Accounting the self (Muhaasabat An-Nafs) according to the Tafseer of the Qur'aan, the Sunnah of the Prophet and statements of the Predecessors and Scholars
From the Qur'aan
Allah سبحانه وتعالى states:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَلْتَنْظُرْ نَفْسٌ مَا قَدَّمَتْ لِغَدٍ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
"O You who believe! Have taqwa of Allah and let each person (Nafs) look to what it has sent forward for tomorrow. Have taqwa of Allah. Allah is aware of what you do."
Ibn Katheer (rh) states in his Tafseer of the Aayah: "and let each person (Nafs) look to what it has sent forward for tomorrow": [It means: Account yourselves before you will be accounted and look to that which you have put down for yourselves in terms of righteous actions for the day of your appointment and your presentation before your Lord and know that He is knowledgeable of all of your acts and circumstances and that nothing at all is hidden from Him].
And Allah سبحانه وتعالى states:
وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ
"No! I swear by the self-reproaching self (a believer)."
Al-Qurtubi (ra) said in his Tafseer of the Aayah: [And the meaning of An-Nafs Al-Lawwaamah i.e. the Nafs of the believer which you do not see him except that he blames himself. He questions himself: What did I intend by this? It is that you do not see him except that he is reproaching and admonishing himself. This is what Ibn 'Abbaas, Mujaahid and Al-Hasan amongst others said.]
Al-Hasan said: [It is by Allah the Nafs of the Mu'min (Believer). The believer is not seen except that he is blaming himself: What did I intend in my speech? What did I intend in my food? And what do I want to achieve by talking to myself? And the Faajir (openly disobedient, rebellious) does not account himself].
Al-Mujaahid said: [He is the one who blames that which has gone by and is regretful and he blames himself asking himself in regards to the bad: Why did I do that? And in regards to the good: Why did I not do more of that? And it is said: It has blame attached to it. It is also said: It (the Nafs) blames itself with that which other than it would find blame].
So it is upon these understandings that the Lawwaamah (the one who blames himself a lot) is upon the meaning of Laa'imah (the blamer) and it is (here) a praiseworthy attribute and description].
Allah سبحانه وتعالى states:
يُنَبَّأُ الْإِنْسَانُ يَوْمَئِذٍ بِمَا قَدَّمَ وَأَخَّرَ
بَلِ الْإِنْسَانُ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ بَصِيرَةٌ
"That Day man will be told what he did and failed to do. In fact, man will be clear proof against himself"
Al-Maawardi (ra) said in his Tafseer of the first of these two Aayaat: [There are three interpretations: One is that he will be a witness against himself with the proof that has been brought against him like that which Allah سبحانه وتعالى states:
وَكُلَّ إِنْسَانٍ أَلْزَمْنَاهُ طَائِرَهُ فِي عُنُقِهِ ۖ وَنُخْرِجُ لَهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ كِتَابًا يَلْقَاهُ مَنْشُورًا
اقْرَأْ كِتَابَكَ كَفَىٰ بِنَفْسِكَ الْيَوْمَ عَلَيْكَ حَسِيبًا
"We have fastened the destiny of every man about his neck and on the Day of Rising We will bring out a Book for him which he will find spread open in front of him. 'Read your Book! Today your own self is reckoner enough against you!'"
The second interpretation is that his limbs will be witness against him and his actions, which was the view stated by Ibn 'Abbaas (ra) and this is in line with the meaning of the speech of Allah سبحانه وتعالى:
الْيَوْمَ نَخْتِمُ عَلَىٰ أَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَتُكَلِّمُنَا أَيْدِيهِمْ وَتَشْهَدُ أَرْجُلُهُمْ بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ
"Today We seal up their mouths and their hands speak to us, and their feet bear witness to what they have earned."
(Yaa Seen, 36:65)
The third meaning is that he sees and is aware of the shortcomings and faults of others whilst being careless of his own faults in relation to what is deserved in terms of reward and punishment.
The 'Haa' (Harf/letter) here in 'Baseerah' is for the purpose of emphasis.
As for the following Aayah:
وَلَوْ أَلْقَىٰ مَعَاذِيرَهُ
"In spite of any excuses he might offer."
