By Abu Bilal Mustafa al-Kanadi.

Extracted with slight modifications from “Mysteries of the Soul Expounded” ©1994 Abul-Qasim Publishing House. Taken from Islamic Psychology Online

An extremely important and highly reasonable question often posed regarding the terms “nafs” and “rûh” is: “Do these terms signify one and the same thing or are they two distinctly different entities?” The majority of Islâmic scholars agree that the nafs (soul) and the rûh (spirit) are two names for one and the same thing. However, others maintain that they are two different entities.[1] The latter is not a tenable position because it lacks clear, unequivocal delineations of these two terms from the texts of the Qur’ân and the sunnah. Rather, it is a result of a misunderstanding of the terminology in these texts and personal conjecture. This is amply illustrated in the following two examples cited in detail by Ibn al-Qayyim.[2]

One group, consisting of some hadîth scholars, jurists and Sûfîs, states that “the rûh is other than the nafs.” Muqâtil bin Sulaymân explains this view as follows: “Man has life [hayâh], a spirit [rûh] and a soul [nafs]. When he sleeps, his nafs – with which he senses and understands things – emerges from his body; however, it doesn’t completely separate from the physical body. Rather, it extends from it, radiating outward like a cable. While both life and the rûh remain in his body (being the two means by which he breathes as well as tosses and turns during sleep), man sees visions by means of the nafs which emerges from him. When he is about to awaken, his nafs returns to him faster than the blinking of an eye. However, if Allâh wills that he die in his sleep, He seizes that nafs which had come out as described.[3]

Another sector of hadîth scholars also holds the opinion that the rûh is other than the nafs but that the nafs, which is in the form of man, is dependent upon the rûh for existence. Man’s nature (i.e., nafs) is filled with vanities, desires and passions. It is the source of his trials and afflictions, and there is no enemy more hostile to him than his own nafs. Thus, the nafs wants and loves nothing other than the things of this world, while the rûh longs for the Hereafter and invites to it.[4]

The two previously stated notions are essentially similar in that they assert that the nafs and the rûh are two separate entities. Other positions exist which are either completely absurd or irrelevant. The absurd views are based on mere personal belief or concepts borrowed from philosophies or teachings foreign to Islâm, such as those stating that the nafs is earthy and fiery, whereas the rûh is luminous and spiritual. The irrelevant theories include the conviction that souls are entities whose nature and reality are known only to Allâh, implying that nothing has been revealed to mankind about them.

In contrast, the correct view, as maintained by the vast majority of Muslim theologians and endorsed by the scholars of ahl as-sunnah,[5] is that the terms “nafs” and “rûh” are interchangeable. However, the term “nafs” is usually applies when the soul is inside the body, and the word “rûh” is used when the soul is apart from the body.[6] Although these terms may be used interchangeably in relation to their essence, the difference between them is merely a difference in attributes and usage. Each one has clearly distinct and restricted applications in certain contexts. For example, the term “nafs” may be used to mean blood as indicated saying, “Sâlat nafsuhu.” (“His blood flowed.”) Since death resulting from the flowing of one’s blood necessitates the exit of one’s soul, blood came to be referred to as “nafs.” Additionally, the term “nafs” may be used to mean “the eye” (” ‘ayn”) – commonly referred to as “the evil eye”. For instance, it is said, “Asâbat fulânan nafsun.” (“So and so has been struck by an [evil] eye.”)[7] Upon occasion, the word “nafs” may represent the self (dhât) as evident in a number of Qur’ânic verses such as the following:

“Send upon each other [anfusikum] a greeting of peace – a greeting from Allâh, blessed and good.”[8]

Just as the term “nafs” has several different connotations, so does the term “rûh.” It is never used to refer to the physical body (badan) alone or to the soul when it is inside the body. Rather, it has various other usages in Arabic language and in religious literature.[9] In the following words of Allâh to His Messenger (S), it is used to mean revelation, specifically, the Qur’ân: “And thus We revealed to you a spirit [i.e., the Qur’ân] by Our command.”[10]

In other places in the Qur’ân the word “rûh” is used to designate Angel Jibreel, whom Allâh entrusted with the conveyance of divine revelation. For example: Verily, this [Qur’ân] is a revelation of the Lord of the Worlds brought down by the trustworthy spirit [i.e., Jibreel].” [11]

The various forces and senses contained in the human body are also spoken of as “spirits.” Thus it is said, “ar-rûh al-bâsir” (“the seeing spirit”) and “ar-rûh as-sâmi'” (“the hearing spirit”) and so on. However, these are called “spirits” only by convention. These senses are extinguished upon the death of the physical body, and they are different than the rûh, which does not die or disintegrate.

Finally, the term “rûh” is sometimes used in an extreme restricted sense – to designate the spirit of faith which results from one’s knowledge of Allâh, from turning to Him in repentance and from seeking Him with love and aspiration. This is the spirit (i.e., consciousness of God) with which Allâh strengthens His obedient, chosen servants as stated in the following verse: “For those, Allâh has written faith upon their hearts and strengthened them with a spirit from Him.”[12]

In this manner, knowledge is a “rûh” (“spiritual force”), as is sincerity, truthfulness, repentance, love of Allâh and complete dependence upon Him. People differ in respect to these types of spiritual forces. Some are so overcome by them that they become “spiritual” beings. Thus it is said, “So and so has spirit.” Others lose the power of such spiritual forces, or the greater portion thereof, and thus become earthly, bestial beings.[13] About them it may be said, “So and so has not spirit; he’s empty like a hollow reed,” and so on.

