The Concept of Ruh in Islam

Syed Sharfuddin

Man is a combination of two different factors. One factor consists of his biological , mundane and beastly low life. The other factor comprises the metaphysical attributes of his dynamic, invigorating and sublime being. The former state represents his physical dimension; the latter state represents his spiritual dimension. Together, the two combine to make man ‘human’ and the best of creations. Because of these opposing qualities, however, man is capable of falling into the lowest extremes which the Quran calls asfala safileen; and yet he is capable of overtaking the angles in the order of protocol of God’s creation. In this essay, we will try to explore what is Ruh, which represents man’s spiritual dimension. The  expression ‘he’ applies to both genders in the text.

Ruh (translated as soul or spirit) is like a charge that makes an electronic device start up and run. In an electronic device this charge is generated by a battery. The chemical reaction produced by lithium or polymer ions in the battery supplies the required charge to the device. The human brain and heart also need a very mild electrical charge which is supplied by the electrolytes in the human body to auto-function and keep the human body going. When these vital organs cease to receive the electric charge, the body stops functioning and dies. In a human body this charge is produced by Ruh. Every emergency department in a hospital keeps a defiblirator to treat cardiac-arrest patients to revive their heart muscle. When the time of the person receiving the treatment is not up, Ruh is back at work in the human body with the command of Allah. When its time has come, defiblirator does not work.

Ruh has many meanings in the Quran. Ruh is the essence of life with the Will of Allah, whether in the creation of the first man Adam or the children of Adam in the wombs of their mothers; or reviving the dead by Prophet Jesus, son of Mary, on the command of Allah. Ruh is also a light through which Allah gives guidance to His servants (42:52). Ruh is Allah’s help and support to the true believers (58:22). Ruh is the Grace of Allah (12:87). Ruh is also a reference to angel Gabriel who brought the revelation to Prophet Muhammad (26:193) & (2:87). The common thread in all these meanings is ‘energy’ that Ruh brings wherever Allah directs it to go.

Ruh and Nafs are often intermixed to convey the same meaning but there is a fine difference between the two Arabic terms. Nafs is human. Ruh is not spirit. Nafs dies. Ruh does not die. Nafs has a body. Ruh has no form.

We do not know whether or not Allah’s other creatures such as angels, jinn and animals have Ruh. Assuming they all have Ruh, we still do not know whether their Ruh is different from the Ruh of humans. What we know is that Allah created the Ruh (plural arwah) of all humans with His command before the creation of universe and before brining Adam to life with His divine breath in Jannah. Scholars agree that Ruh is not an attribute of God but a creation of God. Ruh does not die when its host human body dies. Ruh will die upon the blowing of the first Trumpet at the end of time and it will come back to life upon the blowing of the second Trumpet on the day of resurrection. The Ruh of every person is different and it will always carry the identity tag of its assigned host body. Ruh has no mass or weight. It does not have the power to feel or act freely, but it has more knowledge and has the capacity to move instantly between cosmic dimensions with the permission of Allah. Compared to Ruh, a human being, on the other hand, has body mass and weight; he has feelings and freedom to act, but his knowledge and faculties are subject to the laws of  his limited three-dimensional perception of the universe.

Our knowledge of Ruh is not perfect and we know about it only what Allah has allowed us to know. We can be wrong in our assumptions about Ruh, but we try to reflect on it in order to discover the purpose of Allah’s creations and our place among them  in this life and beyond it. We seek God ‘s help in the pursuit of knowledge that is beneficial to us in understanding our place in  this world and preparing for the hereafter, not the knowledge that takes us away from the Truth and makes us arrogant and rebellious leaving us at the mercy of our whims and desires and captives of our untrustworthy imagination.

A discussion of Ruh is not possible without bringing together commentaries on Ruh from theology and philosophy, for neither approach can fully explain fully what is Ruh and where it came from. Theology alone is not sufficient to explain Ruh because Allah has given us only limited knowledge of Ruh (17:85). Similarly, philosophy alone cannot explain it because Ruh cannot be measured by logic or the laws of nature. Even with the aid of philosophy and theology a discussion on Ruh is not fully exhaustive and is most likely to enter the sphere of speculation and deduction.

The primary sources for Muslims to understand Ruh are the Holy Quran and Hadith. (Dalhat, 2015). The difference, where it exists, is in the acceptance of Hadith and the interpretation of the Quran. The complimentary material for understanding Ruh is provided by science and philosophy but these are less reliable because they change over time as our knowledge expands.

