Nafs and the stages of ‘self’

The Arabic word nafs is variously translated as ‘soul’, ‘self’, or ‘ego’.  The nafs has seven levels or stages of development that correspond more or less to the seven stages of the Sufi Path.  The Path, which leads to a transformation of consciousness, can therefore be described as the refinement and purification of the soul.  The seven nafs are generally defined as:

  • nafs al-ammara – the commanding or compulsive-obsessive self, also known as the carnal or animal self, is entirely governed by its desires, passions and instincts.
  • nafs al-lawwama – the accusing or blaming self, corresponds to the awakening of conscience and a realization of the extent to which one’s actions are controlled by the nafs al-ammara.
  • nafs al-mulhama – the inspired or balanced self marks the beginning of genuine spiritual integration and a release of the self from the tyranny of physical instincts and the desires of the ego.
  • nafs al-mutma’inna – the tranquil self or self at peace, as its name implies, has attained a degree of detachment from worldly concerns and an increasing awareness of the Presence of God in all things.
  • nafs al-radiyya – the fulfilled or satisfied self is the initial merging or union of the individual with God.
  • nafs al-mardiyya – the fulfilling or satisfying self, also described as the self of total submission, is the merging of God with the individual.
  • nafs al-kamila – the perfected and complete self is the state of total union with God and the attainment of universal consciousness.

Source: Baldock, John.  The Essence of Rumi.  Arcturus: London, 2005.


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