The Negative Powers Against Conscience
The self (An-nafs)
Conscience has been inspired by Allah, as stated in Surat ash-Shams:
And the self and what proportioned it and inspired it with depravity or taqwa, he who purifies it has succeeded, he who covers it up has failed. (Surat ash-Shams: 7-10)
In these verses, Allah states that He has inspired the self with depravity (fujoor) and taqwa, that is, with the conscience of what is right for it. The word 'fujoor' means 'to act in a sinful manner, to disobey, to be a deviator, to tell lies, to rise against, to turn away from righteousness, to stir up trouble, to decline in good manners, the opposite of taqwa'. The concept of fujoor contains all the negative aspects of man's self. There are two aspects of our self: fujoor, which is the source of evil, and conscience, which guards against evil.
'An-Nafs' is an Arabic term frequently used in the Qur'an. It has no direct connotation in English, but can be translated as 'the self'. It has the following implications in the Qur'an: 'the essence of something, its self, soul, heart, lust, the starting point and bed of desire and wrath, conscience, the commanding force in man'. Here, we will particularly concentrate on the commanding quality of the self. The spiritual force that prods man to commit a certain act or to take a certain decision, is the self. This aspect of the self is stated in many verses of the Qur'an. In these verses, the self is referred to as the source of the depravity and evil in people.
When the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (AS) wanted to get rid of him out of envy, their father Prophet Ya'qub (AS) said:
'It is merely that your lower selves have suggested something to you which you did…' (Surah Yusuf: 18)
The lower self can mislead people into believing that something which is bad is actually good.
Another event where the effect of the self is highlighted is related in Surah Taha. Samiri, one of the people of Prophet Musa (AS), led astray a whole nation of people during Prophet Musa's short absence, by making a statue of a calf from the gold medals he had collected from the people. When Prophet Musa returned and questioned Samiri, his reply was:
He said, 'I saw what they did not see. So I gathered up a handful from the Messenger's footprints and threw it in. That is what my inner self urged me to do.' (Surah Taha: 96)
Another event related in the Qur'an took place between the two sons of Prophet Adam (AS). One of them killed the other out of jealousy and then felt remorse. In the verse, Allah says:
So his lower self persuaded him to kill his brother. (Surat al-Ma'ida: 30)
Making a decision to kill someone never coincides with human nature. However, a quality in the self persuades some people and makes it appear attractive to them. The same holds true for such acts as theft, immorality, lying, jealousy and vanity.
The verse above shows how the negative indoctrination of the self steps in. Prophet Adam's son, Prophet Yusuf's brothers and Samiri committed different crimes. The common point in all these actions is that they were triggered by the selves of the perpetrators. Their selves persuaded them to commit these crimes by showing them as good, when in fact their selves misled them and dragged them to evil.
What is the source of the power of the self? The answer is evident in Surat ash-Shams where it is stated that fujoor (all evil) is inspired in the self. At this point, a question may come to mind; if people's selves are inspired with evil, does it not then follow that we have to expect corrupt and immoral behaviour from everyone?
Here we have to remember another quality of the self; negative inspiration is not the only power in the self. A second reading of verses 7-10 in Surat ash-Shams will make it clear that the self is also inspired into guarding against evil. This means that positive powers, as well as negative powers, are present in the self. The self of every human being possesses both a power that commands evil and presents it as good, and a positive power that commands guarding against evil, and choosing what is good and beautiful. This positive power is conscience. What distinguishes people from one another is their leading their lives either by following their conscience or the negative aspects of their selves.
For many people, the shaytan is a mythical notion. They do not realise the effect he has on people, and the role he plays in daily life. In this book, there is not sufficient time to do more than touch upon some qualities of the shaytan and the negative power he exerts against conscience. Even so, it should be sufficient to help one realise that the shaytan is not an imaginary being, but a negative power who watches man minutely and tries to drag him to error.
The shaytan disobeyed Allah and did not prostrate to Prophet Adam. Because of his jealousy and arrogance, he decided to lead human beings, whom he considered to be inferior to him, astray from Allah's way. In the Qur'an, it is mentioned that the shaytan gives false desires to the hearts, tries to make people doubt the existence of Allah and the hereafter, and makes the life of this world seem attractive to people. In fact, the shaytan is the representation of the negative powers that are present in the self. While a man's conscience always directs him to the right, the shaytan always directs him to the wrong.
