On the Difference between the Nafs & the Ruh

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted from Jawahir ar-Rasa’il by Shaykh Ibrahim Sisi (q.s.).

Concerning the difference between the nafs and the ruh, many scholars have given extensive commentary on the subject but most of their words have not been convincing or persuasive concerning the difference between the two, and there is not really a 'difference' between the two.

The ruh is lahuti, while the nafs is naswuti; the nafs is khalqi and the ruh is amri.  The world of the nafs is dunya; the mulk, the world of appearances, forms and bodies.  It is that which can be perceived by the outward senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch.  While the world of the ruh is akhirah; the malakut, the world of the unseen, meanings, the amr, the spirits and the inward realities.  It is that which can perceived by the inward senses of the ‘aql, the qalb, the sirr, the ruh, and khafi.

These two realms are what has been indicated in the Speech of Allah (s.w.t.):

… Is it not His to Create and to Govern? ... (Surah al-A’araf:54)

And His Saying:

They ask thee concerning the Spirit (of inspiration).  Say: “The Spirit (cometh) by Command of my Lord …” (Surah al-Isra’:85)

Those who remain veiled from the Real suppose this reply to be obscure and elusive, but it is a very clear response to those who know, so we must understand this well.  ibn ‘Abbas (r.a.) said, “In the children of Adam is a nafs and a ruh.  The nafs is that by which the intellect is able to make distinction and differentiation, and the ruh is that by which the breath and movement is actualised.”

The spirit of the human being is the amanah, ma'rifah and iman; it is not eaten by the dust, as Allah (s.w.t.) has Prohibited the earth from consuming the bodies of the prophets, the truthful.  The spirit of animals does not bear the amanah, ma'rifah or iman, and the earth consumes its form.  So the reality of the ruh is that it is from the Amr of the Lord, and the realm of amr is Created out of nothing, while the world of khalq is Created out of something, as has been indicated:

… We Made, from water, every living thing …  (Surah al-Anbiya’:30)

Allah (s.w.t.) is not created out of anything, and the first thing which He Created before everything else is the Nur of Muhammad (s.a.w.).  If we find some ahadits mentioning the first things which Allah (s.w.t.) has Created being the angels, the cherubs, the Pen, the intellect, the light, the pearl and so forth; all of these are indications of the Nur of Muhammad (s.a.w.), in as much as his attributes are as numerous as his names, but the Named is one!  This should suffice as a reply.


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