Types of Nafs: Id, Ego, and Superego

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Nafs, in Islam, is referred to the soul or the inner self. It is the part of the ruh (soul) which can be controlled by the individual. Unlike the ruh, which is always positive and has no negative sides, the nafs can be both positive and negative. We can also say that the nafs is our ego. When we explore this in the light of the Noble Quran, it is very clear that there are three types of nafs mentioned in it. Let us take a brief look at these three types of nafs.

  1. Nafs al ‘Ammaara Bissuua(النَّفْسَ الأَمَّارَة بِالسُّوء)

This is the nafs that urges evil. In this stage or type of nafs, the person’s actions are controlled by his emotions and desires and leads to doing evil and immoral acts. This nafs will only cause us harm in the hereafter, as it is only concerned with satisfying one’s desires without thinking about what is right and wrong. Allah has revealed to us about this nafs in the Quran.

وَمَا أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِي ۚ إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلَّا مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّي ۚ إِنَّ رَبِّي غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“Nor do I absolve my own self (of blame): the (human) soul is certainly prone to evil, unless my Lord do bestow His Mercy: but surely my Lord is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful” [12:53]

  1. Nafs al Lawwaamah (النَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ)

This is the nafs that blames and feels guilty when one wrongs himself. In this stage one reviews his own actions and contemplates about what is right and wrong. This is a stage full of conflicts and battles continuously to fight the urge to do evil and makes decisions to do good deeds. In the Quran, this is referred as the soul that blames, or the self-reproaching nafs.

وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ

“And I do call to witness the self-reproaching spirit: (Eschew Evil).” [75:2]

  1. Nafs al Mutma’innah (النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ)

As the purest and highest stage of nafs, this is the best nafs; the nafs at peace. This nafs knows what is right and wrong and finds the ultimate pleasure in obeying Allah’s commands. Never complaining about hardships, this nafs is content with what he has and always longs to meet Allah in the hereafter and strives hard for Jannah. The nafs at peace never finds difficulty in resisting evil; in fact, it detests all evil and is inclined towards righteousness. Allah mentions in the Quran:

يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ﴿٢٧﴾ارْجِعِي إِلَىٰ رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً ﴿٢٨

“(To the righteous soul will be said:) “O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction! “Come back thou to thy Lord,- well pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him! “ [89:27-28]

This is a brief description of the three types of the nafs mentioned in the Quran. Of these three types, we should try our best to avoid the first type; that is, the nafs that urges evil and must strive to have a nafs which is at peace.

Ibn Al-Qayyim has mentioned: The nafs is a single entity, although its state may change from Nafs al Ammara Bissua, to Nafs al Lawwamah, to Nafs al Mutma’innah which is the final aim of perfection.

In order to achieve this highest level, one should defeat the seven evils of nafs, which are:

  • False pride
  • Greed
  • Envy
  • Lust
  • Backbiting
  • Stinginess
  • Malice

I pray to Allah that we all are able to achieve the nafs al mutma’innah, in sha Allah. Always remember that nothing can be achieved without Allah’s help, so always turn to Allah for help.

يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِى عَلَى دِينِكَ

“Oh turner of the hearts (Allah, the Most High), keep our hearts firm on your religion”


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