The “soul”, (in Arabic, nafs) as commonly used in the Qur’an, means “ego”
or “ one’s personality.”
In the Qur’an, Allah explains the two aspects of soul: the one inspiring
evil and wicked deeds, and the other, guarding against every inculcation
of evil. As the Qur’an makes it clear in Surat’ Ash-Shams:
By the Soul, and the proportion and order given
to it; And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; Truly he succeeds
that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it! (Ash-Shams, 7-10)
The information provided in the verses about soul is of great importance:
in the creation process of man, Allah inspired wickedness in the human
soul. Wickedness, that is ‘fucur’ in Arabic, means “tearing apart the
limits of righteousness.” As a religious term it means “committing sin
and stirring up rebellion, telling lies, disobedience, transgression,
adultery, moral corruption...”
Apart from the wicked side of the soul, from the Surat Ash-Shams we know
that Allah also inspired in the soul a conscience i.e. a sense of what
is wrong and right for it. In the second part of the ayah we learn that
one who sincerely accepts the wickedness of his soul and purifies it by
the guidance of the inspiration of Allah, will attain salvation for all
eternity. This is indeed a certain and true salvation; earning the approval,
mercy and heaven of Allah. Those, on the other hand, who fail to banish
the wickedness from their souls will face a fearsome end.
At this point an important conclusion may be drawn: every soul has wickedness
in itself; the only way to purify it is to accept it and to observe the
limits of Allah by the guidance of Allah.
The difference between believers and unbelievers becomes quite clear
at this point. Only Qur’anic teaching provides an inner understanding
of the wicked side of the soul and the ways to remedy it. Identifying
the evil of the soul and purifying it are characteristic of the true religion
and the messengers communicating it.
In the 87th verse of Surat’Al-Baqara, the Jews are addressed as follows:
“...Is it that whenever there comes to you a messenger with what you yourselves
do not desire, you are puffed up with pride? Some you called impostors,
and others you slay!”
As the verse suggests, unbelievers simply surrender themselves to the
evil of their souls and thus always challenge the true religion and its
messengers. Such individuals fail to save their souls from greed, as explained
in the Surat Ash-Shams.
This being so, we may well observe that all unbelievers demonstrate an
absolute submission to the evil of their souls. That is to say that they
are devoid of understanding. The life they lead is one of instinct life;
to all thoughts and behaviours are inspired by the wicked side of the
soul. This is also one of the reasons why analogies between unbelievers
and animals are made in the Qur’an.
Believers, on the contrary, are conscious of the existence of Allah.
They fear Him and thus they take care to observe His limits. They are
always guided by the inspiration of Allah. They never surrender to the
evil in their soul,they do not cover it, but disclose it and guard against
it as Allah inspires. The words of the Prophet Joseph guides believers
towards typical righteous conduct: “Nor do I absolve my own self (of blame):
the (human) soul is certainly prone to evil, unless my Lord bestows His
Mercy: but surely my Lord is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Joseph, 53).
Knowing that the soul is always prone to evil, a believer should be ever
alert to the misdeeds in which his soul is likely to become involved.
From the foregoing we have a clear understanding of the “evil” side of
the soul. However, the soul is also open to the instigation of righteousness,
in other words, to the inspiration of Allah. This inspiration makes a
person turn to himself and restrain his soul from fulfilling lower desires.
This inspiration leading man to righteousness, this faculty of judging
between right and wrong is commonly referred to as “conscience.”
Conscience is an infallible compass within the human soul continuously
calling man to righteousness. On that account, conscience is, in a way,
the whispering voice of Allah. Provided that a person listens to this
voice and embraces the basic principles of the Qur’an, he will always
proceed in the right way.
As long as the individual follows the voice of his conscience, he will
be a model displaying the attributes of Allah in his personality. Allah
is infinitely compassionate and merciful; a person submitting himself
to Him will also have mercy on others. Allah is infinitely intelligent,
so that a believer who serves Him will also be intelligent. The closer
he feels to Allah and the more he surrenders himself to Him, the purer
he becomes in the presence of Allah:
“Those who have faith and do righteous deeds, they
are the best of creatures.” (Al -Bayyina. 7)
The human conscience functions in compliance with all of Allah’s commandments.
