Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

The Soul’s Blueprint: Exploring Your Spiritual DNA

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The discussion on the human self (soul) has several aspects. On one hand, it is essential to talk about the characteristics of the self. On the other hand, we can discuss the powers that Allah has bestowed upon it, and lastly, the ways to refine it. We will elaborate on these three points in some detail, as understanding these three aspects is fundamental to the science of ethics. In a noble hadith from the most honorable Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, he said: “من عرف نفسه عرف ربّه”, which translates to “He who knows himself, knows his Lord”1.

Thus, self(soul)-knowledge and its improvement have become among the most important matters in the science of ethics. In fact, the science of ethics is primarily the study of refining the self to attain its desired perfection.

There is no better proof for this than the hadith of the most honorable Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family when a man named Mujasha entered upon him and asked:

“O Messenger of Allah! What is the path to knowing the truth?” He replied, “Knowing the self.” Mujasha then asked, “O Messenger of Allah! What is the path to agreeing with the truth?” The Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, said, “Opposing the self.” Mujasha continued, “O Messenger of Allah! What is the path to the satisfaction of the truth?” He answered, “The dissatisfaction of the self.” Mujasha asked again, “O Messenger of Allah! What is the path to reaching the truth?” The Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, responded, “Abandoning the self.” Mujasha inquired, “O Messenger of Allah! What is the path to obeying the truth?” He said, “Disobeying the self.” Mujasha then asked, “O Messenger of Allah! What is the path to remembering the truth?” The Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, replied, “Forgetting the self.” Mujasha continued, “O Messenger of Allah! What is the path to drawing near to the truth?” He said, “Distancing oneself from the self.” Mujasha asked, “O Messenger of Allah! What is the path to finding solace in the truth?” The Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, responded, “Feeling estranged from the self.” Finally, Mujasha` inquired, “O Messenger of Allah! What is the path to that?” The Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, said, “Seeking help from the truth against the self”2.


The Self and Its Stages

The self, which Allah has honored in humans above other creatures, is distinguished by the combination of intellect along with instinct and desire, unlike animals that possess only instinct and desire, or angels that are honored by Allah with intellect without instinct or desire. Hence, humans must use their intellect to balance the demands dictated by desire and instinct so as to tread the path of moderation. Allah says:

﴿وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا * فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا﴾

“By the soul and the proportion and order given to it; And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right”3.

When examining the Quranic verses that discuss the self, we find that they describe three states of the self, as well as various attributes:

1- The Self That Commands Evil:

Allah says in His precise statement:

﴿وَمَا أُبَرِّىءُ نَفْسِي إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلاَّ مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّيَ إِنَّ رَبِّي غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ﴾

“Nor do I absolve my own self (of blame): the (human) soul is certainly prone to evil, except such as my Lord has had mercy on (me): Verily, my Lord is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful”4.

The self that commands evil is the one that follows its desires, seeing only what it wishes to attain from desires without any regard for the Sharia or worldly and otherworldly harms. Therefore, following the self that commands evil brings about injustice and misguidance. Allah says:

﴿فَإِن لَّمْ يَسْتَجِيبُوا لَكَ فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّمَا يَتَّبِعُونَ أَهْوَاءهُمْ وَمَنْ أَضَلُّ مِمَّنِ اتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ بِغَيْرِ هُدًى مِّنَ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ﴾

“If they do not respond to you, know that they only follow their own desires. And who is more astray than one who follows his own desires without guidance from Allah? Indeed, Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people”5.

2- The Self-Reproaching Self:

Allah says in His precise verses:

﴿لَا أُقْسِمُ بِيَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ * وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ﴾

“Nay, I swear by the Day of Resurrection; And nay, I swear by the self-reproaching soul”6.

The self-reproaching self refers to the believing person’s self that reproaches them in this world for their sins and for being reluctant to perform acts of obedience7.

Psychologists might call this the conscience that reminds a person of their misdeeds.

