Satanic Tactics: Our Thoughts

The words of our beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) are full of rich lessons. Among them is his address during the farewell Hajj. This is the seventh in a series of articles on The Prophet’s Last Sermon, Lessons for Humanity.

There is ultimately a tremendous mercy in Allah sending us Satan. The very purpose of our creation is to be tested. Is it better to have an easy test or a difficult test? If say you are a serious student, would you want an easy test or a difficult test? Allah says:

ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ ٱلْمَوْتَ وَٱلْحَيَوٰةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًۭا ۚ

“Who created death and life to try you as to which of you is finest in works” [Quran, 67:2; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

For the sincere servants of Allah, Satan serves as a reminder and gives a sense of urgency. Allah says:

إِنَّ كَیۡدَ ٱلشَّیۡطَـٰنِ كَانَ ضَعِیفًا

“Verily the wiles of the Devil were ever weak.” [Quran, 4:76; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld] 

At the same time, Satan is persistent. One needs to be on guard. 

Where Our Thoughts Arise From

One of the important skills in a believer’s toolkit is to know where our thoughts arise from as well as the nature of satanic misgivings (waswasa). All the thoughts that come to you are only one of four types ultimately. 

The human being is a body that contains within it a subtlety. This subtlety is known as the human consciousness, the soul, or the self (nafs). It is also referred to as the intellect as well as the heart. This subtlety has thoughts that come to it. 

Some of the Jews came to test the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and they asked about the soul. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did not respond. And Allah tells us:

وَيَسْـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلرُّوحِ ۖ قُلِ ٱلرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّى وَمَآ أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ ٱلْعِلْمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًۭا

“And they ask you of man’s living soul: Say, ‘The soul is of the sphere of my Lord alone; And you have not been given of knowledge but merest little.’” [Quran, 17:85; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

So we have a consciousness. That consciousness gives us a capacity to make choices. The choices we make arise from our thoughts. Thoughts as they occur in one’s consciousness take five stages. 

The Five Stages 

The first step is called the First Thought (Khatir). A thought appears just out of nowhere. The moment an idea comes such as, “I want sushi this afternoon.” You are not responsible for that thought, whether it is a harmless thought, a beneficial thought that “I’d like to give in charity today,” or a harmful thought for some sinful matter. 

You are not responsible for your thoughts. Even you get the worst of thoughts. Some people get thoughts of disbelief. You are not responsible for the thought. There is no moral responsibility related to it.

The next step is consideration (Taraddud). A thought comes, without thinking about it, “Why do I want sushi? Should I get sushi?” You think about it, “Where should I get sushi from?” That consideration could be about something permissible, or it could be worse, it could be about something sinful. It could also be about something good.  

As for this consideration, you go back and forth with the thought. You are not responsible for this thought either. Although, it is more dangerous as it is closer to making a decision.

Following this is an inclination (Mayl). You thought about it long enough. You think about spicy salmon for example. Now you are inclining towards it, or you are inclining away from it. Even though you are inclining towards it, you are not responsible.

If one sees another that they hate, and the thought comes, “I am going punch him.”  One is not responsible. One thinks about it, “Should I really punch him? One is not responsible. The inclination towards it is there, yet, one is still not responsible.

This is mercy from Allah as well. You are not held responsible for it, but now because the closer you get to a decision, the more dangerous it is. Particularly if it is harmful, disadvantageous, or sinful. 

The fourth step is when you say yes to that thought. This is resolve (‘Azm). You have resolved to do it. The fifth level is determination (Jazm). This is when the resolve is connected with the action.

Moral Responsibility

Moral responsibility is between number four and number five. The scholars differed, given the different texts of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). Do you become responsible when you say yes within? Or when you say yes and now you are going to act upon that? 

Caution is to consider that once you say yes to it within, you are responsible. If a person decided, “Tomorrow, I am going to do such and such sin.” He has not taken the steps to do it yet, but the safe thing is he should repent from it, even if it was not yet connected to the action (he has not yet headed towards the place or taken the steps to its realization).

Some people struggle with negative thoughts. Negative thoughts concerning their faith, people, and themselves. You are not your thoughts. You are not responsible for those thoughts. 

If you get negative thoughts, you should be on the watch. Typically good thoughts arise from good states, generally, and negative thoughts arise either from negative states or negative circumstances, generally. They can sometimes tell you something about yourself, especially if they are persistent.