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Muhammad Testifies: The Holy Spirit is Incomprehensible!

Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel is the Spirit, Holy/Faithful Spirit, Allah’s Spirit etc., mentioned throughout the Quran.

The problem with this assertion is that the Muslim never equates or identifies Gabriel with/as the Holy Spirit. In fact, the opposite is the case since when Muhammad was asked about the identity of the Spirit he responded that he didn’t know enough about him:

And they ask you (O Muhammad) concerning the Ruh (the Spirit); Say: “The Ruh (the Spirit): 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.” S. 17:85 Hilali-Khan

Here was the perfect opportunity for Muhammad to have said the Spirit is none other than angel Gabriel. Instead, Muhammad plainly admitted that the Spirit’s identity is mysterious since only a little knowledge has been revealed concerning him.

Now to get around this, some Muslim commentators argue that the Spirit here is in reference to the human spirit which Allah has created and placed within man.

There are at least three problems with this objection.

First, the Quran could have made it clear that it is referring to the human spirit as opposed to the Holy Spirit by formulating the question in the following manner: “They ask you about the spirit of man,” or “they ask you about the spirits.”

Either formulation would leave absolutely no doubt that the ayah is addressing the creation of human spirits or all spirit creatures in general. Instead, the Arabic wording makes it explicitly clear it is speaking of a specific Spirit since it attaches the definite article before the noun, i.e., AL-Ruh (THE Spirit):

They will question thee concerning THE Spirit (AL-ruhi). Say: ‘The Spirit (AL-ruhu) is of the bidding of my Lord. You have been given of knowledge nothing except a little.’ Arberry

The definite article clearly shows that Muhammad had one particular Spirit in mind, namely, the Holy Spirit.

This leads to me second point. Not only does the text refer to THE Spirit (AL-Ruh), we even find early expositors candidly admitting that this text is indeed speaking of the Holy Spirit:

588– Abdullah said, “I accompanied the Prophet in Medina, and he was leaning on a staff when some Jewish people passed in front of us.” The Jews said, “Ask him about the Spirit,” but others said, “Do not ask him, because we fear that he will give a reply that we dislike.” However, a group of them came and said, “Oh Abu Qasem (i.e. the Prophet)! What do you say about the Spirit?” He kept silent for a moment and then he got up and put his hand on his forehead, and Abdullah said, “I realized that something was being revealed to him.” The verse above was revealed. It was narrated by Bukhari and Muslim.

589– Ibn Abbas said that the Quraish said to the Jews, “Inform us about something to ask this man (i.e. Muhammad).” So, they said, “Ask him about the Spirit.” Thus, this verse was revealed.

590– Those who explain hadeeth said that the Jews gathered together and spoke to the Quraish. They asked him about Muhammad and his situation. “Ask him about the Spirit, the youths who were missing at the beginning of time, and a man who reached the east and the west. If he answers you all correctly, then he is not a prophet. If he does not reply, then he is not a prophet. However, if he can tell you some of them right and the others wrong, then he is a prophet.” For that reason a verse, “Or dost thou think that the companions of the cave and the Inscription were wonders among our signs?” (Surah Al-Kahf or the Cave, verse 9) was revealed about the youths. Regarding the Spirit, the above verse was revealed. (Imam Al-Wahidi An-Naisaburi, Reasons and Occasions of Revelation of the Holy Quran: English-Arabic Text, translated by Haythem Kreidly [Dar Al-Kotob Al-ilmiyah, Beirut, 2nd edition 2012], pp. 392, 394)

608– Al-Kalbi said that Jibril for a period of time did not appear after the people had asked the Prophet about the people of the cave, Zul-Qarnain AND THE HOLY SPIRIT. He had hoped that Jibril would be sent to him so that he could ask him the questions about them. He found it difficult to answer the people’s questions. So when Jibril was finally sent, the Prophet said, “You have lingered and I have been misunderstood. I was so eager to see you.” So Jibril replied, “I was more eager than you, but I follow orders. Whenever I am sent, I can come. Otherwise I cannot come.” Later this verse was revealed. (Ibid., p. 404; bold and capital emphasis mine)

681– The scholars said that the Jews questioned the Prophet ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT. SO ALLAH REVEALED THE VERSE IN MECCA; And they ask you (Oh Muhammad) concerning the Spirit, Say, ‘The Spirit 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-Israa’, verse 85) WAS REVEALED. So, when the Prophet migrated to Medina, the rabbis of the Jews said to him, “We were told that you say, ‘The Spirit is one of the things, the knowledge of which is only with my Lord. And knowledge, you (mankind) have been given only a little.’’’ (Previous verse) Did you mean us or your people?” He replied, “Both were meant.” They also asked, “Did you not recite in what has been revealed to you that we have the Torah which contains knowledge of everything?” The Prophet said, “However its knowledge is little compared to that of Allah. Thus Allah gave you that which if you had followed it the Prophet, it would have benefitted you.” Then they said, “Oh Muhammad how do [sic] claim this when you say, ‘and he to whom wisdom (or knowledge) is granted, is indeed granted abundant good.’ (Surah Al-Baqara, verse 269) How could the two things exist, a little knowledge and ‘abundant good’?” For that reason Allah revealed the verse, “And if all the trees on the earth were pens and the sea (were ink wherewith to write), with seven seas behind it to add its (supply), yet the Words of Allah would not be exhausted. Verily, Allah is the All-Mighty, All-Wise.” (Surah Luqman, verse 27). (Ibid., pp. 460, 462; bold and capital emphasis mine)

Moreover, nowhere in the Quran does it say that a man has or is a spirit (ruh). Rather, man is/has a soul (nafs). The only ones said to have/be both a spirt and a soul are Allah and Jesus:

O ye who have received the scriptures, exceed not the just bounds in your religion, neither say of God [any other] than the truth. Verily Christ Jesus the son of Mary [is] the apostle of God, and his word, which he conveyed into Mary, and a spirit [proceeding] from him (wa’ruhun minhu). Believe therefore in God, and his apostles, and say not, [there are] three [Gods]; forbear [this]; it will be better for you. God is but one God. Far be it from him that he should have a son! Unto him [belongeth] whatsoever [is] in heaven and on earth; and God is a sufficient protector. S. 4:171 Sale

And mention when God said: O Jesus son of Mary! Hadst thou said to humanity: Take me and my mother to yourselves other than God? He would say: Glory be to Thee! It is not for me that I say what there is no right for me to say. If I had been saying it, then, surely, Thou wouldst have known it. Thou hast known what is in my soul (nafsi) and I know not what is in Thy Soul (nafsika). Truly, Thou, Thou alone art Knower of the unseen. S. 5:116 (Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar

So, when I have made him and have breathed into him of My Spirit (ruhi), do ye fall down, prostrating yourselves unto him. S. 15:29 Pickthall

And Mary, daughter of Imran, who guarded her private parts, and we breathed therein of our spirit (ruhina) and she verified the words of her Lord and His books, and was of the devout. S. 66:12 Palmer

The foregoing conclusively refutes the Muslim position that the Holy Spirit is Gabriel. What the Islamic evidence actually proves is that Muhammad believed that the Holy Spirit is an incomprehensible Being, and therefore realized that this Spirit is a divine Person who is both distinct and inseparable from Allah.

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