What is the difference between nafs and ruh?

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Last Updated on 15th January 2022

Someone asked Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa whether nafs and rooh were the same.

Huzooraa, in his letter dated 20 October 2020, granted the following reply:

“The words rooh and nafs appear in various places in the Holy Quran carrying different meanings. The word rooh denotes the Word of God, angels, Gabrielas, prophets and that soul which appears in the human body at a certain time by divine command. The word nafs, on the other hand, is used for life, breath, a person, a being with a soul, heart, a being or consciousness etc.

“Linguistically, the term rooh is used to denote that thing by means of which the souls [nufoos] remain alive i.e. life. Likewise, the term rooh is also used for breath, revelation and inspiration, Gabriel, the matter of prophethood, and the judgment and command of God Almighty. Moreover, as opposed to the body, the thing that distinguishes animals from other things and distinguishes human beings from animals and elevates humans to be in communion with God is also termed as rooh

“Linguistically, the term nafs, on the other hand, denotes body, person, soul, human being which is made up of body and soul, greatness, honour, courage, intention, ‘itself’ and opinion etc.

“A study of the Holy Quran and the ahadith also reveals a difference between the nafs and the rooh which is that Allah the Exalted has granted man the power to control the nafs, to reform it and to change it to a certain extent. Hence, the Holy Quran has described three states of the nafs (ammarahlawwamah and mutma‘innah). Moreover, according to a hadith, ‘The strong person is not one who is good at wrestling, but the strong person is one who controls his or her nafs during a fit of rage.’ The matter of the soul [rooh], on the other hand, is exclusively under the control of Allah the Exalted and He has not given man the power over it as He states:

قُلِ‭ ‬الرُّوۡحُ‭ ‬مِنۡ‭ ‬اَمۡرِ‭ ‬رَبِّيۡ‭ ‬وَ‭ ‬مَاۤ‭ ‬اُوۡتِيۡتُمۡ‭ ‬مِّنَ‭ ‬الۡعِلۡمِ‭ ‬اِلَّا‭ ‬قَلِيۡلًا

“‘Say, “The soul is by the command of my Lord [; and of the knowledge thereof you have been given but a little.]”’ (Surah Bani Israil, Ch. 17: V. 86)

“Moreover, Islam does not approve of asking many questions about the soul.

“The Promised Messiahas, while commenting on the following verse of Surah al-Naba in his Arabic book Nur-ul-Haq, has, has explained the meaning of rooh and has also mentioned the nafs

يَوۡمَ يَقُوۡمُ الرُّوۡحُ وَ الۡمَلٰٓئِكَةُ صَفًّا ؕ٭ۙ لَّا يَتَكَلَّمُوۡنَ اِلَّا مَنۡ اَذِنَ لَهُ الرَّحۡمٰنُ وَ قَالَ صَوَابًا

“(Surah an-Naba, Ch. 78: V. 39)

“His commentary reveals that these are two different things. Moreover, the following guidance by the Promised Messiahas also abundantly clarifies the difference between the two. The Promised Messiahas says:

“‘It has been inspired upon my heart that the word al-rooh in this verse refers to the group of messengers, prophets and muhaddathoon, upon whom the Holy Spirit is poured and they communicate with God Almighty […] Moreover, God has mentioned His prophets by the word al-rooh, that is, by a word that signifies separation from the body. He did this in order to point out that the purified people were absolutely engrossed in the Will of God in their worldly lives in terms of all their faculties. They broke away from their nufoos as the soul breaks away from the body. Neither their nafs, nor the desires of that nafs remained. They spoke only when called through the Holy Spirit, not of their own will. It was as if they themselves had become the Holy Spirit, with whom the nafs does not mix. Moreover, know that prophets are like one soul […] They completely broke away from their nafs and their movement and their comfort and their desires and their emotions and there was nothing left in them except the Holy Spirit. And they broke away from all these things and went in the company of God. So, God desired to manifest the station of their detachment [tajarrud] and holiness through this verse and how they are far removed from the impurities of the body and the nafs. Hence, he named them al-rooh meaning ‘Holy Spirit’ so that this word may reveal the greatness of their glory and the purity of their heart. And soon they shall be called upon on the Day of Resurrection by this title, so that Allah may reveal to the people their station of separation [inqita‘], and so that He may reveal the difference between the bad men and the pure ones. By God, that is the truth. (Nur-ul-Haq I [Arabic-Urdu], pp. 73-74, first edition) […]”

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