Summary of 4.4 "Dreams, Omens, Envy & Charms"
I would summarize it in four basic points. First of all we discussed the difference between the ability of human beings using partial evidence that is available to them and using God given understanding of the laws in nature, created by God, in order to forecast or predict certain things like earthquakes or rain. We said this is quite different from complete, full and exact knowledge of things that are going to happen in the future which are in the exclusive domain of God except what He chooses to communicate or let be known.
The second basic point was the question of dreams that come true. We discussed how Islam divided into dreams as that emanates from God, which are good dreams, dreams that are there to scare one which hare from the devil and we suggested what measures to use to get away form these kinds of scary feelings and to get back to sleep comfortably.
We also discussed the belief that people have in the bad eye that brings evil to them. We said that one should depend upon God and not to worry much about it while still taking precautions and to recite certain verses in the Quran especially the last three chapters of the Quran in the morning and evening.
We also indicated that the belief that certain things bring good luck or bad luck are no necessarily true and causes people to have many superstitious thoughts that might at times be self fulfilling prophecies.
4.5 The Soul
Host: Do Muslims belief in life after death and if so what is the basis for this belief?
The first thing we should realize is belief in life after death is part and partial of the Mulsim belief. Indeed one can’t be regarded as a Muslim if he rejects the belief in the life hereafter. Let me give specific documentation of this particular issue. We will focus on how much importance Islam gives this particular belief. Let’s look at the human being as a material. What is the human being composed of? A few gallons of water some carbon some magnesium, potassium, sodium and other elements in the earth. What does this mean? In itself it means nothing I remember reading a while back somebody made statistical study about how many pencils can be maid out of the carbon of the human body, how many nails one can make from the iron in the human body, how many boxes of matches one can make from the phosphorus in the human body. All of these elements would be worth a few dollars. When we talk about the human being we are talking about a special class of the creations of God which is worth more than the few dollars that the basic elements that one finds in the human body. Not even six million dollars as some say is the price of man. One can’t put a price tag on this miraculous and special creation of God. To the Muslim the human being is the crown of creation. Now if a Muslim believes in a world beyond the world of matter then what is the thing that really makes a difference between a few gallons of water and some basic elements, who has intellect, who has free will and above all who has the spirituality to know God and to strive to please Him? With this understanding then if the value of the human being doesn’t reside in this matter then where does it reside. From here comes the belief that the human being is not just matter and is not even just a biological life like any other life but has a soul which makes the difference between humans and other creators.
Host: How would you define the soul and is it the same as spirit?
I have to give as closely as possible the equivalent Quranic terminology used for this. The word spirit in my understanding approximates the Arabic term rooh, where as the term soul, approximates the Arabic term nafs. To put it in a nut shell the rooh or the spirit is a term which is to the Mulsim more general and more embracive than the term soul. When we talk about spirit as used in the Quran we find that that term is used in three or four different meanings. First of all it used to refer to divine revelation given to prophets. For example in (42:52) it says a spirit from the command of God or “We, by Our Command, sent inspiration to thee.”
A second meaning that is used for the term spirit in the Quran is the spirit that God provides for the believers to give them the comfort, trust in Him, confidence and to support them in their difficulties. This is documented in the Quran in (58:22) but of course it doesn’t mean that this spirit that God uses to support the believers through is part of divinity but it is simply His help and support of the believers.
A third meaning of spirit as used in the Quran is in reference to Archangel Gabriel. He is regarded in the Quran as Holy Spirit as trustworthy or honest spirit. But I should again indicate that this has no connotation of the term spirit being connected with the term divinity. The Muslim belief is that the Holy Spirit is one of the creations of God as he is an archangel.
There is also another meaning that could be derived from the term spirit. The spirit is from God and was breathed into us to make us human beings. We find reference in the Quran particularly about the creation of Prophet Jesus (PBUH) and that he is a spirit from God which appears in (4:171). The exact same term appears in different ways in (32:9) and in (15:28-29)*. Both of these quotations talk about God creating the human being in the best possible fashion and then “breathed into him of My spirit.” When the Quran uses this terminology it means that the spirit of God that is breathed into us is the spirit of the knowledge of God and the intuitive feeling of contact or need for the creator. This is the meaning of spirit.
