Revelation of Mystery (Kashf al Mahjub)

Spirit (Ruh روح)

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Chapter XIV (z4)

Spirit (Ruh روح)


The knowledge of the existence of ruh روح (spirit) is obligatory but the intellect is helpless to apprehend its nature. Every Muslim divine and sage has expressed some conjectural opinion in this regard. This was also debated by the unbelievers. Therefore, when the unbelievers of Quraish on the prompting of Jews sent Nadir b. al-Harith to question the Prophet (peace be upon him) concerning the nature and essence of the spirit, Allah in the first place affirmed its substance and said,

وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الرُّوحِ

they ask thee concerning the Spirit (of inspiration)“ then He denied its eternity, saying,

قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي

say: The Spirit (cometh) by command of my Lord:” (Q 17:85).

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

الا رواح  جنود مجندة فا ما تعارف منها ايءتلف وما تنا كرمنها اختلف

“The spirits are a gathered force: those who are acquainted love one another, and those not, remain aloof to one another.”

There are many similar proofs which without touching the nature of the spirit confirm its existence.

Some say that the spirit is that life through which the body lives. This view is also held by a group of scholastic philosophers. According to this view the spirit is such a form which at Allah’s command keeps the body alive, and this is from the class which proceeds conjunction, motion, cohesion and this is similar forms by which the body is transported from one state to another.

The opinion of another group is that the spirit is something other than life but life exists through it, just as the spirit does not exist without body, and that the two are never found apart, because they are inseparable, like pain and the knowledge of pain which cannot be separated from each other. According to this view the spirit like life is also a form.

However, Sufi Sheikhs and most of Sunni Ulama hold that the spirit is a substance, and not an attribute; for so long as it remains in the corporeal body, it continually creates life in the body, and the life of man is an attribute by which he lives, but the spirit is trusted to his body. It is possible that at sometime, spirit may be separated from him while he is still living, as in the state of dream spirit leaves but the life remains. It is impossible that when spirit leaves, the intelligence and knowledge still remain with the body.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) has said that the spirits of martyrs remains in the form of big birds, therefore, it must be a substance and further said that الا رواح جنود مجندة the spirits are a arrayed force, and no doubt force is subsistent. As it is not possible for any form or quality to subsist, similarly form does not stand by itself. Hence, the spirit is a subtle body which comes and goes by the command of Allah.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that on the night of the ascension, he saw Adam, Yusaf, Moses, Aaron, Jesus, and Abraham (may blessings of Allah be on them) in Heaven. Definitely those were their spirits that he saw. If the spirits were form and attribute, it would not stand by themselves so as to become visible, for it would need a locus in substances, and the substances are composed of dense and fine body. When it is lawful to see the spirits, accordingly it is also lawful that they may be in the form of birds or an arrayed force and they move to and fro. Therefore, Hadith and traditions are witness to this and speak on their movements by the command of Allah, as He says,

قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي

say: the spirit (cometh) by command of my Lord:” (Q 17:85).

Here we are at variance with the heretics, who assert that the spirit is eternal and they worship it, and regard it as the sole agent and prudent of things, and call it the spirit of god, and claim that it passes from one body to another. The acceptance of this doctrine is widely spread and is also held by the Christians, though they express it in terms that appear to be in conflict with it. Similarly the Indians, Tibetans, and Chinese, follow this doctrine and is also supported by the Shiites, Qarmathians, and Batiniyan, and is embraced by the two false sects above mentioned.

As regards to the eternity of spirit all these sects base their belief on certain propositions and bring forward proofs in support of their assertion. I ask them that what they mean by eternity. Do they mean the pre-existence of a non-eternal thing, or an eternal thing that never came into being? If they mean the pre-existence of non-eternal thing, then there is no difference between us, for we too say that the spirit is non-eternal and that it existed before the body, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

ان الله تعالي خلق الارواح قبل الاجساد

“Allah created the spirits before the bodies.”

When it is established that bodies are creatures and similarly what is attached to them would also be a creature. The spirit is one of Allah’s creatures, which He joins to another sort of His creatures, and in joining them together He creates life through His predestination, i.e. in creativity, spirit is an article and body another different article, when predestination of Allah’s wills to give life to something, it commands the spirit to join with the body, so it appear in a living body as life. Certainly to consider the movement of the ruh (spirit) from body to body is not right by any means, because, just as a body cannot have two types of life, so it is not possible for a spirit to transport itself in two bodies. Had these facts not been affirmed in Hadith and by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) whose truthfulness is beyond any doubt, and if the matter was considered purely from the standpoint of a reasonable intelligence, then the spirit would have been considered nothing else but life, and that would have been an attribute, not a substance.