Authentic traditions from the Prophet (S) clearly establish that the rûh and the nafs are essentially one and the same thing. The following narrations, which are two different versions of the same incident, will clarify this point beyond the shadow of a doubt. They explain the manner in which rûh/nafs departs from the deceased person’s body upon death: Umm Salamah reported Allâh’s Messenger (S) as saying: “When the rûh is taken out, the eyesight follows it.”

Abû Hurayrah reported that the Prophet (S) said: “Do you not see when a person dies his gaze is fixed intently; that occurs when his eyesight follows his nafs [as it comes out].” [14]

Clearly, since the word “rûh” was used in the first narration and the word “nafs” was used in the second, the two terms are, in essence, interchangeable.[15]


[1] See Ibn Al-Alûsî’s Jalâ’ al-‘Aynayn, pp. 142-143 and as-Safârînî’s Lawâmi’ al-Anwâr, vol. 2, pp. 31-32.

[2] For a more detailed account of various contradictory opinions, see Kitâb ar-Rûh, pp. 296-297.

[3] Paraphrased from Ibn al-Qayyim’s Kitâb ar-Rûh, p. 296.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Kitâb ar-Rûh, pp. 294-297 and Jalâ’ al-‘Aynayn, pp. 142-143.

[6] This occurs temporarily, during sleep; completely, at death; and throughout the various states encountered thereafter, such as in the grave, in Paradise, etc.

[7] See Lane’s Lexicon, vol. 2, p. 2828.

[8] Sûrah an-Nûr, 24:61.

[9] See at-Tahâwiyyah, pp. 444-445 and Kitâb ar-Rûh, pp. 295-296.

[10] Sûrah ash-Shûrâ, 42:52.

[11] Sûrah ash-Shu’arâ’, 26:192-193.

[12] Sûrah al-Mujâdilah, 58:22.

[13] For more details, see Lawâmi’ al-Anwâr, pp. 31-32; at-Tahâwiyyah, p. 445 and Kitâb ar-Rûh, p. 297.

[14] Both of the preceding hadîths are authentic and were related in Muslim’s compilation. See also al-Qurtubî’s at-Tadhkirah, p. 70.

[15] See also Siddeeq Hasan Khân’s Fat-h al-Bayân, vol. 8, p. 232.



The States of the Self (Chapter 12 of “The Purification of the Soul” © 1993 Al-Firdous Ltd.)

There is agreement amongst those who seek Allâh, despite their different schools and practices, that the self stands between the heart and reaching Him. Only the silencing of the self – by turning away from it and ignoring its whims and overcoming it – can lead you into the domain of Allâh and make it possible to reach Him.

There are two kinds of people: one kind are those whose nafs have overcome them and led them to ruin because they yielded to them and obeyed their impulses. The other kind are those who have overcome their nafs and made them obey their commands.

Some of those who know have said, “The journey of those who seek Allâh ends with them overcoming their selves, because whoever triumphs over his self succeeds and wins, and whoever has his self triumph over him loses.”

Allâh, the Exalted, says: “Then as for whoever exceeded the limits and preferred the life of this world, surely his abode will be the Fire; and as for whoever feared to stand before his Lord and restrained the desires of his self, surely his abode will be the Garden.” (79:37-40)

The self urges you to wrong actions, and to preferring this life to the next life; while Allâh tells his servants to fear Him, and to restrain the self from following its impulses. The heart is torn between these two. It listens to one caller one moment and to the other caller the next. Here lies the source of affliction, and a challenge.

In the Qur’ân, Allâh has described three states of the self: the self at peace, the reproachful self, and the self that urges evil. Accordingly, people have varied in their views as to whether a servant has one self, of which these three states are attributes, or three selves.

The first view is that of the people of knowledge and explanation, while the second has been attributed to the Sufîs. The truth of the matter is that there is no contradiction between the two. The self is a single entity as far as its essence is concerned, and is one of three main types, depending on what attributes it has.

The Self at Peace

When the self can rest at peace in the Presence of Allâh, and is made tranquil when His Name is invoked, and always relates all matters to Him, and experiences the intimacy of His nearness, then this is a soul at peace. It is the soul to whom it is said at the time of death: “O soul at peace, return to your Lord, well pleased and well-pleasing. Enter with My servants, enter into My Garden.” (89:27-30)

Qatâda said, “It is the soul of the believer, made calm by what Allâh has promised. Its owner is at complete rest and content with his knowledge of Allâh’s Names and Attributes, and with what He has said about Himself and His Messenger, may Allâh bless him and grant him peace, and with what He has said about what awaits the soul after death – about the departure of the soul, the life in the barzakh, and the events of the Day of Resurrection which will follow – so much so that a believer such as this can almost see them with his own eyes. So he submits to the will of Allâh and surrenders to Him contentedly, never dissatisfied or complaining, and with his faith never wavering. He does not rejoice at his gains, nor do his afflictions make him despair, for he knows that they were decreed long before they happened to him, even before he was created, for Allâh says: “No calamity occurs without the permission of Allâh; and whoever trusts in Allâh, He guides his heart; and Allâh knows all things.” (64:11)

Many of our predecessors have said that such a soul belongs to the servant who, when afflicted by misfortune, knows that it is from Allâh and accepts it and submits to His will.

The peace that comes with ihsân springs from a reassuring familiarity with the decree of Allâh, which is reflected in submission, sincerity and worship. No desire, or will, or force of habit, can be given precedence over His will and command; there can be no attraction to anything that contradicts any of His Attributes; and there can be no desire that opposes His decree – and if ever such a thing does happen to such a person, then he simply dismisses it as the whispering of shaytân. Indeed he would rather fall from the sky than give reality to such a thing within himself.