There are four interpretations: One of them is that its meaning is that even if he seeks to apologize and excuse himself on that day, then it will not be accepted from him, and this was the view of Qataadah. The second means that he will throw down his excuses i.e. that he will strip off the clothing (stripped down), which was the view of Ibn 'Abbaas. The third is that it means that he will present his argument which was the view of As-Saddiy and the fourth meaning is that he will drop his coverings and coverings (Sutoor) in the language of Yemen means excuse or plea, which was the view of Ad-Dahhaak. And a fifth meaning can be understood which is that if he leaves the excuses and capitulates he will not be left].
From the Prophetic Sunnah
The Nabi صلى الله عليه وسلم indicated towards the meaning of the Nafs Al-Lawwaamah i.e. the Nafs of the believer who always reproaches himself when he stated the following Hasan Hadeeth recorded by At-Tirmidhi and Ahmad.
Ahmad in his Musnad and Al-Haakim in his Mustadrak related from An-Nawaas Bin Sam'aan Al-Kilaabiy who said: The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: "Allah puts forward the example of straight path there are two fences with opened gates at its sides and there are lowered curtains over the gates and there is a caller, at the end of the path, says 'hold fast to the straight path and do not go stray' and there is another caller above him, whenever he sees someone intend to open one of these gates he says 'Woe to you, never open it; because if you opened it, you would enter in it.'" So (in this example) the straight path symbolizes Islaam and the two fences are what are the limits set by Allah 'Azza Wa Jalla and the doors are the prohibitions of Allah and the caller upon the path is the Holy Qur'an and the caller that is above the path is Allah's preacher in the Nafs of every Muslim."
And Anas bin Maalik (ra) related from the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: "Al-Kayyis (the one who is determined to gain as much from every opportunity) takes himself to task and works for that which is after the death and the 'Aajiz (deficient/incompetent) is the one whose Nafs follows its desires and he make (fanciful) wishes upon Allah (i.e. he says it's ok that I have done such and such because Allah is all-forgiving etc...)" Al-Imaam Ahmad and At-Tirmidhi.
Umm Salamah (ra) said: The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: "When Allah wishes good for a servant he makes a Waa'izh (Admonisher/one to remind) from the persons Nafs which commands him (to obedience) and forbids him (from the acts of disobedience)" As-Suyootiy in Al-Jaami' As-Sagheer.
Statements of the predecessors and Scholars in relation to the meaning of Muhaasabah (accounting)
Muhaasabat An-Nafs means: Strictness in reproaching it (the Nafs) and monitoring it.
Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq (ra) said: "Whoever abhors his Nafs for Allah, Allah would make him safe from His abhorrence (i.e. the anger of Allah)"
Al-Imaam Ahmad related from Abu Ad-Dardaa' (ra) that he said: "A man does not reach full comprehension or understanding until he abhors people for Allah; and he then returns to his Nafs and he abhors with greater vehemence."
Ibn ul-Qayyim (rh) said: [It (accounting the Nafs) is distinguishing between what he has and what is upon him (meaning the servant/slave) so what he has accompanies and he performs that which is upon him because he is a traveller on a journey from which he will not return].
And he said: [Accounting (Muhaasabat) the Nafs means that the 'Abd (servant/slave) looks first to the rights of Allah upon him and then examines whether he has fulfilled them as they should be fulfilled secondly].
And he said: [Accounting the Nafs is done until it is known what it has and what is upon it. He does not allow it to be relaxed or abandoned in regards to these rights so that he wastes them and becomes negligent of them. In addition its cleansing and purifying rests upon accounting it and therefore it is not cleansed or purified or rectified at all unless it (the Nafs) is accounted].
Al-Maawardi (rh) said in regards to the meaning of Al-Muhaasabah: [That the person examines at night that which he did of actions in the day. If they were praiseworthy then he continues upon them, follows the same pattern and imitates that. If however they were not praiseworthy then he redresses if possible and does not repeat its like in the future].
As for Al-Haarith al-Muhaasabiy, he defined it by saying: [It is confirming in all situations before acting or leaving an action by making a contract of the conscience, or an action of the limbs, until it is clear to him what he should do or not do. So if it is clear to him that the act is of that which Allah 'Azza Wa Jalla detests then he distances himself from it by a contract of conscience of his heart and he prevents his limbs from that which Allah 'Azza Wa Jalla detests whilst preventing and forbidding his Nafs from abstaining from leaving an obligation and rushes forth to perform it].
