Islamic Concepts and Beliefs

The Soul


Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), The Promised Messiah & Imam Mahdi

The Promised Messiah (as) wrote over 80 books in Arabic, Urdu, and Persian. Excerpts of his collected works have been translated into English and organised by topic. The Review of Religions is pleased to present these excerpts as part of a monthly feature. Here the Promised Messiah (as) explains how the soul has a strong yearning to love God, and how this would not be the case had it been uncreated.

Extracts from The Essence of Islam, Vol. II, 392-400.

In the Holy Qur’an, God says:

أَلَسۡتُ بِرَبِّكُمۡ ۖ قَالُواْ بَلَىٰ[1]

I enquired of the souls ‘Am I not your Creator?’ They responded: ‘Yes, indeed.’ 

This means that souls naturally affirm the existence of a Creator, though some people falling in the darkness of heedlessness and being influenced by wrong teachings become atheists or Aryas and deny their Creator contrary to their nature. It is obvious that everyone loves his parents, so much so that some children suffer death in consequence of the death of their mother. Then if souls are not God’s creation who has invested them with natural love for God, how is it that when a person achieves full consciousness his heart is drawn to God and his bosom is flooded with the love of God? There must be some relationship between God and souls which makes them fall madly in love with God. They become so devoted to God that they are ready to sacrifice everything for His sake. It is truly a wonderful relationship which is far above one’s relationship with father and mother. 

If souls are self-existent, as is alleged by the Aryas, then how has this relationship been established and who has invested souls with the faculty of love for and devotion to God? This is worthy of reflection and is the key to true comprehension. 

—Chashma-e-Ma‘rifat, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 23, p. 167

As God has called man to Himself, He has invested him in advance with faculties suited to worship and love. These faculties that are bestowed by God hear His voice. As God desired that man should develop comprehension of God, He invested the human soul with the faculty of comprehension in advance, for if it had not been so man would have lacked comprehension of God. Whatever the human soul possesses is from God and is a reflection of divine qualities. No one of those qualities is evil, their misuse makes them evil. Someone may object that man suffers from evil qualities like envy or rancour, etc., which cannot be bestowed by God. The truth is, as we have already stated, that all human qualities are a reflection of divine qualities, as the human soul is from God, but excess or misuse gives them a repulsive appearance in men. For instance, envy is a repulsive quality whereby a person desires that another may be deprived of a bounty and it might be bestowed upon him, but at bottom envy means only that a man does not desire that another one should be his partner in any excellence that he has acquired. In its essence this is a divine quality by virtue of which God is One without associate. The misuse of this quality makes it repulsive; however, it is not evil for a person to wish to outstrip all others in virtue and to desire to achieve spiritual uniqueness. 

—Nasim-e-Da‘wat, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 19, pp. 389-390

A Soul Bereft of its Qualities is Dead 

It may be said that if the soul is created it would follow that it is mortal in the sense that a condition in which something is bereft of its qualities may be described as death. When a medicine loses all its effect it may be described as dead. In certain circumstances the soul is bereft of its qualities and undergoes even greater changes than the body. At such times it can be said that it has died, inasmuch as when anything gives up all its essential qualities it is described as dead. That is why in the Holy Qur’an only those human souls have been described as being alive after their departure from this life which retain those essential qualities which are the purpose of their creation, that is to say, perfect love of and perfect obedience to God Almighty which is the life of the soul. When a soul departs this life full of the love of God and having devoted itself to Him, it is alive and all other souls are dead. A soul bereaved of its qualities is dead. 

