• Q and A

    Questions and Answers from the Risale-i Nur Collection
  • 1

How Does Islam Judge Satan’s Whispering Disagreeable Thoughts and Fancies to Believing People?


This comprises five cures for five wounds of the heart.

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

O Lord, I take refuge in You from the evil suggestions of the devils, and I take refuge in You, O my Lord, lest they attend me.

If Satan cannot seduce devout believers, he whispers disagreeable thoughts and fancies to them. For example, by associating some ideas with others, he makes believers have some unpleasant conceptions of the Divine Being, or conceive of unbelief or disobedience. If they dwell on such ideas, Satan pesters them until they fall into doubt about their belief or despair of ever leading a virtuous life. Another trick is to cause good, devout believers to suspect the correctness or validity of their religious acts. For example: Did I perform my prayer correctly? Did I wash hands or face completely while performing the ritual ablution? How many times did I washed the parts of my body that must be washed?

O you, who are afflicted with the distress of involuntary evil thoughts and fancies! Do you know what the evil thoughts occurring to you involuntarily resemble? A misfortune! The more you dwell on and attach importance to them, the more they grow. If you attach no importance to them, they dwindle away; if you exaggerate them, they swell; if you belittle them, they die down. If you fear them, they become grave and make you ill; if you do not fear them, they are slight and remain hidden. If you do not know their real nature, they persist and become established; if you recognize their nature, they disappear. So, out of many types or aspects of these pestilential evil thoughts or fancies, I will explain only five, which occur most frequently. I hope that it will be curative for you and for me, for such thoughts and fancies are of a kind that ignorance attracts them and knowledge repulses them. If you do not recognize them they call on you; if you do recognize them they depart.


First aspect

Satan first casts a doubt into the heart. If the heart does not admit it, he passes on to offer blasphemy, and brings back to the mind some unclean memories and pictures and some unmannerly, ugly scenes, which resemble blasphemy, causing the heart to wail ‘Alas!,’ and fall into despair. The person suffering from such evil thoughts supposes that he is acting wrongfully towards his Lord and feels terrible agitation and anxiety. In order to be freed from it, he flees from the Divine Presence and wants to plunge into heedlessness and forgetfulness. The cure for this wound is the following:

Listen, you poor fellow, it is from involuntary evil fancies that you are suffering! Do not be alarmed! For what comes to your mind is not blasphemy, but something imaginary. As an involuntary fancy of unbelief is not unbelief, an involuntary fancy of blasphemy is not blasphemy. For according to logic, a fancy is not an act of judgment, whereas blasphemy (a willful act) is an act of judgment. Moreover, the ugly words occurring to you do not come out of your heart, because your heart is displeased with and regretful of them. Rather they come from ‘the tube of Satan,’ an inner faculty situated near the heart through which Satan whispers to the heart. The harm of involuntary evil fancies comes from imagining them to be harmful, the person suffers harm by heart through imagining them to be harmful. For he supposes a fancy not subject to judgment to be reality. Also, he ascribes a work of Satan to his own heart; he supposes Satan’s whisperings to belong to his own heart. He thinks this is harmful, so he suffers harm–which is just what Satan wants.


Second aspect

When conceptions arise in the heart, they enter the imagination without form; it is in the imagination that they take on a form. The faculty of imagination, always under some prompting, weaves forms of some sort. It weaves around the forms of the things to which it attaches importance; whatever conception comes to the heart, the imagination either clothes it in these forms, or attaches them to it, or touches it with them, or veils it through them. If the conception is pure and clean, and the forms dirty and base, there is some little contact between them but the pure conception will not accept the base form as its dress. However, the man suffering from involuntary evil thoughts confuses that little contact with being dressed, and exclaims, ‘Alas! How corrupted my heart is! This baseness and meanness will drive me out of religion!’ Satan takes advantage of this sentiment. The cure for this wound is as follows:

Listen, you poor fellow! Just as your outward cleanliness, which is the means to correctness of your prayers, is not affected or spoiled by the foulness in your intestines, so too the sacred meanings or conceptions are not harmed by being close to unclean forms. Suppose you are reflecting on the signs of God in the universe or on the verses of the Qur’an. Suddenly you feel ill, or you feel a desire to eat, or an urge to pass water. Of course your imagination will form whatever is needed to respond to the illness or the need, and weave ‘lowly’ forms appropriate to the purpose. The meanings that arise out of your (interrupted) reflections will pass by the forms your imagination has been prompted to weave. But there is no harm in that passing, no soiling from it, nor error, nor injury. If there is any fault, it lies in paying attention to the fact and imagining it to be harmful.


