Hazrat Thanvi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) said that;

“Opposing the impulse and drive to commit a sin is called Mujahidah (مجاہدہ) (sustained effort). That impulse arises from some spiritual illness or weakness. The weakening or attenuation of that spiritual illness with sustained effort is called Riyazat (ریاضت).”

Hazrat Thanvi RE said that when a person’s Nafs (inner-self) tries to make him commit a sin again and again, then forcefully stopping oneself from committing that sin is Mujahidah (مجاہدہ). As a result of that sustained effort over a period of time, the internal psychological trait which was giving rise to those repeated impulses to commit that sin become weakened. This weakening of the internal psychological trait is called Riyazat (ریاضت).

Sometimes a person has to give up Halal activities in order to stay away from Haraam (unlawful) activities, lest his Nafs lead him from Halal to Haraam activities. For example, sometimes Sufi saints say that do not eat till your stomach is full, eat a little bit less than that. Is eating till one’s stomach is full Haraam? No, it is not. But they say so, because eating less than a full stomach is a Mujahidah (effort) for Nafs and the benefit of this Mujahidah will be that that person’s Nafs will learn to do things against its wishes which will then help the person in resisting the impulses to commit sins.

Hazrat Thanvi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) used to say that the Mujahidah of eating less that Sufis of previous times made their disciples do, is not useful these days. The physical constitutions of people in those times were stronger and they used to have larger diets. So, the Mujahidah of eating less did not harm their physical health, rather it used to act as a tool for keeping their Nafs (inner-self) in check. But this eating less was relative to their own diets. The amount of less eating that Imam Ghazali (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) has mentioned in Ahya ul-Uloom, was so much that it would be sufficient for two people like us today. That is why Hazrat Dr Abdul Hai Arfi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) used to say that these days the amount of eating less should be that a person only eats as much as he needs to, and then stops eating anymore. And the way to recognize that one has eaten enough is that while a person is eating there comes a point when he starts thinking whether he should eat anymore or not. He should stop eating at that point. This is sufficient Mujahidah for eating less these days. If a person eats one or two more helpings at that point, is it a sin? No, it is not. It is permissible, but the reason he is being asked to not eat any more is to perform Mujahidah, to make his Nafs used to not giving in to its wishes and desires all the time.

Once someone asked Maulana Yaqoob Nanotvi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him), “Hazrat, why do Sufis sometimes forbid those activities which Allah Ta’ala has declared Halal? For example, Allah Ta’ala has permitted eating, but they say don’t eat as much. Allah Ta’ala has permitted sleeping but they say, don’t sleep as much. Allah Ta’ala has made permitted socializing with people and talking to them but they say don’t talk as much. Why is that?”

Hazrat Nanotvi RE gave that person a piece of paper and asked him to fold it. He did. Then he asked him to open the fold and straighten the paper, but despite many attempts the paper wouldn’t stay straight because of the fold line. He said, “now fold it in the opposite direction and then try to straighten it.” The person was able to straighten the paper then.

Hazrat Nanotvi RE then said, “a person’s Nafs (inner-self) is also bent towards sins. So, when you try to bring it to moderation, it doesn’t stay there. The trick is to bend it to the other side and make it give up Halal things as well. Once it gets used to giving up Halal activities as well it will develop moderation, and then it will become easier for it to refrain from sins and from disobeying Allah Ta’ala.”

Our Nafs has become used to committing sins (may Allah Ta’ala protect us). For example, our eyes have become used to inappropriate staring and drawing pleasure from it. On the other hand, Allah Ta’ala has said in the Noble Qur’an;

“Tell the believing men that they must lower their gazes… (24:30)

If a person is going to the market and looks this way or that way, is it permissible or impermissible? It is permitted as long as he is looking at those objects which are permitted to look at, like cars or buildings. But because the eyes are used to committing sins, and he repeatedly keeps getting impulses to stare at inappropriate places, therefore, he has been instructed as a precaution and a preventative strategy that when you walk in the Bazaar, lower your gaze, because if you keep looking at what is permissible to look at, sooner or later your gaze will fall on what is Haraam to look at. A human being’s Nafs is weak. It is likely to engage in sin in those circumstances. But if you keep your gaze low, you will remain safe.

