The Concept of Human Soul According to Al-Ghazali And Its Relationship to Today’s Muslims Education

The discussion of human soul, its nature and its existence, has become a great concern of Muslim scholars in the text of philosophy as well as sufism. All Muslim scholars agree that human soul consists of non-rational and rational parts in which the non-rational part is divided into the plant and animal souls, and the rational part is divided into the practical and the theoretical intellects (Fazril, 2011). The study of human soul is very important since human soul is the essence of human being, in which he is judged based on his soul and his actions or ‘amal as stated in the hadith narrated by Imam Muslim that God will not see into man’s physical appearance nor his property, but He will see into man’s soul as well as his good deeds.

Al-Ghazali, as one of the most prominent and influential scholars and thinker in Islamic history as well as a renovator of the fifth century of Hijriyah, had explained very well on the subject of human soul and had left many of his valuable works on this subject which may help today’s Muslims to get a comprehensive understanding on the concept of human soul. According to him, the knowledge of self or soul is the key to the knowledge of God (ma'arij al-Quds fi madarij ma'rifat an-nafs). When man recognize himself well, he will know that He is his creator (man ‘arafa nafsahu faqad ‘arafa rabbahu) as it is written in the Qur’an that He will show to men His signs in the world and in themselves, that the truth may be manifest to them (Qs.Adz-Dzariyat: 20-21). Al-Ghazali emphasized on the importance of knowing the knowledge of self since men’s success in this life and in hereafter will be very much depends on the state of his soul. He also stated that the soul is the key for those who walk on the right path (siraat al-mustaqim) and the place for the seat of goodness and badness. When someone is observing or disobeying his religious teaching, indeed, it is the work of his soul.
The study of human soul is very important for every Muslims educator in view of fact that it is a part of our knowledge to know our Lord and to deal our daily job as educators who need to know learners’ nature as well as its purification. Therefore, this essay is an attempt to provide an explanation on Al-Ghazali’s concept of human soul which may help Muslims educators to understand the nature of the man and how to deal with it in terms of educating Muslims’ youth.
As Muslims, we know that the purpose of education in Islam is not only to develop learner’s cognitive aspect, but also to harmonize the development of his physical, emotional, as well as his spiritual aspect. In the words of Al-Attas, the goal of Islamic education is to produce good man who is able to make justice to himself, his environment and ultimately his Lord (Al-Attas: 1990).  Hence, educators should consider the importance of human soul in Muslim’s education. Soul as the core of human being is the main precedence should be given in education whereby the glory of this life and hereafter depends on its sate. Only after knowing the knowledge of self, one may know how to purify their soul in order to maintain it on the state of blessing soul.
1. Human Soul

