Fakhrud-Din ar-Razi About Spirit

Fakhrud-Din ar-Razi, one of the great interpreters of the Qur’an, holds the same opinions about the spirit as other Sunni scholars. However, when he goes into detail, he can be seen to have different, individual views. Even though some think that Imam ar-Razi, like Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni, and Imam an-Nawawi,[1] maintains that the spirit is a refined, transparent substance, like the rose oil in roses, he actually always avoids describing the spirit as something corporeal, no matter how refined and transparent it is, and he stresses its freedom from corporeality. In Ma’alimu Usuli’d-Din (“The Sciences of Religious Methodology”) and Mafatihu’l-Ghayb (“Keys of the Unseen”), he, like Imam al-Ghazzali, emphatically argues that the spirit is the essential reality of humanity, opposing those who claim that the reality of humanity lies in its corporeal existence; he criticizes materialists, spiritualists, and some theologians who were not able to find a proper style in expressing the truths. Razi’s arguments can be summarized as follows:

  • Despite continuous change in the body, the individual nature and identity remain unchanged. Although the body, like a military barracks, is continuously filled, emptied, and refilled, and the particles or atoms that leave it are replaced with new ones, thus undergoing a constant change and renewal, the individuals remain as themselves and, at every instant, perceive themselves as they have always been. This clearly demonstrates that the essential reality of humanity lies in something other than the body, and which does not change through bodily changes.
  • Like Ibn Sina and Imam al-Ghazzali, Imam Fakhru’d-Din ar-Razi argues that even at times when people are lost in something, or completely indifferent to or oblivious of their bodies, they never become oblivious of their identity. This state is described as “something known being different from what is unknown.” This is a self-evident reality, demonstrating that the essential reality of humanity lies in the spirit, not the body.
  • Humanity involves the existence of learning and knowing. Knowledge can neither be obtained nor preserved by the body. Therefore, it is the spirit which forms the essence of humanity.
  • The Qur’an and Prophetic sayings declare that the essence of humanity is the spirit. In the holy Qur’an, God declares, “O you soul at rest! Return to your Lord, well-pleased (with Him and His treatment of you), and well-pleasing to Him!” (89: 27–28), and reminds us that human identity does not consist of only the body. For the address “Return!” is made to the soul at rest, which is dying. This shows that the human identity has an essential element which can receive the Divine address and will return to God after the death of the body.
  • We also read in the Clear Criterion (the Qur’an): He is the All-Omnipotent over His servants; and He sends to you (angel) guardians (who watch over and keep a record of whatever you do). When death finally approaches any of you, Our envoys (the angels assigned to this duty) take his soul, and they do not neglect (any part of their tasks) (6: 61). This means that every person has an essential substance which will be taken and submitted to God following death.
Awareness Man Head Transparency Knowledge Spirit


Based on these and other verses, such as Do not think at all of those killed in God’s cause as dead. Rather, they are alive; with their Lord they have their sustenance (3: 161), which is about the martyrs, and The Fire: they are exposed to it morning and evening (40: 46), which describes the state of the Clan of Pharaoh in the intermediate world of the grave, as well as Prophetic declarations like “The Prophets do not really die; they are transferred from one realm to another,”[2] and “The grave is either a garden from among the gardens of Paradise, or a pit from among the pits of Hell,”[3] Fakhru’d-Din ar-Razi, like earlier scholars who were of the same opinion, confirms both the existence of the spirit and the truth of the life of the grave. According to him, the intermediate realm of the grave is like a waiting room on the way to the Hereafter.

Stressing, like all other Muslim scholars, the existence and immaterial nature of the spirit, ar-Razi is severely opposed to the notion of reincarnation, something which all leading Muslim scholars decisively reject. He regards the arguments of Ibn Sina in its refutation to be insufficient and sets forth new arguments.

