What Are the Meanings of the Term “Al-Ruh” Mentioned in the Quran?

Answered by Shaykh Anas al-Musa


What are the meanings of the term “al-ruh” mentioned in the Quran?


In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,

The term “al-ruh” appears in the Quran in several contexts:

  1. The Revelation or the Quran: As Allah (Most High) says, “And so We have sent to you (O Prophet) a revelation (روحا) by Our command.” [Quran, 42:52]. And He says, “He sends down the revelation (الروح) by His command to whoever He wills of His servants.” [Quran, 40:15], and “That night the angels and the (holy) spirit (الروح) descend, by the permission of their Lord, for every (decreed) matter.” [Quran, 97:4]. The revelation is called a “al-Ruh” because it brings life to hearts and souls or because it revives people from the death-like state of disbelief.
  2. Strength, Steadfastness, and Support: Which Allah (Most High) grants to whom He wills among His believing servants. As He says, “For those (believers), Allah has instilled faith in their hearts and strengthened them with a spirit (بروح) from Him” [Quran, 58:22]. It is also said that “spirit” here means mercy.
  3. Gabriel: As Allah (Most High) says, “Which the trustworthy spirit (Gabriel) brought down into your heart (O Prophet)—so that you may be one of the warners—” [Quran, 26:193-194]. And “Whoever is an enemy of Gabriel should know that he revealed this (Quran) to your heart by Allah’s Will.” [Quran, 2:97], and “Screening herself off from them. Then We sent to her Our angel, (Gabriel) appearing before her as a man, perfectly formed.” [Quran, 19:17]. He is also referred to as the Holy Spirit, as in “Say, ‘The holy spirit has brought it down from your Lord with the truth.’” [Quran, 16:102], and “That night the angels and the (holy) spirit descend, by the permission of their Lord, for every ˹decreed˺ matter.” [Quran, 97:4]
  4. The Soul that Gives Life: This is what the Jews inquired about, and they were told that it is a matter from Allah. As He says, “They ask you (O Prophet) about the spirit. Say, ‘Its nature is known only to my Lord, and you (O humanity) have been given but little knowledge.’” [Quran, 17:85], and “Then He fashioned them and had a spirit of His Own (creation) breathed into them. And He gave you hearing, sight, and intellect. (Yet) you hardly give any thanks.” [Quran, 32:9]
  5. Jesus Christ, Son of Mary: As Allah (Most High) says, “The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was no more than a messenger of Allah and the fulfillment of His Word through Mary and a spirit (created by a command) from Him.” [Quran, 4:171]. The reason for specifically attributing the soul of Jesus, peace be upon him, to Allah (Most High) is that Allah created him with His word; i.e., He created him through the word conveyed by Gabriel to Mary, who then breathed into her from His spirit by Allah’s command. That breath, which Gabriel blew into the opening of her garment that descended to her womb, acted like the fertilization from a father and a mother, all created by Allah (Most High). Hence, Jesus is referred to as the Word of Allah and a soul from Him because he had no father and originated from the word by which Allah said, “Be,” and he came into existence. [Umm al-Qura University Journal]
  6. A Great Angel Among Angels: This is referenced in the verse, “On the Day the (holy) spirit and the angels will stand in ranks. None will talk except those granted permission by the Most Compassionate and whose words are true.” [Quran, 78:38].
  7. Mercy: As in the verse, “For those (believers), Allah has instilled faith in their hearts and strengthened them with a spirit from Him.” [Quran, 58:22], and “O  my sons! Go and search (diligently) for Joseph and his brother. And do not lose hope in the mercy of Allah, for no one loses hope in Allah’s mercy except those with no faith.” [Quran, 12:87]
  8. Life: As in the verse, “Then (such a person will have) serenity, fragrance, and a Garden of Bliss.” [Quran, 56:89], based on the recitation of Ruways from Ya‘qub, who read it with a damma on the ra (Faruh). But according to the recitation of those who open the ra (Farawh) – which includes the rest of the reciters – it means rest; “Then (such a person will have) rest, fragrance, and a Garden of Bliss.” indicating rest, good sustenance, and a delightful garden for those who are among the foremost in faith. [Zuhayli, al-Tafsir al-Munir]
  9. The Breath Used in the Creation Process: As in, “(There is) also (the example of) Mary, the daughter of ’Imrân, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her (womb) through Our angel (Gabriel). She testified to the words of her Lord and His Scriptures and was one of the (sincerely) devout.” [Quran, 66:12], referring to Gabriel’s act of blowing into her garment. [Zabidi, Taj al-‘Arus; Ibn Qayim, al-Ruh; Tahanawi, Kashaf Istilahat al-Funun; Ibn al-Jawzi, Nuzhat al-A‘yun al-Nawadir; ‘Abd al-‘Aal Salim Makram, al-Mushtarik al-Lafzi fi al-Haql al-Qurani]

