Spiritual Activism: The Me in the Mirror

We must individually come to terms with the “me in the mirror” or the ego (nafs). Come to terms with its wants and desires. And we must rectify them if need be in order to affect any sort of change in the world, says Shaykh Riad Saloojee.

When I proclaim, “I love,” or “I want,” or “I know,” or “I believe,” what component of my complex identity is speaking? What is the spiritual-psychological process that produces my value-statements, emotional affirmations and the alignment of my will. Who is the “I” in the me? Who is the me in the mirror?

The human identity is a compound reality. There are other elements, beyond the heart (qalb), that constitute the human identity. The most critical to examine for the purpose of understanding the spirituality of activism is the lower self (nafs).

The Ego’s Potentialities

The nafs, or lower-self, is that human faculty that is connected with the pursuit of either carnal desires (shahwa) or intellectual or ideological caprice (hawa). The lower self (nafs) is the seat of all our egotistic potentialities.

It is the locus of legal responsibility before the Divine. Without a lower self (nafs), we would be angelic. After careful analysis of the primary texts, scholars have divided the realities of the lower self (nafs) into four:

1. The cattle-like animal self – the lower self (nafs) that finds its ultimate pleasure in materialistic and hedonistic pursuits of eating, drinking, entertainment and sexual pleasure (See, for example, Qur’an 25:44);

2. The predatory-self – the lower self (nafs) that finds its satisfaction in hegemony over others through violence and aggression. (Some texts in the Prophetic Traditions (Sunnah) speak of people with “hearts like wolves.”);

3. The Satanic or devil-like self – the lower self (nafs) that achieves its happiness in duplicity, arrogance and self-glorification. (Some texts in the Prophetic Traditions (Sunnah) speak of people with “hearts like “Shayatin” – or Satans).

4. The angelic self – the lower self (nafs) that finds its contentment in the remembrance and worship of the Divine.

What Is the I Invested In?

These four attributes are what constitute my inner reality, my inner image or my inner character. My lower self (nafs) is either one of these or a permutation of them in different proportions. For example, I could be part cow-like, part-Satanic and part-angelic.

The type of lower self (nafs) that I have is the consequence of my life’s choices and actions. I have molded myself. I can gauge my lower self (nafs) by the pursuit of its pleasures and delights.

Where, for example, are my energies, resources and time devoted? Ultimately, we devote the capital of our life to those pursuits that bring us happiness.

Change, Self, and World

Without an understanding of my lower self (nafs), which is the reality of my inner character, I will never be able to truly understand myself: how I perceive the world; my thoughts and feelings; why I want what I want; my actions and reactions.

And without this knowledge, I will not be able to begin the transformation, in myself and in my world, both within and without.

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