Approaches From The Muslim World to The Existence of Spirit

We do not have exact knowledge about how God informed the previous Prophets of the identity of the spirit. However, the Qur’an contains a specific declaration concerning it: They ask you about the spirit. Say: “The spirit is of my Lord’s Command” (17: 85). That is, the spirit is a conscious entity that issues from the Realm of Pure Divine Commands or the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands.[1]

The earliest Muslim scholars were content with the information given in the Qur’an and avoided going into details concerning the identity of the spirit. The considerations of such Western thinkers as Claude Bernard (1813–1878), Raymond, Spencer, and Hamilton are similar to that declaration from the Qur’an.

The attitudes of the earliest Muslim scholars were free from taking any risks. Just as with the spirit, they did not attempt to make any comments on other allegorical statements of the Qur’an. However, when the legacy of ancient philosophy began to be translated into Arabic and found its way into Muslim minds, “the scholars of later periods”—as they are called in Muslim sources—felt obliged to make explanations and interpretations concerning these statements, including the existence, nature, and functions of the spirit, and what awaits it after the death of its owner in the grave and Hereafter. They tried to correct the wrong concepts that originate from the legacy of ancient philosophy and other trends of thought and religions.

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There were differences of views among those Muslim scholars concerning the spirit. A few approached it from the viewpoint of the atomism of Democritus (455–370 BCE), and there were some among them who thought like hylozoists. Some dealt with the matter like modern physiologists, while others discussed the existence of three souls and three varieties of soul, namely the animal (vital or natural) soul, the vegetable soul, and the human soul, seeming to be followers of Aristotle. There were some theologians who thought that the spirit was a fundamental dimension of the human form; while physicians regarded it, like Galen (129–200/216), as the manifestation of the balance of the four elements or fluids—blood, bile, phlegm, and black bile. Yet others considered it to be a “subtle entity” which is related to the body, like the relation of oil to olives, or the rose oil in roses; some avoided making any comparison or explanation and were content with describing it as “a sensitive, perceiving substance.”

However, the overwhelming majority of Muslim theologians and Sufis have regarded the spirit as a basic, immaterial substance of human existence and nature, attributing human value to its perfection and stressing that while the body decomposes and rots away after death, the spirit remains alive and awaits the Resurrection, to meet either eternal happiness or punishment after the Resurrection. Thus, they have adopted a unique way, different from that of materialists, spiritualists, monists, and followers of reincarnation.

Except for a few who were influenced by Platonic thought, Muslim scholars believe that the spirit was created in time. But there is a difference of views concerning whether the spirit of every person is created before they come into the world, or whether it is created at the time when life is breathed into the embryo in the mother’s womb. This difference of opinion has caused some to argue about whether the Resurrection will be only spiritual or both spiritual and bodily. Despite these differences, all Muslim scholars, philosophers, and Sufis agree on the existence of the spirit, and that it will remain alive after the death of the person by God’s Self-Subsistence causing it to subsist.

Despite following different schools of thought in Islam, philosophers and thinkers such as al-Kindi,[2] Ibn Sina,[3] Ibn Bajja,[4] Ibn Rushd,[5] and Nasiru’d-Din at-Tusi,[6] and verifying scholars such as Raghib al-Isfahani,[7] Sadr ash-Shirazi,[8] Abu Zayd ad-Dabusi,[9] Imam al-Haramayn Juwayni,[10] Imam al-Ghazzali, Fakhru’d-Din ar-Razi,[11] Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Sa’du’d-Din at-Taftazani,[12] Jalalu’d-Din ad-Dawwani,[13] and Imam Sharani unanimously accept that the spirit is the essence of human existence. Now let us examine the ideas of the spirit of the most famous among these thinkers.


