Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah
Question: Assalamu alaykum
Could you explain how the soul(nafs) is related to emotions /feelings. Do hormonal fluctuations play about in the nafs and negative emotions?
Many women experience emotional ups and downs / or emotional numbness as side affects from hormonal/contraceptive pill use.
I have not been able to find anything from the Ulimah advising on contraceptive pill use from a purely spiritual perspective. Do you have any recommendations?
Would it be wise for a woman to take long term prescribed hormonal therapy or contraceptive pills if hormones negatively affect the nafs and make it harder for her in purifying her soul?
Answer: Wa’alaykum assalam, I pray you’re well insha’Allah.
Emotions are directly connected to the nafs (ego, self, or psyche), which according to many scholars, is itself one facet of the ruh (the spirit or soul), or we may say it is one term used for the ruh depending on its context. Scholars have stated that the ruh is the governing principle (mudabbir) of the human, which overlooks and controls his body and being.
Emotions and the Nafs
The nafs, which can translate as the self or ego, generally refers to the tendencies of man which are controlled by emotions and desires, such as passion, anger, despair, selfishness etc. Though not always, in the Quran, the word ‘nafs’ is commonly used to describe the soul when it inclines towards or succumbs to various emotional states and lower desires, such as,
إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ
‘Indeed, the soul is a persistent enjoiner of evil’ [12:53]
However, while the nafs / ego may cause one to fall into sin by arousing powerful emotions which sway one towards fulfilling desires, whether sins of the limb or sins of the heart, it also has the potential to rise above the base emotions and inclinations through a series of stages, first by incriminating itself after having done wrong, then becoming inspired to do good, until it reaches a goodly state, referred to by God, when He says,
يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَىٰ رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً
O reassured soul, return to your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing [89:27-28]
[Ihya Ulum al Din, Hashiyat al Sawi, Adab al Nufus, Tafsir al Razi, Al-Jami’ li Ahkam al Quran, al Risalah al Qushayriyyah]
While you may not have come across anything specifically mentioning the affect the contraceptive pills may have on the nafs or soul, it is well established that what we physically ingest into our bodies can have deep ramifications upon the soul and spiritual works.
Food, which can be both a medicine or a poison, is a simple example of how the physical intake into the body can affect the higher levels of man’s constitution. ‘A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) is reported to have said, ‘Verily, the first trial to occur in this nation after the passing of its Prophet ﷺ, was people eating to their fill. For when people fill their stomachs, their bodies are fattened, their hearts are hardened, and their desires are uncontrollable.’ (al Ju’ – ibn Abi Dunya). Notice how the process described starts with physical matter (food) entering into our physical body, which leads to physical health issues, which in turn is followed by a spiritual hardening of the heart, which results in the increase of passions for base desires.
Conversely, good, wholesome, and lawful food can have a beneficial effect on one’s actions and spiritual works, if eaten in moderation.
As such, there is no reason to not assume that intake of medicinal matters, whether chemical or natural, can have a beneficial or negative impact on the soul, and consequently emotions.
Unfortunately, many medicinal drugs prescribed today have the ability to do more harm than good, and often cause much turmoil in the physical, psychological and spiritual levels of a person. This is partly because of the chemical interaction of the drug with the chemistry of the body, as well as the fact that most drugs treat disease against the natural flow of the body, which itself has a defense and healing mechanism, and these drugs are often so powerful and contra-acting, they deeply suppress this innate mechanism.
In summary then, anything we ingest, whether food or medicine, can have a direct effect on our spiritual plane. In the same way that over eating or bad eating habits, or over sleeping and bad sleeping habits, can affect our mental and emotional states, they can also affect our spiritual states. The human being is one being composed of interconnected parts. It is not possible for one thing to be affected without affecting the other. This is why spiritual masters have always tended on the side of scrupulousness when it comes to ingesting anything into the physical body, because of the potential effects it may have on the spiritual level.
The Contraceptive Pill and Hormone Therapy
The ancient Greek word for the womb or uterus is ‘hysteria’, and this suggests emotional and nervous vulnerability, particularly anxiety, nervousness and irritability. The womb is a vital aspect of a woman’s being, and the ovary and uterus are part of the female endocrine system (the system that produces and secretes hormones), and the menstrual cycle is a regulatory function which provides important hormones to the body to keep it in health.
Therefore, it goes without saying that any treatments involving this area must work with the body and seek to preserve the natural order and maintenance of the female body. Removal of the uterus or introducing chemical suppressants is hazardous.
The short time side effects of such products and therapies alone, including mood changes and emotional fluctuation, reduced chance of future pregnancy, and abnormal menstrual cycles are enough to suggest woman should not turn to them as a first choice.
Given the above, it would not be recommended for women to stay on the contraceptive pills or undergo hormone related therapies for long periods of time. This applies to women on a spiritual path or those who are not. While of course every case is different and one must refer to a qualified physician in each individual scenario, generally, women should avoid these options even in the short term unless necessary or for very brief use.
There are numerous natural alternatives one may make use of, if not better, as many natural therapies work with the body, not against it. Depending on the reason for taking the contraceptive pill or hormone therapy, one could explore various natural options such as the billings method for contraception, and seed cycling for hormonal, menstrual balance and fertility. Also, one could explore therapies such as homeopathy, herbal, or Chinese medicine as all round balancing therapies.
In regards contraception, it would also be a good idea to explore male contraception rather than female contraception.
In summary then, emotional and hormonal imbalance is connected to the nafs, in the sense that what affects one physically or emotionally has the potential to affect spiritual works. Subsequently, foods and therapies that negatively interfere with the natural order of hormonal balance should be avoided.
I pray this helps,
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah
Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.