This, as the Prophet said, is clear and true faith.[1] By it he is saved from the worry that accompanies wrong actions and from anxiety about them, thanks to the peace and sweetness that come with turning to Him.

If he comes to rest in firm belief after having doubted, or in knowledge after ignorance, or in remembrance after being forgetful, or in repentance after rebellion, or in sincerity after showing off, or in truthfulness after deceit, or in clarity after confusion, or in humility of intimacy after the impetuousness of desire, or in modesty after boastfulness, then his soul is at peace.

All this is due to the awareness that frees the heart from idle sleep and lights up the places of the Garden ahead of him – as when a man cried out: O soul, watch out! Help me with your striving in the darkness of the nights, so that on the Day of Resurrection you will win a good life on those heights!

He recognized, by the light of this awakening, what he had been created for, and what he would encounter, from the moment he died to the moment he entered the abode that lasts for ever (i.e. Garden of the Fire). He realised how swiftly this world passes, and how unreliable it is for its children, and how it destroys whoever loves it. So he arose in this light, full of determination and said: “Ah, woe is me, that I was forgetful of Allâh!” (39:56)

So he sets out on a fresh start in his life, making up for what he missed and bringing back to life what had died. Now he faces the pitfalls that he encountered before head-on, and seizes the moment with his newly discovered capacity, which, when it passed him by before, caused him to miss all good.

The he realises, in the light of this awakening and in the light of Allâh’s gifts to him, that he is incapable of measuring and counting Allâh’s blessings, or of repaying his debt. With this realisation, he recognises his shortcomings and faults, his wrong actions and all the bad things he has done, all of his disobedience and the neglect of so many rights and duties. His self is broken and his body is humbled and he approaches Allâh with his head down. He recognises Allâh’s generosity and sees his own misdeeds and faults both at the same time.

He also sees, in the light of this awakening, how precious his time is, and how important it is. He realises that it is capital of his future well-being which must not be wasted, and he becomes so thrifty with it that he only spends it in actions and deeds which bring him nearer Allâh – for wasting time is the seed of failure and regret, and being careful with it is the root of success and joy.

These then, are the consequences of being aware and what increase it. These are the first steps of the soul at peace on its journey to Allâh and the âkhira.

The Reproachful Self

It has been said that this kind of self is the one which cannot rest in any one state. It often changes and alters, remembers and forgets, submits and evades, loves and hates, rejoices and becomes sad, accepts and rejects, obeys and rebels.

It has also been said that it is the self of the believer. Al Hasan al-Basrî said, “You always see the believer reproaching himself and saying things like: ‘Did I want this? Why did I do that? Was this better than that?'”

It has also been said that the self blames itself on the Day of Resurrection: every one blames himself for his actions, either for his bad deeds, if he was one who had many wrong actions, or for his short comings, if he was one who did good deeds.

Imâm Ibn al-Qayyim says that all of this is accurate

There are two types of reproachful self: one that is blameworthy and one that is not blameworthy. The blameworthy self is the ignorant, disobedient self that Allâh and His angels blame. The self that is not blameworthy is the self that blames its owner for his own shortcomings in obeying Allâh, in spite of all his efforts in that direction. This self is not really blameworthy.

The most praiseworthy selves are the ones that blame themselves because of their shortcomings in obeying Allâh. This is the self that endures criticism from others in its quest to please Him, so that no one can find fault with it as regards his worship of Him. This one has escaped being blamed by Allâh.

As for the self which accepts its actions as they are, without criticism, and which does not have to endure the criticisms of others – which means that it cannot be being sincerely obedient to Allâh – this is the self that Allâh blames.

The Self that Urges Evil

This is the self that brings punishment on itself. By its very nature it directs its owner towards every wrong action. No one can be rid of its evil without help from Allâh. As Allâh says of the wife of al-Azîz, in the story of Yûsuf: “And I do not say that my self is free from blame: surely the self urges evil, unless my Lord is Merciful; surely my Lord is Forgiving, Compassionate.” (12:53)

Allâh also says: “And has it not been for the grace of Allâh and His Mercy on you, not one of you would ever have been pure; but Allâh purifies whomsoever He wishes, and Allâh is Hearing, Knowing.” (24:21)

We have been taught the dû’a, “All praise is for Allâh, we praise Him and seek His help and His pardon. We seek refuge in Him from the evil in our selves and from the evil of our deeds.”[2]

Evil lies hiding in the self, and it is this that leads it on to do wrong. If Allâh were to leave the servant alone with his self, the servant would be destroyed between its evil and the evil that it craves; but if Allâh grants him success and help, then he will survive. We seek refuge in Allâh the Almighty, both from the evil of our selves and from our the evil of our deeds.

So the self is a single entity, although its state may change: from the self that urges evil, an-nafs al-ammâra, to the reproachful self, al-nafs al-lawwâma, to the self at peace, an-nafs al-mutma’inna, which is the final aim of perfection.

The self at peace has an angel to help it, who assists and guides it. The angel casts good into the self, so that it desires what is good and is aware of the excellence of good actions. The angel also keeps the self away from wrong actions and shows it the ugliness of bad deeds. All in all, whatever is for Allâh and by Him, always comes from the soul which is at peace.

The self which urges evil has shaytân as its ally. He promises it great rewards and gains, but casts falsehood into it. He invites it and entices it to do evil. He leads it on with hope after hope and presents falsehood to it in a form that it will accept and admire.