The term soul however or the world nafs in Arabic is perhaps a little bit more limited. This is the thing that I mentioned before as the thing that distinguishes between a simple biological life and a human being who has the powers of reason, intellect and above all the spirituality which connects him with his creator. In that sense it can be similar to the term spirit in a very narrow sense. The term spirit is broader than the term soul and yet they are similar in one sense.
Host: Where do we develop our understanding and how do we come to know about the soul? How much is it possible for us to know about the soul.
By definition when we talk about the soul we are not really talking about something that is material or tangible. As such the sources of knowledge can’t be totally material sources. In other words no amount of human intellect, no amount of experimental ability and no amount of experiential ability that is a mystical experience where people feel under certain spiritual exercises can provide a sufficient and authentic source of knowledge as to what the soul is, its nature and what happens to it.
This leads us to one conclusion which we discussed in the series on prophethood in Islam. The description for an unseen or intangible type of thing like the soul would have to be understood threw direct revelation and communicated by God through His prophets via Holy Books. For the Muslim this would be the Quran. Even then the Quran makes it clear that the information given within revelation is limited. One key verse in the Quran in (17:85) “They ask thee concerning the Spirit (of inspiration). Say: "The Spirit (cometh) by command of my Lord: of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you, (O men!).” So we can only proceed with the very little information that the divine revelation gives us about the soul. We can’t hope to have full or complete knowledge about the soul like we have about the eye or ear as it is something that is beyond our comprehension.
Host: Is there any particular place in the individual’s body in which the soul resides?
There is no evidence that I know of in the Quran or the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that implies in any way that the soul resides in any special part of the human body. Now mind you I am aware of some notions that exist among other people but not necessarily among Muslims the belief that the soul resides in the blood, the heart or the mind. All of these notions seem to mix between soul and biological life. Of course without blood, heart or brains one can’t function. One would be dead or ones soul would not be united with the body. So in that sense there is relation but it is still quite different from the soul and how we described it before as a source of intellect and most importantly spirituality.
There are some Muslim scholars, however like Ibn-Alkim who in his own interpretation feels that the soul is a body of light or a body within our body. The soul is something that is totally infused in the body in a way like the water is infused in a flower. But again we have to be careful as this is not based on any text in the Quran or sayings of the Prophet. Threw out the research in this area I could not find a common belief in this area among Muslim jurists and scholars that the soul resides in any particular part of the body. It seems that the more acceptable view is that it is perhaps infused in the whole body even though we don’t know this exactly what shape or nature it takes. After all it is a non-material and is of the unseen.
Host: In response to an earlier question you indicated that the soul has its origins from God. We know that God is eternal does this mean that our souls are also eternal? Do our souls parish when we die? Before we are born do our souls exist?
This is just like some ideas that since the word of God proceeds from God then it should be eternal. I think in regards to the question of the soul there is a mix up between two things. On one hand we have the prior knowledge of God and of everything that is going to happen on this earth. By default the complete and perfect knowledge of God is that He knew everything before the earth was created. On the other hand this is quite different from the actual creation of the soul or its uniting with the physical body. These are two different issues. God’s knowledge is always complete and perfect and the creation of the soul is something that took place later on. In other words the soul is not eternal.
Perhaps one way of explaining it is that the soul uses the body as a garment. The soul may take different forms, it may transform from one stage to another while using the body. So the body is a garment which is shed at the time of death. There is one saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which confirms further that the soul is created and is not eternal. In one of those sayings he says that in the beginning of the fifth month of pregnancy that God ordains the soul to be breathed into the fetus. Again this is not biological life because some studies show that the ovum, the fertilized egg, it has biological life it has the ingredients of life but when we talk of the soul from a spiritual sense it comes into being in the fifth month of pregnancy.