The word Ruh is used in Islamic resources to refer to an unseen force that is created by Allah by His command to charge humans and bring them to life. We do not know whether angels have a similar or different relationship with Ruh. Our knowledge of angels is as limited as that of Ruh. We know angels are made of intense light which Quran calls Noor. Scholars have said that Ruh is also made from Noor but from a much finer light compared to the angels. As we do not know the time of the creation of angels, we also do not know when Ruh was created. We do not know whether jinn have Ruh. Probably they do, because they live like humans and beget children and grow old and die. We know from the story of the creation of Adam in the holy Quran that Allah breathed His Ruh into Adam to bring him to life (Surah Saad, Verse 72). We also know from the Quran that long before the creation of Adam from clay, Allah had created the Ruh (plural) of all humans and questioned them: “Am I not your Lord?” They had replied: “Yes, indeed.” (Surah Al-Araaf, Verse 172).

We do not know whether Ruh is one indivisible entity such as Prophet Jesus as one man or it is divided into many entities such as the children of Adam who make up billions of human beings who have been or will be born, live and die on planet. Since we know that each person is responsible for his own destiny and deeds, we can say that Ruh is not one monolith but many, as many as there have been, are and will be human beings, even though the source of Ruh may be the same matter when Allah created it first with His command.

The verses of the holy Quran give an idea of Ruh’s functions. Commentators of the holy Quran, who include ancient and modern scholars, say that the Ruh al Quds referred to in the Quran is in fact the Holy Spirit or Gabriel, the mighty angel who acted as the medium between Allah and his Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, to reveal the Quran in full and teach him the divine religion. Gabriel also serves as a link between Allah’s throne (Arsh) and the earth. Another function of Ruh is revelation with the Command of Allah. A third function of Ruh is to bring life to humans. In this role, Ruh lives inside our body corpus by the Will of Allah when we are alive, and leaves the body corpus when we are dead, whether when we are virtually dead in our sleep or biologically dead with no coming back to life. In the either state of death, virtual or real, Ruh remains attached to us in some way to be reunited with our corpus when we awake either from our routine natural sleep or when we will rise from our graves at the time of resurrection. Each person has his own designated Ruh which is not interchangeable with other persons. (Ibn Qayim, 1982).

Pagan Explanations
Greek philosophers believed that body and soul existed together in parallel dimensions. As opposed to the human body which had earthly needs, the human spirit was responsible for the moral quality and intense emotions of the person it was associated with. There was, however, a difference of opinion among them about what happened to the spirit after a person died. They could not reach a consensus whether after a person died, his spirit returned to the gods or got reincarnated in another body or remained in a state of suspension as the shadow of the deceased. The Mayas, Pharaohs of Egypt and ancient Chinese, Indian and African religions subscribed to the latter theory of spirits of the dead being alive and interacting with the dead in the hidden world.

Judeo-Christian Explanations
After the Greeks, the philosophers of twin Abrahamic religions Judaism and Christianity added to the earlier philosophical explanations of spirit, the divine concept of Ruh being a sign of God, taking it to the next level. The Hebrew word Ruah sounds similar to its Arabic equivalent Ruh. The Spirit of Yahweh in Judaism or the concept of the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost in Christianity refers to the free and unhindered spirit of God that permeates everything. The Holy Spirit in Christianity forms an inseparable part of the Trinity. In contrast to that, the Holy Spirit in Islam (Ruh Al Quds) refers to Gabriel as God’s messenger, as well as a force which exists with the command of God.

Islamic Explanation
The Islamic understanding of Ruh rejects the classical philosophical explanations which have roots in paganism or physical science. In the Islamic belief, Ruh is a divine breath that permeates a human corpus and brings it to life with the Will of Allah (Surah As-Sajda, Verse 9). Ruh departs from the human corpus temporarily when a person is asleep but remains indirectly connected with it. Ruh leaves the human corpus permanently at the time of a person’s death and does not return to its host dead body in this world. In this state, the Ruh remains remotely connected with the corpse and interacts with it at the time of the human-angel question-answer session after the burial of the dead body, for a dead body on its own cannot hear nor can answer anyone. Some scholars go a step further than this and that the Ruh of prophets (ambia), truthful (siddiqueen), martyrs (shuhada) and righteous (saleheen) remain present with their dead bodies in their graves. They support this premise on the basis that martyrs are alive and are well-provided with Rizq (Surah Ale-Imran, Verse 169).

