Spiritual Exercise

Exercising Self-Control !


قال الله عز وجل: { وَجَاهِدُوا فِي اللَّهِ حَقَّ جِهَادِهِ هُوَ اجْتَبَاكُمْ وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ مِنْ حَرَجٍ مِلَّةَ أَبِيكُمْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ هُوَ سَمَّاكُمُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ مِنْ قَبْلُ وَفِي هَذَا لِيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ شَهِيدًا عَلَيْكُمْ وَتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ فَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآَتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِاللَّهِ هُوَ مَوْلَاكُمْ فَنِعْمَ الْمَوْلَى وَنِعْمَ النَّصِيرُ} سورة الحج 78. ـ

قال ابن كثير: (أي ما كلفكم ما لا تطيقون، وما ألزمكم بشيء فَشَقَ عليكم إلا جعل الله لكم فرجا ومخرجا). ـ

God -the Exalted- says: { And strive hard in Allah’s cause as you ought to strive. He has chosen you, and He has not placed upon you in religion any hardship: it is the religion of your father Ibrahim.  He [i.e., Allah] has named you Muslims both before and in this (Qur’an), that the Messenger may be a witness over you and you be witnesses over mankind.  So, perform the Prayer, give the Zakah and hold fast to Allah. He is your protector, what an excellent protector and what an excellent helper!} (Surah 22, verse 78).

Ibn Katheer said: “Allah has not overburdened you with anything that you cannot bear, and He has not obligated anything that you found difficult except He created a way out for you.”


وعن أَبِي هريرة رضي اللَّه عنه عن النبي صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم قال: « إِنَّ الدِّينَ يُسْرٌ، ولَنْ يُشَادَّ الدِّينُ أَحَدٌ إلاَّ غَلَبهُ، فَسَدِّدُوا وقَارِبُوا وَأَبْشِرُوا واسْتَعِينُوا بِالغَدْوَةِ والرَّوْحةِ وشَيْءٍ مِن الدُّلْجَةِ». رواه البخاري ومسلم. ـ

إِلاَّ غَلَبَهُ: أَيْ غَلَبَه الدِّينُ وَعَجزَ ذلكَ المُشَادُّ عنْ مُقَاومَةِ الدِّينِ لِكَثْرةِ طُرقِهِ . ـ

الغَدْوةُ: سيْرُ أَوَّلِ النَّهَارِ، الرَّوْحةُ: آخِرُ النَّهَارِ ، الدُّلْجَةُ: آخِرُ اللَّيْلِ .  قال النووي: وَهَذا استَعارةٌ وتَمْثِيلٌ، ومعْناهُ: اسْتَعِينُوا عَلَى طَاعةِ اللَّهِ عز وجلَّ بالأَعْمالِ فِي وقْتِ نشاطِكُمْ، وفَراغِ قُلُوبِكُمْ بحيثُ تًسْتلذُّونَ العِبادَةَ ولا تسـأَمُونَ مقْصُودَكُمْ، كَما أَنَّ المُسافِرَ الحاذِقَ يَسيرُ في هَذهِ الأَوْقَاتِ وَيستَريِحُ هُو ودابَّتُهُ فِي غَيْرِهَا، فيصِلُ المقْصُود بِغَيْرِ تَعبٍ. ـ

        Narrated Abu Hurairah -may Allah be pleased with him- that the Prophet -prayer and peace be upon him said: “The religion of Islam is easy, and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So (do not be extremists), but aim to the right middle path and try your best, then have the good tidings that you will be rewarded.  And seek help to reach your goal by offering prayers in the morning and afternoon, and some during the late hours of the night.”  Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.

وعن عائشة رضي الله عنها قالت: ( مَا خُيِّرَ رسولُ اللَّهِ صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم بَينَ أَمْرينِ قَطُّ إِلاَّ أَخذَ أَيْسَرَهُمَا مَا لَم يَكُن إِثْماً، فإنْ كَانَ إِثْماً كَانَ أَبْعَدَ النَّاسِ مِنْهُ، ومَا انْتَقَمَ رسولُ اللَّهِ صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم لِنَفْسِهِ فِي شَيْءٍ قَطُّ إِلاَّ أَنْ تُنْتَهَكَ حُرْمَةُ اللَّهِ، فَينتَقِم للَّهِ تَعَالى) .  رواه البخاري ومسلم. ـ

      Narrated Aishah -may Allah be pleased with her- said: “The Prophet -prayer and peace be upon him- was not given a choice between two matters, except that he chose the easier of the two, as long as it was not a sin.  If that act was a sin, he would stay the farthest from it.  By God, he never avenged himself. He only became angry when people transgressed the limits and boundaries of God; in that case he avenged [for the sake of God].” Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.



