Ruh al-qudus: “the holy spirit”

In Islam, especially Sufism, rūḥ is a person’s immortal, essential self — the “spirit” or “soul”. The Quran itself does not describe rūḥ as the immortal self. Nevertheless, in some contexts, it animates inanimate matter. Further, it appears to be a metaphorical being, such as an angel. In one instance, rūḥ refers to Jesus. Further, the Quran refers to rūḥ as Ruh al-qudus (Arabic: روح القدس‎, “the holy spirit” or “spirit of holiness”) and al-ruh al-amin (“the faithful/trustworthy spirit”).

Outside the Quran, rūḥ may also refer to a spirit that roams the earth; a ghost.

Among the al-Laṭaʾif as-sitta (Arabic: اللطائف الستة‎) it is the third purity.

Ruh al-qudus (Arabic: روح القدس‎, “the holy spirit” or “spirit of holiness”), al-ruh al-amin (“the faithful/trustworthy spirit”), and ruh (spirit) are Quranic expressions that describe a source or means of prophetic revelations, commonly identified with the angel Gabriel. Quranic commentators disagreed in their identification of Gabriel with various uses of the word ruh.

The Arabic phrase “al-Qudus” (القدس) translates into English as “the Holy One” or “the Exalted One”. “Al-Quddūs” is one of the 99 Names of God in Islam.

In Quran

The phrase ruh al-qudus, commonly translated as the “holy spirit” or the “spirit of holiness”, occurs four times in the Quran, in sura 2 (Al-Baqara) ayat 87, sura 2 (Al-Baqara) ayat 253, sura 5 (Al-Ma’ida) ayat 110, and sura 16 (An-Nahl) ayat 102. In three instances, it is described as the means by which God “strengthened” Jesus, and in the fourth it is identified as the one brought down God’s truth to his prophet. Muslim commentators commonly connected this expression with the “faithful/trustworthy sprit” (al-ruh al-amin) who is said to have brought down the Quran in verse 26:193, and identified with Gabriel. Other Muslim commentators viewed it as identical with the created spirit described in other Quranic verses as the means by which God brought Adam to life (e.g., 15:29), made Mary conceive Jesus 21:91 and inspired angels and prophets (e.g., 17:85). The spirit who together with “the angels” descends and ascends to God (16:2, 70:4, 97:4) was also identified with Gabriel in Quranic commentaries. Thus, the figure of Gabriel became a focus of theological reflection on the content of revelation and the nature of cognition itself, with distinctions articulated between reason, prophetic revelation, and mystical knowledge.

In Shia Islam

In Shia Islam ruh is described as “a creature (khalq) of God larger than Gabriel or Michael”, who was sent to inform and guide Muhammad and is now with the Imams. In some Shia traditions, ruh al-qudus (spirit of holiness) is one of the five spirits possessed by the Imam. Unlike the other four spirits, it is always vigilant and available to inform the Imam on any issue. There is disagreement on whether ruh is an angel.

As interpreted to refer to the Archangel Gabriel

The term Ruh al-Qudus is also an epithet referring to the Archangel Gabriel (called JibralJibrīlJibrael, ‘DžibrilJabrilæCebrail or Jibrail (جبريل, جبرائيل, [dʒibræːʔiːl][dʒibrɛ̈ʔiːl], or [dʒibriːl])), who is related as the Angel of revelation and was assigned by God to reveal the Qur’an to the prophet Muhammad and who delivered the Annunciation to Mary.

In the two suras in which the Qur’an refers to the angel Gabriel, it does so by name. However, some hadith and parts of the Qur’an may arguably lend support to the alternative view.

It appears to be indicated by the Quran in sura Maryam ayat 16–21, that it was the angel Gabriel who gave to Mary the tidings that she was to have a son as a virgin:

She chose to seclude herself (from her people); then we sent to her Our Spirit, and he appeared before her in the form of a man in all respects. She said: “Verily! I seek refuge with the Most Beneficent (God) from you, if you do fear God.” (The man) said: “I am only a messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son.” She said: “How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, nor am I unchaste?” He said: “So (it will be), your Lord said: ‘That is easy for me (God): And (we wish) to appoint him as a sign to mankind and a mercy from us (God), and it is a matter (already) decreed (by God).’ ” [Quran 19:17]

It is narrated in hadith that the angel Gabriel accompanied Muhammad during the Mi’raj, an ascension to the heavens in which Muhammad is said to have met other messengers of God and was instructed about the manner of Islamic prayer (sujud). (Bukhari Sahih al-Bukhari, 1:8:345.) It is also held by Muslims that the angel Gabriel descends to Earth on the night of Laylat al-Qadr (“The Night of Fate”), a night in the last ten days of the holy month of Ramadan (Islamic calendar) which is said to be the night on which the Qur’an was first revealed.

As soul

God is believed to endow humans with rūḥ and nafs (نَفْس, psyche, i.e. ego or “(inner) soul”). The rūḥ “drives” the nafs, which comprises temporal desires and sensory perceptions. The nafs can assume control of the body if the rūḥ surrenders to bodily urges. The nafs is subject to bodily desire, whereas the rūḥ is a person’s immaterial essence, beyond the emotions and instincts shared by humans and other animals; rūḥ makes the body alive. Some arwah (pl. spirits) dwell in the seventh heaven. Unlike the angels, they are supposed to eat and drink. An angel called Ar-Rūḥ (the spirit) is responsible for them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s