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Difference between  روح and نفس  (ruh and nafs)


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Author Topic: Difference between  روح and نفس  (ruh and nafs)  (Read 123 times)
Ruhi_Rose
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« on: February 09, 2021, 11:38:02 pm »




As-Salam Alaykum my dear MV folks.     I find this topic truly interesting.   But I need to brush up my knowledge on it.   I really don't know enough.   

Briefly ....

As for "روح" (Ruh) =  soul.

As for "نفس" (Nafs) = combination or fusion between body and soul.

This is the smallest summary of a very lengthy topic which different Muslim experts have understood in slightly differing ways.   I'm not looking for one of those lengthy thesis-like write-ups, but just a simple analysis in a structural form defining the topic a bit more in detail based on the Islamic perspective of psychology and the human mind would be greatly appreciated.


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Heba E. Husseyn
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« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2021, 05:20:50 am »




Walaikum As-Salam Sister Ruhi.     You're right.  The subject is protracted and somewhat complex.  There are some differing opinions among our scholars who have studied psychology at length.  But to define the basics makes it fairly simple and congruent. 

Nafs is the human ego or mind that has the potential of functioning from the grossest to the highest level, that is, from negative traits to fine qualities of wisdom, reflection and self control.  In other words, nafs can be referred to as the decision maker, the ego or the mind. 

Ruh or spirit or soul is the spiritual aspect of the human self that connects with Allah The Almighty like during prayers, supplication and contemplation with thoughts of Allah.   Ruh is the soul minus the physical body.

Ruh and the nafs communicate.    Ruh is invisible and intangible and it chooses good or bad through the nafs.  If the nafs is on the right track, the ruh will choose to be right too and find peace in remembering Allah, understanding the purpose of our existence, pondering on other physical beings, on the universe and their purpose etc.

Nafs is sometimes explained as something which is tangible with the opinion that it consists of the soul and the body.   But factually, nafs is intangible too as its an amalgam of ideas within the body (mind).   The brain is surely tangible.  But mind is abstract or invisible which comprises of the nafs.   The soul which is definitely intangible (or invisible) is placed within the human body by the Command of The Almighty.    Complete details about the soul is only known to Allah (The All Knower) as He has stated in Verse 17:85 of Surah Al-Isra.   

While aql is the center of reasoning or intelligence, nafs brings the various emotions (inciting forces) into it.  Therefore, I would say that the mind basically comprises of aql, and nafs is a part of aql.   This can also be explained as follows:  Located in the brain, nafs (one of the aspects of the mind) is responsible for behavioral and emotional responses.    As already stated, while brain is physical, mind is not.  The brain is composed of nerve cells and can be touched, whereas the mind which includes the nafs cannot be touched.

In some or most Quran translations nafs is translated as soul.  This translation is not accurate and for this reason majority of Islâmic scholars consider nafs (soul) and rűh (spirit) to be the same.   Thus in many articles and write-ups you will find that scholars have used the terms ruh and nafs interchangeably.  However after deeper study of the Quran and the human psychology, there are other scholars who maintain that nafs and ruh are two different entities.   Briefly, ruh is the soul, nafs is the ego within the mind. 

The following is a very basic presentation which would help to clarify better.






Related topics:

Quranic term Ruh-ul-Qudusi
Concept of soul in the Quran
Heart and Mind Connection



    
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Ruhi_Rose
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« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2021, 03:59:43 pm »




Thanks dear Sister.   Thoroughly logical.   Alhumdulilah.    So, when it is said that the 'nafs meets the heart' or coordinates with the heart, can the connotation be similar to the 'heart and mind' connection?   That would mean, the nafs sending messages to the heart.  Detailed studies reveal messages from different parts within the brain (mind) are sent to the nervous system.  That influences our soul.  Secondly, in various cases, it has an impact on heart health .. the physical heart.     

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« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2021, 04:07:09 pm »



Well analyzed Sister Heba.   If studied carefully, it's totally compatible with the scientific study of the human self. 




Thanks dear Sister.   Thoroughly logical.   Alhumdulilah.    So, when it is said that the 'nafs meets the heart' or coordinates with the heart, can the connotation be similar to the 'heart and mind' connection?   That would mean, the nafs sending messages to the heart.  Detailed studies reveal messages from different parts within the brain (mind) are sent to the nervous system.  That influences our soul.  Secondly, in various cases, it has an impact on heart health .. the physical heart.   


Very good point.    We all know what the ruh (soul or spirit) is.  As for nafs, it's not the same as ruh, and the only entity it corresponds to is the mind .. or maybe certain parts of the mind. 

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« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2021, 04:23:06 pm »




Yes brother, precisely.    On the opinion, which most likely seems correct, that soul and nafs are not the same  .....

For example, let me focus on two Verses of the Noble Quran.

"kulu nafsin zaiqatu al-mawti"  3:185   which translates as follows:  "Every soul will taste of death."  

"Rabbi inni zalamtu nafsi faighfir li"  28:16  which would translate as follows:   "My Rab, indeed I have wronged my soul, so forgive me,"


So, while only Allah Almighty knows best, as an opinion it's very likely that in the above Verses, The Almighty is referring to the nafs or human mind which is the centre of thoughts.  The reference is not directly to the soul as translated.   Am I right? 



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« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2021, 04:34:35 pm »





   .. ...

So, while only Allah Almighty knows best, as an opinion it's very likely that in the above Verses, The Almighty is referring to the nafs or human mind which is the centre of thoughts.  The reference is not directly to the soul as translated.   Am I right? 


