Ruh & Nafs – The View of Qadi Thana’ullah Panipati (ra)
و إذ قال ربك للملائكة اني خالق بشراً من صلصال من حما مسنون. فإذا سويته و نفخت فيه من روحي فقعوا له ساجدين
And (remember) when your Lord said to the angels, “I am going to create a human being from a sound-giving clay made of decayed mud. And when I form him perfect and blow in him of My spirit, you fall down before him, prostrating” (15:28,29)
Is the spirit (Ruh) a physical entity, or pure essence? On this subject, there has been a difference of opinion among the learned since a long time. According to Shaykh ‘Abd Al-Rauf Al-Munawi, there are up to a thousand positions taken by them. But, they are all based on conjectures. None of them can be called certain. Imam al-Ghazali, Imam Razi, and mystic scholars and thinkers maintain that it is no physical entity. It is pure essence. Imam Razi has advanced twelve arguments in support of this view.
But, the majority of the `Ulama of the Muslim Ummah declare Ruh (spirit, soul) to be a highly refined physical entity. The word نفخ means to blow, to breathe into. If we were to go by the consensus of the majority of `Ulama and take Ruh to be a refined physical entity, then breathing into it becomes evident by itself. And if we were to accept it to be pure essence, then breathing into it would mean establishing its connection to the body (Bayan al-Qur’an).
Leaving this long-winding debate aside, we consider it sufficient to refer the reader to a special research presented by Qadi Thana’ullah Panipati (ra) in his Tafsir Mazhari.
The respected commentator says that Ruh has two kinds: Higher (Ulwi) and Lower (Sifli). The higher Ruh is bereft of matter and is a creation of Allah Ta’ala, the comprehension of whose reality is difficult. The masters of insight by illumination (Ahl al-Kashf) see its real station to be above the Throne (‘Arsh) because it is more refined than the ‘Arsh. And this higher Ruh, as seen through illumination, is sensed in five degrees at upper and lower levels. Their number is five and they are:
(1) The heart (Qalb)
(2) The spirit (Ruh)
(3) The mystery (Sirr)
(4) The secret (Khafii)
(5) The most secret (Akhfa).
These are all from the refinements of the domain of Divine command towards which the Holy Qur’an has hinted by declaring:
Say, “The spirit is from the command of my Lord” (17:85).
As for the lower Ruh, it is a refined vapor which emerges from the combination of the four elements of the human body, that is, from fire, water, dust and air; and this lower Ruh is called the self (Nafs).
Allah Ta’ala has made this lower spirit, called ‘Self’ ( Nafs), a mirror of the higher spirits mentioned above. An illustration would make it clear. If we were to hold a mirror against the sun, then, despite [the fact] that the sun is far away, its reflection comes into the mirror. And because of the light, that too starts glowing like the sun. It even receives the heat of the sun in it which could burn a piece of cloth. The same thing applies to the higher spirits. Though they are, because of their purity and detachment, very high and elevated in station, and far distant too, yet their reflection appears in the mirror of the lower spirit and transfers the states and effects of the higher spirits into it. When these very effects take root in human selves, they become known as subordinate parts of each individual’s spirit.
Then, this lower form of spirit, which is identified as Nafs or ‘Self’, armed with the states and effects which it has acquired from the higher forms of spirits, first gets connected with the heart muscle of the human body. This connection itself is another name for life. Once the lower spirit relates to the human heart, it infuses in it life and cognition which it has acquired from the higher spirits. This lower spirit then starts circulating through the thin veins spread throughout the body and thus reaches every part of it.
It is this infusion of the lower spirit into the human body which has been called the ‘blowing’ or ‘breathing of the spirit’ (نفخ الروح) because it bears close resemblance to blowing or breathing into something.
And, in the present verse, Allah Ta’ala has attributed the spirit to Himself. He has said, “…from My spirit,” so that the superior status of the human spirit out of the entire creation becomes evident – because, it has come into existence, without any material substance, only under Divine command. In addition to that, it has a unique ability to accept and absorb the manifestations of Divine light, an ability which does not exist in the spirit of any other living creature other than that of the human person.
Though dust is the dominant element in the creation of man – and that is why the creation of man has been attributed to clay – but the reality is that man is a combination of ten elements out of which five belong to the universe of creation (عالم الخلق) while the other five to the universe of Divine command (عالم الأمر). The four elements of the universe of creation are fire, water, dust, and air. The fifth is the refined vapor from these four which is called the lower spirit or Nafs. As for the five elements of the universe of Divine command mentioned above, they are:
(1) heart (Qalb)
(2) spirit (Ruh)
(3) mystery (Sirr)
(4) secret (Khafii)
(5) totally hidden (Akhfa).
It is because of this comprehensive making of the human model that man became deserving of Divine vicegerency, and very much capable of absorbing the light which helps him know his Lord and, of course, sustaining his own burning quest on the path of love and longing for Him. The outcome, though unspecified as to its actual state, is communion with the Divine because the Holy Prophet has said, “One shall be with whoever one loves.”
And since human beings have the ability to absorb the manifestations of Divine light, and since they have been given the honor of being in communion with the Divine, it came to be the dictate of Divine wisdom that man be made the object of prostration by the angels. It was said, “You fall down before him, prostrating” (15:29).
Extracted from Ma’ariful Qur’an