How Should We React To Evil Thoughts And Desires?
Involuntary evil thoughts, fancies, or associations of ideas usually are the result of Satan’s interference. Just as a battery has two poles, there are two central points to our hearts. These two poles work like the two poles of a battery; one receives angelic inspirations, while the other is susceptible to the suggestions of Satan.
Satan attacks those believers who are trying to increase their belief and devotion. If such believers are scrupulous and sincere in their feelings, then Satan attacks them from all directions. When dealing with disbelievers, who follow Satan voluntarily in the indulgences of their whims and desires, he whispers to them strange and abnormal ideas. In this way, he encourages their disbelief and learns new ways to struggle against the true religion and to waylay all believers.
Satan attacks us from all directions:
When Satan was cursed by God for his disobedience, Satan asked for respite until the Day of Judgment, also desiring permission to try to lead human beings astray in the meantime. God granted this request, and Satan then replied:
“Then I shall come upon them from before them and from behind them and from their right and from their left, and you will not find most of them grateful” (7:17).
Satan does everything he can to mislead us. As God manifests all of His Names on us in this testing world, we are very complex beings. We have been sent here to be trained and developed into a mirror of God, and in this way to earn eternal happiness. In order to do this, we must train and develop all of our God-given feelings, skills, and abilities. If we do not bring all of these under control (e.g., our intellect, temper, greed, obstinacy, and lust) nor direct them toward lofty goals, but rather allow these feelings to be abused for disagreeable purposes, our present and future life will endangered. This is also true if we do not bring our natural animal desires under control by satisfying them in ways acceptable to God.
Approaching us from our left, Satan employs our animal instincts and faculties to tempt us into sin. When he approaches us from the front, he drives us to despair over the future, he whispers that the Day of Judgment will never come, that whatever religions say about the Hereafter is no more than mere fiction, and that religion belongs to the past and therefore is irrelevant to our present and future. When he comes upon us from behind, he tries to make us deny the Prophethood, the existence of God and His Unity, the Divine Scriptures, angels, and other fundamental matters of belief. Through such whispers and suggestions, Satan tries to sever our connections with religion and steer us toward sin.
Satan cannot use these means to seduce believers who are devout and believing. Rather, he approaches such believers from the right side and encourages them to be ostentatious and proud, to take pride in their virtues and their good deeds. He whispers to them that they are the best of believers, until feelings of conceit and desire for praise take over in the person. When such a point is reached, these believers begin their journey on the road to perdition. For example, if a believer prays the supererogatory prayer at night and then boasts that he/she has done so in the hopes that others will praise him/her, or if a believer begins to take credit for his/her accomplishments and good deeds while criticizing others behind their backs, then such a person has fallen under the influence of Satan. We must do our best to resist Satan when he comes upon us from this direction.
Another of Satan’s ruses is to make trivial things seem important and vice versa. If believers dispute with each other over trivial matters (e.g., using prayer beads when glorifying God after the daily prescribed prayers), ignoring the fact that their children are being dragged along the road of disbelief and materialism, or that their children are drowning in the swamp of immorality, this is an indication that Satan has successfully seduced them.
Satan suggests disagreeable thoughts and desires:
When Satan fails to seduce devout believers he then whispers disagreeable thoughts and desires to them. For example, through the association of ideas, he pushes believers toward developing negative concepts of the Divine Being or of contemplating disbelief or disobedience. When believers dwell on such thoughts, Satan then will pester them until doubt springs up about their beliefs or until they despair of living a virtuous life.
Another ruse Satan employs is to cause good, devout believers to suspect the correctness or validity of their religious acts. For example a believer may ask him/herself: Did I pray correctly? Did I wash my face and hands thoroughly while making my wudu’? Have I washed the correct parts of my body the correct number of times? Believers who are pestered by such involuntary thoughts, whims, and doubts should know that their hearts play no role in these questions. Just like thieves who attempt to rob the wealthy and strong countries that try to control resource-rich countries, so Satan makes a last-ditch attempt to seduce believers by troubling their hearts.
We can compare such an attack to a person who has high temperature. We know that the antibodies that are formed in the blood of an ill person inhibit or destroy harmful bacteria or germs. This is what causes the temperature of the body to rise. Similarly, a heart troubled by Satan’s evil suggestions defends itself by struggling against them. Thus, it is not the heart that generates such thoughts, nor does the heart approve of these thoughts, nor adopt them. A reflection of something unclean is not itself unclean, and it cannot make others unclean. In the same way, thinking about disbelief is not the same thing as actual disbelief.
We might even say that Satan’s evil suggestions are actually of benefit to believers, for they cause us to remain alert, to struggle against our carnal selves and against Satan, and to progress toward ever-higher spiritual ranks.
How to Keep Free of Satanic Suggestions?
In fact, the guile of Satan is not great (4:76).
It is like a cobweb that appears in your path—it cannot prevent you from progressing, and you should not attach any great importance to it. Satan only suggests or whispers, he dresses up sinful acts as something desirable, presenting them in cheap, shiny paper. Believers must never accept his invitation. When Satan resorts to whispering, we should realize that he is using his least powerful weapon and ignore him. If we pay attention to these distractions, we may be defeated. Like a commander whose fear causes him to hallucinate and dispatch his soldiers to the front, leaving the flanks exposed, believers who listen to Satan weaken their ability to resist not only him, but their carnal selves. In the end, these are the believers who are defeated.
Believers who want to avoid this trap should distance themselves from sins, all of which Satan tries to make attractive. Heedlessness and the neglect of one’s worship open the way to Satan’s “arrows“:
If anyone withdraws himself (or herself) from remembrance of the All-Merciful, We assign unto him (or her) a devil as a comrade (43:36).
Remembering the All-Merciful, thinking about noble or sacred phenomena, and living a religious life protect us from Satan’s attacks:
If a suggestion from Satan occurs to you, then seek refuge in God. He is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. Those who fear God and ward off (evil), when a passing notion from Satan troubles them, they remember, and behold, they see (7:200–1).
Satan also uses indecent thoughts and events to lead believers astray. He torments us by enticing us with illicit pleasures. On such occasions, we must remind ourselves that indulging in any such pleasure will engender remorse and may endanger both our present and future lives. We must never forget that life in this world is no more than a passing toy, a comforting illusion, and that the real or true life is that of the Hereafter. When some Companions hesitated to take part in the summer expedition to Tabuk because of the scorching heat, God warned them:
The heat of Hell is much more intense, if they would but understand (9:81).
When Satan whispers evil thoughts, believers should realize that he is at his weakest and that he can be ignored. Dwelling on such thoughts only exaggerates and aggravates our weakness and susceptibilities. We also must avoid being careless and be sure that we do not neglect any aspect of our worship; such oversights attract the attention of Satan. If we remember the All-Merciful, focus on holy and blessed events and live a pious life, then will we be able to resist Satan’s call.
By M. Fethullah Gulen