Distinguishing The Soul – Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah

… the soul is neither from the East of the world of pure spirits, nor from the West of the world of material bodies. It is of three types: the one that incites to evil; the self-blaming one; and the recollected one. The soul that incites to evil (an-nafs al-ammarah bi’s-su’) is that which inclines to physical nature and commands one to engage in sensual pleasures and carnal appetites. It draws the heart toward the lowest region and is the abode of iniquity and the source of blameworthy morals and evil deeds. It is the soul of the masses. It is tenebrous; and for it, the invocation is like a lamp lit in a dark house.

The self-blaming soul (an-nafs al-lawwamah) is that which is illuminated by the light of the heart to an extent commensurate with its degree of wakefulness from the slumber of forgetfulness. It is vigilant and begins by correcting its state, which wavers between the Divinity and creatures. Every time something bad issues forth from the self-blaming soul by virtue of its dark nature and character, the light of divine admonition suddenly comes upon it, and it starts blaming itself. The soul repents of its errors, asking God’s pardon and returns to the door of the Forgiving, the Merciful…

… the self-blaming soul perseveres in invoking and turning to God in repentance until the power of the invocation triumphs over all those things and expels them. Then the soul approaches peacefulness and does not cease to gather furnishings for the house until the house is adorned with all kinds of praiseworthy things and is thereby made lustrous. The house is then suitable for the descent of the Sovereign Lord into it.When the Sovereign Lord descends into the soul and the Truth is revealed, the soul becomes recollected.

The recollected soul (an-nafs al-mutma’innah) is the one whose enlightenment is brought about by the light of the heart until it is stripped of blameworthy attributes and takes on praiseworthy virtues. Then it turns in the direction of the heart completely, following it in its ascent to the regions of the world of Holiness (‘alam al-quds) far above the world of impurity, diligent in acts of obedience and tranquil in the presence of the “Exalter of ranks” until its Lord addresses it by His words: “But, ah! thou soul at peace! Return unto thy Lord, content in His good pleasure! Enter thou among My servants! Enter thou My Garden!”

Imam Ibn ‘Ata’illah al-Iskandari, The Key to Salvation (Miftah al-Falah)


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