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Question 292: Salam to you all. My question is , What is the Difference between Spirituality and Religion / Soul and Nafs? May Allah bless u all.

Answer 292: It has been said that the word Dīn appears in as many as 95 verses in the holy Quran. This term has been used for more than 20 meanings that all of them refer to the three following meanings:

1) Any belief in an unseen power, regardless of whether such a belief is right or not: لكم دينكم ولى دين [1]

2) Divine religions in particular: ان الدين عندالله الاسلام [2]

3) Day of Judgment. مالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّين‏ [3]

What we mean by the term religion, is this second meaning, which refers to divine religions and has different levels and categories, such as the “nafsul-amri” and “mursal”.[4]

Religion is a set of beliefs associated with practical and moral principles delivered to humankind by God’s messengers, in order to show human beings the right path. For God, this religion is the absolute submission of the people to His guidance and is in harmony with their fitrah.[5]

Possessing these beliefs and abiding by the principles presented by them brings man salvation and felicity in this world and the next.  In other words, the “religious” individual is one who submits to this divine plan, therefore one who doesn’t, in no way can be called a religious person.[6]

If people choose to be faithful and go by God’s rulings, they will have a happy life in this transient world and also in the eternal one to come, because the happy and prosperous individual is one who has the right goal in his/her life, stays away from error and deviance, possesses good and admirable characteristics, carries out good deeds and always preserves his/her calmness in the vicissitudes and hardships of life.

God’s religion guides us to this path. Otherwise, salvation and felicity can never be reached, because when one is destined to  abide by religious principles, he is like a person who is always being accompanied by an alert inner “guard” who is always on the watch and careful for him not to commit anything that will contribute to his downfall and decline, and this results in his prosperity and possession of virtues. Naturally, one who doesn’t possess this inner “guard”, has no chances for reaching such ranks.  Now that the meaning and the role of religion have been made clear, we will address its necessity.

Din from viewpoints of Westerners

There are other definitions according to western scholars as follows:

1) Psychological definition: Religion is a set of feelings, experiences and actions that one has when he/she is alone with what he/she calls divine and God.  (William James)

2) Sociological definition: A set of beliefs, actions, slogans and religious structures that man has built throughout history in different societies.  (Talcott Parsons).

3) Naturalist definition: A set of negative and affirmative commands that prohibit us from freely making use of our potentials, (S. Reinach) or “religion and morals are the same thing, which have become of warmth and illumination through us showing feelings and emotions towards them.  (Mathew Arnold)

4) Religious definitions such as: “Religion is to admit to the fact that all creatures are the manifestation of a power that is beyond our comprehension and knowledge.” (Herbert Spencer)[7]

Meaning of Spirituality

Spirituality means the quality that involves deep feelings and beliefs of a religious nature, rather than the physical parts of life. Spirituality has an intensive relation with the religion, however it has been defined as breath and the breath refers to the life, according to Dr. David N. Elkins.

Spirituality is a concept referring to an ultimate or an immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spirituality has been defined in Dehkhuda Dictionary as such: real, true, genuine, essential, absolute and esoteric. It is a meaning which is perceived by the heart only and the tongue has no knowledge or understanding of it.[8] Sometimes it is said that “spirituality” is derived from “spirit” which is “pure self” beyond the body. It is one’s consciousness, conscience, thinking and feeling part of existence, and sensitivity which relate to the human soul, rather than to physical objects. Based on this simple linguistic definition which has been extracted from Islamic etymologic interpretations regarding spirituality, we can say that spirituality has a root in the “spirit” which, in the traditional interpretation, is also called as the ‘inner reality’.

The value and credibility of spirituality in every religion are directly connected to the value and validity of that religion itself. It is, therefore, necessary for us not only to compare between the teachings of these religions with each other but to also compare the value and validity of their holy scriptures so that their effects and functions in the domain of spirituality may become clearer.

“Spirituality in the Islamic tradition is a term referring to the essence and inner aspect of the religion and which came into being simultaneously with the revelation of the first verses of the Holy Quran upon the heart of the Prophet of Islam – peace be upon him and his family.

The Holy Quran has been and is the main source of spirituality affecting the heart and mind of its addressees. The Quran enjoys both sanctity and spirituality in the sense of giving meaning to the life.”[9]

Nafs and Ruh

According to some verses of the holy Quran a few of which are as follows, ruh and nafs have the same meaning as soul.

In some verses of the holy Quran Nafs is defined as soul. These verses are as follows:

  1. Surely (as for) those whom the angels cause to die while they are unjust to their soul….[10]
  2. Allah takes the souls at the time of their deat….[11]
  3. O soul that art at rest.[12]
  4. Give up your soul.[13]

Other difnitions of Nafs used in the holy Quran

Life: “And in it We prescribed for them: a life for a life, …”.[14]

Yourself: “O my people! you have surely been unjust to yourselve …”[15]

Types of Nafs mentioned in the Holy Quran

There are some types of Nafs mentioned in the holy Quran as follows:

  1. Nafs al-Ammarah (the commanding soul):

Arabic version: إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ

Translation: Indeed the nafs that overwhelmingly commands a person to do sin.[16]

  1. Nafa al-Lawwamah (self-reproaching soul):

Arabic version: وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ

Translation: Nay! I swear by the self-accusing soul.

