What Is the “Spirit”?
Many people, based on hearsay, ask me:
“Even though the Quran does not even provide the Rasul of Allah (saw) with information regarding the spirit, how can you make explanations about the spirit?”
Let us begin with answering this question…
Three Jewish scholars decide to verify the authenticity of the Rasul of Allah (saw) by asking him three questions, one of which is concerning the spirit. Since no previous Rasul has made any explanation regarding the spirit, if Muhammad (saw) does, then we will know he is a hoax, they decide.
So, they ask him, “What is the spirit?”
The Rasul of Allah (saw) answers, “Come back tomorrow, Allah willing, I will answer your question then.”
The next day when they come back the Rasul (saw) recites the verse:
“And they (the Jews) ask you, (O Muhammad) about the spirit. Say, “The spirit is from the command (amr; the manifestation of the Names) of my Rabb. And you (the Jews) have been given little of this knowledge.”
As can be seen this verse directly addresses the Jews who asked the question, not the saints, scholars or the Nabis. This is evident with the expression, “THEY ask you” and “Say” i.e. tell them, the Jews, that they have been given little of this knowledge.
In other words, this verse is saying:
“The Jews, who think everything is composed of matter, who deny what they cannot perceive through their sensory perception, and who deny the Rasul despite the fact that he tells them the truth, have no knowledge of the spirit! They are bound to live with whatever they’ve been given because the doors of mysticism and abstract realities have been closed to them as they are not able to perceive anything beyond their senses! This is also why they refused to accept Jesus (pbuh) who explained ‘the real world is the world of the spirits’. How then do they expect to be given any knowledge of the spirit?”
As such, Imam Ghazali says in the first volume of his collection “Ihya-u Ulumiddeen”:
“Do not assume that the Rasul of Allah (saw) did not know the reality of the Spirit! For, one who knows not his spirit knows not himself! So how then, one who knows not himself, know his Rabb? Just as this knowledge has been disclosed to the Rasuls and the Nabis, it has also been disclosed to some saints and scholars!”
On the topic of Imam Ghazali let us not continue without mentioning two of his works in which he shares invaluable knowledge on the reality of the spirit.
The first is “Mishqatul Anwar” (Lantern of Lights) which covers topics like the reality of the spirit, the Oneness of Allah - that nothing exists besides Allah…
The second is, “Kitab’ul maznun bih ala ghayri ahlihi” which also includes sacred information on the spirit. Here is an excerpt:
“Some of the inquirers have asked us to cast a ray of light on the mysteries of the human soul and the meaning of ‘taswiyah’…
I told them, when matter is fit enough to attract the soul, and consequently the latter enters the former, this entry is called taswiyah. That matter is the refined and specially prepared dust in respect of Adam and sperm in respect of his descendants…
Nafh (breath) here means the result of breathing spirit into man so as to activate the light of the spirit in the sperm
In the same way when sperm is stable and moderate, Allah breathes spirit into it, and there is no change in Allah Himself.
What must not be taken for granted is that the soul comes into existence when the sperm enters the womb…”
“The spirit is not a state of matter, it is not a substance, it does not penetrate our bodies like water filling the contents of a pot. A substance can be divided, whereas the spirit is indivisible. If it were divisible then this would imply that two spirits could be unequal in cognition, i.e. that it would know and be ignorant at the same time which is ridiculously absurd and contradictory.
The human spirit is indivisible - to call it a part is fallacious, since a part belongs to the whole, and here there is no whole and no part. The human spirit is indivisible and it does not occupy space.
The human spirit is not pre-eternal; it is created when matter is fit to receive it. Hence it is a creation. The human spirit comes into existence when the sperm enters the womb, when the sperm is prepared to receive the soul…”
Ghazali shares many such insights on the spirit most of which can be summarized as:
a) The SPIRIT essentially is not a creation, it is eternal, self-subsisting and ONE.
b) The SPIRIT, independent of the human body, is a single force, it is not many. In other words, there is no such and such person’s spirit, ultimately there is only ONE spirit.
c) With the body, the spirit gains certain qualities which stay with the spirit when it leaves the body. Due to these qualities, we may talk about such and such person’s spirit, in this sense the spirit becomes seemingly many.
Another noble intimate of the reality who sheds light on the spirit is Abdulqadir al-Jilani.
Gaws al-Azam Abdulqadir al-Jilani says, in his “Qasida-i Ayniyyah”:
“I blew into him from my Spirit” is a metaphor! O argumentative one, is not the SPIRIT nothing other than the ONE? The ONE is free from entering into something! For there is no other than HIM! Everything is bound by HIS ONENESS! O the One in the guise of multitude! O the Creator of all things! It is the origin of your Essence that forms all things!”
As can be seen, both from Ghazali’s and Jilani’s Works, significant explanations regarding the Spirit have been made in the past.
For those who are interested, in his Perfect Man, Jilani gives extensive information on the spirit in the section on “The Angel called Spirit” and “Ruh al-Quds” known as the “Grand Spirit” in Sufism.
Now let us examine the meaning of the Spirit in modern terms.
The being referred to as the “SPIRIT” is by origin a SINGLE force that comprises the essence of everything.
Everything you know, can think of or beyond your comprehension, is made of this SPIRIT.
The best way to understand this is with this analogy:
“Matter” is composed of atoms. Regardless of what we call it, what name we give it, it is composed of atoms. When we delve into the depths of the sub-atomic levels of the atoms we encounter “energy” …
This energy is an indivisible, infinite force, for it is made of the power of Allah!
In respect to the Absolute Essence of Allah, ‘energy’ is a creation (its existence depends on Allah) and in the past it was called the SPIRIT.
The “Spirit” is the manifestation of the “Power” of Allah and it is also known as the “First Intellect”, “Universal Consciousness” or “Cosmic Consciousness”!
The consciousness within every individual is derived from this Spirit. However, it manifests according to the capacity and capability of the individual.
When “Spirit” reaches various levels of density it takes different forms and shapes thus creating the illusion of multitude!
Essentially, as Jilani also asserts, the Spirit is an Angel. Everything and anything in the corporeal worlds derive its essence from this Angel! It comprises the origin and essence of all things including all other angels!
Think of an exhibition where there are countless objects made of ice… humans, animals, furniture etc… Although they have different shapes and figures and seem to be different objects, essentially, they are all made of the same thing… water, gas (H2O). The essence and origin of all of them are atoms!
Similarly, despite the seeming multitude of forms in this grand exhibition called the universe, the essence and origin of everything is a single force; “energy” which, was referred to in the past as the SPIRIT.
 Quran 17:85