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To simplify my question: What is the difference between the waswas (whispering) of the nafs (soul) and Satan? And how can we know when a thought is bad and from Satan and not just critical thinking that could be good?

For my deeper analyse and questions read through this:


Satan

As the most believe, Satan whispers into mans heart:

114:4-5
مِن شَرِّ الْوَسْوَاسِ الْخَنَّاسِ
الَّذِي يُوَسْوِسُ فِي صُدُورِ النَّاسِ
From the evil of the retreating whisperer -
Who whispers [evil] into the breasts of mankind

And:

20:120
فَوَسْوَسَ إِلَيْهِ الشَّيْطَانُ قَالَ يَا آدَمُ هَلْ أَدُلُّكَ عَلَىٰ شَجَرَةِ الْخُلْدِ وَمُلْكٍ لَّا يَبْلَىٰ
Then Satan whispered to him; he said, "O Adam, shall I direct you to the tree of eternity and possession that will not deteriorate?"

I know there are more verses and hadiths about this. Those are so popular so I guess I don't need to go in detail about them.

The soul

It also seem to me that the humans nafs (soul, mind, subconscious...) itself is, i.e the human itself is blamed for actions or impulses. For instance, regarding Yusuf when the woman tried to seduce him, Yusuf himself is speaking about the nafs and not Satan: (surat Yusuf)

And (with passion) did she desire him, and he would have desired her, but that he saw the evidence of his Lord: thus (did We order) that We might turn away from him (all) evil and shameful deeds: for he was one of Our servants, sincere and purified.

Later on...

He said: "O my Lord! the prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me: Unless Thou turn away their snare from me, I should (in my youthful folly) feel inclined towards them and join the ranks of the ignorant."

So his Lord answered his invocation and turned away from him their plot. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower.

Now in the later verses when freed from prison and the woman admits her fault of trying to seduce him and the planing to put him in prison, Yusuf then says:

"Nor do I absolve my own self (of blame): the (human) soul is certainly prone to evil, unless my Lord do bestow His Mercy: but surely my Lord is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."

وَمَا أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِي ۚ إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلَّا مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّي ۚ إِنَّ رَبِّي غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

In these verses (I find it) clearly that the soul itself has its own impulses or desires which the Satan is free of blame. The only blame is on ourselves (our souls)

50:16
It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein.

وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ وَنَعْلَمُ مَا تُوَسْوِسُ بِهِ نَفْسُهُ ۖ وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ

Continuing...

4:79
What comes to you of good is from Allah , but what comes to you of evil, [O man], is from yourself.

مَّا أَصَابَكَ مِنْ حَسَنَةٍ فَمِنَ اللَّهِ ۖ وَمَا أَصَابَكَ مِن سَيِّئَةٍ فَمِن نَّفْسِكَ

It seems we shouldn't put the blame on someone else as humans, even blaming satan (or other people) for our failure, seems to be the wrong idea:

3:165
What! When a single disaster smites you, although ye smote (your enemies) with one twice as great, do ye say?- "Whence is this?" Say (to them): "It is from yourselves: For Allah hath power over all things."

أَوَلَمَّا أَصَابَتْكُم مُّصِيبَةٌ قَدْ أَصَبْتُم مِّثْلَيْهَا قُلْتُمْ أَنَّىٰ هَٰذَا ۖ قُلْ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ أَنفُسِكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

Some thoughts and questions

There are plenty more verses and hadiths that are talking about the nafs (soul, self, ego?). These are just some references to make you able to answer in a better way.

Now, it seems to me that the nafs is responsible and also can be blamed (i.e not only the waswas of Satan).

  1. What is the difference between the whispering (waswas) of Satan and the "whispering" (or inclinations, impulses?) of the nafs (human soul, ego, mind..)?

  2. How do we determine whether a thought is from Satan or just from ourselves?

  3. Can we have bad thoughts that just are from ourselves? Or are ALL bad thoughts from Satan? What is the proof of that? (doesn't "inna nafsa la'ammaraton bi so'i" contradict this?)
  4. How do we know that a thought is bad (from the nafs or shaytan) and not good? In some cases for instance, if you really have doubts about a matter which the vast majority follows, the vast majority would say that those thoughts or doubts are from Satan. What if those thoughts are right and in this scenario, the majority is wrong. Then this wouldn't really be a bad thought from the Satan. How can we know which of these thoughts are from Satan and which are not? (this is just an example)

    Here comes a real example: Let us assume if I think "I don't believe a jinn can take over the human or listen to our thoughts"... Would this be waswas from shaytan? I guess, if it's wrong, yes then it might be... But if it isn't wrong, it shouldn't be from shaytan. How do we know a thought like this (or similar) is just from my own mind and not from Satan?

    These thoughts can be TRUE. How would I know they are true but not Satan messing with my head to make me understand the religion in a wrong way? You see, if I am right, Satan says you are wrong! Stay away! You are on deep water now! You will become a disbeliever if you think like this! If I am wrong he might say "You are right!" Sometimes maybe he isn't saying a word. How do you determine something important like that?

