Concept of ruh (soul) in Islam

Concept of ruh (soul) in Islam

"The soul is one of the things,
of which the knowledge is only with my Lord.
And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given only a little." 

Please tell me what is the concept of ruh (soul) in Islam. Is it forever (we're told in the Qur'an that only Allah is immortal)? Is ruh or soul going to enter in jannat/jahannum [Heaven/Hell] or is it the body? Is it also present in animals and plants?

I will be really thankful to you. Was-salam.

Topic: Heart & Soul
Name of Counsellor: Waleed Ahmed Najmeddine


Thank you for your question. It is a topic that many of us wonder about. When we research carefully the issue of life after death, we find that no other religion has as much information to offer as Islam does.

The combination of the Qur'an and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) together provide us with all of the information and guidance we need to live a righteous life and maintain a close personal relationship with Allah, the One and Only Creator of mankind.

Knowledge of the nature of the soul, however, is only with Allah, as we read in the Qur'an what means,
  • [And they ask you concerning the soul. Say: "The soul is one of the things, of which the knowledge is only with my Lord. And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given only a little."] (Al-Israa' 17:85)
This verse was revealed to Prophet Muhammad when some Jews asked him about the soul. When they asked him, he kept quiet and did not give them an answer for a while. The Prophet's Companion who witnessed this incident says "I knew that he was receiving revelation, so I stayed where I was. When the revelation was complete, the Prophet said, 'And they ask you concerning the soul…'" (Al-Bukhari).

An Eternal Soul?

With respect to the eternity of the soul, Allah reveals in the Qur'an that there was a time that we did not exist except, of course, in Allah's infinite knowledge.
  • [Has there not been over Man a long period of Time, when he was nothing — not even mentioned? Verily We created Man from a drop of mingled fluid, in order to try him: So We gave him (the gifts), of Hearing and Sight.] (Al-Insan 76:1-2)
  • [But He (Allah) fashioned him (Man) in due proportion and breathed into him something of His spirit. And He gave you the faculties of hearing and sight and feeling and understanding: Little thanks do you give!] (As-Sajdah 32:9)
Therefore, according to the Qur'an, there was a time when we did not exist. But once we have been brought into existence, by Allah's will, we shall remain in existence for the rest of eternity. We are born, we live, we die, and we are raised up again to stand before Allah on the Day of Judgement.

At the time of death, the soul is taken from the body by the Angel of Death. It is later returned to the body once it has been buried. The grave for each of us will either be a pleasant place to wait for Judgement Day, or it may be a terrible place to wait if we were not righteous believers in this life. When Judgement Day comes, Allah will re-create us as He did the first time.
  • [Does man think that We cannot assemble his bones? Nay, We are able to put together in perfect order the very tips of his fingers.] (Al-Qiyamah 75:3-4)
Body and Spirit

This resurrection will be in body and in spirit, and this is easy for Allah, having earlier created us from nothing. After judgement has been made by Allah as to who shall enter Paradise and who shall enter the Hell-fire, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) tells us that
  • on the Day of Resurrection, Death will be brought forward in the shape of a black-and-white ram. Then a call maker will call, "O people of Paradise!" Thereupon they will stretch their necks and look carefully. The caller will say, "Do you know this?" They will say, "Yes, this is Death." By then, all of them will have seen it. Then it will be announced again, "O people of Hell!" They will stretch their necks and look carefully. The caller will say, "Do you know this?" They will say, "Yes, this is Death." And by then, all of them will have seen it. Then it will be slaughtered and the caller will say, "O people of Paradise! Eternity for you and no death; O people of Hell! Eternity for you and no death." (Al-Bukhari)
So we can see from this hadith that life for us will clearly be eternal. After resurrection, there will no longer be death. Either we will be admitted to Paradise by Allah's mercy and spend eternity there, or we will be cast into the Hell-fire to spend eternity there, or for as long as Allah wishes.

A Soul for All?

Everything that Allah created has a soul. Some of them fulfil the roles that Allah has set for them and do exactly what they were created to do.

This includes the plant and animal kingdoms, the mountains, seas and oceans, planets, stars, for example, as each of them worships Allah in their own way. They do not have a free will as do humans and the Jinn.

We are told in the Qur'an that Allah offered a trust to the heavens and the earth, but out of fear that they would not be able to handle the responsibilities laid upon them, they declined the offer, while only humanity took up the offer of this free choice.
  • [We did indeed offer the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: But Man undertook it; He was indeed unjust and foolish.] (Al-Ahzab 33:72)
This refers to responsibility of free choice to either accept commands and prohibitions, and the conditions that go along with them, or to choose to disobey. This means that the one who fulfills this responsibility will be rewarded and the one who neglects it will be punished.

Man accepted this despite the fact that he is weak and unjust. Only those who Allah guides and helps will be able to carry out the responsibilities placed on them. These are the ones who guard the Trust faithfully.

Everything, however, worships Allah in its own way. Trees, animals, rocks, mountains, and planets, all glorify Allah.
  • [Whatever is in the heavens and on earth, declares the Praises and Glory of Allah. For He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.] (Al-Hashr 59:1)
The evidence of Allah's existence is found throughout His wonderful creation. Every cell, every atom, and every quark in the universe bear the signs of Allah. We study the universe and find that it is, to the best of our knowledge, limitless when compared to our own existence. It is impossible to fathom the depth and width of it all. Each and every part of it fulfills its duty as Allah has planned.

When we explore the makeup of atoms we find that there is an equally vast universe within the tiniest components that make up the one in which we live.

On the last day, all of it will be caused to disappear and only Allah will remain.
  • [And call not, besides Allah, on another god. There is no god but He. Everything will perish except His own Face. To Him belongs the Command, and to Him will you all be brought back.] (Al-Qasas 28:88)
Allah will call upon the Angel of Death to take the lives of each of His creatures until there will be no one left but Allah and the Angel of Death.
  • [Every soul shall taste death] (Aal `Imran 3:185)
Allah will then take the angel's life and nothing will remain except Him. He will then call out, "To whom belongs all things this day?" There will, of course, be no one to answer. One way or another, there can be no one other than Allah to answer this question.
  • [The Day whereon they will (all) come forth: Not a single thing concerning them is hidden from Allah. Whose will be the dominion that Day?" That of Allah, the One, the Irresistible!] (Ghafir 40:16)
There being no one and nothing to answer, Allah will Himself answer by saying, "Allah, the One, the Irresistible." To Him belongs all things and to Him is the return.

I hope this was helpful to you. Please keep in touch.
Useful Links:
Self, soul and Personality
Life Before Life?
Nature of the Human Soul
Does God Have a Spirit?
Returning of One's soul in the Grave
Do souls Know Their Fate After Death?
The Return of One's soul After Death

Waleed Ahmed Najmeddine is currently employed as assistant principal at the new Edmonton Islamic Academy, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His work involves school administrative duties and instruction of Islamic Studies courses.

He also serves the Muslim community through the Canadian Islamic Centre (Al Rashid Mosque) providing information about the mosque and Islam to non-Muslims, and hosting visits by community and religious groups.

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