Taken from (Purification of the Soul, Concept, Process, and Means) by Jamal ad-din Zarabozo
Striving Against Any Evil Inclinations of the Soul
“And strive for the sake of Allah as you ought to strive” (al-hajj 78)
Al-Raazi has quoted the great mujaahid and scholar Abdullah ibn al-Mubaraak as interpreting, “strive as you ought to strive” as meaning, “Struggling against the soul and desires.” [Al-Raazi, vol.23 pg. 72]
The Messenger of Allah (salalahu alayhi wa salam) said,
“The [true] Mujaahid is the one who strives against his own soul.” [recorded by al-Tirmidhi and ibn Hibaan. According to al-albaani, it is sahih]
As was noted earlier, the soul is not necessarily inherently evil. However, the soul has both propensities in it: it can turn toward good and it can turn toward evil. Hence, the individual has to work to extinguish or greatly weaken the evil propensities. This is a type of struggle and, hence, it is a kind of jihad.
In fact, there are various types of jihad. Unfortunately, many times people go to extremes by stressing one at the expense of the others. For example, there are many in this wold today, given the current plight of muslims, who stress jihad against the disbelievers. At the same time, they fail to recognize the importance of jihad against any evil inclinations in the soul, which probably lie at the root of the matter leading to the current plight of the muslims. On the other hand, some stress jihad against the soul and ignore, downplay or deny the validity of any other form of jihad.
Although both of these extremes are to be avoided, the overall importance of “victory” in the jihad against the soul needs to be emphasized. When one encounters the enemies on the physical battlefield, the most that can happen to a person is that he loses his life. His enemy cannot pry the faith from the believer’s heart. His enemy can only put an end to the believer’s worldly life. But if the believer loses his life while having faith and fighting for the sake of Allah, that is not a ba dthing whatsoever. His worldly life may come to an end but he has gained an everlasting victory of happiness. On the other hand, if the believer loses in the battle against evil inclinations in one’s soul, he will harm his own soul. In fact, if he does not strive against any of the evil inclinations in his soul, the result can be everlasting misery and punishment in the hereafter. In other words, instead of purifying his osul, his soul will be completely soiled and corrupted, leading to Allah’s displeasure.
In essence, what is meant by “Jihad against any evil inclination in the soul” is that sometimes the soul may desire or long after something that is harmful for the soul itself. Allah has described this occurence in a couple places in the Quran. For example, concerning the son of Adam (alayhi salam) who killed his brother and was the first to commit murder, Allah says,
“The (selfish) soul of the other led him to the murder of his brother: he murdered him, and became (himself) one of the lost ones” (al-Maaidah 30).
Allah also clearly points out the importance of forbidding one’s soul from following such vain desires when they occur. For example, Allah says,
“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-Naaziaat 40-41)
Ibn Hazm once stated a very precise golden rule concerning this matter. he said, “There are two things that if you do them you will attain the good of this world and the hereafter…[They are] that you bear what you dislike if it is beloved to Allah and you leave what you like if it is disliked by Allah.” [Quoted in al-Bilaali, p128-129]
Not always, especially as one is beginning along the path of purification are the acts of worship pleasing and easy upon the soul. Similarly, refraining from what Allah dislikes may also not be that easy in the early stages of one’s spiritual growth. However, the person must always keep in mind that the key to his purification and the key to his reaching his goal is to do what is pleasing to Allah and to refrain from what is displeasing to Allah, regardless of whether the soul is ready and easily accepted of that.
Therefore, whenever one’s soul prompts a muslim to perform an evil deed, he should first recognize in his mind that such is an evil deed. Unfortunately, though, when an inclination to sin exists in the soul, satan will try to pounce on this opportunity to urge the person to perform that harmful act. If the person has evil friends, they may also encourage him to do such evil. Now the individual himsel fmust decide what to do. He has contradictory pressures within his own being. He may give in to his soul’s temporary lust and longing and do something that he knows is not correct and not beneficial. On the other hand, he may strive against this feeling or lust. He may restrain himself, correctly convincing himself that to forego that at is better than to perform it. This restraint is a type of patience and striving, patience in the face of what the soul is longing for and striving against its harmful demands.