      The Almighty God described the Self (nafs) as inclined to evil in Qur’an.  There are three parts of the Self: 1) the Evil -inclined Self, 2) the Righteious Tranquil Self, and 3) the Reproaching Self.   

The Righteous Tranquil Self (nafs mutma’innah) calls the son of Adam to do good and be righteous.  The Evil-Inclined Self (nafs ammarah bil soo’) calls the son of Adam to follow desires and commit sins.  The Reproaching Self (nafs lawwamah) blames the human when he sins and makes him feel regret and remorse.  The Reproaching self reminds the son of Adam and calls him to return to goodness.  

      The Evil-Inclined Self tends to call the son of Adam to desires and lusts.  The Evil-Inclined Self usually leads the human astray.  The Evil-Inclined Self is only concerned with its desires and wishes with no care whether they are good or bad, whether they are beneficial or harmful, whether they are permissible or forbidden.  The Evil-Inclined Self only cares about fulfilling its desired needs of food, of lust, of power, of greed, of fame, of wealth, of revenge, of anger, and so on.  Following the Evil-Inclined Self is a fatal and destructive path.


Thus we can see that the Evil-Inclined Self needs to be controlled.  The Muslim should not allow the evil-inclined Self to lead him astray.  There are three enemies for the son of Adam: Satan, the Evil-Inclined Self and the bad company (evil friends).  The son of Adam must fight all three of them all the time.  On the other hand, God -the Exalted- has provided the believer with many angels who protect him from these enemies, so long as the believer seeks protection from God and takes measures to guard himself from these enemies.


          There are two ways to control the Self.  You can either treat it harshly and not allow it any wish so bring it under control, Or you can be firm and easy on it and then bring it under control.  Islam has chosen the second way.  As the verse above states, God -the Exalted- doesn’t intend hardship for the son of Adam; rather God has made this religion easy for us.  We follow this religion with ease and love, not with harshness and hardship.

Think of the Self as a strong-willed wild horse.  If you use force with it, it will obey you but it will always be rebellious.  On the other hand, if you are firm but gentle with it, slowly the wild horse will become tame and follow you.  Think of the Self as an unruly child.  If you beat him, he will listen to you but hate you and will try to disobey again.  However, if you are firm but gentle with him, then he will listen to you and obey you easily.


Then that is how we should treat the Self.  Be firm and gentle with it.  Do not be harsh on it, rather be firm.  Do not be hard on it, rather be gentle.  Do not stop it from everything; rather sometimes allow it somethings provided they are permissible or halal.  As the hadith above states, that was the way of our beloved Prophet -prayer and peace be upon him; he was never offered two ways except he chose the easier of the two as long as it was permissible or halal.  Then we should do the same and make things easy for us.  We should follow this religion with ease and simplicity.  We should follow this religion out of love and will, not out of hardship and force.  We should learn how to control the Self; we should be firm but gentle.  We should learn to avoid being harsh and hard with the Self, rather be wise and easygoing with it but try to avoid haram all the time.


There are eleven ways to control the Self:

  • 1) Lead the Self, Do Not Let it Lead You:

The Self is inclined to evil and only thinks of its desires and wishes with no care for benefit or harm, and with no care for sins and forbidden things.  So we must never allow the Self to command us, must never let the Self control us.  Following the Self is like following a young child.  Learn to control the Self and do not let it control you.

The way to do that is to sometimes stop the Self from something it desires.  Train the Self until it will listen to you.  Some scholars suggested starting with food.  Omar Ibn Al-Khattab once saw his son going to the market, so he asked him where he was going.  His son replied: Myself desires eating meat.  A couple of days later, he saw him again, and he asked him where he was going.  He replied: Myself desires some meat.  So Omar said: ‘Every time your Self desires to eat something, you allow it its wish and eat!’

