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The Levels of the Nafs – An overview

Sufism (tasawwuf) traditionally outlines the evolution of the nafs (the false self) in seven levels. These seven levels are like the grades in an educational system which one must pass through in order to graduate as a mature human being.

A seeker has to be aware of his own states so that he can live up to the next level to which he aspires. He has to be conscious of his inner states and actions, and be extremely sincere in watching himself in action. It is also necessary that he knows the characteristics of each level, especially the level in which he is presumed to be, and the next level, in which he hopes to be.

There is no question that the complete potential for perfection is contained within every human being, because Allah Most High placed His own Divine Secrets in the essence of man, in order to bring him from the unknown realms into manifesting His Beautiful Names and Attributes. But we have forgotten the perfection placed in us before we arrived in the world clad in flesh and bone. Our physical being and its attachment to the world in which it lives, covers and leaves in darkness the beauty and the wisdom hidden within us.

Allah has revealed instructions in His Divine Books, and has sent His prophets and awliya (saints) as guides in order to teach and lead us back to awareness from ignorance. Those of us who are able to wake up, who rediscover that which is holy in ourselves, and who wish to come close to our Creator and to our origin, which is perfection, are promised that if “We take a step towards Allah, He will come running to meet us.”