When a human being is asleep, his five senses become dormant. The sleeping person does not see, smell, taste, touch or hear anything, or if he hears anything, these are only meaningless sounds which his brain cannot process except as a dream far removed from reality. His sensual faculties return to him when he is awake. Similarly, when a person dies, these faculties are permanently lost. The human body which depended on its brain, ears, nose, skin, eyes and mouth to provide information also starts to decompose and perish when Ruh departs from it after death. This phenomenon of the entry and departure of Ruh from the human corpus illustrating the states of life and death is mentioned in Surah Az-Zumar, Verse 42, as a manifestation of the Will of God.

The exact nature of Ruh’s connection with the human corpus after death is not known to anyone, nor can it be tested physically because Ruh is an unseen, unfelt and uncaptured and unmeasured force or energy. There is also no way to test if Ruh has a mass or speed. It is not subject to the forces of solar radiation, inter-planetary magnetism or cosmic energy. Ruh is not exactly rays of light which travel in space and can be detected through vibrations or sound bites. This limitation has not prevented scholars from offering interpretations about the state of spirit of the deceased. Some scholars state that after a person dies, his Ruh leaves the body corpus and does not return to it until resurrection day, except for a brief period when Munkir Nakeer question the dead person in his grave after burial. Ruh alone cannot have feelings of pain or pleasure unless it is with the body. When a person is alive, Ruh is unfamiliar with his sensory feelings even though it is present in the body of its host. When Ruh (plural) of all persons will be reunited with their bodies, and humans will be destined to either paradise of hell after their accountability, Ruh will not feel the pleasure or pain of those abodes. Instead, it will be the bodies of those persons, or Nafs to be precise, which will feel the joy of paradise or the torment of hell. It is for this reason that in the holy Quran and Hadith, the rewards or punishment of one’s deeds are described in sensory terms such as comfortable or horrible abodes, enviable or detestable personal belongings, the quality or opposite of food and drink, and availability or lack of joyous and desirable company.

Some scholars state that after a person dies, his Ruh leaves the dead body and does not return to it until resurrection day, except for a brief period when two angels, Munkar and Nakir (Mubashhir and Bashir) come to briefly question the dead person in his grave when his relatives have left after burial. At this point his Ruh does not enter the dead body but stays close to it to energise him sufficiently to answer the questions of the inquiry angels. According to accounts relating to what happens after death, this conversation will not take long. They angels will ask the dead body who he worshipped, what was his faith and who was his prophet whom he followed. Depending upon the replies of the person and his account of deeds, he will be given the good news or bad tidings about his future life in the hereafter. If he believed in Allah and his messengers and performed good deeds, his grave will be made comfortable with a sight of the garden of Eden. If he was a sinner his grave will be made narrow and a pit of fire will be opened for him to feel the heat and torment till the time of resurrection. Some scholars differ from the return of Ruh to the body in the grave and say that Ruh will not return to its person until the Day of resurrection. No one knows the state of a dead person or his Ruh after death. One can ask why the angels need to do this brief Q&A session anyway.  In my view it is the process of registration of every new soul entering the next world from one state of life to another. This registration is done as soon as a person is alone in his grave, or is separated from his friends and family. Allah knows best if the registration is done by angels in order to assign him a password for his rebirth at the time of resurrection. It is like us registering ourselves on a Web App in order to make our brief profile and retrieve the data when we log into it again. Ruh does not have a form which is subject to the three dimensions of our worldly existence. Free from such restrictions, Ruh can simultaneously exist on earth, in barzakh or in heaven, and move faster than our human thoughts and imagination which are free from the constraints of time and distance.

Different Meanings of Ruh and Ruh Al Quds in the Quran
In the holy Quran Gabriel is mentioned as Ruh al Quds (Holy Spirit) four times in Surah Al-Baqara, Verse 87 and Verse 253; in Surah Al-Nahl, Verse 102; and in Surah Al-Maeda, Verse 110. Gabriel is mentioned as Ruhul Amin (Trustworthy Spirit) once in the Quran in Surah Al-Shuaara, Verse 193. Gabriel is also mentioned as Ruh (without the suffix Al Quds or Al Amin) in nine places in the Quran. These are: Surah Al-Nahl, Verse 2; Surah Maryam, Verse 17; Surah Al-Anbia, Verse 91; Surah Saad, Verse 72; Surah Al-Shüra, Verse 52; Surah Al-Tahreem, Verse 12; Surah Maarij, Verse 4; Surah Naba, Verse 38; and, Surah Qadr, Verse 4.