In discussing the subject of human soul, Al-Ghazali used the terms of al- qalb, al-ruh, an-nafs and al-`aql, which refer to the soul. He further stated that all those expressions have two different meanings; spiritually and physically. The first term, al-qalb physically means al-lahm al- sanubari or piece of flesh situated in the left of our body. While spiritually, Al-Ghazali called it as al-Latifah al-Ruhaniyah (spiritual subtlety) or the center of human spiritual which make men are different with other living things. Al-Latifah al-Ruhaniyah or spiritual subtlety is a thing which is created, that means it is a kind of creature but it is immortal, not measured in terms of extent in space and time, or of quantity (Fazril: 2011). In this second sense, all the others three; al-ruh, an-nafs and al-`aql, are seated on the qalb that make men fit for being responsible on their acts in this life (Musthafa: 2010).
 Al-Ghazali also divided al-qalb into three types; qolbun salim (the healthy heart), qolbun maridh (the sick heart), and qolbun mayyit (the dead heart). Qalbun salim is defined as a heart cleansed from any passion that challenges what God commands, or disputes what He forbids. As a result, it is free from any impulses which contradict His good and it is safeguarded against the worship of anything other than Him (Farid: 1993). The next is qolbun maridh refers to a heart that with life in it, as well as illness. The former sustains it at one moment, the letter at another and it follows whichever one of the two dominates and manages it. The worst type of heart is qolbun mayyit or the dead heart which it does not want to know its Lord and does not want to observe his God. It worships things other than Him and it follows his lower self to fulfill his worldly desire in this life.
The second term used by Al-Ghazali is ar-ruh which means the physical material thing in the heart that vibrates the whole body like the current of electricity. It also can be described just as light from a lantern fills a room. In this physical sense, ar-ruh in modern medical through infra red technology is seen as the red heat of the body which is started from the heart and widen to the whole of the body. When a person breathes his last, this red heat is then nowhere to be found (Rijalludin: 2010). The second connotation is immaterial thing which emanates from the creative command as stated in the Qur’an that He breathed into (Mary’s body) of His spirit and as something in which men’s knowledge to that spirit (cometh) is a little only (Qs.Al-Israa: 85, At-Tahreem: 11). This second meaning of ar-ruhmakes man be possible to be alive and lead to function all of his organs as well as his soul. Al-ghazali also affirmed that ar-ruh inherently has all the knowledge and perceives everything for it is directly from God as it is stated clearly in the Qur’an that all human being have testified that there is no God but Him. In other words, men are having knowledge that He is the Lord of this universe.
The third term is an-nafs in which Al-Ghazali gives two different meanings to it. The first meaning refers to the immaterial entity, commonly referred to as the ego, or lower self, in which are the animal faculties which oppose the rational faculties. This nafs is the source of the negative power of anger and sexual appetite in a man which blinds his intellect and encourages him to disobey his Lord. Thisnafs is taken by sufis as the evil attributes of a man by which they emphasize to keep fighting it and to bring it under one’s control as it is referred in the Hadith of the Holy Prophet that men’s worst enemy is their nafs which lies between their sides (Rijalludin: 2010). The second sense connote to the immaterial entity, that of man’s real nature and essence. This is the nafs capable of being pulled up towards the heavenly world from which it has initially arisen and been created. Al-ghazali divided this second nafs into three stages, to be precise: Nafs al-mutma’innah (the Self at Peace), Nafs al-lawwamah (the blaming self), Nafs ammarah bi al-su’ (the self urging evil).
Nafs al-mutma’innah or the self at peace is the superior phase of nafs. A person when achieved this stage, he is in full rest and satisfaction. This stage of nafs finally guides to resolution of one’s inner conflicts and attainment of harmony with God and his personality is now decorated with His universal color while his behavior reflects the Absolute being and the Ultimate Reality (Manzurul: 1984). Nafs al-lawwamah or the blaming self is the sate of nafs that rise from the ignoble qualities of Nafs ammarah bi al-su’. In this stage of nafs, a person struggles against his lower self, criticizes him for falling, victim to them and blocks further proceeding (Daud Hamzah and Kadir arifin: 1980). The lowest state of nafs isNafs ammarah bi al-su’ or the self urging evil. Daud Hamzah and Kadir arifin explain this nafs as the drive underlying brutality and perverted sex. This nafs also does not submit to God because it is a member of the syaithan. It activates the ignoble traits such as meanness, greed, worldliness, illusions, indecency, arrogance, pride, conceit, envy, jealously, maliciousness, vengeance, treason, betrayal, negligence, and indifference to Lord Almighty.
The fourth term discussed by Al-Ghazali is al-‘aql which also possess two different meanings. The first meaning is the knowledge concerning everything in this universe. It can be alleged as the knowledge which seat on the soul or al-qalb. In this sense, Al-ghazali give emphasized on knowledge and its attributes (Rijalludin: 2010). Al-‘aql in this sense means al-‘aql ar-ruhaniyah which refer to the ‘aql that gain the knowledge itself (al-mudrak Ii al-`ulum).
In order to make clear on the point of human soul, Al-Ghazali figured out the body as a kingdom, the soul as its king, and the different senses and faculties as constituting an army. Reason may be called the vizier, or prime minister, passion the revenue collector, and anger the police officer. Under the guise of collecting revenue, passion is continually prone to plunder on its own account, while resentment is always inclined to harshness and extreme severity. Both of these the revenue collector and the police officer, have to be kept in due subordination to the king, but not killed or excelled, as they have their own proper functions to fulfill. But if passion and resentment master reason, the ruin of the soul infallibly ensues. Al-Ghazali further on enlightened that a soul which allows its lower faculties to dominate the higher is as one who should hand over an angel to the power of a dog to the tyranny of an unbeliever. Those who cultivate the demonic, animal or angelic qualities will see the manifestation of these characteristics in visible shapes, the sensual appearing as swine, the ferocious as dogs and wolves, and the pure as angels in the Day of Judgment. The aim purification of soul is to discipline the heart from the rust of passion and resentment, till, like a clear mirror that reflects the light of God.
2. The Faculties or Power of Soul

