In the first place, we’d like to make it clear that the Qur’an instructs us that the ruh (soul) is something known only to Allah. Bearing this in mind, a Muslim should concentrate on what brings him spiritual fulfillment. Here it is important to note that when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked about the nature of the soul, Almighty Allah instructed him to answer them in plain words: “They will ask thee concerning the soul. Say: The soul is by command of my Lord, and of knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little” (Al-Israa‘: 85).

On the practical level, a Muslim is commanded to seek what benefits him in matters of this life and in the hereafter. It does not matter if he knows what the nature of the soul is, but it does really matter if he ignores how to purify his soul and make it attached to Allah rather than to the desires of the flesh. Islam teaches us to be practical. When a man asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) about the exact date of the Day of Judgment, the Prophet did not answer his question but rather directed him to what really matters and what should be his real concern, by saying “What have you prepared for it?” By the same token, one should not ask—with one’s limited knowledge—“What is the nature of the soul?” Rather, one should ask oneself, “Have I purified my soul?”

Shedding some light on the issue of the soul and its nature, the late Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltout, Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, issued the following:

“Soul is the power that causes life in (living) creatures—plants, beasts, and people. There are no exact texts that define the nature of the soul. It is, above all, a universal fact that is left to people to explore. Yet, people were notified that, with their limited knowledge, they will never be able to unveil all its secrets.

Scholars have give many explanations of the nature of the soul, yet, only two views are to be taken into account. According to Imam Al-Alusi, soul is a heavenly living being that is completely different in nature and characteristics from this physical body. It goes easily in the body in the same wa
y as water moves in the plants. It causes life in the human body so long as the body is destined to live. Ibn Al-Qayyim commented on this, “This is the most correct view that is proved by the Qur’an, the Sunnah and ijma` (consensus).