(n.b. The “Dear Nafs” series started on 5 February 2020. This covers everything up through 24 February 2020.)
Dear Nafs: Realize that when your own teachers referred to you as “shaykh” it was out of their optimism and husn al-zann for your potential. It wasn’t an assessment of actualization or achievement.
Dear Nafs: They may address us as “Shaykh,” but when I look at us, all I see, hear and smell is “Shaykhtan”.
Dear Nafs: Know that you are the walking advertisement for the “They need whatever I happen to like or have” fallacy.
Dear Nafs: Your claim that we’re too insignificant for Allah to ever take notice & punish us for this minor infraction reeks of belittling His omniscience, His speech, and His other essential attributes & His names.
Dear Nafs: Since you crave to be the center of attention and act as though you are entitled to a seat in Paradise, know this: If the rest of the world were to perish, you alone would be addressed by His every command and prohibition, and by His every warning of punishment.
Dear Nafs: When you speak, I ask myself, “What would Admiral Ackbar say?” And the answer is usually this…
Dear Nafs: Instead of yielding to your whisperings to read news, browse reddit, look up movie trivia on IMDB or read more SF—I’m holding us to one لا إله إلا الله for every confirmed case of coronavirus until it’s effectively over. That’s 24,957 as of today. Get busy.
p.s. If anyone else is interested in giving their nafs this challenge or a similar dhikr, the stats linked here.
Dear Nafs: The more you protest over one hour of dhikr & your struggle during it to maintain any sort of focus, the more I realize the true costs of each one of your many hours of gleeful ghaflah & effortless heedlessness.
Dear Nafs: Sometimes you speak as though His mercy is reserved for the righteous and those who do not need it. If—as you claim—His mercy is barred from the wicked and those who need it most, know we will receive none of it at all.
Dear Nafs: Instead of sneering at what others and what they do because they have not [yet] been guided to imān, reflect upon how little we have done with the imān we have been granted & how poorly we reflect it.
Dear Nafs: Is it that you know sports & movie trivia as well as you know Al-Fatihah… or you know Al-Fatihah as well as you know your sports & movie trivia?
Dear Nafs: Why is “being enjoyable & enriching at the moment” a condition for when it comes to voluntary acts of worship, but never when it comes to the all the procrastinatory acts you concoct to avoid obligatory acts of worship?
Dear Nafs: I find it odd that “Allah decreed perfection in everything” justifies your endless hours in mastering & honing dunyawi pursuits, yet it fails to justify more than a few moments of your attention in learning & performing absolute bare minimums when it comes to the akhira.
Dear Nafs: The goal is to polish the mirror—not the mold, mildew, dirt & filth covering its shine. That’s why we remove them from the mirror before polishing it. And that’s why we remove disobedience from you before polishing you.
Dear Nafs: You should expect to feel the physical effects of dhikr long before the spiritual. If you’re too impatient to experience the former, what chance do you have of the latter?
Dear Nafs: Imam al-Ghazali described you as a dragon. Change your profile pic. No one is fooled.
This one would be better:
Dear Nafs: You know how you thought you got me when we went shopping and I picked up a couple of your favorite foods? I got them so you could learn a bit of patience & self-discipline through self-denial.
Dear Nafs: Enough with you making the rūḥ eat your crumbs and table scraps. From now on, the rūḥ eats first and you can have a portion of its leftovers.
Deaf Nafs: The only “getting lost in the moment” you should seek or consider an accomplishment is getting lost in the moment of your remembrance of Allah and pondering His creation. If you must anesthetize yourself from the world, make sure it is by, through, or in—but never away from—Him.
One of our struggles, Dear Nafs, is to train you to feel good just for doing what is good and right because it is good and right—instead of your current fixation on the results of those actions and how the results make you feel.
Dear Nafs: So… you say you want to develop the virtue of courage but don’t find yourself in situations requiring courage? Making tawbah for wrongs against Allah takes some courage. Making tawbah for wrongs against others takes more. Start with that.
Dear Nafs: I need you to realize that this struggle of ours is not to determine victor from vanquished. Rather, it is to forge and train that single winning team. There is no “I win, you lose” or “You win, I lose”—there is only “We win” or “We lose”.
Dear Nafs: If you’re so smart and great, how’d you manage to get stuck with me?
Dear Nafs: If I can learn to ignore the ringing of tinnitus, surely I can learn to ignore your whispers to commit evil and entreatments into heedlessness.
Dear Nafs: Your place in the fiqh-teaching, fatwa-issuing, research-reading, paper-writing & all those other things is to stay out of it. Be still. Keep silent. Remain visible so I don’t have to worry about you surreptitiously slithering yourself into things.
Dear Nafs: All I asked you to do was to proofread so we don’t embarrass ourselves. And you can’t even be trusted with that.
Dear Nafs: We learn Allah’s commands and prohibitions and the consequences for each of the relevant parties in order to ensure that duties are fulfilled, obligations met, and justice is served. If you must, then keep your scheming, plotting, loophole-searching, and other slimy machinations to yourself.
Dear Nafs: See below:
All other things being equal: seek fatwa from the mufti you respect enough to follow even if it isn’t the answer you wanted, isn’t in your favor, or isn’t convenient. Tqvm.Dear Fatwa-Seeker:
Dear Nafs: Put in the hours and will have moments when you tire or wander and the dhikr pulls you back into its current and takes you along. And it will become effortless. At least for a while. But first, you have to put in the hours.
Dear Nafs: They’re on to you!
