Controlling one’s Desires

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Question:

What Amal a person can engage to lower the desire beside fasting and how should one fast for it to be efficient?

Answer:

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.

Carnal desires are something that has been created in man and it cannot be removed. Allah instilled in us all carnal desires so that we would procreate and have children. Without carnal desire, we would become extinct and so Allah made this the object of human desire. Carnal desire is a gift from Allah Ta’ala to human beings. However, this desire, just like all other desires, can lead man to destruction if not properly controlled.

Desires cannot be controlled by merely doing an amal. The real core is Mujāhadah(striving); to strive against the evil desires of the Nafs. An amal may assist one in this effort, but it is not the actual remedy. Just as in the case of a physical ailments, one is required to seek medical attention, and together with this make Du’ā for cure. Similarly, one is required to adopt a programme of Mujāhadah, and together with this make Du’ā for release from this spiritual evil. The Du’ā will create Barakah (blessings) in one’s effort.

We live in an environment which makes controlling one’s desires difficult. However, it is not impossible, and one should not lose hope. We can try adopting the following in helping one to control one’s desires.

The first option is that of Nikah. Allah Ta’ala has created man with innate carnal desires and has made Nikah a lawful and dignified avenue to discharge these desires. Under normal circumstances, Nikah is Sunnah. If a man’s desires reach a stage where there is a strong fear that he will be involved in Zina (fornication), it will then be wājib (compulsory) for him to make Nikah. At this juncture, shyness is no excuse. The man will have to approach his elders and request them to make arrangements for his Nikah. Nikah should not be delayed or avoided for fear of poverty and want. In the Ahādith, we are informed that Nikah creates Barakah in one’s sustenance. Allah Ta’ala has taken it upon Himself to assist that person who performs Nikah in order to protect his chastity. Nikah is a simple and inexpensive affair in Islam. The errant customs of societies have made it difficult for others. The solution is to abandon all such customs and conduct the Nikah strictly according to the Sunnah. Nikah, then will not be a burden, rather it will release one from a burden.

If Nikah is not possible then we should adopt the following:

1. Lowering the gaze: our hearts desire what our eyes see. It is, thus, imperative to strictly guard the gaze. Where it is practical, avoid all such situations where one’s gaze may fall on Ghayr Mahram (women not prohibited in Nikah) females. TV, books, magazines, internet, newspapers, should be shunned. Should one’s gaze accidentally fall on some woman, immediately lower the gaze. This is not difficult. It only requires some courage and training. Some points that may assist in this are:

Consider that this is not a calamity but rather an opportunity to win a big prize. It is a once in a life opportunity to strike a huge prize. In the Hadith, we are told that a person, who, after having been tempted, lowers his gaze, Allah Ta’ala will grant him the sweetness of Imān. What more can one ask for? The one who has the sweetness of Imaan has everything. Others strive their entire life for this very goal of finding the sweetness of Imaan. Here is the opportunity to acquire this in a split second. Therefore, lower the gaze and in your heart make this transaction with Allah Ta’ala that, “O Allah! I am lowering my gaze for you. So you grant me your share of the deal, i.e. the sweetness of Imaan.

By maintaining the gaze, one is in fact moving to the depths of Jahannum (hell). And by lowering the gaze, one is ascending the highest ranks of Jannah.

2. Protecting the ears. The eyes and ears are both doorways to the mind and heart. If you allow yourself to partake in desirous talk, your mind will be taken by this and your desires will be provoked. Your ears can be protected by avoiding bad company and mixed environments. In situations where avoiding a mixed environment isn’t possible, one must remain dignified and restrict oneself from unnecessary intermingling with the opposite gender.

3) Spending time in useful pursuits. We are a product of our thoughts. As the saying goes, ‘The idle mind is the devil’s workshop’. The mind is made for thinking. If it isn’t kept busy with righteous thoughts and useful work, it will inevitably fall into wrong.

Paired with this, we need to strengthen the factors that will prevent one acting in accordance with one’s desires. This can be achieved in a number of ways, here are a few:

1) Strengthening the faith in one’s heart and strengthening one’s relationship with Allah Ta’ala. Belief strengthens the heart and soul, and it helps one to resist temptation. This may be achieved by remembering Allah Ta’ala, pondering on his favours upon us and how we are indebted to him, and through recitation of the Holy Qur’an.

2) Fasting. Denying the body of basic needs from dawn till dusk exercises self-control and willpower. Fasting is considered a way of cooling one’s carnal desires by temporarily depriving the physical body of basic sustenance, a person ideally gains self-control over the appetites, especially carnality.

Fasting should be done on a continuous basis for it to have an effect. You should consider fasting the 13th, 14th, and 15th of every month. Once you are accustomed to this, you may start fasting every Monday and Thursday.

3) Meditating. What we think directly influences how we feel and how we behave. Our mind can be our best friend but also our worst enemy. Meditation in general is the act of relaxing and focusing the mind. In Islamic context meditation or muraqabah, refers to focusing on the divine presence of Allah Ta’ala and creating a constant mindfulness of the hereafter.

Without meditation, we can be carried along by various influences without ever contemplating anything. That is a very dangerous way to live. Living like this, we can easily lose our way in life, going wherever the wind blows us rather than directing our life towards Allah Ta’ala.

Adopting meditation as a regular practice can help one extend worship to a constant activity rather than a fleeting moment and can help a person achieve power of mind, body and spiritual growth. The basis of muraqabah is our knowledge that Allah is always watching us. Consequently, we develop greater attention and care for our own actions, thoughts, feelings, and inner states of being.

In conclusion, we are living in a very challenging society. A society designed to stimulate and aggravate the carnal desires. A society where sexual activity and promiscuity are seen as the norm.

In such a society it becomes all the more important for us to wholeheartedly embrace the guidelines given to us by Allah Ta’ala. If we don’t control our desires, they will control us. Islam does not dismiss our desires, it disciplines them.

If even after adopting the guidelines given by Shariah a person still gets unintentional immoral thoughts, then he will be excused, and these thoughts will be forgiven by Allah Ta’ala. However, if the guidelines given by Shariah are not adopted and a person entertains himself with such thoughts, this will be classed a sin and one will be held responsible in the court of Allah Ta’ala.

May Allah Ta’ala grant us all the ability to protect our honour and chastity. May Allah Ta’ala save us all from the whispers and traps of the devil. Āmeen.

I recommend reading my commentary of ‘Qaseedah Burdah’ for spiritual upliftment and strengthening to overcome one’s desires. This is available online in audio and in book form. (You may access the full version here or the summarised version here)

And Allah Ta’āla Knows Best
Mufti Ebrahim Desai
Darul Mahmood | darulmahmood.net