As far as the destructibility of the soul, it is indestructible once it is created. There are four stages the soul goes threw. In the first stage the soul is united with the body as a fetus beginning in the fifth month. Secondly the soul is united with the body after birth or from the period after birth and before death. The third stage is the soul departing from the physical body between burial or death and resurrection on the Day of Judgment. The fourth and perhaps more eternal or lasting form of the soul is when it reunites with the body on the Day of Resurrection. It dwells with the body either in paradise or in the hell fire. These are the various stages which show that the soul will never parish but that it actually starts or is created while we are still in the womb.
Host: What happens to the soul during and after the death experience? First of all what is the Islamic attitude towards death?
I realize that most people do not particularly feel that the subject of death is a very pleasant subject. For the Muslim there is no question about facing the subject of death. There is no attempt to try and repress the subject. There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps one of the most universal realities in this universe is death. Every second there are several people who are born and others who die. Just as we record this program there are several people all over the world who are dyeing or have died already since we started. The other thing about it is that it is the most universal experience. Some people may experience some things in their lives others don’t but death and birth are the most universal experiences that all human beings have to go threw sooner or later. It follows that it is a mistake to say why talk about such an unpleasant thing. It is very important and deserves some attention.
This is not only the attitude of Muslim but I have noted recently some people who are not necessarily Muslims are starting to realize the importance of this subject. There are literature courses about death and dyeing and caring for the dyeing. I was pleased to be invited one time by one of my collogues at St. Mary’s to address his class which was a whole course dealing with the subject of death. I was surprised to find that the enrolment in the course was close to 80 students. This is quite unusual especially with courses about religious studies.
In any case to focus specifically on the Muslim attitude we find that the Quran in (21:35) “Every soul shall have a taste of death.” This also appears in (29:57) “Every soul shall have a taste of death in the end to Us shall ye be brought back.”
Secondly the Quran makes it clear that no matter what the person does to evade or escape death when it is determined for him to die nothing can prevent that from happening to him. In one moving verse in the Quran in (4:78) “Wherever ye are, death will find you out, even if ye are in towers built up strong and high!”
For a Muslim there isn’t much worry as to when the person is going to die. A Muslim should not use the terms ‘prolonging the life of an individual’ or ‘shortening the life of an individual’ because before we are created or even become fetuses God has predetermined the exact moment where we are supposed to die. We should not worry about this particular issue. In (16:61) it says for example that when the term of the person comes he will not have one hour more or later. A Muslim believes in the perpetual existence of the life of the soul after death of the physical body. The Muslim looks at death as a shift from one state of existence to another. The same way we move from the state of being asleep to the state of consciousness and back again. Indeed for the Muslim when people die they awaken, people are sleeping when they are physically alive because they get busy with too many of the things that God has created in this universe and many of the mysteries of God. But when the person dies their physical body is no longer there to attract these things such as a job, money, property and all that and then he might awaken to the higher reality of the spiritual existence. So in that sense a Muslim should always be prepared about this shift. A true Muslim should not be worried about that he or she is going of face death. What worries the true Muslim more is whether or not he is doing enough in this earthly life to get ready for the security and for felicity in the life after death because the Muslim believes in punishment and reward after death.
Perhaps I can conclude the answer to this question by referring to one interesting verse in the Quran which give the ideal attitude of how a Muslim should look at death in (67:1-2)** “Blessed be He in Whose hands is Dominion; and He over all things hath Power;-He Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed.” The whole matter of life and death to the Muslim are nothing but a particular test a stage in his eternal existence and has to harness it to get ready for the more perpetual and eternal life.
Host: Is there anything in the Quran that explains what a person feels or sees during the experience of death?
There are lots of these things but perhaps I can touch on one of these things. One aspect is that usually the person at the time of death hopes to go back to life in order catch up with good deeds. For example we find this in (63:10) “and spend something (in charity) out of the substance which We have bestowed on you, before Death should come to any of you and he should say, "O my Lord! why didst Thou not give me respite for a little while? I should then have given (largely) in charity, and I should have been one of the doers of good.” So one feeling at the time of death is some kind of sorrow for not having enough time to do more good in order to prepare for the life hereafter.
*Says that the quote is from verse 18-19 incorrectly.
** Says that the quote is from chapter 28 incorrectly.