Every person faces internal conflict from birth to death and will either triumph over it or succumb to it. Allah, the Almighty, says:
By the soul, and proportion and order given to it; and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right - truly he succeeds who purifies it, and he fails who corrupts it! [Qur’an 91:7-10]
The Prophet (s) warned:
Trails will be opened to a man just like a mat, one after another. When a heart is influenced by a trial, one black dot will be written on it, and when a heart ignores it, then a white dot will be written until the heart becomes one of the two kinds, either white as white stone, which will pass any test, or dark black, because it has never followed the good or ignored evil in its conflict with the soul.
Mankind can be categorized into two groups:
1) Those who are defeated by their desires. These people obey the world and are immersed in worldly matters. They are the nonbelievers. Those who follow them are the ones who forget Allah, so Allah forgets them. Says the Qur’an:
Have you ever seen a person who takes as his god his own desires? Allah knows this and so has left him astray, and sealed his hearing and his heart [and understanding] and veiled his sight. Who, then, will guide him after Allah [has withdrawn guidance]? Will you not then receive admonition. [Qur’an 45:23]
2) Those who struggle against their desires. In doing so, sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. When they do wrong they repent. When they commit sins they regret them and ask forgiveness from Allah. Allah, the Almighty, says:
Vie with one another to attain your Sustainer’s forgiveness and to a paradise as vast as the heavens, when they and the earth, which has been readied for the God-conscious who, when they have done something to be ashamed of or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring God to mind and ask for forgiveness for their sins - for who can forgive sins except Allah - and do not knowingly persist in (the wrong) they have done. [Qur’an 3:135]
The Prophet (s) told us: "All sons of Adam make mistakes. The best among them are those who do wrong and repent." [Tirmidhi]
In this matter it was reported from Wahib ibn Munabbih, that once Iblis went to meet Yahya ibn Zakariya. Yahya said to him, "Tell me how you fare with the sons of Adam." Iblis said, "Some of them are just like you; they are free from sins so we can never seduce them. The second type of people I can play with just like children play with balls. Their desires help us to defeat them. But the third type of people are very difficult for us. We pursue them until we succeed in achieving what we want, but then they repent, and destroy all that we have accomplished, so we can never frustrate or finally stop them."
The Elements Of Strength In Combatting the Physical Appetites
There are two sources of strength in managing physical desires. These are:
Hearts become an element of strength in maintaining order in one’s soul when they are alive, soft, pure, and strong. Remember the saying of ‘Ali ibn ‘Abi Talib: "Allah has a water container in the earth, which is a heart. The hearts that Allah likes most are those which are the softest, the purest, and the strongest." Then ‘Ali explained the meaning of these words, namely, "strongest in religion, purest in trust, and softest toward one’s brother" ‘Ali ibn ‘Abi Talib added: "The hearts of Believers are pure and full of light. On the other hand, the hearts of Disbelievers are dark and always sick." In the words of the Qur’an:
Believers are those who, when God is mentioned, tremble with awe in their hearts, and, when they hear His messages, find their faith strengthened, and put all their trust in their Lord? [Qur’an 8:2]
Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts, which are in their breasts.[Qur’an 22:46]
Will they not, then, ponder over the Qur’an? - or are there locks upon their hearts? [Qur’an 47:24]
2) Mind and Intellect
The rational faculty of one’s soul, known as the mind, and the spiritual faculty, known as the intellect or spirit, can contribute to victory over the material faculty, known as the body, if both mind and spirit are supplied with knowledge from experience and study. Such knowledge makes possible discrimination between good and bad and can bring one closer to Allah, so one can know His strength and greatness. This is what Allah meant in His revelation, about those who can see past the observable world, to the inner meaning behind it:- Of all His servants, only those endowed with spiritual understanding stand [truly] in awe of Allah, [for they alone comprehend] that Allah truly is Almighty, and much Forgiving. [Qur’an 35:28]
The Prophet (s) praised the marvel of the human mind and spirit in his exclamation:
The greatest dignity bestowed by Allah on His creatures was the human mind and spirit. [Tirmidhi]
Once the Prophet (s), said to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib:
A person tries to get closer to Allah with various good deeds; get yourself closer to Allah with knowledge.
The highest achievements come from the faculties of the mind and Spirit, because they can direct one to the right path and protect one from evil. This Is why Islam encourages us to acquire knowledge and to deepen our knowledge of the din so that our mind can learn to differentiate between good and bad and between right and wrong. The Prophet (s) said:
Whomever Allah wants to reward with goodness He gives him an understanding of the din.
The advantages of the learned over those who only worship is like my advantages over the lowest people among my companions.
These advantages come from moral values and from the role of knowledge in deepening our faith and revealing the reality of the universe. The minds of the awakened believers can differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong, lawful and unlawful, because such believers have an awareness that enables them to see everything through the light of Allah. Allah, the Almighty, has said:
For any to whom Allah gives not light, there is no light? [Qur’an 24:40]
Spiritual illumination can be extinguished only by iniquitous actions, by constantly remaining in a state of iniquity, and by deliberately committing sins and never repenting afterwards. The Prophet (s) said:
If a person commits sins, his spirit will be extremely alienated from him.
If it were not because of the evils playing around the hearts of the sons of Adam, surly they could comprehend the governance of the heavens and the earth.
While I was on the way to meet ‘Uthman, I saw a woman. I watched the woman with my full attention and I was taken with her beauty. When I entered, ‘Uthman said: "One of you entered this house to meet me while the signs of adultery were still visible in both of his eyes. Don’t you know that one can commit adultery through one’s eyes? Therefore you must make repentance or I will mete out to you with a special punishment!" Then I asked, "Is there any revelation after the Prophet?" Uthman answered, "No, but my opinion is objective and based on clear evidence and careful scrutiny."