However, the shaytan does not do this self-evidently. He has various methods that he uses surreptitiously. For instance, he may whisper to someone: 'You are a good person; you say you are a Muslim; if paradise exists, you will go there'. Perhaps this person neither practises regular prayers, nor the other commands of Allah, but the shaytan makes him feel confident that saying 'I'm a Muslim' is sufficient. He does not make him deny the existence of the hereafter outright, but he makes him lead a life near to disbelief under the name of Islam. What is more important is that the person, unaware that this is a deliberate plan devised by the shaytan to drag him into hell, takes the shaytan's whispers as his own thoughts. Here, it should not be forgotten that conscience always tells one to live the real Islam, but most people follow the sayings of the shaytan instead of their conscience because it suits the purposes of their self.
This is where we understand the importance of conscience in the on-going test in this world. In every event, both conscience and the shaytan – the source of all personal interests, passions, and evil – show up. Both call the person to its own way. Those who can distinguish between these two sounds and follow their conscience gain the good pleasure of Allah. Another vital point to be understood is that the shaytan will not leave man until death, or even beyond death to the point that the soul is led to hell. This should never be forgotten. Similarly, man's conscience will not leave him until he dies and will bid him every act he has to perform to enter paradise in the hereafter.
Someone who, despite his true conscience, chooses to follow his self, has become a friend of the shaytan, for he has chosen not Allah's but the shaytan's way. With relation to such people, Allah commands:
If someone shuts his eyes to the remembrance of the All-Merciful, We assign him a devil who becomes his bosom friend. (Surat az-Zukhruf: 36)
How the shaytan approaches those who follow him, and the end of the shaytan and his comrades is announced in the Qur'an:
He said 'By Your misguidance of me, I will lie in ambush for them on your straight path. Then I will come at them, from in front of them and behind them, from their right and from their left. You will not find most of them thankful.' He (Allah) said, 'Get out of it, reviled and driven out. As for those of them who follow you, I will fill up Hell with every one of you' (Surat al-A'raf: 16-18)
The shaytan has no power whatsoever over conscientious people
From the foregoing, one may have gained the impression that the shaytan is an important power to be avoided. It should, however, be known that the shaytan's power is extremely weak. In a verse, Allah states:
Those who believe fight in the Way of Allah. Those who disbelieve fight in the way of false gods. So fight the friends of the shaytan! The shaytan's scheming is always feeble. (Surat an-Nisa': 76)
The shaytan is not a being who has power of his own to use against Allah's Will. The shaytan is a negative power that Allah has allowed to exist in order to test man. Allah has created the shaytan and the lower self, to distinguish those who believe from those who are in doubt. The shaytan himself knows that he is very weak and powerless against sincere and conscientious people. He can never take them under control and all of his schemes against them fail. This situation is mentioned in many verses of the Qur'an:
He (the shaytan) has no authority over those who believe and put their trust in their Lord. He only has authority over those who take him as a friend and associate others with Allah. (Surat an-Nahl: 99-100)
He (Allah) said, 'Go! And as for any who follow you, your repayment is Hell, repayment in full! Stir up any of them you can with your voice and rally against them your cavalry and your infantry and share with them in their children and their wealth and make them promises! The promise of the shaytan is nothing but delusion. But as for My slaves, you will not have any authority over them.' Your Lord suffices as a guardian. (Surat al-Isra': 63-65)
Following the conscience is the easiest way
The choice between the conscience and the self is by no means difficult for man. This is because Allah created man with a disposition to take pleasure in following the voice of his conscience. For this reason, to follow the deen and to live by it complies with man's nature. In the following verse, Allah states:
Set your face firmly towards the deen, as a pure natural believer, Allah's natural pattern on which He made mankind. There is no changing in Allah's creation. That is the true Religion – but most people do not know it – turning towards Him. (Surat ar-Rum: 30)
Allah inspires all consciences with thoughts of this nature, so that every man's conscience wants to please Allah. It is difficult and distressful for man to commit acts conflicting with his conscience. Things that are done with no regard to conscience cause the heart to grieve. The heart finds ease only with the remembrance of Allah and the seeking of His pleasure.
The ease of following the conscience is stated in many verses of the Qur'an. It is also stated that Allah will show the easy way to those who pursue His pleasure. :
… Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire difficulty for you … (Surat al-Baqara: 185)
… Whoever has taqwa of Allah – He will make matters easy for him … (Surat at-Talaq: 4)
As for he who believes and acts rightly, he will receive the best of rewards and we will issue a command, making things easy for him. (Surat al-Kahf: 88)
We will ease you the Easy Way. (Surat al-A'la: 8)
Allah makes known to His sincere slaves that seemingly difficult events will be followed by ease:
… Allah does not demand from any self more than He has given it. Allah will appoint after difficulty, ease. (Surat at-Talaq: 7)
For truly with hardship comes ease; truly with hardship comes ease. (Surat al-Inshirah: 5-6)