  1. Nafs al-Mutma’enna (the reassured soul):

Arabic version: يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً

Translation: To the righteous it will be said “oh reassured soul, return to your Lord well pleased, and pleasing to Him”.[17]

  1. Nafs al-Radiyah (well pleased).

Arabic version: يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً

Translation: To the righteous it will be said “oh reassured soul, return to your Lord well pleased, and pleasing to Him”.[18]

  1. Nafs al-Mardiyyah (pleasing).

Arabic version: يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً

Translation: To the righteous it will be said “oh reassured soul, return to your Lord well pleased, and pleasing to Him”.[19]

Understanding the meaning of soul depends upon having knowledge of it, which is something beyond the power of human knowledge.

As in the Holy Quran Allah, the Almighty says: “And they ask you about the soul Say: The soul is one of the commands of my Lord, and you are not given aught of knowledge but a little”.[20]

Meaning of Ruh (Soul)

the word Ruh refers to different meanings depending on the science and field the term has been used in.  In the Quran the Ruh refers to a unique meaning and has been used in different forms like “الروح”[21], “روحی”[22], “روحٌ منه”[23], “روح الامین”[24], “روح القدس”[25], etc.

Ruh in Traditions

Some of the ahadith that clearly state that the Ruh is a being other than the angels and Gabriel are as follows:

A man come to Imam Ali and asked: “Isn’t the Ruh Gabriel?” the Imam replied: “Gabriel is an angel and the Ruh is not Gabriel”.[26]

Arabic version of this Hadith:

“اتی رجل امیر المومنین (ع) یسأله عن الروح الیس هو جبرئیل فقال له امیر المومنین (ع): جبرئیل من الملائکه و الروح غیر جبرئیل “

  1. Abi Baseer asked Imam Sadegh about the verse in the Quran that says ” یسئلونک عن الروح قل الروح من امر ربی ” The Imam responded: “It is a being greater than Gabriel and Mika’il, it would stay with the prophet and now it stays with the Ahlul-Bayt, it is a being from the realm of “Malakoot”.[27]

Arabic version of this Hadith

عَنْ أَبِي بَصِيرٍ قَالَ سَأَلْتُ أَبَا عَبْدِ اللَّهِ (ع ) عَنْ قَوْلِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ يَسْئَلُونَكَ عَنِ الرُّوحِ قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي قَالَ خَلْقٌ أَعْظَمُ مِنْ جَبْرَئِيلَ وَ مِيكَائِيلَ كَانَ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ص وَ هُوَ مَعَ الْأَئِمَّةِ وَ هُوَ مِنَ الْمَلَكُوتِ”

Ruh is Visible?

From what was said, it becomes clear that since the Ruh is a truth beyond time and place and other material characteristics, hence it isn’t tangible through normal senses, although knowledge of it is possible for the infallibles and maybe even for some great arefs and mystics, all of this being through disclosure and divine inspiration (and still not being in conflict with the abstractness of the Ruh). Also, some of the Ruh’s manifestations and traces (not its essence itself) can take on the form of light and subtle substances and appear through them, namely the mithali body, which the soul takes on in the Barzakh; this body shares some of the characteristics of the material body but to a higher degree of light and subtleness.

For further information on this issue, please read the follwoing answers:

Index: Principles of Religion: Usul al-Din in Quran, answer 230.

Index: Usul al-Din and Furu al-Din in Islam, answer 223.

Index: Whoever knows himself knows his Lord / Man Arafa Nafsahu, Faqad Arafa Rabbahu, answer 274.

Index: Estrangement from people comes about as a result for knowing them too well, answer 060.

Index: Spiritual and Material Beauty and the Light of Faith, answer 245.

Index: Quran says: Every Soul Shall Taste Death, answer 461.

[1] Kafirun:6 “To you your religion, and to me my religion”

[2] Ale-Imran:19 “Truly, the complete religion in the sight of Allah is Islam”

[3] . Surah Fatiha, verse 4.

[4] See index: The different stages of religion

[5] Seyyid Muhammad Husein Tabatabai, Kholaseye Ta’alime Islam, pg.4; Abdullah Javadi Amoli, Fitrat dar Quran, vol.12, pg.145.

[6] Tafsir Roshan, vol.7, pg.170.

[7] See: John Hick, Philosophy of Religion, pp.22-23.

[8] Dehkhuda, Ali Akbar, Dictionary, Term “spiritual”.

[9] Hasan Esmati, Baigi, Spirituality Discourse, Jam-e Jam Daily.

[10] . Surah Nisa, verse 97.

[11] . Zumar, verse 42.

[12] . Surah Fajr, verse 27.

[13] . Surah An’aam, verse 93.

[14] . Surah Maedah, verse 45.

[15] . Surah Baqarah, verse 54.

[16] . Surah Yousif, verse 53.

[17] . Surah Fajr, verse 27.

[18] . Ibid.

[19] . Ibid.

[20] . Surah al-Isra, verse 85.

[21] Isra:85; Ghafir:15.

[22] Hajj:29; Sad:72.

[23] Mujadalah:22; Nisa:171.

[24] Shu’ara:193.

[25] Baqarah:87 and 253; Ma’idah:110; Nahl:102.

[26] Koleini, Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 274.

[27] Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 273.

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