It is noteworthy that whether Quran mentions Gabriel as Ruh al Quds in relation to Jesus and/or his mother Mary in Surah Al-Baqara, Verses 87 and 253 and in Surah Al Maeda, Verse 110; or it mentions Gabriel only as Ruh in relation to Jesus and/or his mother Mary in Surah Al-Nisa, Verse 171; Surah Maryam, Verse 17; Surah Al-Ambia, Verse 91; and, Surah Al Tahreem, Verse 12, it makes clear that Jesus was helped by Allah through Ruh al Quds/ Ruh in his immaculate conception, as well as after his birth that enabled him to raise the dead, bring birds to life, cure the ill and teach the Gospel. But Jesus was not the son of God, not Ruh al Quds (the Holy Spirit) nor a Ruh (the Divine Spirit). He was a human being and a Prophet of Allah whose birth was as much a miracle as his disappearance with the Will of Allah when the deviant Jews tried him and sentenced him to death on the cross.

In addition to Ruh meaning Gabriel, the Quran also refers to Ruh in other meanings. It is mentioned as the Grace of Allah in Surah Yusuf, Verse 87. It is mentioned as Allah’s command to bring life to humans in Surah Al-Hijr, Verse 29; Surah Sajdah, Verse 9; Surah Al-Ghafir, Verse 15; Surah Al-Mujadila; Verse 22; and Surah Al Asra, Verse 85. Allah’s command (Kun) does not need any time span or medium to be fulfilled (Fayakoon) but Allah has put a mechanism for everything to happen according to the divine order of things. The universe took 6 days to evolve. The earth took billions of years to become habitable for life. A great scholar of Quran, the late Dr Asrar Ahmad described the process of fertilisation of human embryo as an illustration of how the single cell may have evolved on earth after billions of years of its cooling following the big band and the abundance of rains that made life possible on earth. The womb of the mother where a child takes 9 months to be ready to come into this world also shows the divine processes at work even though the Ruh enters the body of the foetus only four months after fertilisation. Allah also has the ability to short cut these processes by his command Kun which can bring Jesus to life without a human father (but still requiring 9 months to grow in his mother’s womb) or split the Nile water to help Moses cross the river unharmed from a powerful army of Ramses II catching up with them from behind (but still requiring Prophet Moses and his followers to make the effort to leave the land of the Pharaoh).

Allah has assigned different roles to different angels to carry out his command. Allah’s angel Gabriel was assigned the role of giving the news of the special birth of Jesus to his mother, Mary; and acting as a messenger of Allah for the revelation of scriptures to the prophets, including Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Gabriel continues to be a link between the earth and the heavens to carry out Allah’s divine Will. Angel Michael is responsible for the rain. Angel Ezrael is the angel of death and is entrusted with the duty to take away the souls of humans at their appointed time of death. It is possible that only one angel is assigned on this duty, as Allah’s creation is beyond our imagination and knowledge. It is also possible that many angles are placed under the command of Angel Ezrael to perform this exclusive function. Allah knows best. Angel Israfeel will blow the first and second Trumpet (Soor) at the end of the hour and at the time of resurrection.

The common thread in the different meanings of Ruh is light which is another name for energy or power. Unlike fire, light is a cool and positive force. It does not burn; instead, it nurtures and generates beautiful colours. It is through Ruh that Allah’s guidance is received; that Gabriel, who is created from light (Noor), is chosen to be a messenger of God’s command; that Jesus in his mother’s womb comes to life outside the set biological phenomenon; and that this positive energy illuminates the hearts of those who have been blessed with the true Faith.

If Ruh is a creation of God, then when does it die.
About the origin of Ruh, scholars overwhelmingly agree that Ruh is the creation of Allah from His divine Will. Ruh is not Allah’s attribute like his other 99 attributable names. If Ruh lives on after the death of its host body and if it freely floats between heaven and earth meeting other Ruh (plural) who are related to the dead person, then a legitimate question arises as to when does Ruh die because all creation is bound to perish except Allah (Surah Al-Qasas, Verse 88). We do not find a direct answer to this question in the Quran concerning Ruh, but there is sufficient information about Ruh’s relationship with its host body in the available literature on Ruh, including its stay in the world of souls, known as Barzakh. (Ibn-AlQayam, n.d.)

