a Day when there will be no bargaining, and no mutual befriending." from Muhammad Asad's translation,

Nafs-i-radiyya (The Pleased Self)

The stage comes after the 3rd principal stage. On this level one is pleased with whatever comes from Allah and doesn’t live in the past or future, but in the moment. One thinks always: ‘Ilahi Anta Maqsudi wa ridhaka matlubi’. One always sees oneself as weak and in need of Allah.

Nafs-i-mardiyya (The Pleasing Self)

On this level the two Ruhs in man have made peace. One is soft and tolerant with people and has good Akhlak, good manners.

Nafs-i-safiyya (The Pure Self)

On this level one is dressed in the attributes of the Insan Kamil, the perfected man, who is completely surrendered and inspired by Allah. One is in full agreement with the Will of Allah.


The excerpts are translations from the Persian text Shahid ul Wojood, written two hundred years ago.


  1. ^ Nurdeen Deuraseh and Mansor Abu Talib (2005), "Mental health in Islamic medical tradition", The International Medical Journal 4 (2), p. 76-79
  2. ^ Chittick, William (1983). The Sufi Path of Love. State University of New York Press. pp. 12. ISBN 0-87395-724-5.  
  3. ^ Shah, Idries (2001). The Sufis. London, UK: Octagon Press. pp. 394–395. ISBN 0-863040-20-9.  
  4. ^ Frager, Robert (1999). Heart, Self and Soul. Quest Books. pp. 54–88. ISBN 0-8356-0778-X.   An imprint of the Theosophical Publishing House.
  5. ^ Schimmel, Annemarie (1975). Mystical Dimensions of Islam. University of South Carolina Press. pp. 112.  

See also


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