  • My understanding is that there is always a shaitaan in our body, which whispers evil thoughts in our ears... Now, once he has whispered something our mind will automatically reason for it, and in result there will be more wasawas, or some clarity, wither of this will happen. Like it says in a hadees shaitaan says to man, who made that thing, man thinks Allah, that it whispers who made you he says Allah, and so on.. in the end he says, who made Allah... now on this point our mind is reasoning that if there is always a creator, what about Allah, answer to this is separate thing. – Zia Ul Rehman Mughal Aug 28 '16 at 14:17
  • But what i am trying to say is clear form this, that he whispered one thing, and then another and then another, and let the mind reason based on those whispers, so our mind is saying this is not possible for god to exist without cretor, shaitaan didn't directly said that how a god can exist without creation by someone... i think i made the point – Zia Ul Rehman Mughal Aug 28 '16 at 14:18
  • Thanks for commenting! Even though there always is a Satan in our body or not my other questions are still unanswered. Cuz that wasn't the question. – Kilise Aug 28 '16 at 14:33
  • Firstly, there is no reason to know a thought is from shaitan or yourself, a bad thought, a bad reasoning is just bad, wheather it appeared from within you or shaitan whispered it, secondly, a thought is bad when it is suggesting something against islam's principles, and its teachings, or is denying something like mairaaj... Muslim is a person who BELIEVES... Iman is believing so, any thought which is leading to disbelief or any confusion in belief, or anything against sunnah, it is bad. There is no rocket science i think.. – Zia Ul Rehman Mughal Aug 30 '16 at 8:26
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    @ZiaUlRehmanMughal I respect your view but I don't agree fully on this because this really reminds me about some circular reasoning that takes you nowhere. I am afraid no one really knows the true answer on this question. I'll wait and see if we get more answers. – Kilise Sep 1 '16 at 18:31
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Terminology: نفس = self & شیطان = satan

I think the knowledge on Satan is very obvious, but the knowledge on self isn't. I would refer from Munajaat of Imam Ali. ( I have cut out some of its parts, you can see its complete version in the link)

In this Munajaat, Imam Ali shows us who we are before Allah.

  • My Lord, O my Lord, You are the Master and I am the Slave, and who else can be merciful to the slave except the Master?
  • My Lord, O my Lord, You are the Mighty and I am the low, and who else can be merciful to the low except the Mighty?
  • My Lord, O my Lord, You are the Glorious and I am the miserable, and who else can be merciful to the miserable except the Glorious?
  • My Lord, O my Lord, You are the Powerful and I am the weak, and who else can be merciful to the weak except the Powerful?
  • My Lord, O my Lord, You are the Wealthy and I am the Poor, and who else can be merciful to the poor except the Wealthy?
  • My Lord, O my Lord, You are the Provider and I am the blessed, and who else can be merciful to the blessed except the Provider?
  • My Lord, O my Lord, You are the Generous and I am the MISER, and who else can be merciful to the miser except the Generous?
  • My Lord, O my Lord, You are the Forgiver and I am the sinner, and who else can be merciful to the sinner except the Forgiver?
  • My Lord, O my Lord, You are the High-handed and I am the humble, and who else can be merciful to humble the except the High-handed?

That's who we are. But there's more to it. Are we as ourselves powerful? or is it Allah who gives us power? Are we as ourselves intelligent? or is Allah that has given us intelligence? Are we as ourselves with body (that can walk, speak, move objects? or is it Allah that has given us our body? Can we age on our own? Or is it Allah that ages us through? Can we provide nourishment on our own? Or is it Allah that is providing sustenance to us?

We have nothing by ourselves. NOTHING. Repeat that 5 times. :) The only ability that we have is: We accept whatever that Allah gives us.

For such a weak being that is poor, miser, low, slave, sinner, humble , there will be struggle. It will want more. It will do things that it shouldn't do. That why we say و ما توفیقی الا بالله ( And my success is not but through Allah) 2 so that Allah will help to protect us. [Or in the story of Prophet Yusuf (who is a human that is also created weak, poor,etc.), what did Yusuf say? How did he get out of the situation? He got out by Allah showing him the path. I repeat 'showing the path'. Allah didn't enforce Prophet Yusuf hands/body/will from not doing it. God enlightened his wisdom: had he not seen the proof of his Lord 3. Yusuf was still able to choose sin. <— This is why a prophet's infallible-ness is attributed to himself and to God (some people wrongly think God makes prophets infallible and the prophets themselves are doing nothing, some others think the opposite. But its both. God enlightens the heart/wisdom and the prophet chooses the right path even though they can choose to sin.)]. Had Prophet Yusuf been a 'great' sinner then, ختم الله قلوبهم could have effected on him to the extent that he would have not seen the 'proof of his Lord' ie the light of wisdom, the gift of Allah that helps us be guided.

To answer your questions:

What is the difference between the whispering (waswas) of Satan and the "whispering" (or inclinations, impulses?) of the nafs (human soul, ego, mind..)?

Nafs whispering comes from our weakness. Satan's whispering comes because he wants to send us all to hell.

How do we determine whether a thought is from Satan or just from ourselves?