Again, like the overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars, ar-Razi believes in the bodily resurrection. That is, all human beings will be resurrected in body and soul in the Hereafter. The following quotation from his illustrious, voluminous commentary on the Qur’an, entitled Mafatihu’l-Ghayb (“Keys of the Unseen”), clearly shows his view:

God Almighty has equipped humankind with an intellect that is able to distinguish good from evil and the willpower to choose between them. He also has warned humankind, which He has created with this nature because of His Justice and Wisdom, against heresy, unbelief, and misguidance. He calls on them to refrain from harming the Prophets, saints, and indeed, all existent beings, and encourages them to do good deeds and attain virtues. A warning and encouragement can be fruitful with the promise of rewards for good deeds and the threat of punishment for evil. However, virtues and good deeds cannot receive their full reward in the world, nor can sins and evils be punished adequately and justly. This concludes that there must be, and is, another realm for the just, sufficient reward and punishment. That realm is the Hereafter.

The human carnal soul continuously drives human beings to satisfy their lusts and desires. This causes a constant conflict between human intellect or reason and the carnal soul. Reason or intellect should be supported in this conflict. Only the Divine promise of reward and the threat of punishment can lead human beings to give such support. But this promise of reward or threat is not completely fulfilled in this world. Therefore, there must be another realm where this Divine pledge will be completely fulfilled. In fact, the Divine pledge is essentially made with respect to that other realm, which is the Hereafter.

Both human reason and the Wisdom of God, the All-Wise, perceive it as necessary for good and evil to be treated differently. However, we cannot observe that this different treatment is fully made in this world. Many an evil person lives happily and comfortably, while numerous virtuous people suffer great hardship and deprivation. The Justice and Wisdom of God, the All-Just and All-Wise, require that there must be another realm where good and evil will receive their due fully. This realm is the Hereafter. It is also a requirement of Divine Justice and Wisdom that the right of the oppressed must be restored from oppressors and rights must be established. However, many oppressors depart from this world without their oppression being punished. Therefore, there must be, and is, another realm where everyone will get their just deserts. This realm is the other world, of which the Qur’an frequently reminds us.

But for the other world, human beings would be more wretched and miserable than animals. Animals have no consciousness or conception of definite time divisions, so therefore they suffer neither pains that arise from past misfortunes nor anxiety for the future. They live only for the moment. If they can find or are offered food, they eat and go; if they cannot find it, they continue to search for it or are content with the amount they have found. But humanity experiences the pains that come from past and present misfortunes, as well as anxieties about the future, all intermingled. Particularly if one’s belief and degree of submission are not strong enough to struggle against these pains and anxieties, one writhes with constant, unbearable suffering. Therefore, there must be another realm where humanity, which has been favored with feelings, consciousness, and the faculty of perception, will find absolute, eternal happiness. Otherwise, its faculties, such as reason and consciousness, on account of which it has been given a rank superior to other existent beings, would each be a source of torment for it.

Fakhru’d-Din ar-Razi sets forth other arguments for the other, eternal world, thus emphasizing the particular end which awaits humanity. He also provides answers based on the Qur’an to the human desire for eternity, and severely and categorically rejects considering good and evil, and the idea of reward and punishment in connection with the false notion of reincarnation. The bodily resurrection is absolutely certain to take place, and there is no reason to drive the souls to different adventures in our imaginations. Just as God Almighty created the world in the beginning, returning or restoring it after its destruction is easier in the view of reason, a fact which the Qur’an emphasizes. More than that, God is absolutely able to create from nothing, so why can He not restore creation? Thinking and asserting otherwise means attributing a limit to His infinite Power. In addition, if God were not to create the other world, this would mean His breaking His promise to reward and punish. God Almighty is absolutely above being powerless and not fulfilling His promise.


[1] Abu Zakariya Muhyi’d-Din Yahya ibn Sharaf an-Nawawi (1234–1278 CE), popularly known as Imam an-Nawawi, was a Sunni Muslim scholar of Fiqh (jurisprudence) and Hadith. He was born and died at Nawa near Damascus, Syria. During his short life of only forty-five years, he wrote many books on Islamic studies and other topics. He was especially famous for his Forty Hadiths, composed of the hadiths he collected and sourced back to one of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. (Tr.)
[2] Abu Dawud, “Salah” 201; an-Nasa’i, “Jumu’a” 5. (Tr.)
[3] al-Bukhari, “Jana’iz” 68; Muslim, “Janna” 70. (Tr.)