What is the Soul?

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SHAFAQNA – There are two words in Arabic: Nafs’ (soul) and ‘Ruh’ (spirit). Some scholars think that both are synonymous; others say that they represent two different things. But then they can not decide what those two things are. Every one defines them in his own way. For our purposes, the two words have been treated as synonymous, because in writings as well as in conversations both are frequently interchanged.

Anyhow, let us find out, ‘what is soul?’ Various people have tried to answer this question in various ways. According to the ancient Greek philosophers, the spirit is the steam produced in the heart, which flows in the body with the blood. In their view, the soul or spirit was a material thing. They called it ‘Ruh-e-Hayawan‘ (the spirit of life); it was neither eternal nor everlasting. It just vanished when death came.

The same, more or less, is the view of the atheists. They believe that life is just a development of matter; soul or spirit has no independent identity and death means the final end of life. In ‘God: An Islamic Perspective”, it has been explained that if this view were correct then “the universe would have been without life” because ”matter has no life” and “it could not give to universe what it did not possess itself”

According to Hinduism, the soul is eternal. It has not been created by God. They say that matter and spirit both are self-existent and eternal like God. God’s only function, according to them, is to transfer a soul from one body to another. Here the readers should be reminded that, according to the proofs given in ‘God: An Islamic Perspective’, nothing except God is eternal and self-existent: and to believe in more than one eternal is ‘Shirk’ (polytheism) which has been proved to be baseless and just a fantasy of idle minds.

We started this chapter with the question, “What is Soul?” But are still talking about ‘what the Soul is not?’ This process of elimination should gradually lead us to the true answer to our original question.

Soul According to the ‘Sufiya’

Mystics of Islam, who are called ‘Sufiya’, had a belief which was borrowed from Hinduism and Christianity, and was gradually developed in succeeding centuries. They said that soul was a part of God. And not only soul, but every thing was a part of God. When a part separates from “the absolute existence” (i.e., God) it gets different names and labels. And as soon as it relinquishes its separate identity, it again joins God.

They use the example of river and waves. The waves are part and parcel of a river, when they apparently assume a separate identity, they are called ‘waves’; but even then they are no less a part of river. When same waves come down and lose their separate identity, they become, and are called, a part of river. But iri reality, they were river at all times and in every stage, though we failed to realize and appreciate this fact because of ‘optic allusion’ (‘Maya’ in Sanskirt).

This belief of theirs called “Wahdatul- Wujut” (oneness of existence), and its motto is “Home Uust” (Everything is He). They assert that Pharaoh and other people who claimed to be gods were telling the truth; their only crime was that they leaked the secret, and that is why they were condemned.

They claimed openly that every stone, every idol, every animal and, in short, every thing was a part of God. Once a Sufi was sitting in a mosque when a dog entered and passed urine inside the ‘mehrab’ (the niche). The Sufi exclaimed: “Lo! You come into your own house and make it unclean!”

With such generous distribution of godhead’ it was to be expected that many of them would claim to be gods. And they did.

During the heyday of Sufism, this belief served as a screen to hide every type of immorality Quite young initiates were used for homosexuality. The explanation was that it was not the beauty of the flesh they were after, rather they were seeing in it the divine beauty!

There is no need to remind the readers that this idea of ‘universality-of godhead’ was diametrically opposed to the belief of the Unity of God; which is the Foundation of Islam. According to the Muslim scholars, such belief was the worst type of polytheism It is in fact ‘pan-theism’ The idol-worshippers pay homage to a limited number of deities; these Sufis paid homage to every thing in this world, including their own self.

To counteract such belief, the Muslim scholars coined another phrase: “Hame Azusf (Everything is From Him) It showed, in a nut-shell, the Islamic belief that every thing in this world is created by Allah (and it is not a part of Allah). Many scholars, during the heyday of Sufism, felt compelled to use the phrases and language of the Sufis, to make their talks and writings intelligible to the masses.

And, as the majority of those scholars remained aloof from the hocus-pocus of the worldly; affairs, spending their lives in pursuit of religious knowledge and seeking the pleasure of Allah, some people thought that those scholars also were followers of Sufism. But nothing could be further from truth. A person does not become a Sufi just by. renouncing the luxuries of the world, unless he believes in the theory of “Hame Uust”. And no Shi’a scholar was ever accused of such belief.

(it is surprising how with so much prevalence of pleasure and lust going on in the “Khanqahs”, (monasteries of Sufis), the masses still believed that “renouncement of world” was the Speciality”’ of the Sufis).

Soul, According to Qur’an

Leaving aside the theories invented by human minds, let us turn to the Qur’an for guidance.