Al-Ghazali, just like other Muslim philosophers, classified the soul’s faculties or powers (quwah) into three different souls respectively: (1) the vegetative (al-nabatiyyah), (2) the animal (al-hayawaniyah), and (3) the human/ rational (al-natiqah). The vegetative soul has the ability of nutrition, growth and reproduction. These abilities also possess by animal and man. While the animal soul are also possesses by man. The power that make human being becomes a unique creature of God and makes him different from other creature is his rational soul. Therefore, man is a ‘rational animal’ (al hayawan al-natiq), whereby natiq signifies the rationality which refers to “an inner faculty which man possesses that formulates meaning (dhu nutq) (Al-Attas: 1990). ‘Aql as a spiritual substance therefore is man’s power that makes him be able to recognize and distinguishes truth from falsehood and makes him be able to receive the truth message given by the Lord Almighty through His messengers.
3. The Soldiers of Soul

According to Al-Ghazali, the soul has two types of soldiers. The first is the visible soldiers; consist of the bodily members which follow the instructions of the soul. The second type of soldier is invisible and comprises ideas and perceptions. He then added that the soldiers can also be divided according to three other categories: (i) irada (the will), which instigates, such as appetitive (shahawa) and anger(ghadab), (ii) qudra (power), which includes sinews and muscles, which are the actual means by which the members are made to move: (iii) al-ilm wa'l-idrak (knowledge and perception, which provide information acquired through the five external senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch, and also the five internal senses located in the brain, which are imagination (takhayyul), the census communes (hiss mushtarak) (which coordinates information received through the various faculties), thought (tafakkur), remembrance (tadhakkur), and memory (hifz).

4. The Qualities of Soul

In describing the qualities of the soul, Al-Ghazali mentioned four qualities which exist in every soul; predatory (sabu'iya), animal (bahimiya), satanic (shaytaniya) and divine (rabbaniya). The first quality is the faculty of anger, the second is appetite for food, sex and so on, the third quality refers to the ability to commit evil, while the fourth, Divine the upmost quality that requires the greatest investigation and insight to attain to uncover the wiles of the satanic quality, and to submit the appetite to the irascible faculty. Al-Ghazali then gave details that the predatory quality engenders such vices as wastefulness, boasting, pride, and lust for oppression; the animal quality produces hypocrisy, slander, greed, and shamelessness; the satanic quality, having successfully encouraged the soul to obey the first two, produces guile, deceit, fraud and so on. But should the divine element triumph, and subdue all of these, then the virtues will appear. When man controls his predatory quality and sets it within its proper limits, he acquires such virtues as courage, generosity, self control, patience, forgiveness and dignity. When the animal faculty is controlled, virtues such as chastity, contentment, modesty and helpfulness ensue.
5. Purification of Soul
One of the most important task for which the Prophet Muhammad was sent was the purification of soul. It is stated in the Qur’an that He who has sent amongst the Unlettered a messenger from among themselves, to rehearse to them His Signs and purify them and to instruct them in Scripture and Wisdom, although they had been, before, in manifest error (Qs. Al-Jumuah: 2). Men who are able to keep purifying their heart will be blessed by God Almighty and classify as lucky man as stated in the Qur’an that man who purify their soul is indeed successful and man who neglects it is indeed a failure (Qs. As-Shams:7).
The word tazkiyah means to purify or to cleanse. Tazkiyatun nafs is described as a disciplined process that gives birth to the seed of awareness in the heart. It is related closely to the function of heart itself, which is to know the Creator, to love Him, and to seek closeness to Him (Farid: 1993).Tazkiyatun nafs also means the process to ascend the nafs from the level of Nafs ammarah bi al-su’ to the level of Nafs al-mutma’innah and to maintain it in this level through spiritual exercise. The process of tazkiyatun nafs or purification of soul involves the process of takhalli (eradication of the self from ignoble characteristics and tahalli (implantation of noble characteristics in the self to form autonomous personality traits) (Daud Hamzah and Kadir arifin: 1980). In this process, According to Al-Ghazali, the route of ascendancy is marked by ten stations or maqomat which are started from tawbah(repentance), sabr (patience), shukr (thankfulness), raja’ (hope), khawf (fear), faqr (poverty), zuhd(renunciation), tawhid (unity), tawakkal (trust), and finally mahabbah (love).
Tazkiyatun nafs is a continual process that should be done throughout the day. It will bring to an end only after one has departed his life. During that final day, there are only two pronouncements; happiness or misery. Those who goes to meet his Lord in pleasure will be welcomed by God as it is affirmed in the Qur’an: The term purification inArabic is tazkiyyah and is described as a disciplined process that gives birth to the seed ofawareness in the heart.The term purification inArabic is tazkiyyah and is described as a disciplined process that gives birth to the seed ofawareness in the heart.The term purification inArabic is tazkiyyah and is described as a disciplined process that gives birth to the seed ofawareness in the heart.O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction! Come back thou to thy Lord, well pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him! Enter thou, then, among My devotees! Yea, enter thou My Heaven! (QS.Al-Fajr: 30), while those who are completed his life in a miserable way will be departed to the everlastingly place of torment.