In other words, learn to oppose the self sometimes and don’t do what it desires so as to train it and bring it under control.  Make the Self follow religion, and do not let it follow its desires.

  • 2) Stop the Whispering of the Self (Wasawis):

This is one of the hardest things to do because the human would like to do whatever his Self desires and wishes.  But there are some things that are harmful and we must avoid them.  A child would like to eat sweets all the time, but it is harmful, so we must avoid that and stop him.  Likewise, the Self calls the human to do many things that are bad and sinful.  These calls are called whisperings of the Self (wasawis), and the believer must learn to stop them before they develop into ideas, then determination and then actual sinful acts.

But controlling the Self from something it wishes is not easy; it requires a lot of self determination and righteousness called Taqwa.  Controlling the Self needs a lot of training or exercise; spiritual exercise.  Just like when you do physical exercise, you have better control of your health, spiritual exercise is the same.


  • 3) Be Gentle, but Firm:

How do you treat a child who is crying because he wants something that you don’t have.  Do you hit him and say no? He would probably cry even more, or go ask somebody else.  On the other hand, if you try to play with him and distract him, he will forget and stop asking.  The same applies to the Self.  If the Self desires something and you just say no, it will probably seek that forbidden thing from another way.  So learn to say no but distract it by giving it something that you have, in other words let it have something permissible instead.


  • 4) Avoid being Too Harsh:

This is the golden rule.  Sometimes just stopping the whispering of the Self is not enough; the desire still remains. And the Self will keep whispering until you fulfill its wish.  The believer must learn to counteract these whisperings by doing something permissible or halal instead.  Suppose someone is hungry and he sees forbidden food.  Just stopping the Self from eating that food is not enough; he still feels hungry.  So he must eat something halal instead.  Suppose a friend tells you about a bad movie, so the Self would whisper to you to watch it.  Just saying no to your Self is not enough, because the Self would continue to whisper to you: it is very good; it is very popular until you give in.  However, gently tell yourself I will go on a trip instead, or I will meet some friends instead.  Thus learn to counteract the forbidden act with something permissible or halal.  Change the desire to do a sin by doing something similar but permissible or halal.


  • 5) Do Not Let the Self Argue with You:

Explain to the Self the advantages and disadvantages of the action and then follow religion firmly. Don’t let the Self argue with you.  If you allow the Self to argue with, then you will lose.  The Self has one million reasons why you should do sins.  It may argue ‘but only this time’, or ‘there are some good benefits too’, and so forth until you do the sin. Then Satan finds an opportunity and would whisper too, thus weakening the human further.  So the believer should stop the bad thought before it develops into action and sin.

But the wise believer must be gentle with the Self but firm. Yes, explain to it why you cannot do that sin, but after that be firm.  Then do not be too harsh, rather do something halal instead.


  • 6) Surround the Self with Good Company:

If you keep the Self in good company, it will follow you in doing good.  Try to stay in the company of righteous people and learn how they bring their selves under control.  If you cannot meet righteous people, then read their seerah or biography and learn from it.  Once Omar Ibn Al-Khattab said: ‘If I wish I can order the best food and dress, but I want to keep that for my Hereafter.’  Then see how he was keeping his Self under control and not allowing it its every wish.  The believer must read these books and try to do likewise.


  • 7) Keep the Self Away from Bad Environment and Sins:

What do you think a child would do when he sees a toy or candy.  He immediately asks for it. And if he doesn’t get it, he starts crying until he gets it.  But what if we keep those things away from him, then he wouldn’t know about it.  The same applies to the Self; the more you expose the Self to evil places and bad and forbidden things, the more the Self will ask for them.  On the other hand, if you avoid bad company, if you avoid bad places, if you avoid getting close to forbidden things, then the Self wouldn’t know about it and wouldn’t ask you for it.

God -the Exalted- commanded us in Qur’an: Do Not get close to adultery.  He didn’t only say: do not do adultery, rather do not get close to it.  And that is done by looking down, by avoiding talking to non-mahram, etc.  All to protect the Self from seeing things that may lead to forbidden things.


  • 8) Train the Self through Fasting and Repentance :

Fasting is indeed a spiritual training.  When we stop eating and drinking for the sake of God, we are actually bringing the Self under control.  The Self wants to eat, but you stop it.  Thus you lead it and do not listen to it. Then when you face a forbidden thing and the Self calls you to do it, you stop it and do not listen to it.  This is one of great purposes of fasting in Islam.  Thus the believer should sometimes fast other days beside Ramadan and train his Self to follow the commands of God -the Exalted.


