Freedom From Desires


Friday, January 6, 2012

Freedom From Desires

'Abd Allah ibn 'Amr ibn al-'As said: “God's Messenger has said, ‘Unless desires are in keeping with the truth that I have brought (Islam), one cannot be a true believer.’” (1)

There is some terminology in the above Prophetic Tradition, which is extraordinary in that it indicates how to overcome the nafs. Hawa (desire, eagerness), when used in a general sense, means an inclination away from God. In Turkish, the word used is heva or heves (desire, enthusiasm). As a religious term, hawa connotes the nafs’  inclination to oppose the requirements of the Shari’a. The greatest harm is announced in the verse:

“O David! We have appointed you as a vicegerent in the land; so judge among people with the truth, and do not follow personal inclination, lest it leads you astray from the path of God. Surely, those who wander astray from God's path – for them there is a severe punishment because they have forgotten the Day of Reckoning. ” (Sad, 38:26)

Hawa is not just mere inclination. In the same way that love and desire is found in every inclination, hawa means being inclined to something with affection. As indicated in the verse, the danger of being diverted is the result of inclinations based on such love and affection.

Feelings and desires are far removed from empty, unrestrained concerns but include emotional actions. In such a state, commitment, discipline, order, standards and contemplation are not appreciated. However, the life of human beings is neither empty nor meaningless, but it is one for which they will be held accountable in every aspect. Thus, the only solution is to bind these indifferent desires to genuine commitment, to the “revelation,” and this will result not only in pleasure in this life, but offers the only solution for the Afterlife. In fact, this matter is explained in the following verse:

“But as for him who lived in awe of his Lord, being ever conscious of His seeing him and of the standing before Him (in the Hereafter), and held back his carnal soul from lusts and fancies, Surely Paradise will be his (final) refuge.” (Nazi'at,79:40-41)

'Ali said: “I worry about two things on your account; obeying your hawa and prolonged ambition…Heeding the hawa prevents one from seeing the Truth and heeding the Truth; prolonged ambition makes one forget the next life…” (2)

Hawa is not just mere inclination. In the same way that love and desire is found in every inclination, hawa means being inclined to something with affection. As indicated in the verse, the danger of being diverted is the result of inclinations based on such love and affection.


The actual message of the hadith is that in order to be a mature believer one must make one’s emotions and ambitions obedient to that which was brought by the Prophet Muhammad. This is possible if the mind can sufficiently and freely be enlightened by the Revelation. However, the emotions and ambitions do not leave the mind free at this point; if this were the case, naturally, the mind would heed the revelation. When the situation is reversed, then it is not the mind, but rather the emotions and ambitions that reign supreme. This matter is touched upon in the Qur’an in the following verses:

“If they cannot respond, then know that they are merely following their whims and caprices. Who can be more astray than he who follows his lusts and fancies, deprived of all guidance from God. God surely does not guide people given to wrongdoing and injustice.” (Qasas, 28:50)

“Do you ever consider him who has taken his lusts and fancies for his deity? Would you then be a guardian over him? Or do you think that most of them (really) hear or reason and understand? They are but like cattle, (following only their instincts). No, they are more heedless of the right way.” (Furqan, 25:43-44)


Faith demands unity. God Almighty says: “O you who believe! Come in full submission to God, all of you, and do not follow in the footsteps of Satan, for indeed he is a manifest enemy to you.” (Baqarah, 2:208) The interpretation of the above hadith made by Aliyyu’l Qari tells us that it is possible to interpret the phrase “one cannot be a true believer” as being an expression of the denial of actual belief; a person who does not adopt the principles of the belief brought and taught by the Prophet Muhammad is not a believer. In fact, we, even though we accept the principles of the beliefs of Islam, have faults in following the orders; those who appear to be heeding the orders of God, but in fact have not accepted them are known as munafiq (hypocrites).

The expression “no one can by a believer” is interpreted by Aliyy’ul Qari to mean the non-existence of perfection in belief and to indicate that it is possible to conclude that those whose emotions and eagerness have not accepted complying with the orders and prohibitions found in the teachings of Prophet Muhammad are not true Muslims (Mirkat, 1,201-202). We prefer this second meaning.


While remaining committed and bound to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad in every period and every matter of one’s life is truly salvation and happiness for a Muslim, the perception of believers as people who are committed to desires or bound to their emotions indicates the existence of a serious disturbance in the emotions. We are living in a very confusing environment; this is so corrupt that it has legitimized an erroneous interpretation of “modernity” that deifies the emotions and desires. It can be seen that most people act in keeping with their feelings, applying to the minds very little. Everyone interprets their own emotions and desires as a standard of “being Muslim” or “being religious” and in keeping with this desire to be Muslim, they imitate others.

