The Mysteries Of The Soul
[Holy Quran, Surah Al-Isra 17:85]
The majority of Islamic scholars agree that nafs (soul) and ruh (spirit) are two names for one in the same thing, and as such are interchangeable. You will find throughout the Qur’an and the Sunnah the term ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ used intermittently. Some scholars of Hadith hold the opinion, that the ruh is other than the nafs , but the nafs, which is in the form of man, is dependent on the ruh for existence.
Mans nature (i.e. nafs) is filled with vanities, desires and passions. It is the source of trials and afflictions, and there is no enemy more hostile to him than his own nafs. Thus, the nafs wants and loves nothing other than the things of this world, while the ruh longs for the Hereafter and invites to it.
The Souls Form
According to Ibn al-Qayyim and affirmed by Ibn Abul-‘Izz al-Hanafi, we find their description of the “souls” form described and explained as follows:
“The spirit is an entity which differs from the physical, tangible body. It is a higher type of luminous (or light-like) being, alive and moving, and it penetrates the limbs, circulating through them as water circulates throughout the petals of a rose, as oil circulates throughout the olive, and as fire circulates throughout the burning embers of coal.”
Related by Ibn Abul- ‘Izz al-Hanafi in ‘al Aqeedat at Tahawiyyah
Descriptions of the spirit as “light”, it’s mode of penetration of the body, and it’s shape cannot be proven by the Qur’an or the Sunnah. These descriptions can only be considered conclusions based upon their own understanding of the “proofs”.
The Sunnah is replete with description of the state and the nature of the soul. These Hadith substantiate the view held by dependable scholars:
An example of the physical and psychological punishment awaiting the disbeliever’s occurs in the following portion of a long, authentically related Hadith:
“….The Angel of Death says: “O you foul soul, come out to the anger and wrath of your Lord” The soul inside the disbeliever’s body is overcome by terrible fear (and does not want to deliver itself up), whereupon the Angel of Death violently pulls it out like multi-pronged skewers, being yanked out of wet wool – tearing with them the arteries and nerves..”
Related by Bukhari
It is also narrated in an authentic Hadith Um Salamah reported:
“Allah’s Messenger (saws) entered upon Abu Salamah (i.e. his corpse), whose eyes were wide open. The Prophet (saws) closed the lids and then said: “When the Ruh (spirit) is taken out, the eyesight follows it (i.e. watches it ascend).”
Related by Ahmed and Muslim
These Hadith indicate in two ways that the soul is indeed a form. First of all, something must have form in order to be grasped and extracted. And second of all, eyes can only visualize something that has form.
Two Deaths and Two Lives
In the Qur’an Allah (swt) has mentioned two deaths and two lives.
“How can you deny Allah (swt) when you were dead, he gave you life, then he gave you death and he is going to give you life once again and you will come back to us.”
Al Baqarah 2:28
“….The kafir will say on the day of judgment -Oh Allah, you have bound us to die twice, and you gave us life twice, and now we admit our sins, so is there any way out for us?…..”
The first death is the state of the soul when it was first created. Allah (swt) creates first of all from the sperm, it turns into ‘Alaqa’ (leach like substance), then the ‘Mugarah’ (little piece of flesh), and when it is in the shape of a fetus (after 120 days), the soul is breathed into it. This is the moment when life begins. When the soul leaves the body (when death occurs), this is the second death and then Allah (swt) gives them a new form and this is the second life.
This life now is the most important one, because what we do in this life, determines what happens in the next.
A third of our life is spent in sleeping. While we are sleeping our souls leave our body.
“Allah (swt) takes souls at the time of their death and (the souls) of those that do not die, during their sleep. He retains those souls for which he has ordained death, whereas he releases the rest for an appointed term.”
The soul can experiences pain and emotions and we know this by the fact that we dream.
The Prophet Muhammad (saws) said;
“The clearest among you in his dreams are the clearest among you in his faith. If you speak the truth all the time, then your dreams will be true, but if you speak lies all the time then your dreams will be false.”
“If you could see, when the wrongdoers taste the pangs of death, and the angels stretch their hands out (saying), “Deliver up your souls. This day you will be awarded a degrading punishment.”
Here it is stated that death is painful for the disbeliever’s. Although, they are ordered to surrender their own souls to the angels, they are unwilling; therefore, the soul must be forced out as it does not wish to meet its punishment.
The term “akhriju anfusakum” used in this Qur’anic verse literally mean “expel” or push out your souls, indicating that the soul becomes a separate entity from the physical body.
The Meetings of Souls
Souls of the Dead Meeting with Each Other
The souls of the dead may be divided into the following two categories:
1. Favored souls (i.e. those of pious believers)
2. Punished souls (i.e. those of the sinful believers and disbeliever’s)
The souls of the second group are confined to places of punishment and are too preoccupied with the torments of the grave to be able to meet or visit with each other. However, the blessed and favored souls of the pious believers are free to roam and meet. They may visit and discuss with each other their previous existence on earth. In the barzakh every soul will be with companions of like nature. (refer: Ibn al-Qayyim’s Kitab ar-Ruh page 28)
The following Hadith is a direct reference and clear proof that , in general, the souls of pious believers are able to meet and converse with each other.
Abu Hariarah (raa) reported that the Messenger of Allah (saws) said:
“Verily, the soul of the believer (after death) soars up to the heavens, whereupon the souls of other believers come to it, seeking news about those they know from the people of the earth.”
Related by Muslim, Bukhari and Ahmad
Souls of The Dead Meeting with Souls of The Sleeping
Since the souls of the living (which are sleeping) and the souls of the dead can roam in the spiritual world – for they are not tied to their earthly bodies – it is certainly possible that they meet and converse. This deduction is confirmed by the majority of dependable Qur’anic commentators, foremost among them; Imam Ibn Jareer at-Tabari and Ibn Katheer.
Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Allah takes the souls at the time of death and (the souls) of those that do not die during their sleep. He retains those souls for which He has ordained death, whereas he releases the rest for an appointed term.”
Ibn al-Qayyim mentions two view points regarding the tafseer on this verse. The first view is there are two points in time at which Allah takes souls: death and during sleep. Death may occur during sleeping or at other times. The soul taken at death is “retained” soul referred to in this verse. The “released” soul is that which is taken during sleep and is returned to its respective body upon awakening.
The second position in regard to this verse is that both the “retained” soul and the “released” one are taken during sleep. Then those who have completed there specified period of life are retained, while those who have not completed their time are returned to their bodies. This view suggests that the verse refers to only souls that die in their sleep and the souls which are returned to their respective bodies upon awakening, and does not mention the “retained” souls that die at times other than during sleep.
When I was researching this topic: I found it very hard to get information from the Qur’an and Authentic Sunnah of the Prophet (saws)
I think an appropriate way to finish is to re-quote the ayah from the beginning of this paper:
“And they ask you (O Muhammad) concerning the Ruh (the spirit): Say: “The Ruh (the spirit): its knowledge is with my Lord, And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given but a little.”
For further reference please refer to: Mysteries of the Soul Expounded by Abu Bilal Mustafa al-Kanadi