Hazrat Thanvi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) said that when Satan was condemned by Allah Ta’ala, he vowed that if You are condemning me because I refused to prostrate before a human being, then I will attack to mislead him from the front, from the back, from his right side, and from his left side. But he forgot to mention two directions, from the top and from the bottom. It means that these two directions, that is above and below, are safe from the attack of Satan. If you turn your gaze towards your right, the Satan can mislead you, if you turn your gaze towards your left side he can mislead you, and same with front and back. But he cannot mislead you if you look above or below. However, if you walk with your gaze upwards, you run the risk of falling down. Therefore, the only safe way is that you walk with your gaze lowered. Then, Insha’Allah Allah, Ta’ala will keep you safe from the attacks of Satan.

The primary objective is not to stare at what Allah Ta’ala has forbidden us to stare at. But because it is difficult to control one’s gaze when one starts doing this, we have been ordered to lower our gaze and not to stare here and there, even at things which we have been permitted to look at otherwise. This is Mujahidah. With one keeps practicing this, then a person stops staring at inappropriate places, and if by any chance it happens he will move his gaze away immediately. Once a person reaches that stage, then he is not forbidden to look here and there. It is permissible to look at whatever Allah Ta’ala has allowed us to look at. The point here is that when a person starts the effort of abstaining from Haraam, sometimes he has to abstain from Halal as well in the beginning. This is what is known as Mujahidah.

When a person keeps doing Mujahidah (sustained effort) over a period of time, eventually he begins to tame the negative attributes in his Nafs (inner-self). For example, he previously had excessive love of material wealth, excessive love of material world, excessive physical desires, excessive anger, now all of these get tamed and come within the bounds of Shariah. The process of taming all these negative attributes and bringing them under control in called Riyazat (ریاضت).

However, even after these negative attributes of Nafs (inner-self) have been tamed, a person keeps to keep monitoring them all the time. It doesn’t work like that once a person has tamed them they stay tamed forever. Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Shafi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) used to say that this is a terminal illness, one has to keep monitoring till his last moment that he is not doing anything under the influence of these negative internal attributes, and that they are not becoming stronger again. The reason for this is that these negative internal attributes do not go away completely as a result of Mujahidah, they just become attenuated. If we start neglecting them, they can always rise up again and lead a person to committing sins. That is why one has to always remain careful. As Maulana Rumi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) said;

اندریں راہ می تراش و می خراش
تادمِ آخر دمِ فارغ مباش

“On this path, one always has to keep developing, keep evolving. There can be no free moment till the last breath comes.”

Hazrat Thanvi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) further said;

“A person will continue to need treatment (for spiritual ills) until and unless these internal desires are completely extinguished, and there is no way of completely extinguishing these internal desires.”

It means that as long as these internal desires are present, they can always affect a person’s behaviour and lead him to sins, no matter how much Mujahidah he has done. That is why it is important to understand that battling these desires is a lifelong struggle. Do not think that if you received mentorship from a Shaykh, learnt how to perform Mujahidah, managed to bring your internal desires into control, did not feel as inclined to commit sins and started staying away from them, then a time will come after which you will never have any desire to commit sins. That time is never going to come. There will always be a risk of getting impulses to commit sins again. Hazrat Thanvi RE has explained this with an example;

“Is there any guarantee that if a person takes treatment for a seasonal flu once, he will never get flu again? There are many benefits of physical afflictions. Similarly, there are many advantages of these internal desires.”

If a person develops an infection, he goes to the doctor. The doctor prescribes some medicines for him. After using those medicines his infection clears up and his fever subsides. Can any doctor then give a guarantee that because he used that treatment, he will never have fever again in his life? No doctor can give such a guarantee. If you become ill again, you go to the doctor again, and the doctor treats you again.

Similarly, if you go to a Shaykh for treatment of your spiritual ills, and as a result of his guidance and following his advice one of your negative internal attributes becomes weakened, it doesn’t mean that it has disappeared and can never return. No, it can return and can affect your behaviour again. So, if it comes back, go to the Shaykh again and get it treated again.

If human beings were not born with a desire to commit sins, then what would have been the difference between them and angels? Angels do not have such desires. They do not feel angry, they do not have biological desires, they do not experience hunger or thirst. If humans didn’t have these desires as well, they would have turned into angels. Then they would have had no superiority over angels. The reason human beings have been deemed superior to angels is that they are born with all these desires, and when they combat these desires in submission to Allah Ta’ala’s commands they become superior to angels.