Right.   Every nafs will taste death likely refers to every individual.   And if I say that I wronged my nafs, it can logically mean that I wronged myself (the person within me) through my negative thoughts (or negative thoughts of my nafs).  If you follow the wrong prompts of your nafs, you end up hurting yourself which includes your nafs.    However, remember, the nafs influences the soul.  A bad nafs can ruin the soul just as a good nafs can benefit the soul.   So even if the Verses you quoted do directly or indirectly refer to the soul with the mention of nafs, it's still logically correct.    I suppose this is the reason why many scholars consider soul and nafs to be the same.  While in my opinion soul and nafs aren't the same, it's the control of the nafs over the soul that causes confusion in some people who are trying to study and analyze this aspect.




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« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2021, 04:53:45 pm »




Wa'salaam.   Immensely interesting, factual and important subject.  Alhumdulilah.    Very well elucidated right through, Maash'Allah.      As brother said, we all know what exactly the soul is.  And we also know what the physical heart (qalb) is.   It's to understand the precise nature of the nafs that sometimes gets people a bit confused.    But it's actually very simple and straight.  The brain has different parts that control our emotions, happiness, anger, pain etc.    I think it would be correct to recognize the entire process of cognition that ensues from the different parts of the brain as altogether the nafs.  

Nafs influences the soul as well as the qalb in different ways.

Very thoughtfully surveyed Sister Heba.



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« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2021, 04:58:37 pm »




That was additionally helpful, many thanks brother TS and Sister Zeynab. 

Btw, I've heard that in Sufism qalb or heart refers to the spiritual heart not the physical one.   Any opinions on that?


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« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2021, 05:34:52 pm »




  .....
Btw, I've heard that in Sufism qalb or heart refers to the spiritual heart not the physical one.   Any opinions on that?



I've heard that too but I don't understand what the Sufi connotation is.  It's surely not compatible with the mainstream Islamic perspective.  The spiritual entity is the soul.  The nafs is the abstract entity which can be good or bad or mediocre.  The nafs influences the soul intangibly into spiritual obedience or disobedience or neglect.  The nafs can influence the qalb (heart) physically e.g. if nafs is stiring up the emotion of worries in a person, it can effect the physical health of the heart or qalb.   If the ruh or soul is well guided and at peace, it will often lead to a tranquil heart.   The heart is always viewed as a physical organ which gets influenced by the nafs and soul in different ways. 

Qalb and nafs are also intrinsically connected just as the nafs and soul interact.  

If a person suffers a heart attack, in due course of time they also often develop depression, sleep disorders and cognitive problems which ensue from the nafs.   Similarly, if a person is depressed and anxious for a long period of time, they often develop cardiovascular issues.   Also for instance, problems with the blood vessels of the physical heart supplying blood to the physical brain can affect that particular sphere of the brain that controls our memory causing the development of dementia which is an abstract aspect of the mind that can be described as nafs.   

Thus, while heart health is largely dependent on the nafs and ruh, it's the ruh that is spiritual not the heart.    And only Allah knows best.


  
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« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2021, 06:47:41 pm »



Well summed up Sister.   The Sufi perspective divides the function of the ruh (soul) between the ruh and the qalb (heart).   The Sufi psychology says heart isn't a physical organ, that it's spiritual which contains wisdom and higher intellect.  They say that it's the heart that holds the spirit (I suppose they mean the ruh) with spiritual inclination.  Therefore according to Sufism the goal should be to develop a spiritually healthy heart which is compassionate, honest and intelligent.  They hardly talk of the nafs or the abstract feelings created in the mind.   To me this sounds like an important part of the ideology being omitted.    Only Allah would know the extent of its accuracy. 

There are some Verses in the Noble Quran with a reference to the ability of the heart (qalb) reflecting higher intellect.  For e.g. Verse 22:46 of Surah Al-Hajj, quote:  "For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind."  ("al-qulūbu"  meaning 'the hearts').   But in such Verses this expression has been mentioned figuratively NOT literally, referring to the collective interaction of the nafs, ruh and heart for simplifying the Message for the common people who at that time had very little or no knowledge about the psychological functions within the human body.  It's an expression simply in accordance with a grammatical and metaphorical decorum of language. 

Back in those days people didn't know anything about the nafs nor its effect on the physical heart.  So their thoughts took a shortcut presuming that feelings developed in the heart, which traditionally and socially developed into an oratorical parable.  In that era people also knew very little or probably nothing about the soul.  That's one of the reasons they presumed that after death there was nothing .. because the factual concept of the immortality of soul was missing in the society.  For that reason the Arabian Jews, as a test of Prophethood, also asked the Prophet (pbuh) to explain the spirit to them (V.17:85), because the Jews had some knowledge about the spirit or ruh, but the pre-Islamic Arabs didn't.  

 
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« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2021, 06:51:41 pm »




Very wise input, Alhumdulilah.    I'm glad you added this point brother TS.    Plenty of thanks.
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« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2021, 06:52:49 pm »



You're very welcome Sister.
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« Reply #12 on: February 10, 2021, 06:56:27 pm »



Thank you so much, Sister Zeynab and Brother TS.    That was quite a bit of information for me.   I never knew those details about the Sufi approach.
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« Reply #13 on: February 10, 2021, 06:58:10 pm »




Mash'Allah, very useful additional inputs.   Very informative for me too.
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« Reply #14 on: February 16, 2021, 09:35:20 pm »




Ibn Khalidun


And here's something really interesting folks.  Some Islamic history linked with this topic.   Quoting Assabiya @ twitter

"As early as the 14th century, Ibn Khaldun considered ...
.. that certain brain capacities such as imagination and memory could each be housed in independent parts of the brain. It was not until the Broca experiments in 1861 that this idea took hold.
"




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