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Al-Nafs al-Ammara

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Al-Nafs al-ammāra (Arabic: النَفْسِ الاَمَّاره, literally: the commanding or evil-commanding soul, also known as impulsive, prompting, or concupiscent soul) is a psychological state that leads one to evils and sins. The term comes from verse 53 of Qur'an 12. Psychological caprice is said to be the same as the commanding soul. Moreover, the struggle against the soul, or the “greater jihad,” in hadiths is the struggle with the commanding soul.

The commanding soul is often mentioned along with “al-nafs al-lawwama” (the self-critical or blaming soul) and “al-nafs al-mutma'inna” (the soul at peace or the reassured soul). The commanding soul is the lowest degree of the soul, where at a higher degree is the self-critical soul that blames oneself because of the wrongdoings. At the highest degree is the reassured soul which attains peace.

The Notion

The evil-commanding soul, i.e. the one prompting evils, is a psychological state in which one does not follow one’s reason, and is instead led to sins and corruptions. The term comes from the Quranic verse “the [carnal] soul indeed prompts/commands [men] to evil.” The commanding soul is identified with psychological caprices.

The Commanding Soul as the Lowest Degree of the Soul

Some people believe that there are degrees to the soul, where the commanding soul lies at the lowest. On this account, a soul involves a number of levels, the lowest being the commanding soul that does not comply with reason. At a higher level is the self-critical soul that blames itself for it wrongdoings. Still higher is the reassured soul, which persists in, and thus acquires a habit of, compliance with reason, which leads it to peace and assurance.

Sameness of Human Identity and Various Souls

According to Muslim scholars, a human person only has one soul or self. They argue that this is not contradicted by the existence of commanding, self-critical, and reassured souls. This is because the latter are different states and degrees of the same soul; that is, when the soul commands the evils, it comes to be called a commanding soul, and when it blames itself for a wrongdoing, it comes to be called a self-critical soul.

The Struggle against the Commanding Soul

There is a hadith from the Prophet (s) in which a military battle is described as the “smaller jihad” (or the minor struggle) and the struggle against the soul is characterized as the “greater jihad” (or the major struggle). 'Allama Tabataba'i believes that the struggle against the soul in this hadith is a struggle against the commanding soul. Al-'Allama al-Majlisi cites a hadith to the effect that “your greatest enemy is your soul,” interpreting it as referring to one’s evil-commanding soul.

Murtada Mutahhari cites the hadith, “the warrior is one who struggles against his soul,” commenting that this is a reference to a struggle against the commanding soul.


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from نفس اماره in Farsi WikiShia.