There is an ‘ayah (verse) in the Qur’an:

“They ask thee concerning the spirit (or soul). Say, the spirit is from the ‘Amr” of my Lord; but you (people) have not been given knowledge but a little”. (Qur’an 17:85).

At First, glance, this answer seems vague. But it does not mean that Allah avoided, the explanation, it just means that those who asked the question were unable to understand the answer. When a 3-year old asks his mother whence his newly-born brother has come, she says that she had brought it from the hospital, or that a stork had brought him into the house. Such evasions are used because the child’s mind is not mature enough to receive the facts.

But in any case, there is a difference between the Creator and the created: Parents may give a wrong answer, Allah cannot. Therefore, we should ponder upon this “vague” answer. Perhaps we may find some explanation behind this very vagueness.

The spirit (soul: Ruh) is from the Amr‘ of thy Lord.” Now, in various Ayats (verses), of the Qur’an, the word Amr  has been used for three meanings :

• Order; Commandment;- Authority.

• Work; Task.

• To create without any matter’
Have mentioned in previous chapters the theories of atheists, polytheists and other groups about the soul. Reading them a person is bound to be puzzled about various aspects of soul

He may wonder whether the soul is self-existent or a created thing. The answer is: It is
the Amr i.e., the work of Allah. In other words’; it is a created thing, not self-existent.
He may be puzzled whether it is a material thing, of is different from matter. Again ‘the answer is: it is the Amr‘ of my Lord, Without any matter
He may be confused by some people’s claim that it was equal to God. This Ayat will guide him to the: fact that it is the creation of my Lord’ and as such can not be equal to the creator nor independent of Him. ‘

In this way this Ayat teaches us that the soul or spirit was created by the order of Allah without any matter. It does not go beyond that, it does not explain the nature of the soul. But we should not be perturbed by this veil of secrecy. After all. we do not know the nature of many things with which we come into contact everyday. We know how electric power has changed the face of the earth and our way of life. But nobody has yet discovered what electricity is. We know how it is produced, but we do not know the thing which is produced. Likewise, magnetism had not been identified yet.

But this ignorance of the nature of the electricity or magnet has not prevented us from taking full advantage of these wonders of creation. Once we know the functions of electricity, the ignorance of its nature can not prevent us from making its full use. Likewise, functions of soul or spirit are known. We should try to improve our spiritual qualities by believing in Allah and obeying His commands.

Let us appreciate that Allah has told us in this Ayat (verse) as much as was necessary for keeping us on the right path. Otherwise, we would have been confused by various claims about soul (which have been mentioned in previous chapters). Now we know that soul is not a development of matter; it is a creature of Allah and not His equal; it is not self-existent. In this way, our faith in the Unity of Creator has been safeguarded. Now we should advance spiritually by taking full advantage of the functions of the soul.

Creation of Souls

Shaykh As-Saduq in his book of creed writes:-
“It is our belief about the ‘Nafs’ (soul) that it is the ‘Ruh‘ (spirit) which is the cause of life; and that the spirits (or souls) are the first creations. As the Holy Prophet has said: “The first thing which Allah created out of nothing were the blessed and pure souls; then Allah made them declare His oneness (Tawheed);and after that He brought into being other creatures.”.

This is in conformity with our belief that the Light of Muhammad (S) and Aale -Muhammad (A) were the First creation. The same idea has been conveyed here using the word ‘Nafs’. So the ‘Nafs’ or ‘Ruh’ is the first thing created, that is the ‘Nafs’ of the

The other souls also were created long before the creation of Adam (A). Shaykh as-Saduq further writes:
“And the Prophet has said, “The souls are like a collection of armed forces, whichever souls knew each other (in that world) are attracted towards each other (in this world) and whichever remained apart and aloof (there) are repulsed from each other (in this life).

“And Imam Ja’far as Sadiq (A) said: ‘Verily, Allah established brotherhood between the Souls in the (world of) shadows, 2000 years before creating the bodies. For this reason, when the Qa’im of Ahlul-Bait (i.e., Imam Mahdi (A)) will appear, he will bestow inheritance of a man to his brother of that world of spirits, and not to the brother by birth’.”

He further writes:-
“And it is our belief about the souls that they are not from the genus of body (i.e., not made of matter); and that they are ‘another creation’, as Allah has said:

” Then we made it into another creation”( Qur’an, 23:12-14).

Shaykh as-Saduq has referred to the following verses:
“We formerly created man of a finer sort of clay; afterwards we placed him as semen in a sure receptacle, i.e., womb of mother; then we made the semen as coagulated blood; and we formed the coagulated blood into a piece of flesh; then we formed the piece of flesh into bones; and we clothed those bones with flesh; then we made it into another creation. Therefore, blessed be Allah, the Most Excellent Creator.”

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