3- The Contented Self

Allah says:

﴿يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ * ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً * فَادْخُلِي فِي عِبَادِي * وَادْخُلِي جَنَّتِي﴾

which translates to: “O soul that is at rest! Return to your Lord, well-pleased (with Him), well-pleasing (Him), So enter among My servants, And enter into My garden”8.

The contented self, as described by the scholar al-Tabataba’i in his interpretation, “is the one that finds tranquility in its Lord and is satisfied with what He is satisfied with, seeing itself as a servant that has no control over good or evil, benefit or harm for itself. It sees this world as a temporary abode and everything it encounters, such as wealth or poverty or any benefit or harm, as a divine test and trial. Neither the abundance of blessings leads it to tyranny, corruption, arrogance, and pride, nor do poverty and loss drive it to disbelief and ingratitude. Instead, it remains steadfast in servitude, not deviating from the straight path due to excess or negligence…

It is described as contented because its tranquility in its Lord necessitates its satisfaction with what He has destined and decreed, both in terms of creation and legislation. Thus, no incident angers it or leads it astray, and when a servant is content with their Lord, their Lord is content with them. Nothing angers Allah except when a servant strays from the path of servitude. So, when they adhere to the path of servitude, it warrants their Lord’s contentment. Hence, after saying “well-pleased,” Allah says “well-pleasing”9.

Caution Against the Commanding Soul

After recognizing the commanding soul that inclines to evil, it is necessary to confront it and not succumb to its desires. The essence of morality is to conquer this commanding soul and restrain its impulses, as it sees only what it wants and desires, even if it leaves destruction in its wake. If the commanding soul is this dangerous, we must find a treatment to reform and soften its harsh nature. What are the possible ways to accomplish this task?

The Necessity of Self-Reform

The paths and ways to God are numerous; in fact, they are as numerous as the breaths of creation. However, all these paths begin with disciplining the soul, purifying it, and reforming it. As the Quran states: “By the soul and He who proportioned it * And inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness * He has succeeded who purifies it * And he has failed who instills it [with corruption]” (91:7-10).

In the first place, it is essential for anyone who wants to reform their soul to motivate themselves to perform righteous deeds. This can be achieved by reflecting on the deeds and their consequences in terms of pleasing or displeasing the Almighty, as well as the effects they will have in the hereafter. The soul should desire the rewards of the hereafter and fear the punishment for immoral actions.

Many people tend to prefer quick gains and choose immediate, albeit small and trivial, profits over more significant and valuable rewards in the distant future. This human tendency is mentioned in the Quran, where God Almighty says: “No! But you love the immediate * And leave the Hereafter” (75:20-21), and “And man supplicates for evil as he supplicates for good, and man is ever hasty” (17:11).

Thus, due to this person’s misery, they hasten to gain what they perceive as profit in this world and neglect the success of the hereafter. Here, the role of reason becomes clear in controlling harmful psychological desires. It is necessary to constantly remind oneself of God’s promises to those who obey Him and the warnings for those who disobey. Merely not paying attention to the afterlife aspect of deeds and being absorbed in worldly matters and details can lead a person into a dark tunnel of negligence from which they often awaken only after death. This might be the meaning behind the saying of Imam Ali, the Commander of the Faithful: “People are asleep; when they die, they become alert” (13).

As for how to reflect on the transient nature of the world and its eventual disappearance, it is narrated that Imam al-Baqir (peace be upon him) said to his companion Jabir in a long conversation: “… O Jabir, the believers are not at ease in this world with their continued presence in it, nor are they secure about their arrival in the hereafter. O Jabir, the hereafter is the abode of permanence, while the world is the abode of transience and disappearance. However, the people of the world are negligent, as if the believers are the wise ones, the people of thought and contemplation, whose hearing is not deafened from the remembrance of God, and their sight is not blinded from the remembrance of God by what they see of adornment. They have succeeded in the rewards of the hereafter, as they have succeeded in acquiring knowledge. Know, O Jabir, that the people of piety are more supportive of the people of the world and more helpful to you. Remember, and they assist you; if you forget, they remind you. They are strong in the command of God, firm in the command of God; they have severed their love with the love of their Lord, and they have made the world a desolate place in obedience to their King. They look to God Almighty and to His love with their hearts, knowing that He is the One to be regarded as great because of His Majesty. They view the world as a temporary abode, like a place you stayed in and then departed, or like a dream you experienced and then awoke with nothing remaining of it” (14).