Third aspect

There are certain hidden connections between things. Even between things you never expect to be connected there are ‘threads’ of connection. They are either there in fact, or your imagination makes them according to its preoccupation, and ties those things together. It is because of this connection that sometimes seeing a sacred thing brings to mind an unclean thing. As the science of rhetoric puts it, ‘opposition which is the cause of remoteness in the outer world, is the cause of nearness in the imagination.’ That is, the means of bringing together the forms of two opposites, is imaginary connection. The recollection occurring through such a connection is called the association of ideas.

For example, while performing the prayers or reciting supplications before the Ka‘ba, in the Divine Presence, although you are reflecting on Qur’anic verses, the association of ideas may take you to the furthest, lowest trifles. If you are afflicted with such involuntary association of ideas, do not be alarmed. Rather, when you come to your senses, turn back. Do not say, ‘What great wrong I have done!,’ nor dwell on it to learn its nature, lest, through your attentiveness to it, that weak connection finds strength. For as you show regret and consider it seriously, that weak recollection of yours becomes a fixation and turns into a sickness of imagination. Do not be over-distressed–it is not a sickness of the heart. This type of recollection is mostly involuntary, and especially common among sensitive, nervous people. Satan works a great deal out of the mine of this type of involuntary fancies. The cure for this wound is as follows:

The association of ideas is mostly involuntary. One is not responsible for it. In addition, in association there is proximity, not contact and combination. By nature, ideas are not contagious, they do not harm each other. Satan and the angel of inspiration being in proximity to each other around the heart, and sinners and the pious being side by side in the same house, do not cause harm. So too if, due to the association of ideas, unclean fancies enter among your pure thoughts, they cause no harm, unless they are intentional, or by imagining them to be harmful, one becomes over-attentive to them. Sometimes it happens that the heart becomes tired out, and the mind, in order to entertain itself, occupies itself with anything that flits across it. Satan takes this as an opportunity, and offers unclean things to it.


Fourth aspect

There is a kind of involuntary fancy which arises from seeking the best form of a religious deed, and can be better called a ‘scruple.’ If the person supposes it to be a true or pure piety, it becomes more vigorous and makes the resulting condition more severe. It can reach such a degree that while searching for even better forms of deed, the person falls into what is forbidden. Sometimes it happens that in seeking after what is commended in worship, the person neglects what is obligatory therein. Hesitating over whether his act of worship was canonically acceptable or not, he repeats it. This state continues, and soon he falls into despair. Satan takes advantage of this state, and wounds him. There are two cures for this wound.

The first cure: A scruple of this kind may be right for the Mu’tazilites. For they argue: ‘Deeds and things for which man is held responsible by religion are, either of themselves and in regard to the Hereafter, good, and because they are good they were commanded, or they are bad, and because they are bad they were prohibited.’ That means, from the point of view of reality and the Hereafter, things are good or bad in their essence, and the Divine command and prohibition are dependent on this. Following this school of thought, in every act of worship the scruple arises: ‘I wonder if I would succeed in performing this act according to the essential good in it!’ However, the Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a, people of the school representing the great majority of Muslims who are believed to be on the right path, argue: ‘Almighty God orders a thing, and it becomes good: He prohibits a thing, and it becomes bad.’ That means, whether a thing is good or bad is dependent on divine command and prohibition: whatever God orders, it is good, whatever He prohibits it is bad.

Therefore, a thing is good or bad for a person who is religiously charged with doing it only after he has become aware that he has done something ordered or prohibited. Moreover, a thing is religiously good or bad not in respect to its apparent correctness and its apparent features, but with respect to the Hereafter.

For example, you did wudu (ritual ablution) and did the prayer, which were essentially imperfect due to some reason that would invalidate both (like your garment being ritually unclean because of some amount of foul substance). Since you had been completely unaware of that reason before, your ablution and prayer are sound and good. However, the Mu’tazilites oppose: ‘In essence they were bad and unsound. But they may be accepted from you because you were ignorant of the reason, and your ignorance is an excuse.’ According to the school of Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a, then, you should not indulge in scruples about a deed you performed in conformity with the commandments of the Shari‘a, nor worry excessively about whether it was sound or not. Rather, you should say in the form of a question, ‘Was it accepted?’ That is, do not become proud and conceited (because of the good deeds you have done).

