The Three Types of Soul

Some editions of Abū ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī’s Infamies of the Soul and Their Treatment include a small introduction on the three different types of souls.

Know that the soul is of three types: the one that incites evil, the reproachful soul, and the one that is serene.((These are, respectively: al-nafs al-āmāra, al-nafs al-lawwāma, and al-nafs al-muṭmaʾinna.))

The serene soul is certain that Allah is its Lord, has found serenity in what Allah has promised, deemed true what Allah Most High has said, and is patient with His command. It is the faithful soul that Allah Most High has made luminous, has put its book [of deeds] into its right hand, and has purified. It is the soul that is content with the decree of Allah and his destiny: good and evil, beneficial and harmful. It is the soul to which Allah Most High says, “Return to your Lord pleased…” – with Allah – “…and pleasing” (Q89:28) – to others due to its righteous deeds and attesting the promise of Allah Most High.

The second [type of soul] is the reproachful soul. It reproaches good and evil, and is impatient [whether] things are easy or difficult. It regrets what it has missed and reproaches for [missing] it, saying, “If only I had done such-and-such,” or “If only I had not done such-and-such.” It is the immoral and rejected soul. Whenever this soul is dutiful or immoral it reproaches: if it does a good deed it says, “Why didn’t I do more‽,” and if it does an evil deed it says, “If only I had not done that!” It reproaches itself in the Afterlife for squandering this life. It is the soul by which Allah Most High swore when He said, “And I shall swear by the reproaching soul” (Q75:2).

[The third is] the soul that incites evil, the one concerning which Allah Most High – when conveying [the story of] Yusūf (peace be upon him) – said, “The soul does indeed incite to evil” (Q12:53), [and elsewhere] “and curbed their souls’ passions” (Q79:40), “Do you see he who has taken his passion for his god?” (Q45:23), and other verses which indicate the evils of the soul and its little desire for good.

ʿAlī ibn ʿAmr informed us, saying: ʿAbd al-Jabbār ibn Sirīn informed us, saying: Aḥmad ibn Ḥasan ibn Abān informed us, saying: Abū ʿĀsim informed us, saying: Shuʿbah and Sufyān informed [us] from Salmah ibn Kuḥayl: from Abū Salamah from Abū Ḥurayra (may Allah be pleased with him), that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Tribulation, caprice, and lust are kneaded in the clay [constitution] of the sons of Adam.”((Ibn ʿAdī al-Jurjānī, Al-Kāmil fī Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Rijāl, 1:324–325 #40. Ibn al-Jawzī, Al-ʿIlal al-Mutanāhiyyah, 1293; al-Kanānī, Tanzīh al-Sharīʿah al-Marfūʿah, 2:393; al-Dhahabī, Mīzān al-Iʿtidāl, 1:89–90; al-Daylamī, Al-Firdaus bi-Maʿthūr, 7018; and al-Suyūṭī, Al-Durr al-Manthūr, 1:117. All include a similar report, but without Abī Salamah. Their chains include Aḥmad ibn al-Ḥasan ibn Abān al-Miṣrī, who is said to have created and narrated forgeries.))

Allah Most High says, “And strive for Allah with the striving due to Him” (Q22:78) – meaning striving against the soul and preventing it from following caprice.

A short summary of the infamies and their treatments is available here. The full translation of Infamies of the Soul and Their Treatment is scheduled to be printed with Islamosaic in 2016.

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