EGO AND CONSCIENCE

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | Principles of Life | Al-Risala, June 1987

From the Quran we learn that man is born with two distinct and often opposing faculties: Nafs Ammara (12:53) and Nafs Lawwama (75:2). In today’s terminology, they are more familiar to us as ‘ego’ and ‘conscience’ respectively.

In normal circumstances, one’s ego lies dormant, but when pro­voked, the egoistic temperament being one of rebelliousness, leads us into all manner of evils. It has very aptly been said that “when one’s ego is touched, it turns into superego, and the result is breakdown.”

But the side of one’s nature which is ruled by conscience – Nafs Lawwama – is the very opposite because of its inherited function of distinguishing between right and wrong. One whose conscience is truly alive experiences pleasure in doing what is correct, and shame in doing what is wrong.

He is a wise man who avoids wounding the ego of a potential rival. The ego should be allowed to slumber peacefully. It is his conscience which must be aroused, for it is that God-given part of his mentality which, in distinguishing between right and wrong, will never allow the ego to assert itself. When one probes more deeply into the conflicts of modern times, he invariably finds that it is the ego which has been aroused and has run amuck.

According to the Quran, the conscience is the creation of God and, as such, is changeless. We must learn to look upon it, there­fore, as a Master Key. If we succeed in finding it, and using it judiciously, all the doors which seem at the moment to be so irrevocably closed to friendship and cooperation will at once be thrown open to mutual understanding and harmonious social living.