During sleep both the body and the soul die, that is to say, they are bereft of the qualities that they possess during wakefulness and suffer a sort of death, inasmuch as anything that is bereft of its qualities cannot be described as being alive. Death does not only mean non-existence; being bereft of essential qualities is also a sort of death. For instance, when a body dies its material still survives. In the same way the death of the soul means that it has been bereft of its qualities, as happens during sleep, when both the body and the soul are bereft of the qualities that they possess during waking hours. For instance, the soul of a living person meets a dead person in a dream and does not know that that person had died. It forgets this life altogether as it sinks into sleep, and discarding its garment of life puts on a new garment forgetting all its knowledge and all its memories of the world except that much as God may keep alive. It suspends all its activities and truly arrives before God. All its movements and words and emotions pass under the control of God Almighty. It loses all choice and it cannot be said that anything that it does or says or hears in a dream is by its own choice. It exhibits all the signs of death. During sleep the soul suffers an even greater death than does the body. If people were to reflect upon their condition during sleep they would realise that if the soul had been exempt from death it would have continued to enjoy that exemption in sleep also. 

Our condition during sleep is a mirror for the purpose of our comprehension of our condition in death. He who seeks true comprehension of the soul should reflect deeply on his condition during sleep. Every mystery of death can be resolved through one’s experiences during sleep. If you will reflect deeply on the mysteries of sleep and dreams and will contemplate how the soul suffers a sort of death during sleep when it is bereft of its knowledge and qualities, you will realise that death has a great resemblance to sleep. Thus it is not true that after its separation from the body the soul continues in the condition which it enjoyed in this life. Under God’s command it suffers the same kind of death which it had experienced in sleep, only that condition is more intense than its condition in sleep and every one of its qualities is reduced to nothing. That is the death of the soul. Thereafter, those alone are revived who used to work for life. No soul possesses the capacity to continue alive on its own. Have you the capacity to control your qualities and circumstances and knowledge during sleep as you are capable of doing in your waking hours? As soon as you sink into sleep your soul undergoes a change and suffers a type of non-existence whereby God Almighty has said about the soul in the Holy Qur’an:

ٱللَّهُ يَتَوَفَّى ٱلۡأَنفُسَ حِينَ مَوۡتِھَا وَٱلَّتِي لَمۡ تَمُتۡ فِي مَنَامِھَا ۖ فَيُمۡسِكُ ٱلَّتِي قَضَىٰ عَلَيۡھَا ٱلۡمَوۡتَ وَيُرۡسِلُ ٱلۡأُخۡرَىٰٓ إِلَىٰٓ أَجَلٖ مُّسَمًّى ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَأٓيَٰتٖ لِّقَوۡمٖ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ 


This means that at the time of death the souls pass wholly under the control of God and lose all choice and self-consciousness. That is to say, they are deprived of the qualities of life and become as if they were non-existent. Such of them as do not die in fact, but pass into a condition resembling death in a state of sleep, also pass under the control of God Almighty and undergo a change in which they lose all worldly consciousness and feeling. Thus, both in death and during sleep, God takes possession of the soul in such manner that it loses all choice and consciousness which are the signs of life. Then such souls upon whom death has in fact been imposed are retained by God, so that they cannot return to the world, and He restores to the world those souls upon whom death is not imposed. In this phenomenon there are signs for those who reflect. 

This verse shows that the soul undergoes death as well as the body. But the Holy Qur’an indicates that the souls of the righteous are revived within a short period – some after three days, some after a week, and some after forty days – after death and are bestowed a second life of comfort and ease and delight. That is the life for the achievement of which the righteous servants of God approach Him with the utmost sincerity and put forth all their effort in order to emerge from the darkness of their egos and adopt a hard mode of life in the search of God’s pleasure, so much so that this condition resembles death. As the verse cited above indicates, there is a death for the soul as there is for the body, though the hidden circumstances of that state do not become manifest in this dark world. Yet the state of dreams is an illustration of that state which resembles the state of death of the soul in this world. It is our experience that as soon as we sink into sleep all the qualities of our soul are upset and we forget our waking hours and our spiritual qualities, and all the knowledge that our soul possesses becomes non-existent. We experience such scenes in our dreams as show that our soul has lost all the qualities that it possessed in wakefulness and has become something very different. This condition resembles death and is indeed a sort of death. This shows conclusively that the death which is imposed upon the soul with the death of the body resembles the death which the soul experiences in sleep but is very much heavier. 