If they say that the spirit is an eternal thing that never came into being. In this case, I ask that whether it exists by itself or by something else. If they say that it exists by itself then we ask them, is it the god of the universe. If they answer that it is not god of the universe, then they affirm the existence of two eternal beings, which is totally absurd, for the eternal is infinite, and essence of one eternal being would limit the other. But if they answer that it is the god of the universe, then I say that it is eternal and its creatures are non-eternal. It is impossible that the non-eternal should commingle with the eternal or become one with it, or transmigrate in it, or that the non-eternal should take the place of the eternal or that anything associated with eternal should also become eternal. The union and separation is for non-eternal, therefore, these are homogeneous and Allah be praised He is above of all. And if they say that the spirit does not exist by itself, but by something else, then it must be either an attribute or a form.  If it is a form, it must either be in a locus or not. If it is in a locus, its locus must be like itself, and under such condition neither can be called eternal, and to say that it has no locus is absurd, for a form cannot stand by itself.

And if still they argue that the spirit is an eternal attribute (this is the doctrine of the Hululis and those who believe in transmigration) and call it an attribute of the Truth. It is impossible that an eternal attribute of Allah becomes an attribute of His creatures, for, if it is lawful that His life could become the attribute of His creature, similarly this will also be lawful that His power could become their power, and an attribute stands by its object, and in such condition attribute will be eternal and object non-eternal. Therefore, it is established that the eternal has no connection with the non-eternal, and the doctrine of the heretics who affirm this is false.

The spirit is a creature and is created by Allah’s command. Anyone who holds another belief is in open error and cannot distinguish between eternal and non-eternal. It is not possible that a saint in his sainthood be ignorant of the attributes of Allah. All praises to Allah Who has kept us safe from heresies and dangers, and have bestowed on us intelligence to examine and refute them by arguments, and have blessed us with faith in order that we may know Him. Therefore, such praise for Him which has no limit, for limited praise comparing the unlimited grace carries no value. 

When people who saw only the exterior, heard stories of this kind from theologians, they imagined that this was the doctrine of all aspirants to Sufism. Therefore, because of their misapprehension and shortsightedness, remain ignorant of the beauty and excellence of actual truth and to the loveliness of Divine saintship and to the flashes of spiritual illumination, for they denied the eminent Sheikhs and saints. But this does not make any difference, for eminent Sufis regard popular applause and popular censure with equal indifference.

One of the Sheikhs says:

الرواح في الجسد كالنار في الحطب فالنارمخلوقة و الفحم مضوعة

“The spirit in the body is like fire in the coal. The fire is created and the coal is fabricated.”

Nothing is lawful to be described as eternal except the essence and attributes of Allah.

Abu Bakr Wasti has discoursed on the spirit more than any of the Sufi Sheikhs. He said that there are ten maqamat (stations) of spirits:

-          The spirits of sinners which are imprisoned in darkness and know not what will befall them;

-          The spirits of the pious which are in the heaven rejoice in the fruits of their actions and take pleasure in devotions, and walk thereof by the strength of their obedience;

-          The spirits of disciples, which are in the fourth heaven and dwell with the angels in the delights of veracity, and in the shadows of their good works;

-          The spirits of the beneficent which are in the lamps of light hung with the Throne of Allah, and their food is mercy, and their drink is favor and proximity;

-          The spirits of the faithful which thrill with joy in the veil of purity and the station of erectness (istifa);

-          The spirits of martyrs which are in Paradise in the form of birds, and go where they will in its gardens;

-          The spirits of the ardent which stand on the carpet of respect clad in the luminous veils of the Divine attributes;

-          The spirits of Gnostics which, in the precincts of holiness, listen at morn and eve to the words of Allah and see their places in Paradise and in this world;

-          The spirits of friends which have become absorbed in contemplation of the Divine beauty and the maqam (station) of revelation and perceive nothing but Allah and rest content with no other thing;

-          The spirits of dervishes, which have found favors with Allah in the abode of annihilation, and have suffered a transformation of quality and a change of state.

It is related concerning the Sheikhs of Sufism that they see the spirit in different shapes, and this may well be, because, as it has been said, spirits exists, and a subtle body is must to make it visible. Allah when wills, manifests the spirit to His servants.

I declare that our life is from Allah, and its stability is through Him, and keeping our being alive is the act of Allah in us, and we live through His creation, not through His essence and attributes. The doctrine of the animists is entirely false. Belief in the eternity of the spirit is one of the grave errors which prevail among the people, although being expressed in different ways. Some have named it as soul and shapeless substance, while the other call it light and darkness, and Sufi impostors speak of annihilation and subsistence or union and separation and have adopted similar phrases to  mask their infidelity. But the Sufis abjure these heretics, for they hold that saintship and true love of Allah depend on knowledge of Him, and one who does not distinguish eternal from the non-eternal is ignorant in what he says. The intellects pay no heed to what the ignorant say.

The two reprobate sects about whom I mentioned in the start of the chapter, the detail of their doctrine has been covered in this part and still if someone desire more knowledge of the subject may study my other books on the subject.

Now I unveil the portals of the practice and theory of the Sufis, furnishing my explanation with evident proofs, in order that you may easily comprehend its meaning, and that any skeptic having insight may be led back into the right way, and that I may thereby gain blessing and Divine reward.



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Zahid Javed Rana, Abid Javed Rana, Lahore, Pakistan

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