The Signs Of Spiritual Defeat
When one’s heart becomes immoveable, one’s mind perverted, and one’s spirit immersed in darkness, especially after acknowledged defeat in combat with the Devil, then all the doors of evil are opened to one’s soul. The Devil’s evil power than spreads in the sons of Adam like the flow of blood in their bodies. We must be aware of this danger and recognize that once the soul’s defenses are down the Devil will become its closest friend. Allah, the Almighty, has said:
Are you not aware of those who would be friends with people whom Allah has condemned? It is they who are the greatest liars. Satan has gained mastery over them and caused them to remain oblivious of the remembrance of Allah. [Qur’an 58: 19]
The Qur’an tells us that the Satan, the sworn enemy of man, declared to Allah after expulsion from Paradise. Satan said:
Now that You have thwarted me, I shall most certainly lie in ambush for them all along Your straight way, and shall most certainly fall upon them openly as well as in a manner beyond their ken, and from the right and the left? [Qur’an 7:16-17]
The most dangerous disease that strikes those who are defeated is the disease of doubt. Satan makes them feel uncertain about everything they do, in order to cause them to deviate from the right way of Allah. In this context, the Prophet (s) said:
Verily, Satan tries to stop the sons of Adam in many ways. He tries to stop them by attacking Islam itself, saying: "Why are you embracing Islam and leaving your religion and the religion of your forefathers." The sons of Adam ignore the Satan and embrace Islam. Then Satan tries to stop them by opposing migration for the sake of Allah, saying: "What are you doing now is migration, wherein you abandon your home and all that bore you." The sons of Adam just ignore the Satan and then migrate. Then the Satan tries to stop them by attacking jihad, saying: "What you are doing now is waging jihad, whereby you will fight and then get killed, and your wives will marry other men and your belongings will be divided." But the sons of Adam ignore him and wage jihad. Then the Prophet (s) said: "Whoever does this and dies has earned the right to Paradise." [Nasa’i]
The cowardly tactics of Satan are alluded to in the following: Satan says to man, "Deny the truth!" But as soon as [man] has denied the truth, [Satan] says, "Behold, I am not responsible for you: behold I fear Allah, the Sustainer of all the worlds!" [Qur’an 59:16]
Vulnerabilities to Evil and Defenses Against Satan
In order to help men overcome the trials and fantasies of Shaitan and to overpower this arch enemy, Islam provides many weapons. The first is to recognize one’s vulnerabilities. Knowledgeable scholars advise one to learn how Shaitan enters the hearts of men, namely, through the following ten doors:
1) Greed and hostility. One can counter this by developing the habit of trusting others and feeling content with what one has achieved after sincere effort.
2) Love of this life, which one can counter by fearing the approach of sudden death.
3) Love of idleness and luxuries, which one can overcome by contemplating the assurance that good times will not last, but punishments will.
4) Pride, which can be opposed by humbly thanking Allah for His bounties and fearing His punishment.
5) Haughtiness and disrespect for others, which one can overcome by recognizing their God-given dignity and rights.
6) Envy, which can be combatted by developing the virtue of contentment (qana ) with what one has earned through hard work and by accepting the gifts and rewards from Allah to his creatures.
7) Boastfulness and a craving for praise, which one can counter by developing the virtues of honesty and sincerity.
8) Covetousness, which one can overcome by remembering the transience and inevitable destruction of all material possessions and the eternity of Allah, as well as by remembering the assurance of reward from Allah and the futility of relying on rewards from one’s fellow men.
The best way, according to Islamic wisdom, to avoid Satanic influence is to remember Allah by invoking him at the beginning of everything we do. In this context, Abu Hurairah narrated how the Shaitan for the Believers met the Shaitan for Nonbelievers.
The Shaitan for the non-Believers is very fat, in contrast the Believers, who is very thin and sad. The Shaitan for the Believers was asked why he was thin and sad. He said: I went to a man to test him. Whenever he wanted to eat he mentioned the name of Allah, which made me hungry. When he drank, he mentioned the name of Allah, which made me thirsty. Also when he wore his cloths, he mentioned the name of Allah, which made me feel naked; when he applied hair cream, he mentioned the name of Allah, and it made my hair dry and messy. The Shaitan for the Non-Believers then said: "But when I went to people who never did all these things that you have mentioned, I shared their food, their drink and their clothes."
Another way of defense against Shaitan is to avoid eating luxurious foods even though they are lawful and clean, because Allah has said:
Eat and drink but not to excess, for Allah does not love wasters. [Qur’an 7:31]
The Prophet (s) said.
Verily Shaitan runs through the sons of Adam like the flow of the blood, so constrain the path of the Shaitan by hunger. [Ahmad]
Another way to defend against the evil one is by reading the Qur’an, remembering Allah, and making repentance. The Prophet (s) said:
Verily, Shaitan attacks the hearts of the sons of Adam. Whenever the sons of Adam remember Allah, Shaitan backs off, but whenever they forget Allah, Shaitan eats their hearts.
Still another weapon for defense is to avoid hasty behavior and adopt the character of carefulness in everything one does. The Prophet (s) said,
Hastiness is from Shaitan and caution (and carefulness) is from Allah the Almighty.
Most important though in introducing discipline and self-control in one’s life, is to act on the following wisdom recalled by Allah:
When thoughts of evil from Satan assault them, those who fear Allah, bring Allah to remembrance, whereupon, lo! they see (aright) . [Qur’an 7:201]