The second cure: There is no difficulty in religion. The four schools of conduct are on the right path, and realizing a fault which leads to the seeking of forgiveness is preferable–for the person afflicted with scruples–to seeing deeds as good, which leads to pride. Then, it is better if such a person sees his deed as faulty and asks for God’s forgiveness, rather than seeing it as good and becoming proud. Give up your scruples and say to Satan: ‘This is merely a difficulty. It is difficult to be aware of the truth in everything.’ Excessive anxiety is an attitude contrary to the principle: There is no difficulty in religion, and Religion is facility. Surely a deed of mine, if it conforms with the requirements of an established school of conduct, is enough for me. After that, in confession of my inadequacy, there is a means of taking refuge with Divine Compassion, in humbly entreating forgiveness for the duty of worship which I cannot perform in a way worthy of it, and of meekly supplicating that my defective deeds be accepted.


Fifth aspect

Some suffer scruples in the form of [what they think are] doubts in matters of belief. The unhappy person suffering from such scruples will sometimes confuse a passing fancy with a conceptualized idea. That is, he supposes a doubt that has unintentionally occurred to him to be a real doubt which he himself has conceived. Then he worries that his faith is impaired: that is, he supposes the fancy of a doubt to be a real doubt that damages faith. Sometimes he thinks that a doubt that perturbed him while thinking is something that impairs his rational, conscious confirmation of the essentials of faith. Sometimes he supposes reflecting on a matter pertaining to unbelief to be itself unbelief. That is, he supposes the exercises of the reflective faculty, study and objective reasoning, to understand the causes of unbelief, to be contrary to belief. Thus, frightened by these suppositions, which result from the whispering of Satan, he exclaims: ‘Alas! My heart is corrupted and my faith impaired.’ Since those states are mostly involuntary, and he is unable to put them right by his free will, he falls into despair. The cure for this wound is as follows:

Just as imagining unbelief is not unbelief, neither is reflecting on unbelief, unbelief. Just as picturing misguidance in mind is not misguidance, neither is reflecting on misguidance, misguidance. Imagining, fancying, picturing-in-the-mind, and reflecting, are all different from confirmation by reason and acceptance by heart. They are only voluntary to a degree; it is difficult to place them under the control of the free will and so make oneself answerable for them as for religious obligations. By contrast, confirmation and acceptance are deliberate; they depend on certain criteria and intentional reasoning. In addition, just as imagining, fancying, mental pictures and reflection, are not mental activities of the same kind as confirmation and acceptance, neither are they to be considered as the same as doubt and hesitation. Only if they are repeated unnecessarily and become established, may they pave the way to a sort of real doubt. Also, on the pretext of objective reasoning or fairness, continuously taking the part of the opposing side may go so far that a person involuntarily favors the opposing side. His support of the truth, which is incumbent upon him, is shaken, and himself falls into danger. Gradually, he has a fixed state of mind and becomes an officious advocate of Satan or the enemy.

The most important of this kind of scruple is this: the man afflicted with it confuses something which is theoretically possible with something which is reasonably likely. That is, if he sees something to be theoretically possible, he imagines that it is reasonable for it to be or to happen. Whereas one of the principles of reasoning in theology is that a theoretical possibility does not negate certain knowledge of a present reality nor contradict the demands of reason. For example, it is theoretically possible that the Black Sea could sink into the earth at this moment; it is something that could happen. But we judge with certainty that that the Black Sea is in its place, we know this without any doubt. That theoretical possibility of its being otherwise causes us no real doubt and does not impair our certainty about the present reality. Again, for example, it is possible that the sun will not set today or that it will not rise tomorrow. But this possibility does not impair our certainty and does not give rise to any real doubt. So, baseless suspicions arising from theoretical possibilities of this sort–for example, about the setting of the life of this world and rising of the life of the Hereafter, which are among the truths of faith–do not impair the certainty of belief. Moreover, the well known rule, a possibility that does not arise from any evidence is not worth consideration is one of the established principles of the sciences of the foundations of religion and of jurisprudence.


If you ask: ‘What is the divine purpose in allowing involuntary evil thoughts and scruples to pester us, seeing that they are so harmful and an affliction for believers?’

Answer: On condition they are not carried to excess and allowed to overwhelm the person, essentially they are the cause of vigilance and awareness, lead to seeking the truth and that which is better, and are the means to seriousness. They disperse indifference and repel carelessness. For this reason, in this realm of trial and testing and arena of competition, the Absolutely Wise One gave them to the hand of Satan as a whip of encouragement for us. He strikes it at the heads of human beings. If it hurts excessively, one should complain to the All-Wise and Compassionate One, and say: ‘I seek refuge with God from the accursed Satan.’


This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.