Book Review: The Degrees of the Soul

Degrees of the Soul

Title: The Degrees of the Soul
Author: Shaykh Abd al-Khaliq al-Shabrawi
Translator: Mostafa al-Badawi
Publisher: The Quilliam Press Ltd. (1997)

Shaykh Abd al-Khaliq al-Shabrawi was born in 1887 and passed away in 1947. He was a professor at Al-Azhar University in Cairo and a spiritual master from the Khalwati Tariqah. This concise book (76 pages) is a summary of the phases a soul travels on its way to its Lord. In this book, there are seven stages of the soul that are described. It starts with the Inciting Soul then the Reproachful Soul, the Inspired Soul, the Serene Soul, the Contented Soul, the Soul Found Pleasing and finally the Perfect Soul.

As a side note, Imam Ghazali mentions three souls, in the book ‘The Marvels of the Heart’ (Islamic Texts Society): the soul which commands to evil (al-nafs al-ammara bil-su’), this would be considered the same as the Inciting Soul mentioned by Shaykh Shabrawi. The second soul that Imam Ghazali mentions is the Upbraiding Soul (al-nafs al-lawwama), this would be considered the same as the Reproachful Soul mentioned above. The third is the Soul at Rest (al-nafs al-mutma’inna). These are derived from the Quran, and some descriptions can be found in these verses: al-nafs al-ammara bil-su’: 12:53; al-nafs al-lawwama: 75:2; al-nafs al-mutma’inna: 89:27-28.

To further complicate the number of divisions, the book The Marvels of the Heart (Islamic Texts Society) mentions that Imam al-Zabidi, the famous commentator on Imam Ghazali’s Ihya Ulum al-Din adds another seven types of souls in addition to Imam Ghazali’s three. Those are as follows, with Quranic references in brackets: the Concealing Soul (91:10); the Brought Soul (9:112); the Soul That Makes Evil Seem Inconsequential, which conceals and slays (no references given); the Purifying Soul (91:9); the Remembering Soul (7:204); the Controlled (Possessed) Soul (5:28); the Knowledgeable (Ideal) Soul (no reference given).

We are not qualified to consolidate any of these, and Allah knows best. Further research, inquiry and actually traveling the path and, of course, counsels of spiritual masters would be needed if one wishes to gain further clarity on this matter. We will proceed to provide a short summary of Shaykh Shabrawi’s descriptions:

The Inciting Soul: The soul becomes impure due to its inclination to material nature, it finds rest in its appetites. Essentially it follows every whim and desire, and every power within the human being is at the disposal of its base desires. In other descriptions it is described as having no care for lawful or unlawful, its evilness doesn’t cause him grief nor anxiety.

The Reproachful Soul: The soul at this stage is able to acknowledge truth as truth and falsehood as falsehood. It also recognizes its own blameworthy qualities. It still has traces of the Inciting Soul, and thus isn’t always successful in avoiding its calling. It takes its soul to account and it upbraids it for not conforming to the dictates of divine law.

The Inspired Soul:
The soul begins to enjoy worship, and its lower desires has weakened.

The Serene Soul: Some of the signs Shaykh Shabrawi states are that the wayfarer does not deviate at all from the legal injunctions, takes pleasure only in the behavior patter of the Chosen One (Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) and finds serenity in only following his (peace be upon him) sayings.

The Contented Soul: Some of the attributes of the soul Shaykh Shabrawi states are that it is detached from everything other than God, the Exalted, sincerity, scrupulousness, and a contended acceptance of everything that occurs in the universe, without so much as a quiver of the heart.

The Soul Found Pleasing: This soul is called found pleasing because, God, the exalted is pleased with it. This brings the perfection of Ihsan as described in the famous Hadith of Jibril.

The Perfect Soul: The one at this station is constantly worshiping, either with his whole body, or with his tongue or with his heart. He asks for forgiveness abundantly and is intensely humble.

This is a short work and is useful to read by the wayfarer to Allah. Shaykh Faraz has also recommended this book here:

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