Question: I once heard the shaykh mention in a talk about Hafiz ibn Hajr Al-asqalani (RA) that there was a monk who accepted Islam because he would do the opposite of what his nafs tells him to do. Is this something Muslims should practice as well?
Answer: The Deen of Islam is a ‘religion of Fitrah’ (a natural disposition) a complete code on the way of life. Allah created man with a nafs, this nafs in its original form expands and gets greedier and greedier when a person succumbs or ‘gives in’ to desires.
Islam teaches man how to channel these desires through a legal way. Eating, sleeping, sexual intercourse etc. are some of the desires of the nafs. Islam encourages us to control them, not let them get out of hand, but Islam does not teach us to quash them out as the monks do.
One Hadith says: “Your nafs has a right over you, your wife has a right over you, your guest has a right over you, your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you, so give each of the rightful ones their rights’
However, sometimes in order to train our nafs, we have to push it as hard as possible. For example if a piece of paper was twisted and you wanted to straighten it, you can keep trying but it won’t happen, until you turn it the other way round completely and then straighten it. Similarly our nafs is twisted and in order to make it straight. We, sometimes have to take it to the extreme.
The nafs of Malik ibn Deenar once desired for meat but he made it haraam upon himself and never looked at it for 30 years. This was to punish his nafs and straighten it.
This explains the ascetism of many mashaaikh. They wouldn’t stop others, but they themselves would be careful. Imam Bukhari (ra) never ate curry for forty years. He would survive on bread and water. Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) gave up mutton for 7 years when he was told that a goat had been stolen in Kufa. He enquired about the lifespan of such a goat and then never ate mutton for 7 years!
Allah ta’ala in his infinite mercy and wisdom shows different people the correct the path through different ways. Some people are shown and hidayah is not written for them so they don’t accept, but others are shown and they accept that guidance straight away.
The case you have mentioned was not mentioned by Hafez ibn Hajar, but rather I read it in a book of Tasawwuf.
The time of Hidayah had come for that Monk, so Allah guided him through that Buzrug.
We are also encouraged to learn how to tackle our nafs and keep it or bring under control.