  1. Said Nursi writes in explaining this: “The spirit resembles laws (for example, the law of growth in a tree). Both issue from the Realm of Pure Divine Commands and Divine Will. If the law had had consciousness, it would have become a spirit; if the spirit had been without consciousness, it would have become a law.” The Letters, “Epigrams or Seeds of the Truth,” The Light, New Jersey, 2007, p. 447.
  2. Yaqub ibn Ishak al-Kindi (800–873 CE), also known in the West by the Latinized version of his name, Alkindus, was a Muslim Arab philosopher, mathematician, physician, astronomer and musician. He was regarded as the first Muslim peripatetic philosopher, and is particularly known for his efforts to introduce Greek philosophy to the Arab world. (Tr.)
  3. Abu ‘Ali Ibn Sina (980–1037 CE) was a Muslim Persian physician, astronomer, logician, mathematician, metaphysician, philosopher, physicist, scientist, and theologian, known in the West as Avicenna, and the author of some 450 books on a wide range of subjects, many of which concentrated on philosophy and medicine. (Tr.)
  4. Ibn Bajja, Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Yahya (1095–1138 CE) was an Andalusian-Muslim astronomer, logician, musician, philosopher, physician, physicist, psychologist, poet and scientist. He was known in the West by his Latinized name, Avempace. He died in Morocco. (Tr.)
  5. Ibn Rushd, Muhammad ibn Ahmad (1126–1198 CE) was a master of early Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology, Maliki law and jurisprudence, logic, psychology, Arabic music theory, and the sciences of medicine, astronomy, geography, mathematics and physics. He lived in Spain, and died in Morocco. He was known in the West by his Latinized name, Averroes. He has been described as the founding father of secular thought in Western Europe. He wrote about seventy works in different fields of science. (Tr.)
  6. Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan Nasiru’d-Din at-Tusi (1201–1274 CE) was born in Tus, in eastern Iran, and died in Baghdad. He was a prolific writer: an astronomer, biologist, chemist, mathematician, philosopher, physician, physicist, scientist, and theologian. (Tr.)
  7.  Abul-Qasim Husayn ibn Muhammad ar-Raghib al-Isfahani (d. 1109 CE) was one of the most renowned linguists who appeared during the ‘Abbasid period. He made contributions to Qur’anic commentary, ethics, theology, and Sufism. His fame rests, however, on his Mufradat alfaz al-Qur’an, which reflects his exceptional aptitude for subtle semantic analysis and marks an advance in the systematic studies of the Qur’an. (Tr.)
  8. Sadrud-Din Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ash-Shirazi, known as Mulla Sadra (1571–1640 CE) may be regarded as the most important philosopher in the Muslim world in the last four centuries. The author of over forty works, he revived philosophy in Iran. He constructed a critical philosophy which combined Peripatetic, Illuminationist and gnostic philosophy along with Shi’ite theology within the compass of what he termed a ”metaphilosophy.” (Tr.)
  9. ‘Ubaydullah Ibn ‘Umar Abu Zayd ad-Dabusi (978–1039 CE) was one of the most renowned jurists of his time. He lived in present-day Uzbekistan. He had exceptional knowledge about the different views and approaches among the Muslim schools of law. He also wrote on worship, morality, knowledge of God, and training of the self or the soul. (Tr.)
  10. ‘Abdu’l-Malik ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Yusuf, known as Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni (1028–1065 CE) was al-Ghazzali’s teacher, jurist, scholar of the methodology of jurisprudence, and expert in theology. He was born and lived in Naysabur, eastern Iran, and stayed for some four or five years in Makka and Madina. His authority gained him the titles such as “the Glory of Islam,” and “Imam of Imams.” He was the main figure in the Ash’ari school in his time. (Tr.)
  11. Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn ‘Umar ibn al-Husayn Fakhru’d-Din ar-Razi (1149– 1209 CE) was a very famous Muslim theologian, philosopher, and a commentator on the Qur’an. He was born in Ray, now a district of modern Tehran. He died in Herat, in modern Afghanistan. He also wrote on Islamic law, medicine, physics, astrology, literature, and history. His most famous work is at-Tafsiru’l-Kabir (“The Great Commentary on the Qur’an”) known as Mafatihu’l-Ghayb (“Keys to the Unseen”). (Tr.)
  12. Sa’dud-Din at-Taftazani (d. 1390 CE) was a famous scholar of logic, rhetoric, grammar, theology, and jurisprudence of Samarqand during the rule of Timur. His Sharh al-‘Aqaid an-Nasafiyya (“A Commentary on the Islamic Creed by an-Nasafi”) is among the basic works of Islamic theology. (Tr.)
  13. Jalalu’d-Din Muhammad ibn As’ad ad-Dawwani (1426–1502 CE) was a prominent philosopher and theologian from Shiraz. He combined elements of Illuminationist and Peripatetic philosophy and possibly also interests in Ibn al-‘Arabi. His Lawami’al-Ishraq fi Makarim al-Akhlaq (“Lustres of Illumination on the Noble Virtues”) is famous. (Tr.)