Prayer Time

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The topic of Soul – Ar–Ruh – is often a subject of discussion and people have many questions about it. I am going to explain it in both Arabic and English to inform you exactly where Islam stands on these questions. While it is frequently mentioned that Christianity and Judaism have been corrupted by beliefs and practices, which are not part of religion, Islam is presumed to have remained free of such accretions. However, there are a lot of what can be called religious books, which are full of myths that are completely un–Islamic.

What is the Soul and what is its definition? No one knows the definition of Soul. The Qur’an talks about the Soul but the interpretation of that verse differs from one scholar to the other. The verse [17:85] says:

وَيَسْـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلرُّوحِ ۖ قُلِ ٱلرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّى وَمَآ أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ ٱلْعِلْمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا

“They ask you, Muhammad, about the Soul (Ruh). Tell them: ‘This is confined to the knowledge of God. Whatever knowledge you have been given about that is a very little portion.'”

Some scholars say the word Ruh in this verse does not mean Soul but it means the Qur’an. And when you ask them how they arrived at that conclusion, they say the Qur’an is called Ruh in the Qur’an itself. [An–Nahl, 16:2:

يُنَزِّلُ ٱلْمَلَٰٓئِكَةَ بِٱلرُّوحِ منْ أَمْرِهِۦ عَلَىٰ مَن يَشَآءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِۦٓ أَنْ أَنذِرُوٓا۟ أَنَّهُۥ لَآ إِلَٰهَ إِلَّآ أَنَا۠ فَٱتَّقُونِ

 He causes the angels to descend with this Ruh, bestowed at His behest upon whomever He wills of His servants: “Warn all human beings that there is no deity save Me: be, therefore conscious of Me.] In this regard it has no connection with the Soul.

Another being identified with the term Ruh in the Qur’an is the angel Gabriel who came with revelations to the Prophet:

عَلَىٰ قَلْبِكَ لِتَكُونَ مِنَ ٱلْمُنذِرِينَ نَزَلَ بِهِ ٱلرُّوحُ ٱلْأَمِينُ

“The Ruh came with the Qur’an directly to your heart so you will be one of the warners” [Shu ‘arā, 26:194]. So the word Ruh could have several meanings but the definition of the Soul, as we understand it, eludes us.

When the ulama (religious scholars) talk about the Soul, they talk about its characteristics only; they do not talk about what it is. Some scholars say it is like the water in a rose or a flower, it gives it life. Others nowadays offer an analogy with electricity in a wire – if there is electricity flowing in the wire it is said to be live, if not the wire is dead. How do we know if it is live or dead? We know it only through its manifestations: if it shocks you or, by pushing a button, a light comes on, we then know it is a live wire. But the Soul, per se, no one has been able to define it until now and the field is wide open for more thinking; it is not closed. We are urged to seek knowledge about the Soul. We may not reach our goal but we have to try.

And this is the other question: Where was the Soul before it entered the body? Nobody knows. All what we know is that the Soul is the second stage in the creation of a human being. The Qur’an describes it in Sura Al Mu’minūn: Adam was created out of mud. The second generation after Adam is the true creation as we understand it: a sperm deposited in a solid place (the uterus). Then it changes into a germ cell; then this germ cell is transformed into a little ball the size of a morsel. Then a skeleton is formed and then the skeleton is clothed with flesh, then “We establish him as a new creation” – meaning that a Soul has entered that new creation.

Then comes the third question: When the Soul separates from the body upon death where does it go? And what happens to it? This brings attention to some ideas which are common in areas like China and India where they believe in reincarnation. Islam rejects the notion of reincarnation. And neither can it be accepted by logic. Because considering the population of the world today and comparing it with the population of the world one hundred years ago, there has been an increase of about 75%. Then according to the theory of reincarnation there would be a shortage in the number of Souls today.

Al mawt, or death, is a separation of the material element – the body – from the spiritual element – the Soul. The body goes back to the earth from where it came, and the Soul goes back from where it came. The Qur’an says: 20:55:


“From the earth We created you and to it We will return you.” But the Soul, not even knowing what it is, and since it is a secret, we don’t know where it goes.

We sometimes ask the question why we visit the graves?

Some ulama (religious scholars) think that the Soul in certain contexts continues to hear and to observe. The practice of visiting the grave especially after ‘Asr on Thursday and on Friday morning is on the basis of this opinion because some ulama say that the Soul visits the grave in which its body was buried at those times. And those same ulama say that the Soul hears that greeting of “As Salām” and it observes those visitors who offer the greetings. But in the final analysis they say that the place of the Soul is with God and its position differs according to what that person did during his life. These are the ijtehad (research) of the ulama but the Soul is shrouded in mystery and secrecy and it is very hard to discover its secrets though we are urged to seek knowledge about it.

Some people claim that they can bring the Souls of deceased persons to talk to them and even elicit information from them about the Unseen. This is the same idea of enlisting the help of the jinn. Islam refutes all that.

Allah knows best.



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