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The Journey of the SOUL


Sheikh Suhaib Hassan Abdul Gaffar


Throughout history, man has been fascinated by all aspects of the unseen. He has especially attempted to explore and understand the phenomenon of the soul - that mysterious power which activates the human body. Many questions were asked, but only a few answers were available. During the lifetime of the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihe wa-sallam) the Jews of Medina sent their allies, the Makkan infidels, to the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihe wa-sallam) to ask about the soul. In reply to their questions, the following Qur'aanic verse was revealed:

“They ask you [O Muhammad (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam)] concerning the Ruh (Soul). Say: 'It is one of the things, the knowledge of which is only with my Lord. And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given very little.”  

[Soorah Al-Israa (17) :85]

Because so little knowledge was available, most Muslim scholars considered any discussion concerning the soul to be 'taboo' and so this avenue of knowledge remained almost closed within scholastic circles. The most famous of the few work written on this subject was entitled "Kitab Al-Ruh" by Ibn Al-Qayyim.' Contrary to his normal approach of scholarly research, guided by the Qur'aan and authentic Sunnah, in this book he relied heavily on weak and spurious reports attributed falsely to the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihe wa-sallam) by transmitters such as Ibn Abi Al Dunya and Abu Nu'aim. Later scholars argued that Ibn Al-Qayyim was too great a scholar to have written a book so largely based on fabricated narrations, and so concluded that he could not have been the author. Others argued that he must have written it before he met the great author and teacher, Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya, who had a profound effect on him and shaped his later works, which were always based on the Book of Allah and the authentic Sunnah.

In my short and humble contribution to the subject of the Soul, I have endeavored to rely on authentic sources alone. Due to the nature of this topic, I seek Allah’s forgiveness for any deviation from the truth on my part and I pray to the Almighty to accept this meager effort. And may Allah shower His blessings upon our Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihe wa-sallam) and his progeny.

Suhaib Hasan (Safar 1416 AH)

Chapter 1

 Four Worlds

“They ask you [O Muhammad (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam)] concerning the Ruh (Soul). Say: 'It is one of the things, the knowledge of which is only with my Lord. And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given very little.” 

[Soorah Al-Israa (17) :85]

The soul is a creature of Allah. It is blown into every human being when it is just a fetus of 120 days old, it remains in contact if not inside the human being throughout its life on earth, and at the point of death it departs from the body to reside in the heavens. Like everything else in the universe it is a creation of Allah, but as the above Qur'aanic verse informs us, mankind has been given only limited knowledge concerning it. When a body is given a soul, life begins. And when the soul leaves the body, life ends and death begins.

During their journeys through this universe, the soul and its body travel through four different worlds:

1. The womb - where the soul joins its body.

2. This world -  where we all live for a limited period only.

3. The grave - a ‘Barzakh’ period.

4. The Hereafter - The final destination of all human beings.

Each world is greater than the last, and the final world of the Hereafter is eternal and the most important. It is difficult for us as human beings living amidst the hubbub of worldly life to comprehend the sheer futility of this world and the permanence of the Hereafter. Thousands of dead are buried around us every day, but we find it impossible to envisage the new stage of the journey upon which they have embarked. To the living, the grave is simply an empty and dark hole in the ground; to the dead, it is their window into either Paradise or the Fire. And it is precisely because they cannot comprehend the next life that the majority of human beings refuse to believe in and obey Allah.

In this situation, we are like the fetus in the womb of its mother. Consider the unborn child whose only home for nine months is a dark and cramped place where it receives nourishment, warmth and space to grow. Suppose we could speak to the unborn child; what would we say when describing the world waiting for it outside? We would talk to it about the clouds, the mountains, the trees and the oceans. We would talk of a spectrum of colors, smells, tastes and textures. We would mention the thunder of trains, the roaring of planes, the speed of cars. We would describe flowers, birds and animals; a world of lush gardens, cascading rivers, valleys and plains. An enormous world of huge deserts, massive oceans and vast landscapes. A bustling world filled with noise, movement and numerous nationalities of people speaking a variety of languages

Would the little infant curled up in it's mother's womb understand the message? Indeed not. The womb is the only place he knows and to imagine the outside world would be beyond his comprehension. In the same way, our life in this world is temporary and like it or not, we will have to leave it to enter the world beyond the grave. Just because we cannot envisage or see the world of the Barzakh does not mean that it does not exist.