—Chashma-e-Ma‘rifat, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 23, pp. 160-164

The doctrine which the Qur’an teaches is that as God has created the soul He also has power to make it non-existent, and that the human soul is bestowed immortality by the bounty and grace of God, and not on account of any inherent quality of its own. That is why those who develop the utmost love for God and obey Him absolutely and prostrate themselves at His threshold in full sincerity and devotion are specially bestowed a perfect life; their natural senses are sharpened and their natures are invested with a light whereby they experience an extraordinary upsurge of spirituality and all the spiritual powers that they possessed in this world are vastly expanded after death. Moreover, on account of their God-given relationship with Him, they are exalted to heaven which exaltation in the idiom of the law of Islam is designated rafa‘a. But those who do not believe, and have not a relationship with God, are not bestowed such life nor are they invested with these qualities. They are like the dead. Therefore, had God Almighty not been the Creator of souls He could not have exhibited this distinction between believer and non-believer through His powerful control. 

—Chashma Masihi, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 20, p. 372, footnote

Question: The Mirza Sahib and all Muslims believe, and the Qur’an affirms, that when Holy Prophet (Muhammad (sa)) was asked about the souls he could not tell them anything and received the revelation: ‘Tell them, the soul is God’s command.’ Thus the Muslims could not have gathered anything from this reply, nor was even their guide enlightened about the soul. What response was furnished by God in the affirmation that the soul is a command of the Lord? Are not all other things also the command of the Lord? 

Answer: …How long shall I continue to correct your mistakes? From whom have you heard that the Muslims believe that the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) was not bestowed by God Almighty any knowledge about the soul, and where have you read in the Holy Qur’an that he was unaware of anything concerning the soul? I realise that you have, on account of your defective intelligence, been misled in your interpretation of the following verse of the Holy Qur’an: 

وَيَسۡـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلرُّوحِ ۖ قُلِ ٱلرُّوحُ مِنۡ أَمۡرِ رَبِّي وَمَآ أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ ٱلۡعِلۡمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلاً


(O Muhammad) the disbelievers enquire of thee about the soul, as to how and from what it has been created. Tell them: The soul is by the command of my Lord and youو O disbelieversو have been bestowed but little knowledge about the soul and divine mysteries. 

You have on account of your lack of intelligence fallen into the error of thinking that it was the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) who was told that he had little knowledge about the soul. The context and the use of the plural pronoun make it clear that this admonition was addressed to the disbelievers… 

The fact is that a company of the disbelievers enquired from the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) about the soul. This company of disbelievers was told that the soul is by the command of Allah, that is to say, it is a word of Allah or a reflection of it which, through the wisdom and power of God, manifests itself as the soul. It does not partake of Godhood but is created and is a servant of God. This is a subtle secret of divine power of which you disbelievers have only a little perception, on account of which you are invited to have faith and to exercise your understanding…The statement that the soul is by the command of the Lord comprises a grand verity to which, in your haste, you have taken objection. The explanation of it is that the providence of God brings that which is non-existent into existence in two ways, and that which is brought into existence is designated differently according to the way whereby it is created. When God Almighty creates something out of non-existence such creation is called amr (command) in the idiom of the Qur’an, and that which is produced out of a previous form of existence is named khalq (creation). In other words, the creation of an element out of non-existence is amr and the production of a compound out of some previous form or shape is khalq, as it is said in the Holy Qur’an:

 أَلَا لَهُ ٱلۡخَلۡقُ وَٱلۡأَمۡرُ [4]

That is to say, the creation of elements out of non-existence and the manifestation of compounds both belong to God and elements and compounds are both God’s creation. Observe, therefore, how succinctly the Holy Qur’an has expounded a high and excellent verity within a brief verse. In contrast, the more you reflect on the doctrine of the Vedas the more you will feel embarrassed. 

—Surmah Chashm Arya, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 2, pp. 171-177


[1] The Holy Qur’an, 7:173.

[2] The Holy Qur’an, 39:43.

[3] The Holy Qur’an, 17:86.

[4] The Holy Qur’an, 7:55.