You can expect a mufti-murabbi who notices a clear pattern of rukhsa-seeking behavior to prescribe a bit of tarbiyah to treat your spiritual affliction/addiction.
Dear Nafs: You said we don’t attend that weekend class because the subject isn’t directly applicable to our lives. If that’s the criteria for how we spend our attention, how do you explain those countless hours watching pointless entertainment & things we don’t & won’t ever do?
Dear Nafs: If the vicarious experience gained through your endless hours of watching videos of folks skydiving or crocheting cat costumes are worth your attention, surely an hour-long weekend class where you vicariously experience Islam as it ought to be practiced is even more worthy.
Dear Nafs: So you watch cool videos about things we don’t do and probably never do because maybe someday we might try. How about this: Let’s learn to be better Muslims because maybe someday we will try.
Dear Nafs: We teach what we won’t, can’t and don’t use so that those who may can and do. It’s part of the legacy of transmitting fiqh down to those who can make [better] use of it.
Dear Nafs: All those hours upon hours spent learning fiqh aren’t a waste. How is learning Allah’s commands, the limits He has placed, what pleases and displeases Him, and all that goes with applying them to the complexities & oddities of lived lives a waste?
Dear Nafs: We’re not a nice person. Throwing on a thobe and a turban just turns us into a grouch wearing a thobe and turban. Way to disrespect what those represent.
Dear Nafs: I’m having to censor these in hopes that our janazah prayer isn’t just a single individual doing it just to fulfill a communal obligation.
Dear Nafs: Dhikr gets easier. You know how when you listen to a tune long enough, you’ll keep hearing it occasionally repeat in your head throughout the day? Do dhikr until that happens. Keep it up and, eventually, your past dhikr of Allah will nudge you into present dhikr of Allah.
Dear Nafs: We fall down & get back up at least 17 times daily. In each of these deliberate, literal falls, we seek merciful & compassionate assistance, guidance & amnesty from our figurative falls.
Dear Nafs: Know that every cent spent on needless goods and entertainment is a cent that could have been directed to a needly Muslim. Tell me, dear Nafs, was that cent well spent? Is that why Allah entrusted it to us?
Dear Nafs: Know that every minute spent on needless entertainment is a minute that could have been spent helping those in need—or just helping. Tell me, dear Nafs, was that minute spent well? Is it likely to raise our rank or place us even deeper and longer into the flame?
Dear Nafs: Can you say that what you are doing at this very moment fulfills what Allah created you for, pleases Him, or is a means to or preparation for either of the above? Ponder this now. Ponder it frequently. Strive to be able to answer in the affirmative.
Dear Nafs: Your most convenient & readily available food options are just a quick fix at the expense of long-term physical health. Likewise, your most convenient & readily available action choices offer a quick-fix at the expense of long-term spiritual health & your akhira. Cure & prevent via knowledge, discipline & sacrifice.
Dear Nafs: If unhealthy fast-food was all there was, you would still learn basic nutrition to minimize its harms. So, too, with learning fiqh to minimize the harms of a fast-fisq era.
Dear Nafs: Oh, how easily torrents of dhikr flow forth from thee when facing impending duties & how quickly it dries once they pass and you face a single mubah or questionable distraction!
Dear Nafs: Perfect your intention all you want—but until you learn His commands & prohibitions and what pleases and displeases Him, all you’re perfecting is an inexcusable ignorance of Him and of what truly matters from you in this life.
Dear Nafs: When we find ourselves engaged in worship—especially prayer—feel honored and blessed; then feel gratitude and offer thanks.
Dear Nafs: I would rather we be seen doing dhikr than we be seen never doing it ever at all. I would rather we engage in a potentially tainted act of voluntary worship than yield to your excuses to avoid voluntary acts altogether. We’re not there yet.
Dear Nafs: Your zeal for nawafil is welcome. Waving it around when duties come due is distracting. Withdrawing them when duties are fulfilled leaves behind traces of your wickedness.
Dear Nafs: There are tools for removing you from photos. Tazkiya is a tool for removing you—or the need to remove you—from everything else.
Dear Nafs: You say you’re a Hanmalshafili. What that really means is that that’s the madhhab you choose not to follow when, for whatever reason, you tell people you follow a madhhab.
Dear Nafs: You say you’re a Naqadshizchili. What that really means is that that’s the path you choose not to follow when, for whatever reason, you tell people you follow a path.
Dear Nafs: You say you’re a Mat’arthari in creed. What that really means is that that’s the creed you choose not to know, for whatever reason, you tell people you know a creed.
(“Hanmalshafili”, “Naqadshizchili” and “Mat’arthari” are combinations of the names of common madhhabs of fiqh, tariqas of tasawwuf, and madrasas of aqidah. The point is folks telling others they follow something in particular when the reality is that they really don’t really know enough to follow if they actually cared to.
I originally wrote “Dear Nafs: You say you’re a Shafii. What that really means is that that’s the madhhab you choose not to follow when, for whatever reason, you tell people you follow a madhhab.” but I didn’t want to leave anyone feeling left out.)
Dear Nafs: When you or any other nafs is involved: Affectation and emoting accomplish in ten seconds what ten years of reason and principle rarely even can.
(This is really an #antiprotip in disguise.)
Dear Nafs: Everyone is fully aware of how you will declare principles, lay down the law, draw lines in the sand—and then give rationalizations and excuses for your exceptionalism and immunity from all of the above. The only thing exceptional here is your bad acting.