And in case the believer does any misdeed, then he should Not allow the Self to control him further, rather he should immediately repent and regret doing that haram.  He should turn to God and ask His forgiveness (make Istighfar).  The believer should bring the Self immediately under control again and discipline the Self by temporarily stopping something it likes until it learns to listen again.


  • 9) Think of the Reward and Paradise and the Punishment in this World and Hell:

The Muslim is promised great reward if he opposes the Self when it calls him to do sin.  Both Quran and hadith mentioned many great degrees and reward both in this life and the Hereafter for those who have Taqwa.  Taqwa or piety is doing all commands of God and avoiding all things He has forbidden.  In order to do that, the Muslim must oppose his Self and Satan.  The Muslim must think of the consequences of sins before he commits them.  Think of the punishment of that sin in this life and in the Hereafter, then oppose the Self and Satan and do not listen to them.

God -the Exalted- says:

{ فَأَمَّا مَنْ طَغَى * وَآَثَرَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا * فَإِنَّ الْجَحِيمَ هِيَ الْمَأْوَى * وَأَمَّا مَنْ خَافَ مَقَامَ رَبِّهِ وَنَهَى النَّفْسَ عَنِ الْهَوَى * فَإِنَّ الْجَنَّةَ هِيَ  الْمَأْوَى} النإزعات 37-41. ـ

{ Then for him who transgressed.  38. And preferred the life of this world.  39. Verily, his abode will be the Hell. 40. But as for him who feared standing before his Lord, and forbade himself from desire. 41. Verily, Paradise will be his abode} Surah 79, verses 37-41.


  • 10) Make Dhikr (Mention God) often:

Indeed, the best exercise to train the Self is making Dhikr or mentioning God all the time.  Making Dhikr brings the Self under control, because the Self wants to do other things but you make it mention God the Exalted.  Thus you are training the Self to listen to you and follow religion.

Moreover, the more you remember and mention God, the more you love Him.  The more you love God, the more you want to obey Him and avoid disobeying by committing sins.  The more you obey God, the more your Self comes under control so you can lead it to follow religion.

Try to ask God for forgiveness (make Istighfar) often, and try to often read salah on the Prophet -prayer and peace be upon him.  Read other athkar too.  And the best Dhikr is Qur’an, the Muslim should recite Qur’an everyday and learn its meaning.


  • 11) Make Du’a (Pray to God, the Exalted):

God is the Lord of the Universe, and everything is under His command, including the Self.  Indeed, as narrated in the hadith the hearts are between two Fingers of the Most Merciful One, and He turns them as He wills (Sahih Muslim).  So the believer  must pray God to guide to the Right Path, make him firm on religion and make his Self follow religion and avoid sins.



Know that there are three types of the Self:

1. The evil-inclined self (nafs ammarah bi-soo’): it always calls the son of Adam to do evil and commit sins. 

2. The reproaching self (nafs lawwamah): it always blames the human why he did that sin, or why he didn’t do that good deed, thus calls him to repent and turn to Allah. And 

3. The righteous tranquil self (nafs mutma’innah): it calls the Muslim to be among the righteous. It calls him to always obey God and avoid sins.


But the human has only one Self, and this Self can take the characteristic of one of the three types; it can become either evil-inclined self, or reproaching self, or pious self.  For some people, the evil-inclined self becomes dominant and strong, so they indulge their desires and do all kinds of sins.  While for others, the pious tranquil self becomes dominant and strong, so they oppose their desires and follow religion. But as mentioned in the hadith, they change as God -the Exalted- wills.  A sinful person may regret his sins and his evil-inclined self would turn into the reproaching self until he becomes righteous and then it turns into the righteous tranquil self.  So the Muslim should always pray God to guide him.

Then, the believer should do his best to train his Self and bring it under control.  The believer should lead the Self to do good and not let the Self lead him to desires and temptations. The believer should be gentle but firm with the Self. The believer should not be too harsh with it but allow it permissible or halal things to counteract the sin.  Finally the believer should always pray God to guide him to the Right Path and make him firm on it.  And God knows best.