Nafs (pl. Anfus or Nufus) means soul, the psyche, the ego or self. Scholars have classified the nafs in various ways, there is agreement the Qur'an addresses only 3 types: Nafs al-Ammara Bissu' (the Nafs that urges evil), Nafs al-Lawwama (the Nafs that Blames) and Nafs al-Mutma'inna (the Nafs at Peace). (Tabari, Jami' al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an; Baghawi, Lubab al-Ta'wil fi Ma'alam at-Tanzil)
The Quran uses the term nafs is used in two ways.
1. To indicate our own-self. An example is where Allah Almighty says in the Quran:
وَاذْكُرْ رَبَّكَ فِي نَفْسِكَ
And remember your Rabb inside your-self [Quran 7:205]
2. A specific part of our self that has desires, lusts, cravings, appetite, anger, passion and so on. Some people may call it the carnal self. This nafs is not part of the ruh, just the physical human being ie our body whilst the inner or spiritual part of our creation is our ruh, the secret of life.
The Qur'an refers to three different types of nafs.
1. Nafs al-Ammarah
إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ
Indeed the nafs that overwhelmingly commands a person to do sin. [Quran 12:53]
This is the nafs that rules over the self telling us what to do, dominating us when it desires something. We may listen and follow its dictates and commands sinning willingly, in any way we want.
2. Nafs al-Lawwamah
وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ
I swear by the self-reproaching self [75:2]
Lawwamah here means to self incriminate, to self reproach, to blameoneself. Whilst the nafs may bring one to sin, however that nafs feels guilty and remorseful.
3. Nafs al-Mutma'innah.
يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً
To the righteous it will be said “oh reassured soul, return to your Lord well pleased, and pleasing to Him” [Quran 89:27-28]
Mutma'inna can mean one or both of two things:
These are the three types of nafs.
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