Education with Soul

In this analysis, I am not going to criticize or to point out the weaknesses of Al-Ghazalis’ concept of soul since my knowledge about it is very limited. We should thank him on his effort to investigate the knowledge of soul. Undoubtedly, Al-Ghazali was a great Muslim scholar who had spent most of his times to enlighten our knowledge on the topic of soul. Some Muslim scholars even adored him as e Hujjatul Islam or the proof of Islam. And it has been said that if all the books of Islam were destroyed it would be but a slight loss if only the Ihya of Ghazali were preserved. Thus, in this part I am trying to discuss on an idea of education with soul, on how soul can be related to Muslims education.
 Educators should consider that one’s success is not only on matters of worldly achievements, but also on the success of controlling his lower self to follow the commands of God and be able to observe the role of ‘abd and khalifah who enjoin what is wrong and forbid what is wrong by the guidance of revelation and intellect. An intelligent man according to Prophet is those who are able to control the lower self and prepare for the Day of Judgment, while a weak person is he who follows his lower self(narrated by Imam Ahmad).
Islamic education is defined as the recognition and acknowledgement, progressively instilled into man, of the proper places of things in the order of creation, such that it leads to the recognition and acknowledgement of the proper place of God in the order of being and existence (Al-Attas: 1990). Al-Attas further deliberated that the recognition and acknowledgement which are instilled into man isadab. According to him, adab involves action to discipline the mind and soul as well. Adab also combines the ‘ilm and ‘amal together. Hence, the goal of Islamic education is to produce a good man from whom the good society will be established. From this definition of education and its goal, it is clearly seen that the element of soul is already in our education. Human soul has been considered as an important factor in producing good men as well as the mind. However, the question that may come to mind is that do we have the knowledge of our self or do we realize its importance and practice its purification in our life? Do our teachers understand the concept of soul and do they practice it?
The knowledge of self is not such kind of theoretical knowledge, but it needs to be practice continually during our life. It is not to be stopped somewhere, but it will come to end after the death come to take our live. In other words, all parties included in the business of education; teacher, student, staff, curriculum designer, and so on, should know the knowledge of self and should live with its purification. Man who is able to sustain his soul purification is actually going to reach the level of Nafs al-mutma’innah or the self at peace. In this stage, the noble characteristics are being developed or they are there already. Therefore, education with soul means education that gives attention on the cultivating of good characteristics and Islamic values, as well as other human’s potentials, and model from up to down, from principle to teacher and from teacher to student. Of course, the best example of education with soul is the education that had been practiced by Prophet Peace upon Him. One day Ali ibn Abi Thalib was asked by one of his sahabah, ‘’ ya Amirul Mu’minin, why now we live in disunity between Muslims? Why we cannot be in a peace like in the time of Prophet?’’ then Ali answered’’because during Prophet, Muslims are like me, but now, Muslims are like you’’ (Dr. Muhammad Abduh). In other words, Ali would like to say that our spiritual quality is different. In the time of Prophet, Muslims were guided by Prophet directly and follow the teaching of him, including soul purification, but after that time, little by little Muslims are not really follow his path. The education which had been carried out by Prophet and his companions, emphasized on the importance of soul as well as cognitive. These two things, mind and soul are the core of Islamic education.
The idea of murabbi rather than mu’allim in Islamic education is also a part of education with soul whereby teacher is not just a transmitter of knowledge and information (mu’allim). But he or she is amurabbi or murabbiyah who are responsible to the development of learners’ cognitive as well as spiritual aspect. Murabbi is a living model whom learners can learn the virtues and values of Islam. His way of life is a correct and an ideal model that can be followed by learners.
