Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was once resting on a palm branch when a group of Jews walking by asked him about the soul. The Prophet (SAW) stayed silent, an indication to his companions that he was receiving revelation. They waited patiently for the Prophet (SAW) to relay the message (Bukhari). The translation of the ayah revealed is:
“‘And they ask you [O Muhammad] concerning the rooh [the spirit or the soul]. Say: ‘The rooh: it is one of the things the knowledge of which is only with my Lord. And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given only a little.’” (Al-Isra:85)
This would explain why, for centuries, philosophers have failed to find answers to their questions about the soul. In Plato’s ‘Republic’, written around 380 BC, Socrates presents the theory of the Tripartite Soul, which is the idea that the soul consists of three competing elements: reason (rationality), spirit (courage, determination, bravery and inspiration) and appetite (physical desires, such as those of a sexual nature and the need to eat and drink). Plato’s theories, we know, are incorrect and we should be grateful they are! For Plato had a very exclusive understanding of who could achieve his version of true success. His theory was that only the Guardian class (the rulers of society) could attain a healthy, happy and balanced soul, one that allowed reason to govern over its desires and spirit. Everybody else in society was doomed to an inescapable life of misery.
Despite Allah (SWT) giving us limited knowledge of the soul, it would be wrong to say that we have absolutely none, as Allah does in fact provide us with some insight. We know the soul is immortal and that the Angel of Death extracts it from our body at the time of death. We also know that our immortal souls will be questioned and entered into Paradise or Hellfire. In ‘Mysteries of the Soul Expounded’ Abu Bilal Mustafa al-Kanadi writes:
“…man consists of a spirit and a body together. The spirit [soul or rooh] is an entity which differs from the physical, tangible body. It is a higher type of luminous (or light-like) being, alive and moving, and it penetrates the limbs, circulating through them as water circulates throughout the petals of a rose, as oil circulates throughout the olive and as fire circulates throughout the burning embers of coal.”
Maintaining a pure and happy soul is integral to leading a good and happy life that will lead you to Jannah insha Allah. There are whole books dedicated to teaching you how to do this, such as ‘Purification of the Soul’. Our soul is an entity that is separate from our body and yet the body is governed by it. So ensuring that we have a healthy soul has a huge effect on our spiritual and even physical being; a healthy soul enables us to lead a happy and satisfying life and one that will benefit us both in this life and the Hereafter insha Allah. In my opinion, there are many ways we can achieve this, but here are my top three.
1. Worshipping Allah
In Surah Adh-Dhariyat, Allah says: “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (Adh-Dhariyat:56)
This has profound implications on a huge array of matters, from the meaning of life to the fact that we can begin to question the benefit of every single action we do on a day-to-day basis. This ayah suggests that anything we do that creates an outcome that does not include the worship of Allah is merely a distraction. Our souls are inclined to worshipping our Creator, but our environment, our actions, our engagements and our behaviour is what distracts or prevents the soul from being in its natural and happiest state. Some may be surprised by the prospect of dedicating everything we do to the worship of Allah. There’s no need to be. Islam is easy and, with merely altering your intention, you can turn everything into ‘ibadah (worship). You can turn what seems to be a mundane, daily task into worship just by taking a second to dedicate that undertaking to pleasing Allah, whether it is cleaning your home, taking your mother shopping, cooking for your husband or giving salam to your neighbour. Begin eating with the words ‘bismillah’ and even dinner becomes an opportunity for dhikr.
When you are constantly remembering Allah you have fed your soul the nourishment it craves and so you will see barakah enter and fill your life. Not only is this positive for your life beyond death, but it also allows you to be free from the limitations we mistakenly place on our ability to worship Allah. Establishing this purpose will insha Allah leave you feeling content and inspired.
2. Abstain from Sinning
Of course if it was this simple, everyone would do it. But my point is that we should make it a priority to stay away from even those sins that we’ve begun to take for granted. Being desensitised to even the smallest of sins is not a habit we want to develop, for the accumulation of minor sins can lead a person to Jahannam just as surely as major sins. Our souls yearn to be pure and we often forget that sinning has a direct impact on the state of our lives. A person who lives a life of sin, Muslim or non-Muslim, will never achieve true happiness. When you aim to please Allah by practising patience in restraint (from the haram) and by striving in the halal, your soul has established the struggle it was designed to undertake.
3. Practice Gratitude
Ibn Taymiyyah has said: “Indeed there is a Paradise in this world; whoever does not enter it will not enter the Paradise of the Hereafter.”
For the longest time, I couldn’t understand what he was trying to say. And then one day, in the midst of a very difficult situation that forced me to appreciate all the blessings I was taking for granted, I suddenly experienced a lightbulb moment. My understanding of this is that the believer should expect to undergo trials and tribulations. In fact, the best among our predecessors, including the Prophet (SAW), experienced pain and hardship so extreme that it left some of the companions asking: “When will the help of Allah [come]?”
Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said,”When is the help of Allah ?” Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near. (Al-Baqarah: 214)
Ibn Taymiyyah is highlighting the importance of gratitude in all circumstances. The person who is in a situation that leaves them with no choice but to practice shukr will of course gain reward, but the person who does have the choice and who strives to practise gratitude over ingratitude will be rewarded more (Ibn Qayyim). Learning how to be grateful is a skill and it is one that requires nurture, time and effort. But the person who masters it lives in a Paradise that they carry around in their heart on Earth, because it leads to a peace, contentment and happiness that the ungrateful, restless soul craves. Teaching our soul to be content in the most difficult circumstances is an achievement that will reflect positively for both your physical being and your state of mind.
Leading a happy and healthy life is not something that is exclusively available to people who are blessed with a life of ease. Everybody has the potential and ability to acquire happiness, despite the circumstances they find themselves in. Practising ‘ibadah, repentance and gratitude can provide us with the tools we need to establish a healthy soul and, in turn, a healthy and happy life. The key lies in training our soul to love Allah and His deen. When we establish this and it evidently permeates throughout our life, the Most Just will reward us by placing us on a path that will lead to Jannah, insha Allah.
Iimaan Shayma is a 22 year old English language teacher from Manchester, UK. She’s the founder and editor of Moments of Perfect Clarity – a website which provides Islamic articles and reminders for the Muslimah community – and alhamdulillah is currently travelling the world with her laptop in tow, determined to find her perfect writing spot. You can visit her site at www.momentsofperfectclarity.org or follow her on twitter @IimaanShayma