The nafs al-mutma’inna, the self at peace, and its angel require the following: unwavering belief in Allâh, the One, without any partner; moral excellence; good behaviour towards Allâh, and parents, and companions, and so on; fear of Allâh; total reliance on Allâh; turning in repentance to Allâh; relating all things to Allâh; drawing near to Allâh; curbing expectations; and being prepared for death and what follows it.

Shaytân and his helpers, on the other hand, require the nafs al-ammâra, the self that urges evil – the opposite of all this.

The most difficult challenge to the self at peace is to free itself from the influence of shaytân and the nafs al-lawwâma, the reproachful self; and if the struggle is won, then it becomes nafs al-mutma’inna. If even one good action were to be accepted by Allâh, one would have success by virtue of it, but shaytân and the nafs al-ammâra refuse to urge the self to do even one such deed.

Some of those who were give knowledge by Allâh and of their own selves have said, “If I could know for certain that even one of my actions had been accepted by Allâh, then I would be happier at the arrival of death than the much travelled wayfarer is at the sight of his family.” Abdullâh ibn ‘Umar said, “If I could know for certain that Allâh had accepted even one of my prostrations, there would be no long lost friend dearer to me than death itself.”

The nafs al-ammâra urges evil and openly opposes the nafs al-mutma’inna. Whenever the latter presents a good deed, the former presents an evil deed in return. The nafs al-ammâra tells the nafs al-mutma’inna that jihâd is nothing more than suicide, a widowed wife, orphaned children, and wasted wealth. It tries to convince the nafs al-mutma’inna that zakât and sadaqa are nothing less than an unnecessary expense and a burden, a hole in your pocket, which will lead you to depend on others, so that you too will then be like the poor.

Bringing the Self to Account

When the self that urges evil overwhelms the heart of a believer, the only remedy is to bring it to account and then disregard it. Imâm Ahmad has related on the authority of Umar ibn al-Khattâb, may Allâh be pleased with him, that the Prophet, may Allâh bless him and grant him peace, said, “The intelligent person is the one who brings his self to account and acts in preparation for what lies beyond his death; and the foolish person is the one who abandons himself to his desires and cravings and expects Allâh to fulfil his futile wishes.”[3]

Imâm Ahmad also related that Umar ibn al-Khattâb, may Allâh be pleased with him, said, “Judge your selves before yourselves are judged; and weigh your selves in balance before you yourselves are weighed in the balance. When you are brought into account tomorrow, it will be much easier for you if you have already brought your selves to account today – so do so, before you come to the Final Gathering for: ‘On that Day you will be exposed – whatever you have hidden will no longer be hidden.’ (69:18)”[4]

Al-Hasan said, “A believer is responsible for his self, and he brings it to account in order to please Allâh. Judgement will be lighter on the Day of Judgement for the people who brought their selves to account in this life, but it will be severe for the people who did not prepare for it by bringing their selves to account beforehand.”

A believer is distracted by something that he likes, so he says to it: “By Allâh, I like you and I need you, but there is no means by which I can have you, so you have been kept from me.” When whatever it is, is out of his sight and beyond his reach, then he returns to his senses and says, “I did not really want this! What made me preoccupied with it? By Allâh, I shall never concern myself with it again!”

The believers are a people who have been prevented through the Qur’ân from indulging in the pleasures of this world; it comes between them and what might destroy them. The believer is like a prisoner in this world, who tries to free himself from its shackles and fetters, placing his trust in nothing in it, until the day he meets his Creator. He knows full well that he is accountable for everything that he hears, sees and says, and for everything that he does with his body.[5]

Mâlik ibn Dinâr said, “May Allâh grant mercy to a servant who says to his self, ‘Aren’t you such and such? Didn’t you do such and such?’ Then he rebukes it and puts it in its place, and disciplines it and restrains it in accordance with the Book of Allâh, Mighty and Glorious is He, and becomes its guide and master.”

It is undoubtedly the responsibility of anyone who believes in Allâh and the Day of Judgement, and who wishes to keep his affairs in order, to make sure that he brings self to account. He must control what it does and what it does not do, even its most insignificant activities, for each and every breath you take during your life-time is precious. It can be used to acquire one of the treasures which ensure a state of bliss that is everlasting. Whoever wastes it, or uses it to acquire things which may cause his destruction, will suffer great losses, which are only allowed to happen by the most ignorant, foolish and reckless of people. The true extent of such losses will only become apparent on the Day of Judgement. Allâh, Exalted is He, says: “On the Day when every soul will be confronted with all the good that it has done and all the evil that it has done, it will wish that there were a great distant between it and its evil.” (3:30)

There are two ways of bringing the self to account: one precedes action, the other follows it. The first way is the decision that is made when a believer hesitates before acting. This is the moment of evaluation before intention is formed. He does not proceed until he is sure that it is good and sound. If it is not, then he abandons it.

Al-Hasan, may Allâh be pleased with him, said, “May Allâh grant mercy to a servant who hesitates at the point of evaluation, and then if he sees that the action is for Allâh, he carries on with it, but if he sees that it is for something other than Allâh, then he holds back from completing it.”[6]

This has been explained as meaning that when the self first feels like doing something or other, and the servant begins by considering its worth, he first stops and thinks to himself, “Can I do this?” If the answer is no, he will not undertake the action. If it is yes, he will again stop and ask himself, “Is it better for me to do it than not to do it?” If the answer is no, he will abandon it and not attempt it and not attempt to do it, but if the answer is yes, he will then pause for a third time, and ask himself, “Is this action motivated by the desire to seek Allâh’s pleasure and reward, or is it in order to acquire power, admiration, or money?”

