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Understanding the Three Types of Nafs


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CII talk delivered by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed. 18-11-10 [Question 1 of 3]


Q1: Can you please explain the different types of nafs, nafs-e-ammara, nafs-e-lawwama and nafs-e-mutmainna.


A: In the Quran-e-Kareem the word nafs is used in two ways.


1. First way that the word nafs is used, is to indicate our own-self. Some people would translate it in English as self, some people would translate it in English as soul. An example of this is when Allah Almighty says in the Quran:


وَاذْكُرْ رَبَّكَ فِي نَفْسِكَ


[7:205] And remember your Rabb inside your-self


2. The second way the nafs has been used in the Quran, which is quite frequent, is that the nafs is referring to a specific part of our self and it is that part of our self that has desires, appetite, some people call it ego. It has anger, it has passion, it has lust, desire, it has all these things. Some people may even call it the carnal self or the carnal soul. This nafs is not part of the Ruh, its part of the physical human being. So if we wanted to say that we have some physical part of our creation, that is our body and our nafs and then Allah Almighty has also put inside of ourselves an inner or spiritual part of our creation, that is our ruh. This nafs is part of our physical self, even though its not part of our physical body.


Three adjectives have been used in the Nobel Quran to describe three different types of nafs.


1. The first is nafs-ul-ammarah.


 إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ


[12:53] Indeed the nafs that overwhelmingly commands a person to do sin.


So this refers to that nafs, that is ruling over the self. This means that the nafs commands us and tells us what to do. So when the nafs has any desire, any wish, any appetite, it simply commands us, it dominates us. It is that nafs which is sovereign over a human being, it has sovereignty over us. What it means is that the nafs is sovereign over us, if it is Ammarah, it means we are subjugated by it, we are sub-ordinate to it, we listen and follow all of its dictates and commands. So this is the first type of nafs and the sign that a person has this type of nafs is that they sin willingly, blatantly, remorselessly, in any way that they ever want.


And if we think about it, in many places in the west, this concept is actually glorified because people say ”you should do whatever makes you happy, do whatever pleases you, do whatever your heart desires”. They may glamorize that by saying that it’s the heart but actually there are many people, whether in east or west, even muslims now, that are doing what our passion desires. So that means that we have a nafs-ul-ammarah.


2. Second type of nafs is known as nafs-ul-lawwamah.

Lawwamah, lawwam, it’s the same type of word as ammar and Allah  Almighty has mentioned this in Quran:


وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ




Lawwam here means to self incriminate, to self reproach, to have blame, to do mulamat of oneself. So, this is that nafs that does sometimes bring a person to do sin, but then that nafs self incriminates itself, it reproaches itself, it feels bad, it feels guilty. And then this guilt is supposed to increase so much so then the person leaves those sins because they feel so guilty about them. So, the sign of this is precisely  that the person has such a nafs that when they commit a sin they feel remorse, regret, they feel guilt, they feel shame, they feel embarrassment, they wish they could take it back, they wish they never did it, they may even intend at that moment never to do that again. So, they are fighting a battle with their nafs. Sometimes they make sin and sometimes they are able to stay away from sin.


3. The third way this word has been used in the Quran-e-Kareem is nafs-ul-mutmainnah.


يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً


[89:27-28] To the righteous it will be said “oh reassured soul, return to your Lord well pleased, and pleasing to Him”


So, Allah Almighty addresses the mutma’in nafs. And mutma’in here means two things.


a) Number one is that they are mutma’in, they are content with the hukm of Allah Almighty, there is nothing else that makes them happy. So, this person is also doing what makes them happy. But this person has been molded and trained and disciplined it in such a way, that the only thing that makes it happy, that gives it solace, the only thing that it ismutma’in on, that it is content with, is what Allah Almighty is please with, what Allah Almighty is content with. So, it’s heart’s content lies in that which Allah Almighty is happy and pleased with.


b) Second meaning of mutma’in is that has reached a state of serenity. The serene, contented, tranquility, at peace nafs. And obviously, the peace here means that it has aman, itminan from doing sin and also aman and itminan from desiring sin. It has no unlawful desires. It has desires, that is what the nafs does, but it only desires good things. The sign of this is exactly what we just mentioned that this person, not only do they not do sin, they no longer desire sin. That faculty, that part of their humanity that desires, only and only desires things that Allah Almighty views as desirable and has stopped desiring those things that Allah Almighty has labeled as undesirable.


So, these are the three types of nafs. Nafs-ul-Ammarah, Nafs-ul-Lawwamah and Nafs-ul-Mutmainnah.


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The stages of the nafs: Nafs al ammara part 1

From Ashrafiya

نفس امارہ


Shaikh Abdul Ghani at Tarablusi al Khalwati (Allah have mercy on him) said,

‘It is your lower self (nafs) that veils you from Allah.

