Imam Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said that, Shaitan tries to destroy the son of Adam in one of seven phases. Some of them are more intense than others. Shaitan would not try to destroy him in the next phase until he fails to destroy him in a previous one. These phases are:
1st Phase : The phase of disbelief in Allah, His Deen, His perfect attributes, and in what the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) informed us about, and the fact that we will be resurrected.
If Shaitan is successful in misleading the slave in this phase , his enmity towards him would diminish and he would take rest. If the slave succeeds, and survives in this phase , Shaitan would try to destroy him in the next phase .
2nd Phase : The phase of Bid’ah (religious innovation) ; whether it pertains to believing in other than the truth which the Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) was sent with or by worshipping other than Allah; such as worshipping idols, and the like.
Shaitan enjoys that a person succumbs in this phase for Bid’ah conflicts with the nature of the Deen and compels one to reject it. Furthermore, the one who observes innovated religious practices would not repent from his actions; rather, he would invite people to his Bid’ah!
Observing innovated religious practices would compel one to forge lies against Allah and speak without knowledge ; thus it openly clashes with the Sunnah.
Observing minor Bid’ah practices would lead one to observi ng major Bid’ah practices. In this manner, a person would eventually exit the folds of Islam.
Scholars and people of knowledge alone know the real dangers of Bid’ah practices. If a person succeeds and survives in this phase by adhering to the Sunnah, and understanding its texts as the Pious Predecessors understood them, Shaitan would seek to destroy him in the next phase.
3rd Phase: The phase of major sins. If he is able to destroy the slave in this phase , he would beautify the deed that he is doing and probably compel him to say the following: “No sin would harm the Tawheed (creedal belief) as no good deed would benefit a man who has fallen into Shirk (associating partners with Allah).”
If the person is successful and survives this phase, Shaitan would seek to destroy him in the next phase.
4th Phase: The phase of minor sins. Shaitan would compel a person to belittle these sins, by whispering to him: “There is no fear upon you as long as you keep away from major sins … do you not know that the minor sins would be expiated by staying away from major sins?” Shaitan would convince him that there is no harm in doing minor sins, until he regularly practices it .
The person who has done a major sin, and has repented and is fearful of what he has done, would be better off than him; for regularly doing a minor sin would change it to a major sin! Constant repentance eliminates major sins; as no minor sin remains as such when a person regularly does it.
The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “Beware of minor sins ; its likeness is like a people who stopped over in a valley, and the people spread out each bringing a stick, until they made a fire and cooked their bread. Whenever a person practices a minor sin regularly it would destruct him.” (Musnad Ahmed – hadith 22860)
If the slave succeeds and survives in this phase, by being careful and repenting continuously to Allah, and observing righteous deeds, Shaitan would seek to destroy him in the next phase.
5th Phase: The phase of indulging in lawful things within which there is no sin upon its doer.
Shaitan would busy a person by compelling him to indulge excessively in lawful things in order to keep him away from worshipping Allah; he would then lead him to abandoning the Sunnah practices, and later lead him to abandoning the obligatory practices.
If the slave succeeds and survives in this phase by understanding the greatness of acts of worship, Shaitan would seek to destroy him in the next phase.
6th Phase : The phase of busying the slave with deeds which are lesser in reward.
Shaitan would encourage the slave to observe certain acts of worship and beautify them to him, and show him the great reward of doing those acts of worship in order to busy him with it and to keep him away from deeds which are more beneficial .
When Shaitan fails to mislead the slave and deprive him from receiving any reward he tries to deprive him from receiving the full reward. Therefore , he busies him with the lesser rewarding deeds and keeps him away from the greater rewarding deeds, and also keeps him away from the most beloved deeds to Allah and busies him with lesser beloved deed s to Allah.
7th Phase : If Shaitan fails in the above six phases, he would resort to harming the person in any way possible; by summoning his men and followers and riling them against this individual. The Prophets and Messengers were not left unharmed by this. One should bear patiently, for victory and success are tied with patience.
By: Imam Ibnul Qayyim ; From the book: Madarij as- Salikin (pg. 254- 256).