Unveiling the natural state of the soul
Every person has within themselves a natural spirit whose inherent state of being is to be content, grateful, loving, and peaceful, regardless of its external circumstances. We don’t see it because it gets covered up by the negative thoughts, anxieties, angers, and desires of the world.
Accessing this innate state of being is the key to true happiness in this life and the Hereafter. This kind of happiness is not mere pleasure or momentary joy, but rather it is a stable contentment and satisfaction with being the servant of Allah no matter what else is happening in the world. This is the true wealth of the soul; the secret of eternal bliss.
As the Prophet ﷺ said:
لَيْسَ الْغِنَى عَنْ كَثْرَةِ الْعَرَضِ وَلَكِنَّ الْغِنَى غِنَى النَّفْسِ
Wealth is not in having many possessions. Rather, true wealth is the richness of the soul.
To get there, we have to understand a little bit about the nature of the soul and the competing forces within it.
Al-Ghazālī states that there are four aspects of the soul: the divine soul (al-rabbānīyah), the satanic soul (al-shayṭānīyah), the predatory soul (al-sab’īyah), and the animalistic soul (al-bahīmiyah). For our purposes, let’s simplify this into three aspects since the predatory and animalistic natures are similar.
The divine soul is your natural state of being content, grateful, loving, and peaceful. By “divine” here we do not mean literally part of Allah, but rather merely a reflection of the divine attributes of love, mercy, justice, and peace. When our mind, body, and spirit are in order and functioning in a healthy way, this state of being will shine through you and benefit yourself and others around you.
The satanic soul is your unnatural state of being depressed, ungrateful, hateful, and malicious. Everyone has this capacity for evil within themselves. This state of being comes about when Satan whispers negative thoughts into our minds and we choose to pursue these thoughts to the end. Overcoming the satanic soul, then, is about controlling which thoughts we follow or ignore.
The animalistic soul is part of the lower brain functions that regulate primal reactions like appetite, fear, and the fight-or-flight response. These impulses are neutral, not being good or evil in themselves, since many of these primal reactions serve important survival functions. Rather, these primal urges need to be regulated and subordinated by the divine soul, lest the satanic soul use them for evil.
Our ultimate spiritual goal is to bring out the natural divine soul, to regulate the animalistic soul, and to suppress the satanic soul. The human heart, which contains all of these aspects, is like a mirror. The satanic soul clouds and obscures the heart, as if the mirror were covered over with rust.
فالقلب في حكم مرآة قد اكتنفته هذه الأمور المؤثرة فيه وهذه الآثار على التواصل واصلة إلى القلب أما الآثار المحمودة التي ذكرناها فإنها تزيد مرآة القلب جلاء وإشراقاً ونوراً وضياءً حتى يتلألأ فيه جلية الحق وينكشف فيه حقيقة الأمر المطلوب في الدين
The heart is a mirror that is surrounded by influential matters and these traits proceed to the heart. As for praiseworthy traits that we have mentioned, they will polish the mirror of the heart and increase it in brilliance, light, and radiance until the clarity of truth shines from within it and the reality of the matter sought in religion is unveiled.
As you control your mind and purify your heart, pray and give charity and remember Allah, the mirror gets polished and begins to reflect the Attributes of Allah: mercy, love, peace, justice, tranquility, gratitude, and so on. The divine attributes begin to flow through you and permeate from you into the world. Then the true nature of the religion and the mysteries of the universe are revealed within the heart.
When your divine soul is in command, you will be content with your life, grateful, peaceful, and filled with love and good intentions towards the creation of Allah. This is your normal, healthy psychological and spiritual functioning. A person who experiences the divine presence in this way will never be depressed, ungrateful, or malicious against anyone.
One of the most important practices for bringing out the divine soul and suppressing the satanic soul is to gain mastery over our thought processes. We’ve heard the Prophet ﷺ tell us to speak good words or be silent, but have you considered that it refers to our inward statements as well?
Bad thoughts create bad feelings, which lead to bad behaviors. When we habitually dwell on negative things in life, our worries, our doubts, our anger, and our worst-case scenarios, we get sucked into a downward spiral of depression. The way out is to train our inner dialogue to dismiss these thoughts, these empty frivolous fears that are no more real than a monster hiding under your bed, and replace them with prayers, with faith and optimism, with a look on the bright side.
Think about your blessings, everything that is going right in your life, everything beautiful and peaceful. The God who parted the red sea, who brings the dead back to life, who performs miracles has the power to help us through any trouble. Say it to yourself. And if you have nothing good to think about, then don’t think anything at all.
The world tricks us into believing that happiness is out there somewhere, if we only get more, achieve more, or find romance. The truth is that happiness is the natural default state of your soul. The kingdom of heaven is within you. Our negative thoughts and desires for the world simply take our attention away from it. You can be happy no matter what happens in life as long as you take control of your mind and nurture your spirit. It’s not an easy path, but the only other choice is to be enslaved by the world’s mood.
Start taking control of your thoughts now and you’ll realize how much power we give them that they don’t deserve. If we are depressed, we need to stop thinking depressing thoughts. If we are angry, we need to stop thinking angry thoughts. Satan throws these thoughts into our minds and we pursue them and follow that line of thinking to a terrible end. All we need to do is build the mental muscle power to ignore him.
Great strength will gather inside you once you master the ability to simply ignore those bad thoughts, and instead pursue your good thoughts. This is true spiritual strength that originates in a strong mind and spirit.
As the Prophet ﷺ said:
لَيْسَ الشَّدِيدُ بِالصُّرَعَةِ إِنَّمَا الشَّدِيدُ الَّذِي يَمْلِكُ نَفْسَهُ عِنْدَ الْغَضَبِ
The strong are not the best wrestlers. Verily, the strong are only those who control themselves when they are angry.
At the end of the day, our religion is about bringing out the inherent goodness within you, a tranquil state of peace, gratitude, love, contentment, and happiness. Consider how the companions felt when they were being threatened:
إِذْ جَعَلَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فِي قُلُوبِهِمُ الْحَمِيَّةَ حَمِيَّةَ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ فَأَنزَلَ اللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَىٰ رَسُولِهِ وَعَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَأَلْزَمَهُمْ كَلِمَةَ التَّقْوَىٰ وَكَانُوا أَحَقَّ بِهَا وَأَهْلَهَا
When those who disbelieved had put into their hearts zealotry, the zealotry of ignorance, but Allah sent down his tranquility upon his messenger and upon the believers and imposed upon them the word of righteousness, for they were more deserving and worthy of it.
Surat al-Fatḥ 48:26
Even though they faced an enemy army much larger and more experienced than them, they were in a state of tranquility and inner-peace. They were facing death, yet their hearts were still. They were content!
This is because the Prophet ﷺ had trained them to uncover the divine soul, regulate the animalistic soul, and suppress the satanic soul. They prayed in the right way, devoted time to remembering Allah, meditated on the names of Allah, and took control of their thoughts. As a result, they were at peace at a time when anyone else would have been in a state of panic.
If we understand this fact and begin to take steps toward nurturing our divine souls, we can achieve a level of tranquility similar to the companions regardless of what happens to us in the world. This is a wonderful truth and a precious gift that Allah bestows upon those who seek his guidance. It is indicative of the divine justice and mercy embedded in the universe, as any person can access the eternal tranquility and happiness that resides within them. And as the divine attributes reflect off our hearts and into the world, more people will awaken the divine soul within and the world will be changed for the better.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.
 Iḥyāʼ Ulūm al-Dīn 3/11