Self-Purification, the Main Goal of Divine Messengers (3)

Self-Purification, the Main Goal of Divine Messengers (3)

2. Human-soul and Animal-self

The verses of the Holy Qur’an and narrations about human-self could be divided into two categories. Some of the verses define human-self as a precious valuable jewel possessing Heavenly excellence, descended from Heaven, which is the source of all superior characteristics and human virtues. These verses recommend that human beings must strive for achieving self-refinement and self-perfection through training, and must be careful for its protection, never to lose such a precious Heavenly gift. For example God-Almighty in Holy Qur’an defines this precious jewel as follows:

 وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الرُّوحِ قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّيوَمَا أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ الْعِلْمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا

“They will ask the (of Muhammad) concerning the spirit. Say: The spirit is by command of my Lord, and knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little.”(1)

In the above verse the spirit has been defined as an existence belonging to the celestial world that is superior than the material world. The Commander of the Faithful c(a.s.) about the self said:

قال على عليه السلام: ان النفس لجوهرة تهمنية من صانها رفعها ومن ابتذلها وضعها.

“Self is like a precious jewel, whoever strives for his protection, he will help him attaining exalted positions, and whoever acted negligently in his protection he shall pull him towards humiliation.”(2)

And said:

قال على عليه السلام: من عرف نفسه لم يهنها بالفانيات.

“Whoever knows the worth of his self will never allow himself to be indulging into passing worldly amusements and shameful deeds.”(3)

And said:

قال على عليه السلام: من عرف شرف معانة عن دنأة سهوته و زورمناه.

“Whoever discovers the nobility of self shall guard him against lowness of passions and false desires.”(4)

And said:

قال على عليه السلام: من شرفت نفسه كثرت عواطفه.

“Whoever possesses the nobility of self will have more compassion.”(5)

He also said:

قال على عليه السلام: من شرفت نفسه نزهها عن ذلة الطالب.

“Whoever possesses the nobility of self will become free from Wants.”(6)

From the above quoted verses and narrations whose examples are frequent, it can be derived that human self is a valuable and precious jewel which should be carefully guarded protected and nourished. The second category of verses and narrations defines the self as something wicked and dangerous enemy responsible for all sorts of evils, against whom we are supposed to wage a great struggle (Jihad al-Akbar) till it becomes completely submissive, otherwise it will inflict terrible misfortune and cruelty upon the defeated person. Following are some examples:

وَأَمَّا مَنْ خَافَ مَقَامَ رَبِّهِ وَنَهَى النَّفْسَ عَنِ الْهَوَى فَإِنَّ الْجَنَّةَ هِيَ الْمَأْوَى

“But as far him who feared to stand before his lord and restrained his soul from lust, Lo! The garden will be his home.” (7)

The Holy Qur’an quotes from Prophet Joseph (a.s.):

وَمَا أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِي إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلَّا مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّي

“I don't exculpate myself Lo! the (human) soul enjoineth unto evil, save that whereon my Lord hath mercy. Lo! My Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.” (8)

The Holy Prophet (S) said:

قال النبي الله صلى الله عليه وآله: اعتدى عدوك نفسك التي بين جنبيك.

“Your's greatest enemy is yourself, which is located between your two sides.”(9)

Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) said:

قال على عليه السلام: إن النفس لامارة بالسؤ فمن ايتمنها خائنة ومن استنام اليها أهلكته ومن رضي عنها اوردته شر الموارد.

“Self commands you continuously to indulge into evil deeds, therefore, whoever trusted his self -he will deceit him, whoever believed his self -he will destroy him; and whoever is satisfied with his self –he will lead him to face worst kind of disasters.”(10)

He further said:

قال على عليه السلام: الثقة بالنفس من أوثق فرص الشيطان.

“Trusting the self provides the most dependable opportunities for devil's entrance”(11)

Imam al-Sajjad (12) (a.s.) said:

قال علي بن الحسين عليه السلام في دعائه: الهي اليك أشكو نفسا بإلسو امارة والى الخطيئة مبادرة وبمعاصيك مولعة ولسخطك متعرضة تسلك بي مسالك المهالك.