The Quran mentions that every living creature will die (Surah Ale-Imran, Verse 185). Some scholars have used hadith to determine the order of the death of humans, jinn and angels at the end of the world. The final hour will come on the first blowing of the Trumpet (Surah Al-Haaqqa, Verse 123) and on the second blowing of the trumpet everyone will be brought back to life (Surah Al-Zumar, Verse 63). Indeed, that day will be very hard for anyone witnessing it (Surah Al-Hajj, Verse 1 & 2). When the first Trumpet will be blown by the angel Israfeel, every living creature including angels, jinn and Ruh (plural) will die except the following: the eight mighty bearers of the throne (Arsh) of Allah; Gabriel (Ruh Al Quds); Michael, Israfeel and Ezrael. To fulfil the command of Allah the next to die will be Gabriel and Michael, then the eight mighty angels who hold Allah’s throne will di. Then, Israfeel will die and then Ezrael will die at the very last, having fulfilled his duty. When no one is left except the Almighty Allah, He will fold the universe and scatter it and resurrect whom He wills. The earth will be changed to another earth and the universe will be ready for a rebirth. With the blowing of the second Trumpet, everyone will rise up and stand before their Lord for accountability and judgement. (Boustani, 2015).

After the divine Judgement has been passed and people have been destined to Heaven or Hell, death will be slaughtered. (Anon., 2020). It is said by scholars that because Ruh is the force that gives the breath of life and is the energy behind human activity, it will stay with its assigned corpus forever, enjoying the life of its good host, the inhabitant of the Paradise or suffering the fate of its bad host, the inhabitant of Jahannam. Allah knows best.

Is Ruh the same everywhere
If Ruh is to be seen as a force, then one can ask why ordinary persons cannot perform the miracles which prophets were able to do in their lifetime. Did they have a different Ruh from other ordinary folks or there was another force which supplemented the force of their Ruh? This question leads one to wonder if Ruh has different potency levels. The Ruh of prophets probably had a much higher potency than the Ruh of pious humans and further down the way, those people who are bereft of faith or are mired in evil deeds may have the lowest Ruh (force) which keeps them alive biologically but beyond that, such disbelievers, including their counterparts in the jinn world, are comparable to animals or even worse than animals. (Surah Al-Arafa, Verse 179). This can be understood by the example of a battery cell with may have different voltage as output power, each more potent, and higher or longer lasting than the other.

We have often heard the expression that someone’s Ruh is dead, meaning that he has no soul and shows no sign of kindness or humility. This leads us to speculate that just as every person is different in his traits and actions, every Ruh that is associated with a person is also different from another Ruh. Together they may form a comity of Ruh, but they are all different from each other as are humans.

Ruh’s relationship with humans and jinn
In this essay we have made some assumptions about the relationship between Ruh and humans. Ruh is the force of life while humans are its object, as commanded by Allah. This force makes humans breathe and act as living beings. Ruh is light and it knows much more than its heavy host corpus, but it is not free to act on its own. Humans, on the other hand, are subject to the laws of gravity and biology and their knowledge is not infinite but they are free to act and chose their path. Ruh’s relationship with jinn is the same as it is with humans. Comparatively, jinn know more than humans but as they too are part of the cycle of birth and death, their knowledge of heavens is also limited (Surah Al-Jinn, Verse 9).

Difference between Ruh and Nafs
Scholars differ on the definition of Ruh and Nafs. Ibn Taymiyah and Ibn Qaiyam said that Nafs is interchangeable with Ruh as the three states of Nafs mentioned in the Quran as Nafs Ammara bis Su (inclined to fall for earthly temptation); Nafs Lawwama (inclined to self-censor after the act), and Nafs Mutmainna (inclined to seek peace after redemption) can also apply to Ruh. Other scholars say that Nafs and Ruh are two different things. Man comes to life when Ruh has entered inside his heart (Qalb). Nafs does not enter nor leave a human corpus because is not spirit or force. Nafs is the name of the state of man when his Ruh is inside his corpus. Nafs is also the heart (Qalb). Nafs is the arrogant ‘I’ or the “self’ inside every person. It is the ego. Arrogance or excess of ego can destroy a person. Iblis had surfeit of it which caused his fall from grace.

