The Soul, the Ego and the Will
Man, in fact all and everything, has three aspects: essence, attributes, and actions.
If we wish to describe a person (or a thing) we might start with its shape and form and physical characteristics, describing a man as tall, thin, blond, blue-eyed, etc. Next we might describe him by his actions or capabilities: strong, intelligent, farsighted, kind, generous, etc. These are his actions, or possibilities of actualizing things.
Both the attributes and the actions of a person may change. The tall may get taller, the young become old, the thin become fat, and blondes go gray. Actions also change. The strong may become weak; the generous may become poor and be unable to give.
When the shape, character, and actions of men or things change, if there is something constant left, that is the essence of that person or that thing.
Allah Most High blew from His own soul into this body of flesh and bone. The body is weighable, measurable, changeable, temporal, and subject to decay, while the soul is immeasurable, invisible, immortal, belonging to another realm.
When the soul enters the body, it is as if an act of marriage takes place. The flesh, the mother, world-bound, joins with the soul, the father, heaven-bound. From this marriage two children are born. One is called the heart, resembling the father, yearning for the fatherland, attached to and under the guidance of the father. The other child is called the ego, having the character of the mother, attached to the motherland and loving this world.
Within your being, your actions, your character, your behavior, your beauty or your ugliness are either from the heart or from the ego. They are changeable. When they are from the heart, they correspond and are in harmony with your father, the eternal soul. When they are from the ego they relate to your mother the flesh and her country, the world.
Your shape, your form, your physical appearance, your behavior, your actions, are first manifested in your wants and wishes. The ego wants what the flesh wants. The heart wants what Allah wants. These wants are manifest in one's will.
Your will wants to have something, or to do something, and makes you think that you, yourself, are able to get what you wish to have, and to think that you are able to do what you wish to do. The will is a unique gift which Allah Most High has given only to human beings. It enables us to choose right from wrong, that which is good from that which is bad.
Yet we do not know what is good for us. Therefore Allah has given to His chosen servants a perfected religion in which He has completed all His blessings upon them and is pleased with them. That is Islam. When we listen to our heart, and act in accordance with its wishes and choose to submit that most valuable gift of Allah, our will, to Allah's greater will. That is Islam. Then the divine light, an-nur al-Muhammadi, the beauty of the beloved of Allah will be our physical appearance and we will receive ihsan and will be in the presence of our Lord forever.
There was once a shaykh of great wisdom who had been given marifat-ullah. The sultan of his nation was surrounded by advisors whose knowledge consisted of the sciences, the knowledge of this world. They misguided the sultan and the world suffered.
The wise shaykh wished to warn the sultan, but the advisors prevented him. So he thought of a scheme. He declared publicly that there was no such thing as man's will.
Such a declaration is heresy (just as it is also heretical to say man is the creator of his own actions). The advisors of the sultan saw this as an occasion to condemn the wise man and reported him to the sultan. The sultan asked that the wise man be brought to his presence in order that he judge him. He asked, “Is it true that you claim that man has no will, while Allah says that it is His gift to mankind?”
The wise man said, “Yes, I claim that man has no will. I also confirm that he does have will. But what do you say, my sultan? For instance, do you believe that I have will?”
“Certainly,” said the sultan.
“Do you also believe that I have the ability to actualize what I will?”
“Of course,” said the sultan.
The wise shaykh said, “In that case, I will that all that you have in your treasuries be distributed among the people!”
The sultan turned to his advisors and said, “Answer him.”
They could only mumble, protesting, “He is doing this for the sake of intellectual argument. It is not serious!”
“Then destroy his argument with your knowledge,” the sultan insisted.
The advisors fell silent.
The wise man said, “Let me explain my own argument, my sultan. In your presence, in your palace, the only will is yours, and I have none. When I return home, however, I can tell my wife, my children, and my servants what I wish, and they will do it. There I have a will. But even here there is a Sultan above all sultans, the Owner and the Lord of all, All-powerful, Ever-living, known by His attributes, seen by His actions, ever-present, and everywhere. The ones who know Him and know that they are in His presence at all times, are people of the heart. They know there is only one will, the divine will of Allah. What they say is from Him, what they see is of Him, what they do is by Him.
“Then there are those who are heedless of Him and of what is His, who feel that they are at home in this world, which is theirs. These are the ones who act of their own will. But even these heedless ones should realize that what they will seldom happens. They may see that the ones who have given up their will for the greater will of Allah are satisfied, at peace, and pleased, for whatever happens to them is for the best. They are envious and critical of those who have given up their will, and are aggressive toward them. Yet they are bound to fail.”
All praise is due to Allah.