If it is the latter that has prompted the idea of action, he will not undertake it, even if it would result in his acquiring those worldly gains which prompted the idea of the action in the first place – for otherwise this would result in his self becoming accustomed to associating others with Allâh, and it would make acting for the sake of something or someone other than Allâh easier for it, and the easier it is to do things for other than Him, the harder it becomes to do things that are intended for His pleasure.

If it is the former that has prompted the idea of the action, he stops yet again and asks himself, “Will I receive help in doing this? Do I have any companions who will help me and come to my assistance if I need their help in undertaking this action?” If he finds that he has no allies to help him, he will hold back from going through with this action, just as the Prophet held back from waging the jihâd against the Makkans until he had enough allies and sufficient forces to ensure success.

If he finds that there is assistance on which he can rely in undertaking the proposed action, the at last he should start doing it, and he will succeed, by the will of Allâh. Failure can only occur if one of these safeguards is lacking, for when they are all combined together they guarantee success. These are the four steps that a servant needs to take in bringing his self to account before he does anything.

The second way is that of bringing the self to account after an action. There are three categories of this:

First, bringing the self to account for an act of obedience in which what is due to Allâh has not been completely fulfilled or done in the best possible way. There are six things that are due to Allâh in acts of obedience:

Sincerity in doing it, devoting it to Allâh only, following the example of the Prophet, paying attention to doing it well, recognising Allâh’s blessings in it, and, after all this, being aware of your own shortcomings in how you do it. A person brings his self to account, but has he given all these prerequisites their due attention and effort? Did he fulfill them in his act of obedience?

Second, bringing the self to account for any action which would have been better left undone than done.

Third, bringing the self to account as to whether or not the intention in undertaking a permitted action was to seek the pleasure of Allâh, Exalted is He, and success in the âkhira, thereby guaranteeing success – or was it in fact to seek the fleeting gains of this life, thereby losing what could have otherwise been gained?

The last thing a person could do is to be inattentive and neglectful in bringing his self to account, by starting out without any preparation, and by treating matters lightly and just muddling along. This will only bring about his ruin. This is the destiny of the people who are arrogant.

Such a one turns a blind eye to the consequences of acting like this and relies on Allâh’s forgiveness. He neglects bringing his self to account and does not contemplate the outcome of his behaviour. If he does not do this, then he easily falls into wrong actions, until he becomes accustomed to them, and then finds it difficult to pull himself away from them.

All in all, the believer should first bring his self to account as regards the obligatory acts of worship. If he finds himself lacking is these, then he should hasten to rectify his situation, either by catching situation, either by catching up with the worship he has neglected, or by correcting whatever he may have been

Next, he should bring his self to account with regards acts which are forbidden. If he finds that he has done any of them, he must quickly turn in repentance, seek Allâh’s forgiveness, and do good deeds in order to eradicate the bad deeds which have been recorded in his record.

Next, he should bring his self to account as regards those matters in which he has been negligent. If he finds that he has been negligent in doing what he was created for, he should hasten to the remembrance of Allâh and drawing near Him with an open heart.

Next, he should bring his self to account for the words he has spoken, for the steps his feet have taken, for the things his hands have grasped, and for what his ears have listened to. He should ask himself, “What did I want this for? What did I do that for? Whom did I do this for? Why did I do it like that?”

He should know that every action and every word are accounted for in two books, one is entitled, “For whom did I do it?”, and the other, “How well did I do it?” The first question is concerned with sincerity, and the second is concerned with the action itself. Allâh, the Exalted, says: “That He may question the truthful about their truthfulness.” (33:8)

If the truthful ones are going to be asked about their truthfulness, and will be judged in accordance with how truthful they were, what do you imagine will be the case with people of falsehood?

The Merits of Bringing the Soul to Account

This involves:

First, identifying the faults of the self. Whoever does not recognise his faults cannot possibly get rid of them. Yûnus ibn Ubaid said, “I know about a hundred of attributes of goodness and yet I cannot find even one of them in my self.”

Muhammad ibn Wasî said, “If wrong actions produced flatulence, no one would have been able to sit in my company.”

Imâm Ahmad wrote that Abû’d-Dardâ’ said, “No man gains full understanding and knowledge unless he detests all the people who are not close to Allâh, and then turns his attention to his own self and detests it even more.”

Second, knowing what rights are due to Allâh. This is important because it makes the servant detest his self and frees him from arrogance and being self-satisfied with his actions. This opens the doors of submission and humility for him, and results in purification of the soul at the hands of his Lord. He despairs for his self and believes firmly that his survival will not be achieved without the forgiveness, generosity and mercy of Allâh. It is His right to be constantly obeyed, remembered and thanked.


[1] Muslim, Kitâb al-Imân, 2/153; related on the authority of Abû Huraira, who said, “Some of the companions of the Prophet, may Allâh bless him and grant him peace, came to him and said, ‘We have found something in our hearts which we are proud to speak about.’ He asked them, ‘Have you really found it?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ Then he said, ‘That is true faith.'”

[2] Sahîh hadîth, Abû Dâ’wûd, Kitâb an-Nikâh, 6/153; Ibn Mâjah, Kitâb an-Nikâh, 1/609.

[3] Da’îf, at-Tirmidhî, Kitâb Sifat al-Qiyyâmah, 7/155; al-Hâkim, al-Mustadrak, Kitâb al-Imân, 1/57.

[4] Ahmad, Kitâb az-Zuhud, 7/156; al-Baghawî, Sharh as-Sunnah, 14/309; Abû Na’îm, al-Hilyâ, 1152.