In actual facts, the problems of poverty, illiteracy, war, social ills, and hedonistic as well as materialistic culture are still becoming a recurrent challenge in Muslim countries. Our education is supposed to overcome those problems. However, in fact, it is not really helping us to solve the problems yet. Moreover, the impact of liberalization of knowledge necessitates the capability to possess skills that is needed by the industrial sectors (Rosnani: 2007). This new trend has changed Muslims’ paradigm towards seeking of knowledge. According to Rosnani, liberalization of education brings much harmful effect to Muslim Education which creates dehumanization of education. Education will be seen much in term of profit making. Besides, students’ achievement also will be seen only in the term of paper test, whereby knowledge of self or soul and its purification will not be taken into consideration. Most of Muslims, if they are parent, will think on sending their children to a good school which may equip them with necessary skills in life to be able to get better job. For teachers or schools, they will think on how all the students can pass the exam. While for students, they will think on how to get better job with better salary. That shit. I am not saying all Muslims think like this, but the majority is there. Success is seen only as worldly achievements.
In addition, Ghazwu al-fikr (battle of ideology) is the danger consequence of liberalization of education which threat Muslims (Rosnani: 2007). Muslims are bombarded with many doctrines; materialism, hedonism, liberalism, secularism, etc, which may exposure our ideology and values. All these things should make us become sensitive to protect our ideology as well as our youth through education with soul.
However, the matter of soul as well as its purification is not a simple matter. The substance is that whomsoever Allah guides no one can misguide and whomsoever Allah leads to go astray no one can guide. Hence, as it is stated before that knowledge of self and its purification is not merely a theory, but it is a practice. Those who are guided by Him will be able to put soul into practices and keep purifying their soul. Once he has started practicing it, undoubtedly, his personality development will be in advanced and gets equipped with the qualities of quietness, mildness, tolerance, forgiveness, helpful, kind, generous, and understanding of all beings. These good characteristics will give him an understanding on how to conduct his life in an elegant ways and manner, including in the teaching and learning process.
In order education with soul can be performed in Muslims education, there are at least three things that should be consider; the need to teach the Qur’an, the need to select the best teacher, and the need to occupy thinking skills. By saying teaching Qur’an, I mean that Qur’an not only be learnt superficially (tajwid, makhraj or remember it), but also it should be learn as a text which guides our life. Since Qur’an is the huda for mankind, Muslims need to explore it, understand it, and observe it in all aspects of their daily life.
Besides, Muslims education also needs to revise the way how they recruit the teacher. As it has been discussed before, teacher is a murabbi (living model) for his family, his students, as well as his community. Therefore, Muslims education should employ the best teacher, possess excellent cognitive ability and spiritual quality, who can steer Muslim youths. Being a teacher should be considered as a noble profession as well as other prestigious profession such as doctor as it is stated by Ibn Abbas that every creature, even the fish in the sea, asks forgiveness for the one who educates people about the good. Hence, Muslims education should provide the best teacher for our education.
In addition, Muslims education also needs to cultivate the thinking skills to our students so that they will be able to use their intellect well as encouraged by Qur’an. Teaching students to think may improve their ability to think well in order to be prepared for handing future challenges effectively. In addition, according Rosnani and Suhailah (2002), the goals of teaching thinking are not only to make students more proficient in thinking, making decisions and solving problems in the classroom, but also to make them acquire the ability to know and understand and the ability to make wise judgment. 


In conclusion, Al-Ghazali in his master piece of work Ihya’ ulumuddin, described the spirit in the body is like a king in a city. The members and capacities are like craftsmen and laborers. The intellect is like a sincere, wise minister, while anger is like a chief of police, who controls the appetite, which in turn is a base slave who brings food and supplies to the city. Although the slave presents himself as a sincere adviser, he constantly opposes the minister: he is in reality a saboteur. The city prospers when, thanks to the efforts of the chief of police, the slave is rehabilitated, and is forced to submit to the minister. Man who is able to take control upon his soul and keep purifying it, he is indeed the true successor.


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By Asrofi