Nafs is Arabic also relates to tanaffus which means breathing. Every Nafs has been destined to taste death. In the Quran it says that humans will taste life twice and death twice. Scholars have interpreted that the first life is when a person (baby) is born in this world; the second is when this person (in his prime age of 33) will be reborn on another earth at the time of resurrection. The first death is the foetus in the womb of his mother before Ruh entered it in the fourth month of pregnancy; the second death is when the angel of death will take away the soul from a dying person’s body at the appointed time. Other scholars say the first life and death is when Allah created all humans and their Ruh together and long before the creation of our universe to testify that Allah was their Lord, and then He gave them death. The second life and death is on this earth when human beings are born and die, not all at once but at their appointed time as if marching in a queue. After resurrection, every Nafs shall come heading for himself (Surah An-Nahl, Verse 111). Nafs has been given the liberty to choose between good and evil. It is free to submit to Allah or become a rebel against God.

Nafs cannot exist in a dead corpus, nor can Ruh. Ruh becomes Nafs when it is inside a human corpus as long as it is alive. Some scholars say that Nafs refers to the foul character of Ruh, while Ruh refers to the purified and high moral character of its origin. But it is not a convincing argument that Nafs is bad because the Quran also mentions “Nafs Mutmainna’ which is a reference to a good soul. Al Qurtubi, Ibn Taymiyah and Ibn Qaiyam say that the difference between Nafs and Ruh is that of attributes rather than substance. Nafs occupies the corpus in blood and flesh with heart and mind combined. Ruh, on the other hand, is light, translucent and luminous. Its ethereal substance is neither material nor mundane.

Source of Ruh
Greek philosophers and Christian scholars believed in the pre-existence of Ruh. Muslim scholars such as Al Kindi and Ibn Sina went deeper into this and said that soul pre-existed the creation of Adam, but it was not pre-created in the sense that it existed before Allah’s other creations. Soul is among the creations of Allah (Surah Al-Layl, Verse 13) as Allah alone pre-existed before the creation. Ibn Taymiyah said that Ruh cannot be interpreted as an attribute of Allah. Rather it is a creation of Allah.

Nature of Ruh

Ruh is energy, which can activate human body and deactivate it without any apparent source that can be observed or measured through a physical instrument. Imam Abu Abdullah Al-Qurtubi said Ruh may have a form, but we do not know it. Ruh enters the human corpus through divine breath. “Then He [Allah] moulded him [man]; He breathed from His Spirit [of creation] into him; He gave you [man] hearing, sight, and mind. How seldom you are grateful! (Quran Surah As-Sajdah, Verse 9).

To put this in today’s technology context, Ruh can be understood like the battery of a robot which supplies it with power. Of course, a whole back-up software programme is required to make the robot function properly, which in the case of a human being is the faculty of language, imagination and the complex human anatomy; but what brings the entire project to life is the energy required to reboot this physical system. This battery outlasts the lifetime of the robot. It does not need any recharge or sleep to revive its energy. On the contrary, the robot needs a factory re-set and software update to revive its functionality. During this period of rest/sleep, the robot’s performance is at the lowest as if it has lost power to perform its tasks but when the robot wakes up, the current starts running again, enabling the robot to function as if it was never dormant.

In the human corpus, the equilibrium of four electrolytes, namely, potassium, magnesium, sodium and calcium produces an electric charge through the movement of ions across the myocardial cell membrane of the heart. This enables the heart to continue to receive the electric impulses needed to function healthily. An imbalance of these electrolytes can have detrimental effect on the heart and can result in arrhythmia and cardiac arrest. The same mechanism works in a battery-operated device such as a robot. When the battery stops giving electronic charge to the robot, it stops moving. Human Ruh works on the simple principle. When Allah wants to recall the Ruh from a body He causes the energy source of that body to stop. But when Allah wants a body to come to life, He causes the Ruh to enter in the body by His command and give it life. After a person’s death, the Ruh lives on and interacts with other Ruh (plural) (Shamsuddin Ibn Al-Qayam). We have very little knowledge of the Ruh that sits inside our body. We are unaware what form it has and how long it will stay with us in this world. But we know and feel as an individual self that Ruh is inside us and belongs to us.