When the matter is interpreted from the aspect of “in my opinion”, the emotions and ambitions are defeated; we fail to realize that we have fallen into discrimination, provocation, that we are not free from the anarchy of ideas, a lack of discipline or eccentricity. Even worse, we cannot understand, or so it seems, that it is not possible to be Muslim according to our own personal desires and emotions.

It should not be forgotten that the desire and demands of thenafs, the basis of all errors and sins, should be subjected to the reason and the orders of the faith. While love and respect for God can be identified as heeding the Prophet, following one’s emotions and desires will bring endless error, bid’at (innovation) and superstition, things that cause nearly irrevocable damage, both religiously and spiritually.

When speaking of emotions and desires, it is obvious that if the desires of the nafs are fulfilled this will only serve to strengthen the dominion of the nafs.


The solution, as clearly and succinctly expressed in the hadith, is to accept emotions and desires that are in keeping with what has been taught by the Prophet Muhammad. That is to say, emotions that are mature in belief are those that are included in being a Muslim, as it is in this way that emotions and desires are made subservient to what Prophet Muhammad has taught us.

It is necessary to accept the rulings brought by the Prophet Muhammad, to follow in his steps, to enjoy his Sunna, to adopt his cause, to surrender to God in every manner; in short to form a good community and thus attain freedom of belief. At the same time this will mean the freedom of desires and happiness. God Almighty tells us:

“But no! by your Lord! they do not believe (in reality) until they make you a judge of that which has become a matter of disagreement among them, and then do not find any straitness in their hearts as to what you have decided and submit with entire submission.” (Nisa, 4:65)

What can be understood from this verse is that we can overcome the nafs only by following the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. True freedom will be attained only after overcoming the obstacle that is presented by the nafs, because Islam is a system and environment of complete freedom and happiness; it is free from all connections or lack of connections that are outside the realm of Islam.

When speaking of emotions and desires, it is obvious that if the desires of the nafs are fulfilled this will only serve to strengthen the dominion of the nafs. Therefore, in order to prevent the nafs being a great obstacle in the way to the Truth, different solutions to limit its effect have been investigated. One of these is the struggle that has been defined as “preventing the joys of the nafs; not fulfilling the rights of the nafs”. Our hadith makes the following determination here: “(one should) comply with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad about emotions and desires. (hawa)” In Islam, it is a general principle that, not only should no rights be infringed upon, they should be protected. Anyone who truly follows the way of the Prophet Muhammad cannot possibly infringe upon the rights of any other person. For this reason in the hadith that we have selected on this matter, the Prophet Muhammad does not call people, in general– or more specifically believers - to an emotional life; rather, he calls them to the freedom that is rooted in a life of reason and belief, consciousness and introspection. We are told that it is the emotions and desires which are the forces employed in counteracting this call. It is indicated that the success of Muslims standing against their external enemies is connected with their victory against these internal forces. Perhaps it is because fundamentally this is a continuous and multi-faceted type of jihad that this struggle has been called the “jihad al-akbar”.

Thus, it is only by grasping onto the lifeline offered by the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad that one can extricate themselves from the maelstrom of these emotions and desires; it is necessary that we hold on to this lifeline with all our might. This is because the success offered by such an effort means being blessed with the gifts and bestowals of God Almighty and with the blessings of friendship and the subsequent great happiness:

“Whoever obeys God and the Messenger, then those are in the company of those whom God has favored – the Prophets, and the truthful ones, and the witnesses, and the righteous ones. How excellent they are for companions!” (Nisa,4:69)


1.  Baghawi, Masabih al-Sunna, 1,160; Sharh al-Sunna, 1,212-213 Al-Tabrizi, Mishkat al-Masabih, 1,55; Nawawi, Forth Hadith, (No:41), For a discussion of the hadith it relation to its chain of transmissin see, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Jami' al-'Ulum wal-Hikam, pp.364-365, 2- Adab al-din wa al-Dunya, p. 13.

(wisdom magazine)

عن أبي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه قَالَ:
قَبَّلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْحَسَنَ بْنَ عَلِيٍّ وَعِنْدَهُ الأَقْرَعُ بْنُ حَابِسٍ التَّمِيمِيُّ جَالِسًا‏.‏ فَقَالَ الأَقْرَعُ إِنَّ لِي عَشَرَةً مِنَ الْوَلَدِ مَا قَبَّلْتُ مِنْهُمْ أَحَدًا‏.‏ فَنَظَرَ إِلَيْهِ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏"‏ مَنْ لاَ يَرْحَمُ لاَ يُرْحَمُ ‏"‏‏
God's Messenger kissed Al-Hasan bin Ali (his grandchild) while Al-Aqra' bin Habis At-Tamim was sitting beside him. Al-Aqra said, "I have ten children and I have never kissed anyone of them", God's Messenger cast a look at him and said, "Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully." (Bukhari, Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab), 18)

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