In regards to the Nafs Al-Lawwaamah Sa'eed Ibn Jubair and 'Ikramah said: [It means to blame (reproach) upon the basis of the Khair and Sharr (Good and evil) and it does not mean that you have patience in the good and bad times].
Qataadah said: [Al-Lawwaamah is Al-Faajirah (unrighteousness)] whilst Mujaahid said: [He regrets that which has past and says: 'If only I had done...' or 'If only I had not done...].
Al-Farraa' said: [The Nafs does not have righteousness or unrighteousness unless it blames and reproaches itself. If it has done good, then it says: 'Increase and add to it' and if it has done bad it says: 'If only I had not done that'].
Al-Hasan said: [It is the believing Nafs. He said: Indeed the believer, by Allah, you do not see him except that he reproaches himself asking himself what did I want by my words or my food whilst the Faajir (unrighteous person) continues on his path not accounting his Nafs and not disciplining or rebuking it].
Muqqatil said: [It is the disbelieving Nafs who blames and reproaches himself in the Aakhirah (hereafter) in relation to the excesses he performed in regards to the commands of Allah in the Dunyaa].
Yahyaa bin Al-Mukhtaar related that Al-Hasan said: [Verily the believer is strong with his Nafs, accounts his Nafs to Allah 'Azza Wa Jalla and indeed the accounting is only lessened on the Day of Judgment for a people who account themselves in the Dunyaa whilst the accounting is more strenuous on the Day of Judgement upon a people who have taken this matter without accounting (themselves). Verily the believer comes across something that he likes and says: By Allah, verily I desire you and I have a need for you but by Allah, I have no connection to you. Be away, be away, let there be a barrier between me and you] He then indulges in some of it and returns to his Nafs and says: 'What did I desire from this?' and 'What's wrong with me in regards to this?' By Allah I will never return to you again Insha'Allah. Verily the believers are a people who have been made strong by the Qur'aan and it has come between them and their destruction. The believer is a prisoner in this Dunyaa and strives to break free the bonds around his neck. Nothing is secure until he meets Allah 'Azza Wa Jalla and he knows that he will be taken to task for his what he hears, sees, his tongue and the acts of his limbs].
Maymoon Bin Mahraan said: [A man will not be from the Muttaqeen until he accounts his Nafs more than he accounts his partner, until he knows where his food has come from or his clothing and his drink, is this thing Halaal or is it Haraam].
A man came to Younus Bin 'Ubaid and said to him: "Are you Younus Bin 'Ubais?" He replied: "Yes." So he said:"Al-Hamdu Lillah to the one who has not caused me to die before seeing you." So he (Younus) said: "What do you need?" He replied: "I wanted to ask you about an issue." He said: "Ask what you wish." He said: "Tell me, what is the goal of Al-Wara' (piety)?" He answered: "To account the Nafs (self) from all of its angles and to escape from every Shubhah (doubtful matter)." He then asked: "So tell me, what is the goal of Az-Zuhd (Ascetism)?" He replied: "To leave rest."
Al-Hasan Bin 'Ali Ad-Daqaaq said: [The origin of obedience is Al-Wara' (piety) and the origin of Al-Wara' is At-Taqaa (Taqwaa) and the origin of At-Taqaa is accounting the Nafs and accounting the Nafs emanates from fear and hope, and fear and hope emanate from knowledge, and the origin of knowledge is the tongue of knowledge and pondering].
Al-Hasan (h) said: [Allah's mercy is upon the slave ('Abd) who pauses upon undertaking a matter. Then if it is for Allah he proceeds and if it is not for Allah, he falls back].
Maymoon Al-Mahraan said: [A servant 'Abd) will not have Taqwaa until his accounting of his own Nafs is more severe than the accounting of a partner to his partner and for this reason it is said: The Nafs is like the treacherous partner, if you don't account him he takes off with that which is yours].
Ibn Qudaamah said in Minhaaj Al-Qaasideen: [Know that the most hostile of enemies to you is your Nafs that is within you. It has been created as that which commands to badness and inclines to evil whilst you have been commanded to strengthen it, purify it and cleanse it, and to drive it forcefully towards the worship of its Lord. Then if you neglect it (the Nafs) it becomes strained and displaced and you will not benefit from it after that. If however you commit to reproaching and disciplining it then we hope that it will proceed in tranquillity, so do not be neglectful in reminding it].
This article is a translation from Al-Waie magazine issue 317