“Oh God! I do complain to you against the self –which continuously commands; to indulge into sinful acts and deviations,. Stands up against Your wrath and punishment; and pulls me towards the path of absolute destruction.”(13)

From the above quoted verses and narrations whose examples are frequent, it can be derived that human self constitutes an evil existence which is the source of all sort of sins and therefore, should be made submissive through efforts and waging greater struggle (Jihad al-Akbar). Here it is quite possible that some may consider that these two categories of verses and narrations are incompatible and contradict each other; or one might imagine that a human being possesses two selves, namely: human- self which is the source of all goodness and blessing, and the other one animal-self which is the source of all evil and sinfulness.

Both of the above-mentioned interpretations are incorrect because firstly there exists no conflict between the above mentioned verses and narrations of two categories; secondly, the sciences had already proved that a human being is not more than a single reality possessing a single self and it is not such that his animalism and humanism are separate from each other. But human self comprises of two stages and two dimensions of his single existence. At lower the stage, self is an animal possessing all animalistic characteristic, while at higher stage, the self is a human possessing Divine-spirit -descended from the Celestial Heavenly Kingdom. When it is said: Self is noble, precious, source of all virtues and blessings; one must endeavor for his nourishment and perfection -here the higher stage of self has been indicated.

But when it is said: Self is your greatest enemy; don't trust him because he will lead you to eventual destruction, control and make him submissive through greater struggle -here his animal and lower stage have been pointed out. If it is said: Nourish and strengthen yourself here the human dimension of the self is meant. When it is said: Wage greater struggle for his total submission, here the animal dimension of the self is meant. There exists a continuous confrontation between these two selves or two stages of human existence. The animal self continuously strives to dominate by keeping human being amused with whims, passions and lower animal desires, thus, closing the path of advancement perfection, exaltation and movement towards God-Almighty and making a human being captive of his animal self.

While on the contrary his human self or the higher stage of his existence continuously strives for attaining the higher sublime spiritual stations of human perfection leading towards God's Countenance, and in order to accomplish his cherished goal, tries to control, and forces the animal-self for his absolute submission. This internal struggle, within the human existence continues until one of the combatant becomes victorious defeating his opponent.

If the human or celestial-self gets upper hand -the human values become alive, thus, leading human being towards the road of spiritual excellence and perfection ultimately achieving the highest position of God's Countenance. But, on the contrary if the animal-self becomes victorious -he turns off the light of wisdom, thus, throwing the human being into the deepest valley of darkness confusion and deviation. It was because of this internal confrontation within human existence that Divine Prophets came to help guide and support the human beings in their holy struggle that ultimately determines their destiny.

Continue in the next article: ( Self-Purification, the Main Goal of Divine Messengers (4) )



1. (The Holy Quran: 17:85)

2. Ghirar al-Hukm, p-226.

3. Ghirar al-Hukm, p-669.

4. Ghirar al- Hukm, p-710.

5. Ghirar al-Hukm, p-638.

6. Ghirar al-Hukm, p-669.

7. (The Holy Quran: 79:40-41)

8. (The Holy Quran: 12: 53)

9. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 70, p-64.

10. Ghirar al-Hukm, p-226.

11. Ghirar al-Hukm, p-54.

12. Imam al-Sajjad (a.s.): The son of Imam al-Husayn by the daughter of Yazdigird the last Sassanid king of Iran was born in Medina on Saturday, 15th Jamadi al-Ola 36 A.H. He participated in Imam al Husayn's uprising and accompanied his father to Karbala being a tragic witness to the tragic event. After his father's martyrdom he was made captive and taken from Karbala to Kufa and from Kufa to Damascus. His speeches and protests on necessary occasions made manifest the worthiness and glory of Ahlal Bayt (a.s.), the cruel injustice suffered by his father, and the enormities perpetuated by the Yazid's Ummayad regime. Imam al-Shafi considered Imam ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn (a.s.) as the most supreme jurist of all the people of Medina. His book. Al-Shaifah Al-Sajjadiyyah” represents and stands out as a profound social work of the time and a reflection of a supreme endeavor to meet the exigencies of spiritual ordeals facing the society at the time of Imam. He died at the age of 58 in Medina; poisoned by al-Walid ibn Abdul Malik ibn Marwan on 25th Muharram 95 A.H., and is buried in Jannatu'l Baqi Cemetery in Medina [Tr].

13. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 94, p-143.