معصوم تھا نہ وقفِ سجود و دعا تھا میں
خوبی میری یہی تھی کہ اہلِ خطا تھا میں

The angels are Masoom (معصوم) (incapable of committing any sins). They are also dedicated to keep praying to Allah Ta’ala. But this is a human being’s virtue that he has the capacity to make mistakes, has the impulses and desires to commit sins, and then he resists these desires to abstain from sins. This virtue requires that these desires to commit sins are present in the first place. As long as these desires remain, this struggle will remain. However, the difference is that when a person initially embarks on the path of Tazkiyah (purification of his inner-self), this struggle requires an enormous amount of effort. But after sustained Mujahidah this struggle becomes relatively easier. However, no matter how much Mujahidah a person has performed, a person will still keep having a little bit of struggle till the very end. So, do not be afraid of this struggle, do not feel hopeless that even after Mujahidah you still get desires to commit sins, and never feel lax that now you have done so much Mujahidah you will not get impulses to commit sins anymore.

In summary, it will be a lifelong effort to control one’s internal desires and impulses and bring them within the bounds of Shariah through Mujahidah so that these desires become moderated and do not lead a person to commit sins. The only difference will be that initially it will take a mammoth effort to combat these desires, but with sustained Mujahidah it will become a bit easier.

Hazrat Thanvi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) said;

“The cure of all negative attributes of a person’s inner-self is reflection and forbearance. Whatever act he is going to perform, first he should reflect on whether it is permissible under Shariah or not. And he should not rush to do things, he should practice forbearance.”

This means that to treat the negative attributes of his inner-self, a person should do two things, the first is reflection, and the second is forbearance. ‘Reflection’ in this context means that before a person does anything or says anything, he should reflect for a moment whether what he is going to do or say is permissible under Shariah or not. If, after reflection, he realizes that what he wanted to do is impermissible, and his Nafs (inner-self) is inclined towards committing that act despite knowing that it is impermissible, then he should observe forbearance, meaning he should tolerate whatever distress or discomfort he experiences as a result of stopping himself from committing that act. If a person keeps practicing these two attributes, then he will be able to tame his negative attributes over a period of time.

“Allah does not obligate anyone beyond his capacity…” (2:286)

It is not the purpose of this talk to make you feel that this path is too difficult, because Allah Ta’ala has not made us accountable for any actions that are beyond our capabilities and powers. Therefore, start trying to give up sins, and start observing Sabr (patience) if you encounter any difficulties and hardships while doing so. When you start doing this, there will be times when you will slip and make a mistake. There will be an ongoing battle between you and your Nafs (inner-self), and you and Satan. Sometimes you will defeat your Nafs and Satan, and sometimes they will defeat you. When you defeat them, say الحمدالّٰلہ (All praise be to Allah), and when they defeat you, say استغفرالّٰلہ (Allah Ta’ala please forgive me). If you keep making this effort, after a period of time you will defeat them more than they will defeat you, and you will start dominating them. This is what Allah Ta’ala has promised in the Noble Qur’an;

“As for those who strive in Our way, We will certainly take them onto Our paths… (29:69)

Hazrat Dr Abdul Hai (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) used to say that have you observed how a little child grows up and no one even notices? If that child measures his height everyday to check how much he has grown in the last 24 hours, then he would be disappointed that he has hardly grown at all in 24 hours. If he then measures his height again the next day and compares it with the height of the day before, he will again feel that he hasn’t grown at all. In reality, he is growing gradually and his height is increasing, but this growth is hardly noticeable on a day to day basis. Gradually he grows up to become a full adult over a period of time. Similarly, when a person embarks on this path of purification of his inner-self, he keeps making progress on it slowly and gradually, as long as he continues to make efforts with Ikhlas (purity of intention), does not become neglectful of it, and does not let go of it.
In fact, this gradual change and progress is far better and safer for the person than abrupt change. If a person bring an immense change in himself suddenly to the extent that people start noticing it and pointing it out that “look at so and so, what he used to be and what he has become now”, such an abrupt change can be harmful for the person. It is better for a person to bring gradual change, and he gets Barakah (blessing) from Allah Ta’ala for it. So, do not feel hopeless if you can’t become perfect suddenly, keep making your effort, keep moving forward on this path, and keep battling Satan and your Nafs (inner-self). Insha’Allah Ta’ala you will succeed. May Allah Ta’ala make us all follow this path. Aameen

وآخر دعوا ان الحمد ﷲ رب العالمين