Stages of the Nafs

Molana Hazrat Mir Ghotbeddin Mohammad Angha, in the book “From Fetus to Paradise” describes the stages of the nafs and its ascension from the based level to the ultimate level of divine unity. His Holiness refers to the teachings of Hazrat Amir al-Mo’menin Ali (pbuh) on the subject of Nafs as follows:

“Komail who was one the pious students and a close companion of Hazrat Amir al-Mo’menin Ali (pbuh), one night outside of the town of Kufa, asked: “Teach me about my nafs and help me to cognize it.” Amir al-Mo’menin Ali replied, “Which nafs do you want to know?” “Is there more than one nafs?” asked Komail. “Yes, explained Amir al-Mo’menin Ali, there are four types of nafs. First is the nafs of growth (vegetation level); second is the nafs of sensual (animal level); third is the nafs of pure intellect (human level); and forth is the nafs of wholeness and Divinity. Each one of these has certain capability and qualities of its own.” [1]

Hazrat Mir Ghotbeddin Mohammad Angha teaches that the nafs has seven stages which include, “nafs ammara (the commanding self), nafs l                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       awwama (the blaming self), nafs molhama (the inspired self), nafs mutmainna, (the trusted, submitted self), nafs radhiyya (the content, pleased self), nafs mardhiyya, (the pleasing self), and the final stage, nafs Ghodsi (The pure Self).” [2]

The Quranic expression an-nafs al-ammara bi’s-su, “the nafs commanding to evil” (Sura 12:53) forms the starting point for the Sufi way of purification.

And yet, I am not trying to absolve myself: for, verily, man’s lower self does incite [him] to evil, and saved are only they upon whom my Sustainer bestows His grace. Behold, my Sustainer is much forgiving, a dispenser of grace!”

(Joseph 12:53)

وَمَا أُبَرِّىءُ نَفْسِي إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلاَّ مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّيَ إِنَّ رَبِّي غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

The holy book contains also the expression an-nafs al-lawwama, “the blaming nafs” (Sura 75:2), which corresponds approximately to the conscience that watches over man’s actions and controls him.

But nay! I call to witness the accusing voice of man’s own conscience (the blaming nafs)

(Resurrection 75:2)

وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ

Eventually, once purification is achieved, the nafs may become mutmainna “at peace”. (Sura 89: 27) 3

“O thou human being that hast attained to inner peace!

(Dawn 89:27)

يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ

This is when the nafs is in submission, and experiences true cognition and unity. (Sura 89: 28, 29, 30):

Return thou unto thy Sustainer, well-pleased [and] pleasing [Him]

(Dawn 89: 28)

ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً ُ
enter, then, together with My [other true] servants

(Dawn 89:29)

فَادْخُلِي فِي عِبَادِي
yea, enter thou My paradise!”

(Dawn 89:30)

وَادْخُلِي جَنَّتِي

The prophets invite all believers to initiate a jihad against our own nafs, our lower self and strive in its purification and ascension. This supreme effort facilitates Self- cognition, submission, and unity. As long as we do not manage to conquer our nafs, we do not experience balance and harmony, and our hidden capabilities are not developed. Thus jihad is in fact the holy strive that every Believer declares inside himself against his primitive drives and instinctive impulses, in order to purify his soul and experience peace, submission, joy, and unity.

  1. Molana Hazrat Mir Ghotbeddin Mohammad Angha, From Fetus to Paradise, MTO Publication®: Tehran Iran, 1956. P. 66
  2. Ibid., p.67
  3. Schimmel Annemarie, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1975, p. 112