[5] See Ibn Kathîr, al-Bidâya wa’n-Nihâya, 9/272; Abû Na’îm, al-Hilyâ, 2/157

[6] This saying is supported by a sahîh hadîth transmitted by Muslim, Kitâb al-Imân, 2/18, on the authority of Abû Huraira, who said that the Prophet, may Allâh bless him and grant him peace, said, “Let whoever believes in Allâh and the Last Day either speak good or keep silent; and let whoever believes in Allâh and the Last Day be generous to his neighbour; and let whoever believes in Allâh and the Last Day be generous to his guest.”



By Abu Bilal Mustafa al-Kanadi

Extracted with slight modifications from “Mysteries of the Soul Expounded” © 1994 Abul-Qasim Publishing House

Scholars of various schools of thought[1] differ greatly regarding the nature and essence of the soul (nafs). Is it a part of the physical body or a non-essential characteristic[2] of it? Is it an entity consigned to dwell within the physical body?, or is it an independent essence in itself? Is the nafs the same as the rûh (spirit)? Finally, what happens to the soul upon death? Is it confined to its body and its grave? If not, is it free to move about in the unseen spiritual world and on the earth?[3]

Regarding this subject, leading theologians of various sects have put forward a host of conflicting opinions. It would be beyond the scope of the present work to examine each and every view put forward by the various scholars; however, a brief mention of some of their opinions regarding this issue is necessary. The correct view[4] is given, supported by sound reason and statements from the Qur’ân and the authentic sunnah.

Various Incorrect Theories

According to the theologian, Abul-Hasan al-Ash’arî scholars differed regarding the rûh (spirit), nafs (soul) and hayâh (life force). An-Nadhdhâm, one of the leaders of the Mu’tazilah,[5] is attributed with having said that the nafs is the form of the rûh. He further claimed that the rûh is alive (i.e. animate) and exists independently. In contrast to his view, other scholars alleged that the rûh is a non-essential characteristic of the human being, unable to exist independently of itself. Still others opposed both of these views and claimed that it is not known what rûh is – an essential characteristic or a non-essential characteristic.

The proponents of another theory claimed that man consists of a particular form contained within a physical body, however, they differed as to precisely what this form is. One group maintained that the form consists of four ingredients[6] from which the physical body originates and further develops. A second opinion was that it represents pure blood, free of impurities and contamination. Another view claimed that this form is the animate life in man, the sensual heat which pervades the body. And a fourth group proposed that the form is an essential element which causes all animate, living beings to function in a particular manner[7] yet is not separated from such beings and does not have a different structure. Although there are other opinions[8] defining this form within the physical body, the four previously mentioned views are a sufficient sample.

The Correct View

What is considered as the most accurate view regarding the nafs and the rûh is that of Ibn al-Qayyim[9] which is affirmed by Ibn Abul-‘Izz al-Hanafî in his commentary on al-‘Aqeedat at-Tahâwiyyah.[10] They base their position on various verses of the Qur’ân and the traditions of the Prophet as well as on sound logic and rational thought. According to them, man consists of a spirit and a body together. The spirit is an entity which differs from the physical, tangible body. It is a higher type of luminous (or light-like) being, alive and moving, and it penetrates the limbs, circulating through them as water circulates throughout the petals of a rose, as oil circulates throughout the olive and as fire circulates throughout the burning embers of coal. One may reasonably perceive the soul filling and occupying the body; its form, though non-physical, is molded into the body’s shape.[11]

The soul will maintain its penetration of the limbs of the physical body and continue to affect their sense, movement and will as long as these limbs remain sound. However, if they are overcome [12] and no longer accept the forces enacted upon them by the soul, the soul leaves the body and enters the spiritual world.

Qur’ânic Evidence

Certain circumstances of the human soul are mentioned in various places of the Qur’ân.[13] Two such examples follow: “Allâh takes soul at the time of their death and [the souls] of those that do not die during their sleep. He retains those souls for which He has ordained death, whereas He releases the rest for an appointed term.”[14]

In this verse it is stated that there are only two points in time at which Allâh takes souls: at death and during sleep.[15] When one sleeps, Allâh separates the soul from the body. If He has decreed death for a person at this point, the separation becomes permanent and the body no longer functions. In the case of one for whom death has not been decreed at that time, the soul taken during sleep is returned to its respective body upon awakening. However, the soul for which Allâh has decreed death need not necessarily be taken during sleep but may be taken at a time other than sleep.

“If you could see when the wrongdoers taste the pangs of death and the angels stretch their hands out, [saying], ‘Deliver up your souls. This day you will be awarded a degrading punishment.’ “[16]

Here it is stated that death is painful for the disbelievers. Although they are ordered to surrender their souls to the angels, they are unwilling; therefore, the soul must be forced out as it does not wish to meet its punishment.[17] The terms “akhrijû anfusakum” used in this Qur’ânic verse literally means “expel or push out your souls,” indicating that the soul becomes a separate entity from the physical body.