Stages of Ruh’s connection with human corpus

The first interaction between the created Ruh and human corpus is when life is breathed into the human foetus four weeks after conception. Scholars are not fully agreed on the exact 120 day of the pregnancy for this calculation, but it is an early stage when the womb starts nurturing the fertilised female egg. The next stage of Ruh’s interaction with the corpus is when a baby is born, and his umbilical cord is cut to make him independent in his intake of food (Rizq). According to Islamic belief, the Rizq is written for every man until his last breath and no one can take it away or add to it.

The next stage of Ruh’s interaction with its host corpus is when it lives inside its host body to keep it active and alive. In this stage, there are two phases: a temporary detachment of Ruh and a final detachment. In the temporary detachment, the Ruh of a person temporarily leaves the body of its host corpus when the person or his Nafs goes to sleep (this can also be extended to mean an unconscious state or a medical state of coma). But in this phase, a fine thread of connection remains between the Ruh and the body such that as soon as a person wakes up, Ruh returns to the corpus immediately. In the second phase of final detachment or death, there is no fine connection between the Ruh and the body. Ruh does not return to the body corpus after it has died. The point when the Ruh is leaving the body permanently in this world is called Sakarat. It is a stage when the body corpus is in distress and feels most uncomfortable, as if it does not want to part with the Ruh or to say that the Ruh does not want to part with the body. At this point the angel of death, Ezrael comes to fulfil his duty and takes the Ruh away from a host body with the Will of Allah. It is believed that if the dying person has done good deeds, his Ruh is taken away smoothly without any resistance put up by the dying body. In reverse, a bad person resists and struggles with his Ruh being pulled by the angel of death because he does not want to die. The final stage of Ruh’s interaction with the corpus is when it will re-enter its assigned corpus when all human beings from Adam to the last man on earth before the final hour will be raised on another earth to account for their actions on the day of judgement.


In the Islamic explanation of the origin of man, Allah made Adam from clay and then breathed His divine spirit to give him life. Man is a combination of two different features. One feature consists of his physical attributes of mundane, dry and low life. The other feature comprises his metaphysical attributes of being dynamic, invigorating and sublime. The former represents his physical dimension; the latter represents his spiritual dimension. Together the two combine to make man human and the best of creations. Because of these opposing qualities, man is capable of falling into the lowest extremes which Quran calls asfala safileen; and yet he is capable of attaining the highest level of spirituality by overtaking the angles in the order of protocol in God’s creation. The Ruh (plural) of all human beings created for taking the pre-universe Testimony before the Lord and the Ruh that was breathed into Adam by Allah at the time of his creation have a direct connection with the past and future. The Ruh of other living beings such as animals have no past memories nor anxiety and no future concerns or hopes.

A good Ruh gets peace only through faith and worship. It seeks to connect to its original source through remembrance of God. A rogue Ruh, on the other hand, which is caught in the corpus of a person who submits to his earthy desires suffers from the burden of his choice. Ruh is energy that gives a human corpus life and movement. It lives with us as our partner and our driving force while we remain firmly in control of our own lives.


References to Ruh in the Holy Quran

Ruh force Allah created to give Life. Then He fashioned them and had a Spirit breathed into them. And He gave you hearing, sight and intellect. Yet you hardly give any thanks. 32:9

And thus, have We inspired in you (Muhammad) a Spirit of Our command. Thou knew not what the Scripture was, nor the Faith. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our servants. And lo! you verily do guide unto a right path. 42:52

The Exalter of Ranks, the Lord of the Throne. He causes the Spirit of His command upon whom He wills of His slaves, that He may warn of the Day of the Meeting. 40:15

He sends down the angels with the Spirit of His command upon whoever He wills of His servants, stating so as to warn humanity that there is no god worthy of worship except Me, so be mindful of Me alone. 16:2

They ask you about the Spirit. Say: The Spirit is by the command of my Lord, and of its knowledge you have been vouchsafed but little. 17:85

And when I have fashioned him and breathed into him of My Spirit, then fall down before him to prostrate. 38:72

O People of the Book! Do not go to extremes regarding your faith; say nothing about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was no more than a messenger of Allah and the fulfilment of His Word through Mary and a Spirit created by a command from Him. So, believe in Allah and His messengers and do not say, “Trinity.” Stop!—for your own good. Allah is only One God. Glory be to Him! He is far above having a son! To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And Allah is sufficient as a Trustee of Affairs. 4:171

