Preventing Evil Thought Developing into Evil Action

How can I prevent an evil thought develop into an evil deed?

Ibn al Qayyim (رحمه الله) identified five levels by which habits are formed and customs are changed.

The first level is the fleeting thought, when an idea comes to the head, whether it’s a good idea or a bad one. If it’s a bad idea, we try to stop it right there. Allah says,

“When an evil whisper comes to you from Satan, then seek refuge in Allah...”[1]

because that fleeting thought can come from anywhere.  And that’s why Allah is merciful and we are not always accountable for them.

If that fleeting thought is reflected upon, then the next level will becomes a conscious thought, where we start to weigh the pros and cons. The fleeting thought now becomes something we are reflecting on. We begin to think if it’s a good idea, what the benefits are from it, what the pros and cons are. Again, if at that time we seek refuge in Allah, because it’s still in the realm of thought, we can save ourselves from so much sadness, regret etc in our life to come, and these are the easiest places to stop.

However, if we let it go to the level of decision, where we make a decision to do this evil, evil that is based on desires, desires overwhelm our better judgment, we have now reached the critical stage. If we can’t stop it here after having made that decision, what happens is that after having made that decision, Allah will let something happen in our lives to give us a chance not to do it. We make that decision, but something happens.  A phone rings, somebody says something happens where we could have said, “Ah!  I better not do this.”

But when that warning comes and we ignore it, then the next stage is action. We made that decision to do something and we now turn it into action and of course, following that we might regret, we might feel bad etc.

But if we don’t focus on that feeling of regret and turn back to Allah sincerely feeling hurt because we have, in fact, hurt only ourselves. Then, the fleeting thought will come again, it will go through the same process and be back there again and the more times we do it, the more we create new habit, an evil one.


[1] [Qur’an 41:36]

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