Chapter 2 :

What is the Soul ?

The Qur'aan and Sunnah give us only a limited knowledge concerning the soul. From it we can say that the Arabic words 'Ruh' and 'Nafs' are both used, sometimes interchangeably, for the soul. Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim wrote in his scholarly work “Kitab al Ruh”,

"  Ruh is an entity which differs totally from the physical body. It is a subtle, ecclesiastical, enlightened living and moving body which penetrates into the depths of the organs and flows into them like the water in the rose or the oil in the olive or the fire in the coal. As long as these organs remain able to accept the impressions of this subtle body, the 'Ruh' remains attached to these organs and provides them with feeling and movement. But when these organs are spoiled because of the dominance of diseased elements upon it, and they are no longer able to accept the impressions of the soul, it leaves the body and heads towards the world of the souls.  "

There is some difference in the way the words 'Ruh' and 'Nafs' are used. The 'Ruh' is the subtle spirit which resides in the heavens and needs a physical body to carry it on the earth. When this spirit is given a body, life begins and it is described as 'Nafs'. The word 'Nafs' is used in a number of ways by the Qur'aan, all of which imply the meaning of a soul with a body.

1. 'Nafs' meaning "Self."

“You know what is in my self but I do not know what is in Your self” 

(Soorah Al-Ma’ida (5):116)

2. 'Nafs' meaning "Blood".

“The (insect) which has flowing Nafs (blood).”

3. Nafs as a strong force in man, which can push him either towards good or evil. The concept of 'Nafs al Ammara bis Su' ('Nafs' which encourages evil) and 'Nafs al Lawwama' ('Nafs' which blames) and 'Nafs al Mutmainna' ('Nafs' which is contented) are discussed in the next chapter.


Two deaths and two lives

The Qur'aan mentions two deaths and two lives given to us by Allah

“How can you reject faith in Allah, seeing that you were dead and He gave you life. Then He will cause you to die, then He will bring you to life, then to Him will be your return.” 

(Soorah Al-Baqarah (2): 28)

“They will say: Our Lord, twice have You given us death and twice have You given us life…"

(Soorah Al Mumin v 11)

When the soul is first created it has no physical body and is considered to be a dead creature. In this state it is referred to as 'Ruh', and this is the first death as even death is created by Allah.

“He is the one who created Death and life in order that He may try which of you is best in deeds , and He is the Exalted, the Forgiving.” 

(Soorah Al Mulk (67): 2)

The Qur'aan also tells us that all the souls of mankind were created before the creation of Adam and were asked to testify to the Lordship of Allah.

“When your Lord drew forth from the loins of the children of Adam their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves: ‘Am I not your Lord?’. They said, ‘Yes, we do testify.’ This lest you should say on the Day of Judgement: ‘We were not aware of this.’ “

 (Surah Al A’raaf v 272)

The first life begins when the soul is breathed into an embryo in the womb of its mother, and now the soul is referred to as 'Nafs'. The word Nafs is also used for ‘blood’, and so women who are in a state of post-natal bleeding are known as 'Nufasaa’. As long as blood surges healthily through the body, there will be life in that body.

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihe wa-sallam) said:

“Indeed the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s belly for forty days in the form of a seed, then he is a clot of blood for a similar period, then a morsel of flesh for a similar period. An angel is then sent to him who blows the breath of life into him...” 

(Saheeh al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Scholars of Islam have concluded from this hadeeth that because the angel of life blows the soul into the fetus when it is 120 days old, abortion on very strict medical grounds is permissible only before the fetus is 4 months old. Once life has been blown into the fetus it becomes a living creature and to terminate its life is murder.

The second death occurs when the soul leaves the body at the end of its appointed time on earth.

“Every Nafs (soul) shall taste death...” 

(Soorah Aal Imran (3): 185)

The Nafs dies and is buried, while its soul soars up to the heavens. That is why the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihe wa-sallam) taught us: 

"At death, the eyes follow the departing soul, so close the eyes."

The second life will be the eternal life beginning on the Day of Judgement when the bodies will be resurrected and their souls will be blown into them once again.

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