Ruh as help and support from Allah

O my sons! Go and search diligently for Joseph and his brother. And do not lose hope in the mercy of Allah, for no one loses hope in Allah’s mercy except those who have no faith. 12:87

You will never find a people who truly believe in Allah and the Last Day, loyal to those who defy Allah and His Messenger, even if they were their parents, children, siblings, or extended family. For those believers, Allah has instilled faith in their hearts and strengthened them with a Spirit from Him. He will admit them into Gardens under which rivers flow, to stay there forever. Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. They are the party of Allah. Indeed, Allah’s party is bound to succeed. 58:22

There is also the example of Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her (womb) through Our Spirit. She testified to the words of her Lord and His Scriptures, and was one of the sincerely devout. 66:12

O my sons! Go and search (diligently) for Joseph and his brother. And do not lose hope in the mercy of Allah, for no one loses hope in Allah’s mercy except those with no faith. 15:29

Ruh as Gabriel

Indeed, We gave Moses the Book and sent after him successive messengers. And We gave Jesus, son of Mary, clear proofs and supported him with the Holy Spirit. Why is it that every time a messenger comes to you Israelites with something you do not like, you become arrogant, rejecting some and killing others? 2:87

The angels and the Spirit descend therein, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees 97:4

On the day when the angels and the Spirit stand arrayed, they speak not, saving him whom the Beneficent allows and who speaks right. 78:38

We have chosen some of those messengers above others. Allah spoke directly to some, and raised some high in rank. To Jesus, son of Mary, We gave clear proofs and supported him with the Holy Spirit. If Allah had willed, succeeding generations would not have fought among themselves after receiving the clear proofs. But they differed—some believed while others disbelieved. Yet if Allah had willed, they would not have fought one another. But Allah does what He wills. 2:253.

And (Maryam) had chosen seclusion from them. Then We sent unto her Our Spirit and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. 19:17.

Say, The Holy Spirit has brought it down from your Lord with the truth to reassure the believers, and as a guide and good news for those who submit to Allah. 16:102.

The Trustworthy Spirit has brought it down. 26:193.

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

And on Judgment Day Allah will say, O Jesus, son of Mary! Remember My favour upon you and your mother: how I supported you with the Holy Spirit, so you spoke to people in your infancy and adulthood. How I taught you writing, wisdom, the Torah, and the Gospel. How you moulded a bird from clay—by My Will—and breathed into it and it became a real bird—by My Will. How you healed the blind and the lepers—by My Will. How you brought the dead to life—by My Will. How I prevented the Children of Israel from harming you when you came to them with clear proofs and the disbelievers among them said, This is nothing but pure magic. 5:110.


Yusuf Dalhat, Concept of Ruh in Islam, International Journal of Education and Research, Vol 3, No 8, August 2015 (pp 431-440); Mahsyar Idris, Analysing the Essence of Spirit in Hadith; International Journal of Philosophy and Theology, Vol 4, No 1, June 2016; Qutballah Rami Al Boustani, The End of Universe Events on the Day of Judgement; Dr Hafiz Ather Hussain Al-Azhari, Maut: The Soul’s Journey After Death, Published by Islamic Centre Leicester, UK; Ibn Qayyam, Kitab Al Ruh; Asim Bin Abdullah, Atbath Iada Ruh, KitaboSunnat Library. 2016; Ibn Taymiyyah, Risalah Fil Al Aql wa Al Ruh;  Syihab al Din Mahmud Al-Alusi, Ruh Al Maani fil Tafseer al Quran al Azim;  Imam Fakhruddin Al Razi, Yasalunaka An Al Ruh;  Imam Al-Qurtubi, Tazkiyah; Ruh Al-Shuyuti, Sharah Al-Sudur







2 responses to “The Concept of Ruh in Islam”

  1. Scroll Down avatar

    I understand that the account of death of angels in different phases after the blowing of the first Trumpet is from Tazkiyatur Ruh by Imam Qurtubi but it is not accepted by all scholars.
    Asif Majeed
    London SW6 1RR, England

  2. Scroll Down avatar

    Once Ruh leaves the body, it cannot re-enter the body again. If Ruh enters the body, the person will be alive again. On the day of resurrection, Ruh will not re-enter the body you have in this world.
    Sajid Khaliq
    Antalya, Turkey

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