Human Souls in the Quran

The souls of the children of Adam are not referred to in the Quran except as “nafs.” As Allah says,

“(Allah will say to the righteous,) ‘O tranquil soul!’” [Quran, 89:27],

“And I do swear by the self-reproaching soul!” [Quran, 75:2],

“For indeed, the soul is ever inclined to evil.” [Quran, 12:53],

“Give up your souls!” [Quran, 6:93],

“And by the soul and (the One) Who fashioned it, then with (the knowledge of) right and wrong inspired it!” [Quran, 91:7-8],

“Every soul will taste death.” [Quran, 3:185].

In the Hadith

In the Sunna (hadith), both “nafs” and “ruh” are used. As narrated by Abu Huraira,

“When the soul of a believer leaves, two angels receive it and ascend with it,” and it talks about the soul’s pleasant smell and resemblance to musk. The people of heaven say, “A pure soul has come from the earth. May Allah bless you and the body you used to inhabit.” Then it is taken to its Lord Almighty, and they are told, “Proceed with it to its ultimate destination.” Abu Huraira said, “The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) covered his nose with his garment.” [Muslim; Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Ruh]

Attribution of Soul to Allah

The attribution of the soul to Allah (Most High) in the verse, “So when I have fashioned him and had a spirit of My Own (creation) breathed into him, fall down in prostration to him.” [Quran, 15:29] can be understood in two ways:

One is the attribution of a quality to the one characterized by it, like Allah’s knowledge, speech, will, power, and life, which are attributes that do not exist independently.

The second is the attribution of distinct entities to Him, like the House of Allah, the She-Camel of Allah, the Servant of Allah, the Messenger of Allah, and the Spirit of Allah. This is the attribution of creation to its Creator, and it also implies a specific honor and distinction for the attributed, like the “House of Allah,” though all houses are owned by Him, and similarly, the “She-Camel of Allah,” though all camels are His creation. This attribution to His divinity implies His love, honor, and respect for it, unlike the general attribution to His lordship, which implies His creation and origination. So, the general attribution implies creation and existence, while the specific one implies choice. Allah creates what He wills and chooses from His creation, as He says, “And your Lord creates what He wills and chooses” [Quran, 28:68]. The attribution of the soul to Allah (Most High) is of the specific type, not the general, and not as an attribute. [Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Ruh]

Masculine and Feminine

“Al-Ruh” (the soul) can be referred to in both masculine and feminine forms. Hence, it can be called a pure “ruh” (soul) or “ruhan tayyiban”. It is said to be feminized because it is synonymous with “nafs” (self). [Zabidi, Taj al-Arus; Saffirini, Sharh al-Bukhari]

Ruh and Nafs

Most scholars agree that the soul referred to in Allah’s saying, “And they ask you, (O Muhammad), about the soul. Say, ‘The soul is of the affair of my Lord’” [Quran, 17:85], is the soul that gives life to the body. The Jews asked about its reality and how it integrates with the body, and they were told in response that “it is from the affair of my Lord,” meaning it is among the matters that Allah has exclusively kept to His knowledge, and He has not disclosed it to anyone among His creation. [Saffirini, Sharh al-Bukhari; Tahanawi, Kashaf Istilahat al-Funun]

The term “nafs” (self) is used by the Arabs in several meanings. They say, “His nafs (soul) has departed,” meaning his spirit. As narrated by Aisha, “The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) died with his head between my chest and neck.” She said, “When his soul departed, I did not smell any fragrance more pleasant than that.” [Ahmad]

Therefore, the terms ruh, and nafs are words that convey multiple meanings, determined by context and connotation. Although the soul and self are distinct in their implications, they replace each other in many noble verses and honorable hadiths, but this is metaphorical, not literally.