Evidence from the Sunnah

The sunnah is replete with descriptions of the state and nature of the human soul. These hadîths substantiate the view held by the dependable scholars of ahl as-sunnah. An example of the physical and psychological punishment awaiting the disbelievers occurs in the following portion of a long, authentically related hadîth: “The Angel of Death.[says], ‘O you foul soul, come out to the anger and wrath of your Lord.’ The soul inside the disbeliever’s body is overcome by terrible fear [and does not want to deliver itself up], whereupon the Angel of Death violently pulls it out like multi-pronged skewers being yanked out of wet wool – tearing with them the arteries and nerves.”[18]

It is also narrated in an authentic tradition: Umm Salamah reported: “Allâh’s Messenger entered upon Abû Salamah [i.e. his corpse], whose eyes were wide open. The Prophet closed the lids and then said, ‘When the rûh [spirit] is taken out, the eyesight follows it [i.e., watches it ascend].’ “[19]

These hadîths indicate in two ways that the soul is indeed a form. First of all, something must have a form in order to be grasped and extracted. And second of all, eyes can only visualize something that has a form.[20]

In another narration the Prophet described how the believer’s soul comes out of the body: “The Angel of Death comes to the [dying] believer, sits at his head and says, ‘O you good soul, come out and receive your Lord’s forgiveness and pleasure.’ Then the soul flows out effortlessly just as water flows from the mouth of a waterskin.”[21]

It is related in the same hadîth that as the soul is being carried up through the skies, the angels ask, “Who is this?” This question reaffirms the soul’s separate existence from the body. The angels would not pose such a question unless they had seen a distinct form.

In the following hadîth also affirms that the soul separates from the body: Abû Hurayrah narrated that Allâh’s Messenger said: “When the soul of the believer comes out [of its body], two angels receive it and rise with it towards the heavens, whereupon the inhabitants of the heavens say, ‘A good soul has come from the earth. Allâh has blessed you and the body which you used to occupy.’ “[22]

The Arabic statement “kunti ta’mureenah” (“you used to occupy”) suggests that the soul inhabited the body, filling and possessing the whole of it. The soul’s dwelling within the body and departure from it clearly confirms the soul’s own entity.


[1] Not the four famous schools of fiqh (jurisprudence) but rather leading scholars and thinkers who represent various unorthodox sects, such as the Mu’tazilites, Rafidhites and philosophers. They have expressed various incorrect views and opinions on this and other subjects of ‘aqeedah.

[2] In Arabic, ‘aradh. According to the terminology of the philosophers, it refers to things which cannot exist independently, like color, smell, length, etc.

[3] See Kitâb ar-Rûh, p. 272.

[4] It is “correct” in the sense that it is not contrary to the beliefs of ahl as-sunnah, literally, “the people of the established way or path” (those who sincerely and firmly adhere to the Qur’ân and the authentic sunnah as their complete way of life). Indeed, there is little authentic information about the rûh. Referring to the rûh Allâh says in the Qur’ân: “And you have not been given knowledge except for a little.” Sûrah al-Isrâ’, 17:85. (ed.)

[5] A misguided sect which introduced speculative dogmatics into Islâm. The school of thought is characterized by a slanted, so-called “rationalistic” approach to matters of faith. They interpret clear texts of the sharî’ah – those from the Qur’ân and the sunnah – in such a manner as to coincide with their preconceived notions based on what they termed “sense.” Ibn al-Qayyim has aptly refuted their views and those of other who have been influenced by philosophical thought foreign to Islâm. Whoever wishes to delve deeply into this aspect is referred to his celebrated treatise, Kitâb ar-Rûh, pp. 266-293, where he meticulously details his refutation with logic and reasoning.

[6] There is a philosophical view which claims that the human body originates from earth, air, fire and water. However, as mentioned in the Qur’ân and authentic sunnah, man originates from clay (i.e., earth).

[7] See al-Ghazâlî’s treatise on the soul, Ma’ârij al-Qudsfee Madârij Ma’ârifat an-Nafs, pp. 27-35.

[8] Mentioned and refuted by Ibn Taymiyyah in Majmû’ al-Fatâwâ, vol. 3, pp. 30-35 and vol. 9, pp. 279-302.

[9] See his famous treatise dealing with the circumstances of the souls of the living and the dead, Kitâb ar-Rûh, pp. 249-250.

[10] See pp. 443-444.

[11] Descriptions of the spirit as “light,” its mode of penetration of the body, as well as its shape cannot be proven by the Qur’ân or the sunnah. As such, these descriptions can only be considered conclusions based upon their own understanding of the “proofs.” (ed.)

[12] Physical accidents, diseases or disorders may destroy the sound, physical harmony and delicate balance of the body’s functions, causing a person to die (the point at which the soul leaves the body). In any case, there need not always be a physical dysfunction for divine forces to cause death.

[13] Ibn al-Qayyim identifies over ninety supporting statements from the Qur’ân, the sunnah and sayings of the companions, which altogether give a complete picture of the nature of the human soul and the conditions which surround it. See Kitâb ar-Rûh, pp. 249-261 for details.

[14] Sûrah az-Zumar, 39:42.

[15] The separation which occurs during sleep is temporary, whereas, upon death, it is permanent. For details, see ar-Râzî’s at-Tafseer al-Kabeer, vol. 26, p. 284.

[16] Sûrah al-An’âm, 6:93.

[17] See al-Qurtubî’s commentary, al-Jâmi’u li Ahkâm al-Qur’ân, vol. 7, p. 42.

[18] The full text is related in the section entitled “The Taking of the Soul and the State of the Grave.”

[19] Authentically related by Ahmad and Muslim.

[20] In his tafseer, al-Qurtubî affirms that the soul has a form. See vol. 15, p. 262.

[21] The full text is related in the section entitled “The Taking of the Soul and the State of the Grave.”

[22] Authentically related by Muslim.



By UmAmir from um Amir Minhaj Al-Muslim

A’ishah (radhi Allahu anha) said: “I heard the Prophet [sallallahu alayhi wa sallam] saying: ‘Spirits are like conscripted soldiers; those whom they recognize, they get along with, and those whom they do not recognize, they will not get along with.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Ahadith al-Anbiya’, Bab al-Arwah junud mujannadah).