The scholars of Reality (al haqiqa) have mentioned seven stages of the nafs according to its changing states, the ammara, lawamah, mulhema, mutmainah, radhiya, mardhiya and kamilah.’

Following is a summary of Shaikh’s discussion.

1. The inciting nafs (nafs-i-ammara)

إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلاَّ مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّيَ‎

Surely, man’s inner self often incites to evil, unless my Lord shows mercy.”[12:53]

In its primitive stage the nafs incites us to commit evil: this is the corrupt nafs as the lower self, the base instincts. Its characteristics include; stinginess, greed, envy, ignorance, arrogance, lust, anger, heedlessness, coveting, mad manners, involvement in useless, making others’ fun, having malice for them and harming them with speech or hand.

It becomes the instrument of Satan’s seduction (to sin). It the most lethal enemy. Therefore extreme caution is needed in not listening to its insolent commands. In Prophetic saying the struggle against it has been mentioned as highest level of righteous effort (jihad al akbar).

Being steadfast on the commandments of Shariah is essential. Keeping constant vigilance (muhasba) is required. It is imperative to have extreme humility and engagement in supererogatory deeds. This is facilitated by giving up (after consultation with Shaikh) the excessive permissible pleasures and all useless activities. By routinely crying in front of Allah asking for help and making remembrance of Allah as instructed by the Shaikh.

‘Never leave supplication because of being depressed and frustrated (by frequent slips) or lose hope by considering the goal to be unrealistic. This will severe the determination altogether.’

If one persists then Allah will spiritually enlighten the heart of the seeker that will make it possible to see the diseases that inflicts the nafs.

Then comes the second stage.

The stages of the nafs: Nafs al Lawwamah / part 2

The Self-reproaching nafs

لا أقسم بيوم القيامة ولا أقسم بالنفس اللوامة 

I swear by the Day of Resurrection,

and I swear by the self-reproaching conscience, (that Resurrection is a reality.)

This is the stage where the conscience is awakened and the self reproaches one for listening to one’s ego. That is, in committing the evil acts or omitting the virtuous or doing them in a sloppy manner.

Its characteristics include; reproaching, greed, coveting, self praise, show-off, cruelty, back-bitting, lying and heedlessness, love of fame and status. In sharing many characteristics of nafs al ammarah it maintains the ability to differentiate between the good and evil. However, it is not proficient, as yet, to fully follow the good commands and abstain from sinful. Moreover, if it does do some good acts  it develops desires of self-praise (ujub) or showing-off or expecting praise from others. In this stage it is imperative that he acknowledges and exposes these blame worthy desires to his fellow-brethren (as per the instruction of his Shaikh). Otherwise these blame-worthy morals will cut-off his journey on this path.

It is essential that in this phase he makes excessive remembrance of Allah and exerts in the struggle (to do good and abstain from evil).

Here he is inflicted will excessive abstract, useless ideas, and random, bizarre  thoughts. He has to fight them off with assistance of excessive remembrance of Allah and supplications, asking Allah for assistance in doing so effectively.

If he does so, he passes to the third stage.


The stages of nafs: Nafs e mulhimah / part 3



The Inspired Nafs

Allah Almighty says,

(9)ونفس وما سواها ( 7 ) فألهمها فجورها وتقواها ( 8 ) قد أفلح من زكاها

and by the soul, and the One who made it well,

then inspired it with its (instincts of) evil and piety,

success is really attained by him who purifies it,

In this stage of development the nafs is gifted with the ability to distinguish between good and evil. Moreover,the performance of good actions and abstinence from evil is facilitated for him by the Grace of Allah.

This Grace is manifested as immense desire to please Allah. And at this stage nafs remains drowned in intense love of Allah (‘ishq illahi).

This is possible by following the recommendations of the Shaikh and excessive remembrance of Allah as instructed by him. In fact it is mandatory (wajib) to follow the recommendations of the Shaikh at this stage to be successful.

This is both a phenomenal and a challenging stage.

Any heedlessness here will pull the nafs to its initial stage. (May Allah protect us all from this disaster. Amin!)

Its characteristics include; self restraint (hilm), philanthropy, contentment, humility, repentance, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, maintaining a good opinion about others, acceptance of others’ excuses, etc.

In addition to the excessive remembrance of Allah and following the instructions of Shaikh meticulously one has to repeatedly remind himself of meeting Allah and His perfections. He has to be vigilant in following the Shariah and be compliant to his daily wird. He must efface his ego by purposefully doing permissible humble actions.

Here the individual observes that everything is from Allah (tawhid e afa’li). He abandons all criticism. He cries often and is deeply effected by the crying of others. He withdraws from all the creation and finds solace with Allah. He is attracted to beautiful audition.

In short this stage is marked by intense love, lofty desires and high aspirations to please Allah.

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