Therefore, self-reform begins with remembrance and, in the first place, awakening from the slumber of negligence toward the hereafter.

Methods of Refining the Soul

The treatment of the soul sometimes involves creating a deterrent within it to prevent committing sins, such as instilling fear of hellfire and the wrath of the Almighty in oneself. In this case, the motivation to sin is present in the soul, but there is a barrier to prevent falling into it, which we mentioned as fear and other deterrents. At other times, the treatment involves eliminating the motivation altogether so that the soul does not seek sin, as it has no desire for it. The first method is characteristic of other paths, not the path of divine love. The second method, uprooting motivations from the soul, is specific to the path of divine love. This path and its approach have two fundamental pillars:

First: The pillar of knowledge and understanding, whereby a person reaches a stage through their knowledge where they comprehend the meaning of monotheism in all its dimensions. Through this understanding of monotheism, no subject remains for these vices, and the person will no longer turn to people or covet what they possess. This is because they know with certainty that the wealthy among them cannot possess, give, or withhold anything except by God’s permission, so they do not hope for them, and they are not afraid of the powerful among them who are outside of God’s power.

Imam Khomeini (may his soul be sanctified) was a prominent example in this field, as he did not fear the tyrants of the world, but instead feared the King of Kings and the Almighty of the mighty, causing the tyrants of the earth to fear God’s wrath through him.

Second: The pillar of action, as mere knowledge, is not sufficient in this area. After learning about monotheism, a person must practice it, not merely theoretically. The path to practical monotheism is love for God Almighty, for when a person loves something, they obey and worship it. Indeed, the consequences of love include obedience and submission.


A person should attach their heart to God Almighty alone, as He says, “Allah has not made for any man two hearts within him” (Quran 33:4). The love of God and the love of the world cannot coexist in one heart. When love for God is present in a person’s heart, their faith becomes stronger and increases and their soul is drawn to contemplate their Lord, evoke His beautiful names, and His sublime attributes that are free from deficiency and imperfection. The soul continues to be more attracted, ascending levels, until it worships Allah as if it sees Him.

Love intensifies because humans are inherently inclined to love beauty, and God says, “Those who believe are stronger in love for Allah” (Quran 2:165). The person then follows the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) in all his actions and stillness because love for something necessitates love for its traces. The Prophet is one of God’s signs, just as the universe is also one of His signs. This love continues to strengthen until the person is detached from everything else and loves only their Lord. Their heart submits only to His countenance. This servant is not distracted by anything, and whenever they encounter beauty and goodness, they realize that what they have is a reflection of the infinite perfection, beauty, and goodness that belongs to Allah. In this way, the power of love takes control of their heart.


1-Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 2, p. 32.
2-M.N., Vol. 67, p. 72.
3-Surah Ash-Shams (The Sun), verses 7-8.
4-Surah Yusuf (Joseph), verse 53.
5-Surah Al-Qasas (The Stories), verse 50.
6-Surah Al-Qiyamah (The Resurrection), verses 1-2.
7-Allamah Tabataba’i, Al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, Vol. 20, p. 103.
8-Surah Al-Fajr (The Dawn), verses 27-30.
9-Tafsir Al-Mizan, Vol. 20, p. 285.
10-Surah Ash-Shams (The Sun), verses 7-10.
11-Surah Al-Qiyamah (The Resurrection), verses 20-21.
12-Surah Al-Isra (The Night Journey), verse 11.
13-Sharh Usul al-Kafi, Vol. 8, p. 294.
14-Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 70, p. 36.
15-Surah Al-Ahzab (The Combined Forces), verse 4
16-Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow), verse 165.

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