Ibn Hajar (May Allah have mercy on him) said in his commentary on the hadîth: “Concerning the phrase ‘Spirits are like conscripted soldiers…’ al-Khattabi said: ‘This may refer to their similarity as regards good or evil, righteousness or corruption. Good people are inclined towards other good people, and evil people are similarly inclined towards other evil people. Spirits feel affinity with others according to the nature in which they were created, good or evil. If spirits’ natures are similar, they will get along, otherwise they will not be on good terms with one another. It could be that what is being referred to is the beginning of creation in the realm of the unseen when, it is reported, souls were created before bodies, and used to meet one another and express their pessimism about the future. When spirits have entered bodies (come to the physical realm) they may recognize one another from the past, and may be on friendly terms or otherwise based on that past experience.”

The phrase “conscripted soldiers” refers to different types or classifications, or groups brought together. Ibn al-Jawzî said: “What we learn from this hadîth is that when a person finds that he feels dislike towards someone who is known to be virtuous or righteous, he should try to find out the reason for that so that he can make the effort to rid himself of something undesirable. The opposite (if a person finds himself liking someone who is known to be evil) also applies.” Al-Qurtubî said: “Although they are all spirits, they differ in different ways, so a person will feel an affinity with spirits of one kind, and will get along with them because of the special quality that they have in common. So we notice that people of all types will get along with those with whom they share an affinity, and will keep away from those who are of other types. [“Birds of a feather flock together” – Translator]. We may also note that within any given group or type, people may get along with some and dislike others, and this is in accordance with issues or qualities that form the basis of love or hate.”

Al-Nawawî said: “With regard to the words of the Prophet [sallallahu alayhi wa sallam] the scholars said that the meaning is groups gathered together, or different types. As for them getting along, this happens because of something in common between them that Allâh has created. It was said that they are similar attributes that Allâh has created in them, or that they were created in a group and then dispersed in their bodies, so people who have similar characteristics will like one another, and those who do not have similar characteristics will not like one another. Al-Khattabi and others said: this getting along with one another has to do with what Allah decreed from the outset about the ultimate destiny of spirits, whether they will be among the blessed [in Paradise] or the doomed [in Hell]. Spirits are of two opposing kinds, and when they meet in this physical world, they will either love or hate one another depending on the way they were created. Good spirits will be inclined towards other good spirits, and evil spirits will be inclined towards other evil spirits. Allah knows best.



By Shaykh Abdur-Razzaak al-Abbaad

Taken from Causes Behind the Increase and Decrease of Eemaan pg.109-111

This is a condemned soul, which Allaah placed inside the individual. It orders him with every evil, invites him to all perils and guides him to every vulgarity.

This is its nature and that is its trait, except for the soul that Allaah grants tawfeeq and which He makes firm and assists. None has been saved from the evil of his soul except by the tawfeeq of Allaah, as Allaah says relating from the wife of al-Azeez:

“And I free not myself (from the blame). Verily, the soul does indeed incline greatly to evil, except when my Lord bestows His Mercy (upon whom He wills). Verily, my Lord is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Soorah Yoosuf 12:53)

Allaah says: “…..And had it not been for the Grace of Allaah and His Mercy on you, not one of you would ever have been pure…” (Soorah an-Noor 24:21)

Allaah also says to the most honorable and beloved creation to Him: “And had We not made you stand firm, you would nearly have inclined to them a little.” (Soorah al-Israa 17:74)

Furthermore, the Prophet (sallallaahu alaiyhi wa salam) used to teach them (i.e.., the people) the ‘Speech of Need’ (Khutbah al-Haajah): ” All praise is for Allaah; we praise Him, seek His aid and forgiveness. We seek refuge with Allaah from the evil of our souls and from the wickedness of our actions. Whosoever Allaah guides, then none can misguide him and whosoever Allaah misguides, then none can guide him…” (related by Aboo Daawood)

Thus, evil is concealed within the soul and it necessitates actions of evil. If Allaah lets the servant have his own way with his soul, he will perish at the evil of his soul and the evil actions that it sanctions. If Allaah on the other hand, grants the servent tawfeeq and assists him, he will deliver him from all of this.

Allaah has made in contrast to this soul, a soul that is content. If the soul that constantly commands evil urges the servant with something, the content soul prohibits him from it. The person at times obeys this soul, and at other times obeys the other; he himself is one of the two that is prevalent over him.

Ibn al-Qayyim, may Allaah have mercy upon him, states: “Allaah has assembled two souls: a soul that greatly orders evil and a soul that is content, and they are hostile towards one another. Whenever one diminishes, the other strengthens. Whenever one takes pleasure in something the other suffers pain as a result of it. Nothing is more difficult for the soul that constantly encourages evil than performing deeds for Allaah and preferring His pleasure to its own desire and there is nothing more beneficial to it than Allaah. Likewise, there is nothing more difficult upon the content soul than performing deed for other than Allaah and that which the incentives of desire bring about, and there is nothing more harmful to it than desire…. and the war is continuous, it cannot come to an end until it completes its appointed time from this world.”

Hence, there is nothing more harmful to a person’s eemaan and religion than his soul that constantly commands evil, whose standing and description is such. It is a primary reason and effective and active constituent that weakens eemaan, unsettles it and impairs it.

As such, it becomes imperative for the one who seeks to safeguard his eemaan from diminution and weakness to tend to the matter of calling his soul to account, admonishing it and to increase in censuring it, so that he can deliver himself from its adverse and devastating consequences and ends.

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