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الْوَسْوَاسِ الْخَنَّاسِ الَّذِي يُوَسْوِسُ فِي صُدُورِ النَّاسِ
al-waswās al-khannās alladhī yuwaswisu fī ṣudūrinnās
The sneaky tempter who puts temptations into the breasts of humans
(Sūrat al-Nās, Verses 4 & 5)
It is clear from verses of the Quran and Islamic traditions that the extent of Shaytān’s influence on man is limited to man’s perceptions, emotions, and feelings. Shaytān does not have any power to compel man or deprive him of his free will. As the Noble Quran has said:
وَمَا كَانَ لَهُ عَلَيْهِم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا لِنَعْلَمَ مَن يُؤْمِنُ بِالْآخِرَةِ مِمَّنْ هُوَ مِنْهَا فِي شَكٍّ
He [Satan] had no authority over them, but that We may ascertain those who believe in the Hereafter from those who are in doubt about it. (Q 34:21)
Shaytān introduces deceptive imaginations and false thoughts in man, which are called satanic insinuations or temptations (waswās). Other terminologies for Shaytān’s activities are also mentioned in the Holy Quran, such as ‘taswīl’ or ‘tazyīn’ meaning to glamorize and beautify, or ‘ighwā’ meaning to lead man astray from the straight path. But in what follows below, we will focus on the first term mentioned in the above verse from Sūrat al-Nās: ‘waswās’ meaning satanic insinuations. A few different types of Shaytān’s insinuations will be mentioned, along with advice about how to counter them.
In terms of beliefs, Shaytān seeks to casts doubt on a believer’s faith. This must be dealt with in a practical and intellectual way. Practically, by remembering Allah ‘azza wajall, seeking refuge in Him, and asking Him for help in resolving these doubts. (See verses 7:200 and 41:36 about the importance of seeking refuge in Allah). In some narrations, reciting the noble invocations: lā ilāha illā Allah (there is no god except for Allah) and lā ḥawla wa lā quwwata illā billāh (there is no power and no strength save in Allah) have been advised as effective means of countering such insinuations (al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 2:424). In addition to this, those afflicted with such doubts must take an intellectual approach by studying Islamic beliefs. In particular, the works of scholars who are well-versed in Islamic philosophy and have provided an intellectual foundation to Islamic beliefs will be of benefit.
It is narrated that a man came to the Messenger of Allah sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam and said, “[Rescue me! Because] verily I have become a hypocrite.” The Messenger of Allah (s) said to him: By Allah! You have not become a hypocrite. If you had become a hypocrite, you would not have come to me and informed me about that which has put you in this doubt and uncertainty. It seems the manifest enemy [Satan] came to you and said, ‘Who created you?’ and you answered, ‘Allah has created me.’ So, he asked, ‘Who created Allah?’ That man replied, “Yes, I swear by He who sent you with the truth, this is the case.” The Messenger of Allah (s) said: Indeed, Satan [first] approaches you through your actions. When he is unable to dominate you through them, he approaches through this channel to misguide you. Therefore, whenever you are afflicted with such a state, remember Allah alone.” (Al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 2:425)
A second type of Shaytān’s insinuations pertain to our actions. This could be in terms of encouraging us to commit sins, or even in terms of making us doubt the validity of our actions. For example, doubts in prayer, or doubts to do with ṭahārah (ritual cleanliness). The solution to such insinuations is to educate ourselves in the laws of the sharī‘ah and then ensure our actions are in accordance with it. This includes the rulings pertaining to one who doubts a lot (kathīr al-shakk). When the merit of a certain action is proven, then one should perform that action without delay. When the ruling of a certain action is conclusively known, then one should not doubt about the manner of performing it.
Zurārah and Abu Basīr asked Imam al-Sādiq ‘alayhis-salām about a person who doubts a lot during prayers … The Imam (a) replied: He should ignore his doubt. And then he continued and said: Do not make Satan accustomed to you by breaking and repeating your prayers, such that he desires you. This is because Satan is wicked, he becomes addicted to that which he is used to. Therefore, each one of you must ignore these thoughts … The wicked Satan only desires to be obeyed. Hence, if he is disobeyed then he does not return to you. (Al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 2:425)
We pray to Allah the Almighty to protect us from the insinuations of our enemy the accursed Shaytān. We beg Him by the right of the noble messenger (s), to strengthen our belief, to increase our adherence to the blessed sharī‘ah, and to give us success in following it diligently until the end of our lives.
Resources: Āyatullāh Muhammad Bāqir Tahrīrī, True Servitude & the Reality of Knowledge (A Commentary on the Narration of ʿUnwān al-Basrī).