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A brief Thematic Exegesis on the Rūḥ: How does Mulla Sadrā use the Quran to define the divine manifestations of Rūḥ?

A brief Thematic Exegesis on the Rūḥ: How does Mulla Sadrā use the Quran to define the divine manifestations of Rūḥ?

Questions regarding the soul and the spirit always fly around when they are discussed in Islamic philosophy and mysticism. General information have been found through different verses of the Quran and Narrations but the question is still open, what is the Rūḥ? However understanding the essence of the soul is still beyond materialistic sciences, which is why we need to use verses from the Quran to at least answer one of many questions regarding the soul. 

The word Rūḥ has been shown in the Quran in many different forms to suit many different fields of sciences. Some of those forms have been shown to differentiate from certain fields of sciences to others which some of many are in the following verses: 

“Al- Rūḥ” “الروح” in the verses:                         17:85, 40:15 

“Rūḥī” “روحي” in the verses:                             22:29, 38:72 

“Rūḥun Minh” “روحٌ منه” in the verses:               58:22, 4:171 

“Rūḥ al-Amīn” “روح الامين” in the verses:           29:193 

“Rūḥ al-Qudus” “روح القدس” in the verses:          2:87, 2:253, 5:110, 16:102 

Verse 85 from the chapter 17 of the Quran although being very is still one of the most important verses          of the Quran that discusses the Rūḥ

وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الرُّوحِ قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي وَمَا أُوتِيتُم مِّن الْعِلْمِ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً 

And they ask you about the spirit (Rūḥ). Say: “The spirit is of my Lord’s Command.” And of the knowledge (concerning the spirit) you have been given only a little 

In the verse above, there are many different opinions among the scholars to which type of Rūḥ the prophet was asked about. The main types of Rūḥ are three and they are the ḥeywānī Rūḥ (animal spirit), Rūḥ Insānī or Nafs an-Nāiqah (human spirit), and the Rūḥ al-Qudus (Holy Spirit). This Rūḥ al-Qudus, is considered most of the time being something higher than Gabriel as in the Quran they are mentioned separately for example in chapter 97 verse number 4 they are mentioned next to each other, distinctly creating a distinction between the two, “the angels and the Spirit”, it is clear that these two are not the same beings but different. In the book Al Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Quran by Ṭabāṭabāī he says regarding the verse from chapter 17 that is seems that the Rūḥ is something greater than Gabriel and the other angels. There are also Narrations that state that the Rūḥ is something different than the angels I will mention just two (Mulla Sadrā 2001). 

In al-Kāfī one of the major books in the twelver school of thought there is a narration in vol. 1 page 274 stating that a man asked Imam ‘Ali “isn’t the Rūḥ Gabriel?” and he replied saying “Gabriel is an angel and the Rūḥ is not Gabriel, and the second Narration which is also in al-Kāfī in vol. 1 page 273 states that abū Basīr asked Imam Ḥussayn about the Rūḥ and the he replied by saying that the Rūḥ is a being greater than Gabriel and Mīkāīl which would stay with the prophets and after them with the “household” and that it is from the world of Malakūt. These two Narrations clearly advocate the idea of the Rūḥ being something different and at a higher position than the angels. Also Ṭabāṭabāī in his book has stated regarding the verse from chapter 17 and the Narration and came to the conclusion that the two angels mentioned above are simply the transporters of the Rūḥ meaning that it descend and ascend with the angels but is not an angel. 

The verse from chapter 17 as mentioned earlier is one of if not the most important verses to understand the essence of the Rūḥ, in the Quran it is mentioned that the Rūḥ is from the command of the God, for use to further understand the essence of the Rūḥ we must look slightly deeper into one of the most important verses of the Quran which also includes the theme of the commandment of God. Verse 82 of chapter 36 says the following “His command is only when He intends a thing that He says to it, Be and it is”Ṭabāṭabāī’s point of view in Al Mīzān states that the Rūḥ is from the command of God and is part with God’s being. God’s command is created from the word “be” which is a word used for demanding for something to happen or for an action to take place but in this context for something to be created which will belong to God, the Rūḥ similarly is made from the realm of the commandment which means that the Rūḥ belongs to God and cannot be restricted by time, space and other materialistic capacities (Mulla Sadrā 2001). 

We already know that the Rūḥ has been mentioned in the Quran in many different ways including that it has been accompanied by the believers and prophet and that it also means that it is the truth in its context, but the question remains, why are there no detailed descriptions and explanations to the essence of it? It is believed that the prophet either was instructed to not give detailed descriptions or wouldn’t want to because the people would not comprehend the essence of it and would get even more confused about it and in extreme cases would start to disbelieve. Also as everyone knows the comprehensions of human beings’ is not as great as it could be so in result of that the Quran and the prophet and imams did not give detailed descriptions and information to the people who were asking regarding this topic. As per the second part of the verse from chapter 17 And of the knowledge (concerning the spirit) you have been given only a little” shows us and explains to us that there is a lot more than just the materialistic world that we are familiar with and mostly think that it is the only thing that exists, but there is much more that exists that also nearly all humans know or at least think of existing the fact that someone has emotions itself teaches us that there is something more than just material.  

Another question that I would like to briefly explore is that can the Rūḥ be seen? Based on what we found out earlier that the Rūḥ is not bound to time and space then it becomes very clear that the Rūḥ cannot be seen, at least not in the materialistic world. To which my next point comes in, Islamic theology teaches Muslims that there is a world after this, the realm of barzakh (the realm of purgatory) which contains human souls and other entities and other spirits. There then in Islamic theology we would be there as our own Rūḥ which we ourselves would be able to see, at least theoretically. But seeing the Rūḥ in this materialistic world is not possible, but what is possible is to have knowledge of it or about it, which has been illustrated by the prophet and imams. Muslims believe that they had the knowledge about everything, which has been given by God. They and other mystics who went into disclosure were able to understand some parts of the Rūḥ, however did not talk and share anything regarding that as it would not bring any benefit to the community as this would just as said before confuse people. It is important to understand that by saying that we would be able to see the Rūḥ in barzakh it is not meant the Rūḥ that is associated with God but the Rūḥ that is associated with our souls.  

In conclusion we uncovered some aspects regarding the Rūḥ and understood that it is a part from the command of God and is not something that we would be able to see in this materialistic world. We also understood that the Rūḥ is a being that is in a higher position than the angels but is transported by them. Not to forget to mention that it is a different Rūḥ than that of the human being that carries the soul around after human beings die. We have found many verses of the holy Quran that allowed us to explore the many types of Rūḥ that have been found and unfortunately still kept a secret from us. 


Ṭabāṭabāī, S, M, H (1997). Al Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Quran. Beirut, Muassasat al-A‘lamī 

Mulla Sadrā (2001). Shar al-Hidāyah. Beirut, Dār Iḥyā’ al-Turāth al-‘Araby 

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