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Islam and Mysticism: Is ‘Ruh’ Soul? (Part 2)

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

07 July 2017

We have seen in part 1 that Nafs which is often (mis)translated as soul does not mean soul by its primary meaning. It means a living person with a consciousness and feelings and temptations and a conscience which tries to control his errant behaviour. However, approximately three fourths of the translators have translated Nafs loosely as soul, while only a handful translate Nafs with the more precise and appropriate word based on the context of the verse. In this part, we will see what the Quran teaches us about the meaning of Ruh in its verses. While the translators of the Quran often mistranslate Nafs as soul, in common parlance, it is Ruh that is more often understood as “soul”. Let the Quran tell us the precise meaning of “Ruh”

Ruh as Inspiration from Allah

 (17:84) Say: "Everyone acts according to his own disposition: But your Lord knows best who it is that is best guided on the Way."

Allah knows best those who receive guidance and those who reject guidance from their disposition which we have seen is controlled by their Nafs which in turn is controlled by their conscience.

 (17:85) They ask you concerning the Ruhi (inspiration). Say: "The Inspiration (Ruhu) comes by command of my Lord: of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you, (O men!)"

The Quran has come by inspiration to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The verse also says that what has come by inspiration is not all “mystical” knowledge, but only a little. However, another verse 5:3 says “This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion”. The primary purpose of the revelation was therefore to give mankind the complete Deen or the Islamic way of life, while also giving us a little of the “mystical” knowledge on a need to know basis or to the extent we are capable of understanding using similitudes or allegorical language.

(Five translators have translated Ruhi as soul and twenty six as Spirit. Only three have correctly translated it as divine inspiration or revelation).

(17:86) If it were Our Will, We could take away that which We have sent you by inspiration (Awaynā): then would you find none to plead your affair in that matter as against Us,-(87) Except for Mercy from thy Lord: for his bounty is to you (indeed) great.

The inspiration comes only to those who are worthy of receiving inspiration and yet none is truly worthy and it only comes from the great bounty and Mercy of Allah. In this verse, the inspiration is described as Hidayat or guidance.

(17:88) Say: "If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur´an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support.

The reason why no one can produce the like of the Quran is because it has come through inspiration from Allah and no one who is not inspired by Allah can produce anything like it. It is not and cannot be a product of human thought. And what has come through inspiration? The criteria of right and wrong, the moral way of living or Deen-e-Islam, and the means to control the evil temptations of our Nafs, and the guidance to follow the straight path to achieve the status of the contented self well pleased with God and well pleasing to God.

Allah’s Inspiration Can Come to Ordinary People Also

(40:15) Raised high above ranks (or degrees), (He is) the Lord of the Throne (of Authority): by His Command does He send Inspiration (Ruha) to any of His servants he pleases, that it may warn (men) of the Day of Mutual Meeting,-

Allah can guide through his inspiration any person he chooses to.

(Twenty seven translators have translated Ruha as Spirit. Only seven have correctly translated it as inspiration).

(58:22) You  will not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day, loving those who resist Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers, or their kindred. For such He has written Faith in their hearts, and strengthened them with Inspiration (biRuhi) from Himself. And He will admit them to Gardens beneath which Rivers flow, to dwell therein (for ever). Allah will be well pleased with them, and they with Him. They are the Party of Allah. Truly it is the Party of Allah that will achieve Felicity.

The path of gaining knowledge through inspiration of Allah is not closed. The inspired insights may however be limited to the correct understanding of the Quran.

(Twenty eight translators have translated biRuhi as Spirit. Only four have correctly translated it as inspiration or guidance).

Those Angels Who Bring Inspiration from Allah Are Ruh

(26:192) Verily this is a Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds :( 193) With it came down the trustworthy inspiration (Ruhu l-Amin)-(194) To your heart (Qalbika), that you may admonish.

What came to the Prophet’s heart is the Quran by inspiration. Ruhu l-Amin is also understood to mean the angel Gabriel since it was Gabriel who initially came down with the revelations. This is confirmed by the following verse:

(2:97) Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel-for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by Allah´s will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe,-

Ruhu l-Amin is therefore referring to the angel Gabriel

(16:102) Say, the Holy Spirit (Ruhil Qudus) has brought the revelation from thy Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe, and as a Guide and Glad Tidings to Muslims.

Gabriel is also referred to as Ruhil Qudus as in the verse above. Gabriel and perhaps Michael are always mentioned separately either by name or as Ruh and never with the rest of the Malaika (Angels).

(2:98) Whoever is an enemy to Allah and His angels and messengers, to Gabriel and Michael, - Lo! Allah is an enemy to those who reject Faith.

70:4) The angels (l-Malāikatu) and the Spirit (Ruhu) ascend unto him in a Day the measure whereof is (as) fifty thousand years:

(78:38) The Day that the Spirit (Ruhu) and the angels will stand forth in ranks, none shall speak except any who is permitted by (Allah) Most Gracious, and He will say what is right.

(97:4) Therein (Lailatul Qadr) come down the angels and the Spirit (Ruhu) by Allah´s permission, on every errand:

The Ruhu in these verses mean Gabriel.

Birth of Jesus and Adam with the Ruh of Allah

Jesus fashioned a bird from clay and breathed into it and it came alive with Allah's permission. The word Ruh is not used in the verse describing the “creation” of a bird by Jesus. What was breathed into the bird was the breath of life similar to how we resuscitate a person who has stopped breathing.


Adam's creation is described similarly except that what was breathed into him has been called Allah’s Ruh:


(15:29) "When I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and breathed into him of My Rūī, fall ye down in obeisance unto him."


 32:9 (Ruhihi), 38:72 (Ruhi),


So also the birth of Jesus which is similar to that of Adam except that Jesus had a mother.


4:171 “Messiah Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word (Kalimatuhu), which He bestowed on Mary, and a Ruh (un) proceeding from Him.


See also 21:91 and 66:12


Jesus was conceived by the word (command) of Allah and came alive by the breath of life (Ruh) proceeding from Allah.


The Ruh of Allah is not simply breath but also inspiration as we have seen. Adam did not go through the stages of conception in a mother’s womb, birth and growth into adult hood. He was created adult with the developed faculties of an adult without going through a learning process. That is the function of Ruh here. He was an inspired being without going through a long learning process. So also Jesus, although he was born a child but could speak even as a just born baby. He was similarly inspired by the Ruh of Allah without going through a learning process. Jesus apart from being born “inspired” was further strengthened during his lifetime by Ruhul Quddoos which is Gabriel. See verses 2:87, 2:253, and 5:110.


We have seen that Ruh is inspiration from Allah which is sent to whomever Allah pleases. It also refers to the Angels of Allah such as Gabriel who bring Allah’s revelations by way of inspiration or guidance to the heart or mind. No verse on death talks of Ruh being taken away and no verse about resurrection say that the person’s Ruh is put back into his body. We will explore this in the next part. Ruh being inspiration or guidance can be given only to a living person. Ruh is also most definitely not “soul”.

Islam and Mysticism: Is ‘Nafs’ Soul? (Part - 1)

URL of Part One:,-new-age-islam/islam-and-mysticism--is-‘nafs’-soul?-(part---1)/d/111786

Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to


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