LESSON FORTY-THREE: THE IMMATERIALITY OF THE SOUL

Introduction

We know by now that the issues relating to the Resurrection are dependent upon the issues relating to the soul (rūh). It is only possible to state that the resurrected person is the same being as before he died, if his soul remained after the annihilation of his body. In other words every man, besides his material body and form, contains an immaterial substance, which is independent from the body and his personality is dependent upon it. Therefore the presumption of life after death for that particular individual cannot be considered as logical.

Hence before we establish the principle of resurrection, we must first explain and intellectually prove the issues relating to it.

Intellectual reasoning upon the immateriality of the soul

For centuries, philosophers and intellectuals have discussed the subject of the soul (known in philosophical terminology the nafs). Islamic philosophers in particular have given this topic special attention, and as opposed to devoting just a chapter in their books to it, have in turn written independent books. They have rejected the concept of the soul being an outward form of the body, or a form of matter, on several intellectual reasons.

It is apparent that this is indeed a vast subject and beyond the scope of this book to cover, we will therefore suffice ourselves with a small discussion and give a clear explanation, which will satisfy the establishment of our thought. This explanation is based upon a few intellectual arguments and a premise, which begins as follows:

We observe the colour of our skin and the structure of our body with our own eyes; we feel its softness and firmness with our sense perception and understand the inner configuration indirectly. However, our fear, anger, will, thought, and emotions can also be sensed without the means of senses and we are also aware of different psychological states and realize the ‘I’ ness, which is enclosed with likes and dislikes.

Hence, universally man is bestowed with two types of perception, the first can be considered as those perceptions that can be perceived or sensed through the senses and the second type of perceptions are those that do not require the sensual organs.

Another point to be noted is that the first form of perception which is derived from the senses has the possibility of fault and this is contrary to the second type of perception where there is no intrusion of fault. For example it is possible that someone might doubt that the colour of the skin he has is the same as he perceives or it is different to what he perceives. On the other hand no-one would ever doubt whether he has decided or not, he has a thought or not, or he has a doubt or not.

This is the very subject that has been explained in philosophy in the following way:

Intuitive knowledge (‘ilm hudūri) is directly related to the reality and due to this it is considered as faultless, but knowledge by perception (‘ilm husūli) is formed from the conclusions of different outward forms, therefore the possibility of fault and suspicion exist.

The intuitive knowledge and awareness, which is the most certain of all, is the knowledge attained by presence and spiritual witnessing. Such knowledge contains the knowledge of the psyche, emotions, and other psychological states. Therefore the existence of ‘I’ or the ‘self’ can never be doubted and likewise the existence of fear, emotions and mercy, or thought and will are also certain.

The question arises as to whether this ‘I’ is the same as the material body, or whether it is a psychological state extended from the body, or whether its existence is other than that of matter, but has a strong relationship with the body, and several of its works are conducted through the body, which result in the two having effect upon each other.

While focusing upon the issues discussed in our premise the answer to the above question are as follows:

  1. The ‘I’ (spirit) must be perceived through intuitive knowledge (by presence), but the body must be perceived through the senses, therefore the ‘I’ is other than the body.

  2. The ‘I’ is a type of existence that throughout the course of the life of an individual remains the same. This can be understood through intuitive knowledge but the body changes its form and shape several times and does not have a true unifying criteria.

  3. The ‘I’ is abstract and indivisible and it cannot be divided into two even by example, but the body can be divided into several parts.

  4. The psychological elements such as emotions, will etc are indivisible and cannot be regarded to be the extensions of matter, therefore the substance of these elements has to be immaterial.

  5. Likewise those reasons that satisfy the heart with regards to this subject are the ‘true witnessing’ of people who after death disclose the true information through dreams to specified individuals. Similarly calling spirits and certain acts of the saints or of yogis can also establish the immateriality of the soul. However this subject requires an independent book.

Proofs from the Qur’an

From the Qur’anic point of view, there is no doubt in the existence of the soul, and that it is pure and to be associated with God: “and breathed into him of His Spirit” (al-Sajdah:9).

In regards to the creation of Adam (as), the Qur’an says:“and breathed into him of My spirt” (al-Hijr:29, Sād:72) Likewise we understand from other noble verses of the Qur’an, that the soul is other than the body and has the capability of perpetuating after the body has died:

“They say, ‘When we have been lost in the dust, shall we indeed be created anew?’ Rather they disbelieve in the encounter with their Lord. Say, ‘You will be taken away by the angel of death, who has been charged with you. Then you will be brought back to your Lord.’” (al-Sajdah:10,11).

Therefore the criteria for the reality of man is the soul, which by the means of the angel of death is taken away and protected, leaving the body which is scattered and left to decompose in the earth.

In another verse we find that:

“Allah takes the souls at the time of their death, and those that have not died in their sleep. Then He retains those for whom He has ordained death and releases the others back until a specific time. There are indeed signs in that for people who reflect.” (al- Zumar:42) In regard to the death of a tyrant the Qur’an says:

“Were you to see when the wrongdoers are in the throes of death, and the angels extend their hands [saying]:

‘Give up your souls!” (al-An’ām:93) From these verses and several other verses that we have not quoted, one can conclude that the personality and the reality of man is the soul, which through the means of death and decomposition of the body, is eternal.

Thus the result that we can arrive at is that first of all there exists an ‘existence’ in man, which is called the ‘soul’. Secondly this spirit is perpetual and independent from the body, and any form of decomposition of the body does not affect it. Thirdly the reality of each individual is dependent upon the soul and the body acts as an instrument for the soul.

Questions

  1. Explain the differences between knowledge by presence and knowledge by acquaintance. What are these differences?

  2. What are the intellectual reasons for the immateriality of the soul?

  3. Is there any other way for proving the immateriality of the soul?

  4. Quote the noble verses of the Qur’an relating to the immateriality of the soul.

  5. What conclusions can be drawn from these verses?