“Know that the recitation of a surah from the Quran or a verse, revealed regarding a particular issue, brings about a benefit to its reader in that affair. For example, reading a verse connected with purification of the self leaves a great impression on people on the matter of cleansing and purification from the evil and repugnant characteristics of the self.  It is likewise in relation to other issues.”
– Letters (Maktubat) of Imam Rabbani, Ahmed al Sirhindi (r)

In this age of unbridled consumption and slobbering after desires and lusts, getting in control of your life can seem like an improbable task. Whether it is procrastination, junk food, Netflix-binging or something else, these demons seem to take over our lives more and more while positive habits like reading, extra prayers, going to the masjid, attending righteous gatherings or even productive work and quality family time have suffered.

I believe it was Leonardo da Vinci who said – ‘One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself’. An idea stressed again and again in the Islamic disciplines of tazkiya and tassawuf, which deal with the purification of the human ‘ego-inclined’ self (nafs). Taming this selfish element of the human psyche has been addressed in countless books by countless scholars because most, if not all, of our wayward behaviour can be traced back to it and our inability to rein it in.

But this is much easier said than done, as anyone can attest to. In one of Maulana Rumi’s parables in his Mathnawi, he represents this ego-focused component of us as a beast of a snake that slithers into the mouth of a man as he slumbers beneath a tree. To rid him of it, a passing good samaritan whips him mercilessly, forcing him to run around the tree, eating rotten apples as he does. It’s only when he vomits out the snake the man realises the purposes of the samaritan and the nature of the beast inside him.

In another parable, Maulana Rumi compares the path of purification as peas in a frying pan. Complaining loudly with pops and sizzles as they plead and accuse the women boiling them – for what crime are they tortured so mercilessly? She replies to them to be patient, to not imply aspersions on Allah’s Mercy, that this is the necessary sacrifice needed for the peas to be purified, transformed and ultimately metamorphosised into a higher form of life, that is into human consciousness when they are eaten by us, and their energy expended in the worship and servitude of Allah (swt) – of which there can be no greater purpose.

But to realise the true nature of this nafs, this ego-focused, selfishly inclined, comfort seeking, sub-conscious reality we all hold within us, one need not look further than the verses of the Quran:

Have you seen ˹O Prophet˺ the one who has taken their own desires as their god? Will you then be a keeper over them?

Surah Al-Furqan, Verse 43. Translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran

Have you seen ˹O Prophet˺ those who have taken their own desires as their god? ˹And so˺ Allah left them to stray knowingly, sealed their hearing and hearts, and placed a cover on their sight. Who then can guide them after Allah? Will you ˹all˺ not then be mindful?

Surah Al-Jathiya, Verse 23. Translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran

And that is what it comes down to in the end. This nafs within us, is propped up as a god besides Allah, when we rush to follow its commands, give precedence of its commands over Allah’s commands, fulfil our every desire to our heart’s content – and then, only then, we look to what Allah and His Messenger say – if we were then to claim servitude to Allah, we would be liars. We are serving nothing but our own interests.

This is the enemy within. The reason we follow or desires and whims blindly, why we procrastinate, why we continually sin, is because we have become slaves to ourselves – not to God. When our minds and bodies were meant to be our slaves, we have flipped the equation entirely and made them our gods. For in the end, everybody is a slave to something, whether accepted or not, it can easily be shown with a little ponderance.

But the matter of personal development takes a much more serious note when it comes to Muslims. For we fall in risk of committing the most grievous of all sins – shirk itself (placing partners with Allah) if we are to leave our nafs unbridled and unquestionably fall under its sway. One can look into works of purification of the nafs like Imam al-Ghazali’s advices in his Ihya ulum-al Din where techniques are mentioned like fasting, opposing the desires of the nafs just for the sake of weakening it, and being consistently and constantly in righteous company.

But I would like to address here another method I recently came across in a book about the legendary 16th century, Indian Scholar, Imam al-Rabbani: Ahmed al-Sirhindi. The initial quote of this article is his when he says:

“Know that the recitation of a surah from the Quran or a verse, revealed regarding a particular issue, brings about a benefit to its reader in that affair. For example, reading a verse connected with purification of the self leaves a great impression on people on the matter of cleansing and purification from the evil and repugnant characteristics of the self.  It is likewise in relation to other issues.”

It is remarkable in its simplicity and accessibility to every Muslim. That is, to repeat continuously a verse of the Quran that is linked to a problem we are having, to derive Divine Blessings, Help and Support from it, all the while remembering Allah (swt) and strengthening our connection with the Quran.

As alluded to before, conquering the nafs is a momentous and impossible task, yet necessary for every Muslim. It is something we cannot achieve on our own but requires Allah’s assistance. So of course, it requires prayers and duas. But also, as Imam Rabbani mentions, by repeating a Quranic verse connected with an issue, it is a dua or prayer in itself, an eloquent advocate that argues for our case in the divine court of Allah (swt). Especially when these verses are recited with understanding, reverence and most importantly, sincerity.

For the procrastinator, why not recite the verses of Surat al-Asr (Chapter 103 of the Quran). Let him recite it with understanding and contemplation of its meanings – with the aid of tafsir (commentaries) if he must. Let him repeat it and ponder over it until the value and meaning of time really sinks in.

For those who feel overrun by their lusts and desires the ending of Surah an-Naziat (Chapter 79) seems apt:

‘But, when the Supreme Disaster comes to pass — the Day every person will remember all ˹their˺ striving, and the Hellfire will be displayed for all to see — then as for those who transgressed, and preferred the ˹fleeting˺ life of this world, the Hellfire will certainly be ˹their˺ home. And as for those who were in awe of standing before their Lord and restrained themselves from ˹evil˺ desires, Paradise will certainly be ˹their˺ home. They ask you ˹O Prophet˺ regarding the Hour, “When will it be?” But it is not for you to tell its time. That knowledge rests with your Lord ˹alone˺. Your duty is only to warn whoever is in awe of it. On the Day they see it, it will be as if they had stayed ˹in the world˺ no more than one evening or its morning.’

– Translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran, Verses 34-46.

For those that struggle to make their 5 prayers on time, how about these verses from Surah al-Mudatthir (Chapter 74)?

“ ‘What has landed you in Hell?’ They will reply, “We were not of those who prayed…

– Translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran, Verses 42-43.

In a similar manner, you may find many more treasures in the Quran, especially those verses you feel are talking to you and to your circumstances, that can aid you in developing yourself into a better human being, conquering the evil and ego-commanding nafs and become a true slave to Allah (swt).

Author Dhikr.

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