But there is more to it than refraining oneself from chasing after lusts and desires. One also has to “move” one’s soul and oneself. That is, one has to strive against being complacent and lazy. Today, no specific individual has a guarantee of paradise. Hence, every individual should fear that he could lose whatever good he has attained and could even lose his faith altogether. Therefore, he must always strive to maintain his faith, improve himself, and perform as many good deeds as he can. In fact, he should not even be content if he remains stationary. He should hope for improvement in every day of his life. In fact, the early scholars Sulaimaan al-Daaraani stated, “If a person’s day is just like yesterday, then he has a shortcoming.” [Quoted in al--Bilaali p.64]
In particular, he must push himself to perofrm the obligatory duties, from the prayer five times a day to the obligations he has towards all others. Given all the tempatations, constraints and struggles a person faces, this is indeed a true form of striving in every sense of the word. The individual cannot afford to be lackadaisical since he never knows when the angel of death may come to him.
The main weapon in this battle is patience. Patience has many aspects to it. Patience has been defined by ibn al-Qayyim as, “confirming the demands of the [intellegent and rational] mind and faith against the urges of desires and lusts.” [Ibn Qayyim in Iddah al-Saabireen wa Dhakheerah al-Shakireen: Beirut Daar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah 1983, p.16]
One of the most important forms of patience is the patience and perseverance that is required on a daily basis to make onself perform the obligatory duties. It also includes patience in the sense of restraining oneself from committing sinful acts. Hence, the quality of patience is definitely a must for the purified soul. Indeed, it is one of the true signs of a purified soul and it is one of the aspects concerning which Allah tests mankind. Allah has said,
“We shall try you until We show who are the mujahideen among you and who are the patient. And We shall test your facts [to display your true nature]“ (Muhammad 31)
In fact, one of the greatest benefits of jihad is that it is both an act of patience as well as an act that devlops further patience. The Prophet (salalahu alayhi wa salam) has stated,
“The hell-fire has been covered in lusts while paradise is covered in hardships.” [Recorded by al-Bukhari]. Paradise is not obtained simply through play, rest and relaxation while merely stating with one’s tongue that one is a believer. Indeed, when one claims to be a believer, Allah will put that person to the test to demonstrate, prove and increase his faith. Allah says,
“Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe’ and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false” (al-ankaboot 2-3)
The demonstration of one’s faith and its increase is achieved through sacrifice, patience and jihad.
A very important aspect int he jihad against the evil inclinations of the soul is the repelling of nay evil thought that pop into one’s mind. Evil ideas occur to everybody. The important thing is to stamp them out as soon as they appear and not to allow them to grow and flourish until the person himself begins to desire or intend to do that evil act. When caught in their early moments, there is no sin upon the person for what occured in his mind. A hadith, recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim, states,
“Verily, Allah has overlooked for [the members of] my nation what their souls think about as long as they do not act on it or speak about it.”
As one allows the evil thoughts to persist, the stronger they become and more difficult they are to overcome and defeat. If the individual allows them to grow until they become true wants and intentions, then he may commit a sin depending upon the entire situation and what he does afterwards.
An additional aid in struggling against the soul is to specifically seek refuge with Allah from any evil inclination in the soul. Actually, the believer should do this every morning, every evening and upon going to bed. The Prophet (salalahu alayhi wa salam) told his dear Companion Abu Bakr (radiallahu anhu)
“Say: O Allah, creator of the heavens and earth, knower of the unseen and seen, Lord of everything and its Sovereign, I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except You. I seek refuge in You from the evil in my soul and from the evil of Satan and his ascribing of partners to Allah. [I also seek refuge from] acquiring any evil for myself or bringing such upon any Muslim.”
Then the Prophet (salalahu alayhi wa salam) said, “Say that when you are in the early morning, late afternoon and when you take to your bed.” [recorded by Ahmad and Abu Dawood. According to al-Hilaali, this hadith is sahih]
As noted earlier, the soul is not necessarily inherently evil, although some writers may give that impression. Dealing with the soul is a case of developing its natural good qualities and suppressing any evil qualities that may have crept into it. This strugggle with the soul is not an impossible task. It is something that Allah requires from every human and it is well within the means of every human if he so chooses that path. The following verse makes it clear that this obligation-this struggle against the soul which is so often pictured or conceived of as some insurmountable task-is within the means of mankind without even an unbearable hardship. Allah has said,
“And strive in His cause as you ought to strive. He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion” (al-Hajj 78)
Perhaps one of the greatest foundations that can assist one in striving against any evil desires or inclinations in his soul is having a noble and supreme purpose. That is, if one keeps in mind his goal in life, setting that goal in front of him, he will recognize those acts that veer him away from that goal. He will realize what is more important and he will in most cases-Allah willing-not give in to any temporary temptations.