O people of the Book, be not excessive in your Faith and do not say about Allah anything but the truth. The Masih ‘Isa, the son of Maryam, is only a Messenger of Allah and His word He delivered to Maryam, and a spirit from Him. So, believe in Allah and His Messengers…. [Qur’an 4:171]
Christians love to mis-represent the term Ruhim min & Ruhullah and consider it to deify ‘Isa (alayhissalaam). In this article we represent Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ (rahimahullah)’s explanation and refute the missionary misuse of those terms in the Qur’an.
Let us consider the statement: ruhim min (and a spirit from Him.) in this verse. Worth attention here are two aspects of our probe. Firstly, why has Sayyidina ‘Isa (alayhissalaam) been referred to as ruh or spirit? Secondly, since by saying ‘from Him’ the spirit has been attributed to Almighty Allah, what, then, would be the sense of such an attribution??
In this connection, several exegetical stances of commentators have been reported. Their gist is being given below:
1. Some of them explain it on the basis of lexical usage. They say that, according to the rule of ‘urf or recognized customary practice, the word ‘ruh’ or ‘spirit’ is used in the sense of ‘essence’ to enhance the effect of pristine purity in something. Since the birth of Sayyidina ‘Isa (alayhissalaam) was totally unrelated to the mediation of any father and he was the outcome of nothing but the will of Allah, in His supreme majesty, and a result of the word: Kun (Be), therefore, he was blessed with the most perfect degree of purity. This Is the reason why he was called ‘a spirit’ or ‘essence’ as admitted by recognized practice.
As for the attribution to Allah, it is there to hold him in esteem. This is like attributing Masajid (mosques) to Allah in order to enhance the respect in which they are held. Hence, the expression: Masjidullah or the Mosques of Allah. Or, the Holy Ka’bah, by attributing it to Allah, is called: Baytullah or the House of Allah. Or, by attributing someone religiously observing and worshipfully obedient to Allah, he is called: ‘Abd Allah’ or the servant or slave of Allah. Thus, it is in accord with this formulation that the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) has been referred to in Surah Bani Isra’il in the wordings: (carried His servant) (17:1) where the attribution to Allah reflects honour given to him.
2. Some commentators have said that the purpose behind the coming of Sayyidina ‘Isa (alayhissalaam) was that he should infuse spiritual life into the dead hearts of people and make them alive once again. Since he was the cause of spiritual life very much like the spirit is the cause of physical life, therefore, it was in this light that he was called a spirit. In fact, this word has been used for the Holy Qur’an as well: (and thus We have revealed to you a spirit of Our Command – 42:52) because the Holy Qur’an too blesses people with spiritual life.
3. Some others have said that ruh (spirit) is also used in the sense of secret. Since Sayyidina ‘Isa (alayhissalaam) was, because of his unusual birth, a sign and a great Miracle of Allah, therefore, he was called: Ruhullah (the spirit of Allah).
4. Some say that the adjunct is understood here since the statement was to be read as: (the possessor of a spirit from Him). However, since all rational beings are equal as the possessors of a spirit, the distinction of Sayyidina ‘Isa (alayhissalaam) was made manifest when Almighty Allah turned his attribution towards Himself.
5. According to yet another exegetical view, the word: Ruh has been used in the sense of nafkh or the blowing of breath. Sayyidna Jibra’il (alayhissalaam) had, as commanded by Allah, blown his breath on the collar of Sayyidah Maryam, and that became the conception. Since only a blow of breath had caused the birth of Sayyidina ‘Isa (alayhissalaam) as a miracle, therefore, he was called: Ruhullah or the spirit of Allah. Another verse of the Holy Qur’an: (Then, We blew Our spirit in her – 21:91)
In addition to these, several other probabilities have also been suggested. However, none of these come to mean that Sayyidina ‘Isa (alayhissalaam) is a part of Allah or a divine person on the basis of which it could be suggested that this very spirit we are talking about has manifested itself in the human form of Sayyidna ‘Isa (alayhissalaam).
A Telling Repartee
‘Allamah Al-Alusi, the author of the famous Tafsir Ruh al-Ma’ani has reported an episode from the court of Caliph Harun al-Rashid where a Christian physician entered into a debate against the scholar ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Waqidi challenging him that his Book (the Qur’an) has a particular word which indicates that Sayyidna ‘Isa (alayhissalaam) is a part of Allah. And as a proof, he read out the verse (171) which carries the words: ‘Allamah al-Waqidi came up with a rejoinder and recited another verse (45:13) of the Qur’an: “everything that is in the heavens and the earth is from the same Allah where the word minhu: from Him” – serves to attribute every thing to Allah) and said: ‘If ruhim-minhu: a spirit from Him means, as you think, that Sayyidina ‘Isa (alayhissalaam) is a part of Allah, then, the verse I have just recited would mean that every thing in the heavens and the earth is also a part of Allah?’ Thus, silenced, the Christian physician chose to become a Muslim.