Everything will Perish

Scholars have differed on whether the soul dies or not. Some scholars believe that it dies, as it is a self, and “every self will taste death,” according to Allah’s saying, “Everything is bound to perish except He Himself. All authority belongs to Him. And to Him, you will (all) be returned.” [Quran, 28:88], and “Every being on earth is bound to perish. Only your Lord Himself, full of Majesty and Honour, will remain (forever).” [Quran, 55:26-27]

Some scholars say that the souls do not die, as they were created to last, and only the bodies die. This is based on hadiths that indicate the pleasure or torment of souls after leaving the body until Allah returns them to the body. It seems correct that the death of souls is their departure from the bodies and their exit from them. If by death it is meant to this extent, then they experience death. If it means that they are annihilated and completely dissolved, then they do not die in this respect. Instead, they remain separate from the body as long as Allah wills, then return to the body and remain with it in eternal bliss or torment. [Alusi, Ruh al-Ma’ani; Sharh al-‘Aqida al-Tahawiyya]


Abdullah narrated: “While I was walking with the Prophet, peace and be upon him, in the ruins of Medina and he was leaning on a staff, he passed a group of Jews. Some of them said to others, ‘Ask him about the soul.’ Some of them said, ‘Do not ask him, lest he brings something you dislike.’ But they said, ‘We will ask him.’ So, a man stood up and asked, ‘O Aba al-Qasim, what is the soul?’ The Prophet remained silent. I said to myself, ‘He is being revealed to.’ When the revelation was over, he said, ‘They ask you, (O Muhammad), about the soul. Say, “The soul is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind have not been given of knowledge except a little.”’” [Quran, 17:85] [Bukhari]

We must remember, when speaking about the soul, Allah’s directive: “Do not follow what you have no (sure) knowledge of. Indeed, all will be called to account for (their) hearing, sight, and intellect.” [Quran, 17:36]. The soul does not conform to the laws of empirical science. Therefore, our only source of knowledge about it is what is revealed in the Quran and Sunna. We accept this revelation about the soul without debate, as our empirical sciences are incapable of participating in this discussion. The soul is a wondrous divine matter that most minds and understandings cannot comprehend. Since the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did not speak about the reality of the soul despite being asked, we refrain from discussing it out of respect. It is a matter that Allah has exclusively kept to His knowledge, and it is not permissible for anyone to research it beyond acknowledging its existence. And Allah knows best.

May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon our master and prophet Muhammad, his family, and his companions.

[Shaykh] Anas al-Musa.

Shaykh Anas al-Musa, born in Hama, Syria, in 1974, is an erudite scholar of notable repute. He graduated from the Engineering Institute in Damascus, where he specialized in General Construction, and Al-Azhar University, Faculty of Usul al-Din, where he specialized in Hadith.

He studied under prominent scholars in Damascus, including Shaykh Abdul Rahman al-Shaghouri and Shaykh Adib al-Kallas, among others. Shaykh Anas has memorized the Quran and is proficient in the ten Mutawatir recitations, having studied under Shaykh Bakri al-Tarabishi and Shaykh Mowfaq ‘Ayun. He also graduated from the Iraqi Hadith School.

He has taught numerous Islamic subjects at Shari‘a institutes in Syria and Turkey. Shaykh Anas has served as an Imam and preacher for over 15 years and is a teacher of the Quran in its various readings and narrations.

Currently, he works as a teacher at SeekersGuidance and is responsible for academic guidance there. He has completed his Master’s degree in Hadith and is now pursuing his Ph.D. in the same field. Shaykh Anas al-Musa is married and resides in Istanbul.