Question: One of the supplications of the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, that is recommended is as follows: “My God! Verily I ask You for a soul that is at rest and contentment with You, believing in the meeting with You, content with Your decree, and satisfied with what You bestow.”1 Would you elucidate the meaning of the phrase “(a soul) satisfied with what You bestow” in this exalted supplication?
Answer: In one of his sayings, the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, stated, “Your greatest enemy is the carnal soul (nafs) within you,”2 pointing out that the greatest enemy that needs to be subdued first is the carnal soul. At another time while returning to Medina after engagement with the enemy, God’s Messenger stated, “Now we are turning from the lesser struggle to the greater struggle (jihad).” When the Companions asked what is the greater struggle, he answered that it was the struggle against the carnal soul.3 This is because, in comparison to struggling against an enemy we openly see in front of us, it is more difficult to struggle against a sly enemy concealed within that looks for an opportunity to attack at every moment. Although there are material difficulties as bodily fighting at a struggle made against outer enemies, there is also the possibility of making immediate material gains in case of being victorious. However, the rewards promised to people as a result of struggling against the carnal soul, overcoming and being victorious against it, are mostly not immediate ones, but are due in the Hereafter. As for human nature, it expects to obtain the fruits of efforts right away, with an inclination for immediate payments as stated in, “… but you (people) love and prefer what is before you” (al-Qiyamah 75:20–21). Human nature seeks immediate rewards. In this respect, although the struggle in the sense of outward fighting is not a little one in reality, it remains a lesser one when compared to the greater one.
The Self-Accusing Soul
As it is known, although the carnal soul is a person’s relentless enemy and potentially so harmful, it is open to change and development. If it can be duly trained, it transforms into a steed that does not distance one from God but carries that person closer to Him. A soul upon which God Almighty swears in the verse, “And I swear by the self-accusing human soul!” (al-Qiyamah 75:2), which refers to one that has taken the first step for such a change and progress, and thus realized the initiation. Even though this soul commits faults and sins from time to time, it criticizes itself for the evil or sin it has committed, interrogates itself, seek ways out of the wickedness it has fallen into, turns to repentance and asks for forgiveness, and develops alternative ways of struggle for not committing the same faults and sins again. It is very important for a person to get rid of the hegemony of the carnal soul and pass to the level of a soul that accuses itself in the face of faults and mistakes, in terms of purifying the soul and allowing it to progress. This first step is a stepping-stone for reaching higher levels of the soul through spiritual journeying. A human soul’s gradual ascension to the level of “soul at rest” and then its reaching to the levels of the soul pleased with God (nafs ar-radhiyah) and the soul with which God is pleased (nafs al-mardiyyah), and—if it is possible in this world—then to the level of the soul purified (safiyyah or zakiyyah) depends on stepping to the level of the self-accusing soul first. Just as a small aspect in the center becomes a large segment in the periphery, such a central initiative in terms of the soul, even if it is a small one, is essential but is difficult in the same degree because in order to maintain that, it is necessary to realize a change. In other words, it is necessary to erase and say farewell to the past, push aside what one has thus far been accustomed to, and embark on a new path. If a soul that accuses itself in the face of sins and faults and shows the willpower for not falling back into those sins maintains this struggle, such a soul will ascend to the level of a “soul at rest” where one can take wing and soar on the horizons of the spirit.
The Attributes of a Soul at Rest
The soul at rest is one that has found satisfaction, one that has become well established with respect to horizons of faith and spiritual knowledge, closed all doors to anything other than God’s good pleasure, and ceased to make alternative quests. Such a soul that is freed from vain quests always lives in a God-oriented fashion, evaluates the minutes, even the seconds, of its lifetime in accordance with His good pleasure, and always breathes with submission before what He ordains and decrees. If one is pleased with the glorified acts of God Almighty, this is an indication that God is well-pleased with that person. According to some insightful personages, the soul pleased with God and the soul with which God is pleased (nafs ar-radhiyah and nafs al-mardiyyah) are no different than two spread wings of the soul at rest. For a person who is pleased with God and with whom God is well-pleased, it no longer matters to them whether what comes is a trouble from His Majesty (Jalal) or favor from His Mercy. Such people equally welcome both. In addition, as they are journeyers with the principle of always asking for more (hal min mazid), they constantly try to increase in knowledge of God and respond to Him with closeness by overcoming any remoteness on their part.
Faith in Reunion with God and Contentment
Getting back to the supplication, the next thing after a soul at rest the noble Prophet requests is certain qualities that are seen as the depths or wings of such a soul. After asking for a soul at rest, there is the petition for this soul’s being one believing in the meeting with God. A person’s believing that the path being walked upon will unmistakably lead to the Eternal One, burning with the desire and fervor of meeting with God and living with this feeling will result in a profound and unshakable kind of contentment.
The Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, then asks for this soul at rest to be content with what God decrees. Although some scholars describe qada as God Almighty’s determining certain things in His eternal knowledge unbound by time, according to the majority of scholars of Islamic Theology, it refers to the execution of destiny, which is decreed in the Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation (Lawh al-Mahw wa al-Ithbat). The happenings a person undergoes throughout his or her life life can sometimes be good or bad in terms of their apparent faces. However, by means of intention a person can turn everything God wills to happen into goodness. For example, a man who meets the troubles and misfortunes that he is subjected to with a feeling of patience and good pleasure, and who meets the blessings and successes he is granted with a feeling of thanksgiving and praise for God, will have goodness in both cases. However, if he complains and thus criticizes destiny in the face of a trouble, which is a manifestation of Divine Majesty, and if he is ungrateful in the face of a favor from His Mercy but ascribes it to his personal merit, then these become evil for him. That is to say, the question whether a blessing or trouble will have an evil or good result for a person is to some extent dependent upon the stance that person adopts toward them. Thus, it is very important for a person to be well-pleased with everything God decrees for him or her.
Lastly, the blessed Prophet asks God to give him a feeling of satisfaction with whatever He bestows. There are certain times where a person is not supposed to be satisfied but even to show greed, which is solely related to issues as faith in God and seeking His good pleasure. In this respect, one must act like mad at the issue of seeking God’s good pleasure and never be contented in this respect. In other words, if there is a situation where ambition should ever be regarded the same as worship that would be the issue of loving God and His Messenger. One must never suffice with what is in hand with respect to following a course in compliance with God’s good pleasure, but always keep asking for more. What really matters, though, concerning issues related to the body and physicality is being content with what God Almighty has granted. And this is one of the other qualities of that people of wisdom possess while progressing toward the soul at rest.
Through this prayer, the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, asked all of these important points from God in the morning and evening. He surely asked for all of these in connection with his immense horizons and his lofty demands. If we evaluate his supplications with a perspective of our own narrowness and own targets, then we commit disrespect by daring to lower him to our own level. We are supposed to evaluate the pleas of the Messenger of God in this prayer in terms of his role of guidance for us and act accordingly. Given that he teaches us to target lofty aims by raising our standard to a very high level in this supplication, we should never suffice with minimal effort but always spur our desires, never ceasing to strive for His good pleasure, persisting until our last breath in satisfaction with what He bestows.
1. At-Tabarani, Mu’jamu’l-Kabir, 8/99.
2. Ad-Daylami, Al-Musnad, 3/408.
3. Bayhaqi, Az-Zuhd, 1/165; Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Tarikhu’l-Baghdad, 13/523.
This text is the translation of “Melek Edalı Nefis: Nefs-i Mutmainne.”