It's usually a bit of both. Hard to dissect. Yet Satan could invite (not force) your friend to call you to an evil activity. Nafs can't do such, it's limited to yourself. Nafs usually goes for personal gain, Satan may have broader purposes, like destroying an entire nation or a group of people.

Can we have bad thoughts that just are from ourselves?

Yes. The poorness in us is what makes us steal, or be jealous of one who has more money. The misery in us makes us selfish. I don't mean that we are created by an evil clay, no never. I mean our self has nothing, by having nothing it will have a tendency to do more evil than it does to do good. Though Allah doesn't leave us there. He gives us wisdom. See below.

How do we know that a thought is bad (from the nafs or shaytan) and not good?

By using your wisdom عقل (of Allah's greatest gifts) which is given to you by Allah. But that's very tricky. We all do have wisdom right? So how do some people decide to kill others and some decide to protect? We to ourselves had nothing, then Allah gave us wisdom, then some of us sinned and didn't repent and sinned again and didn't repent and sinned again and didn't repent and then Allah decided to "Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment."4

At the same time others sin, but then repent it, they basically keep their gift less effected. The prophets of God, were the most right doing, because they had minimum sin ie no effect/veil on their heart/wisdom.

Aside from not sinning as general advice : So when you recite the Qur'an, [first] seek refuge in Allah from Satan, the expelled [from His mercy].5 so for your question that would be seek Allah's help at all moments.

  • Thanks, this is looking much better now. +1 .. About the last question, I am not refering to bad thoughts as in "kill people and sin". I am more talking about thoughts that make you doubt some special questions about your religion. These thoughts can be TRUE. How would I know they are true but not Satan messing with my head to make me understand the religion in a wrong way? You see, if I am right, satan says you are wrong! Stay away! If I am wrong he might say "You are right!" Sometimes maybe he isn't saying a word, you are right or wrong. How do you determine something important like that? – Kilise Aug 30 '16 at 18:37
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Honey Aug 30 '16 at 18:38
  • If you could add it in the answer that would be a perfect answer. Also I forgot to ask, could you add some references to your answers (if possible and if available) – Kilise Aug 30 '16 at 18:39
  • @ZiaUlRehmanMughal I will gradually add references to my answer. I don't have references off the top of my head. Though just added details to Prophet's Yusuf's story and have already included 5 references/links – Honey Aug 31 '16 at 19:39
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    @Honey All right. I am looking forward to reading it if you do try later. Thank you may Allah increase our belief and increase our understanding of how He want us to follow the religion. – Kilise Sep 1 '16 at 18:56
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I don't know if you came across this fatwa (in Arabic).

The waswasa or whispering of the nafs is all (bad things, acts) you may think about or have in mind ...

قال السمعاني: الوسوسة حديث النفس.
وقال البيضاوي: ما تحدثه به نفسه وهو ما يخطر بالبال، والوسوسة الصوت الخفي.

Also you can read this hadith which was narrated on the authority of abu Hurairah in several hadith collections (in more or less the same wording).

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Allah forgives my followers those (evil deeds) their souls may whisper or suggest to them as long as they do not act (on it) or speak."

Allah says about this:

... Whether you show what is within yourselves or conceal it, Allah will bring you to account for it. ... 2:284

This means Allah know what is inside our souls and minds (or nafs) as said in tafsir ibn kathir:

There are many other Ayat on this subject. In this Ayah (2:284), Allah states that He has knowledge of what the hearts conceal, and consequently, He will hold the creation accountable for whatever is in their hearts. This is why when this Ayah was revealed, it was hard on the Companions, since out of their strong faith and conviction, they were afraid that such reckoning would diminish their good deeds. ...

Note that bringing to account does not necessary need to mean that one would be punished based on this account as you may read in the following verses especially 2:286, which clearly eases the meaning one could conclude from 2:284.

The above fatwa also quotes from majmo' al-fatwa of ibn Tyamiyyah a quote of abu Hazem explaining the difference of both kind of whispering:

وقد ذكر أبو حازم في الفرق بين وسوسة النفس والشيطان فقال: ما كَرِهَتْه نفسُك لنفسك فهو من الشيطان فاستعذ بالله منه، وما أحبته نفسك لنفسك فهو من نفسك فانهها عنه
Abu Hazem said comparing between the whispering caused by the nafs and that caused by the Satan, and said: Whatever your nafs hates for your nafs is from Satan, so seek refuge with Allah from it. And whatever your nafs likes for your nafs is from your nafs so forbid it to it.

So what you would hate for yourself (but not for others) is whispering from satan. And what you'd like for yourself (not for others) is whispering from your nafs.

In this fatwa the whispering of human "Satan's" is also quoted beside the above two kinds of whispering. In this thread the author pretends that the nafs is just following the whispering of his jinn attache (based on this hadith).

  • +1 Thanks, I'll go through your answer in more details soon when I got more time in sha Allah. I have done a bit more research since I asked this question. Defined terms more deeper; waswas ,shaytan, the different states of a nafs (nafs ammaraa bi so2, lawwama, motmain and so on) ... spoke to a deaf about my question how stan whispers to a deaf and so on – Kilise Sep 12 '16 at 13:56

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