However the criteria of the conscience given in the Qur’an are quite different
from those adhered to by society. Feeding stray dogs or giving charity
to a beggar are typical examples reflecting the inherent understanding
of conscientiousness in society. The conscience of a believer, on the
other hand, demands complete compliance with the commandments and prohibitions
of the Qur’an. Furthermore, one comprehends and implements the details
of many issues stated in general terms in the Qur’an by the guidance of
For instance, Allah commands man to spend whatever is in excess of his
needs. The individual can determine the extent of his needs only through
his soul. One who lacks the sensitivity of conscience, surely fails to
arrive at a fair judgment of his needs and cannot comply with the commandments
of Allah in the best way possible.
In the course of daily life, a person continuously meets situations which
require him to make choices. Only one of these choices, however, best
suits the will of Allah. Believers are held responsible for making the
right choice; the choice led by the whisper of Allah. This is actually
what one initially hears at the moment of making one’s choice, the voice
guiding one to the true path. Only then, at the second stage, does the
soul come on the scene, diverting one to other unacceptable alternatives.
At this stage the soul whispers some excuses to justify the wrongful options.
The Qur’an gives a considerable account of these “excuses” in many verses.
Believers should know to cope with these whisperings, simply by showing
no interest to them, not listening to them, and going on their way, inspired
by conscience. The examples provided by the Qur’an about the conscience
should lead man to ponder upon this issue. In the following verse, the
case of believers who are deeply grieved at not finding a way to fight
There is no blame on those who are infirm, or ill,
or who find no resources to spend (on the cause), if they are sincere
(in duty) to Allah and His Messenger: no ground (of complaint) can there
be against such as do right: and Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
Nor (is there blame) on those who came to you to be provided with mounts,
and when you said, “I can find no mounts for you,” they turned back, their
eyes streaming with tears of grief that they had no resources with which
to contribute. (Al-Tawba, 91-92)
Fighting against enemies obviously involves danger. One who decides to
take part in a war surely risks his life or health. Despite this fact,
in the times of our prophet, believers had shown an intense eagerness
to fight in the cause of Allah and furthermore, suffered deep grief at
not finding a way to fight. This is indeed a striking example of conscience,
as explained in the Qur’an.
The evil side of the soul cannot lead a believer astray all of a sudden.
Rather, it encourages neglectfulness of the responsibilities he has to
fulfill in the cause of Allah. By making excuses, the soul tries to shake
one’s commitment to observing the limits of Allah. The influence of the
soul becomes more profound wherever one appeases the desires of his soul.
The resultant effects of such an approach would be detrimental to his
faith. He may even drift into disbelief. Whatever the circumstances, he
is obliged to comply with the commandments of Allah, and invariably to
curb his selfish desires and whims. Allah addresses His servants thus:
So fear Allah as much as you can; listen and obey
and spend in charity for the benefit of your own soul.Those saved from
the covetousness of their own souls, they are the ones that achieve prosperity.
In this verse Allah commands believers to fear Him, obey Him and to listen
to His judgements. They are also required to spend for the cause of Allah,
since this will save believers from “the covetousness of their own
souls” and make them attain real prosperity. Another verse declares:
And for such as had entertained the fear of standing
before their Lord’s (tribunal) and had restrained (their) soul from lower
desires, their abode will be the Garden. (Al-Naziat, 40-41)
A soul purified of selfish desires, and thus earning the pleasure and
the heaven of Allah, is referred to as “the soul in complete rest and
satisfaction” in the Qur’an.
(To the righteous soul it will be said:) “O (you)
soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction! Come back to your Lord,
well pleased yourself, and well-pleasing to Him! Enter then, among My
devotees! You, enter My Heaven ! " (Al-Fajr, 27-30)
Those, on the other hand, who fail to purify their souls and thus attain
Hell are full of remorse for what they have done. The remorse felt by
the billions of people that have ever lived on earth is horrible to witness.
This is an inescapable truth awaiting unbelievers. This is a real day;
so real that Allah calls to witness “the self- reproaching spirit” right
after the resurrection day:
I call to witness the resurrection day; and I call
to witness the self-reproaching spirit. (Al-Qiyama, 1-2)