What do we mean by the “Holy Spirit?” —Djamila Algeria


Djamila, thank you for your question. It is an important question because it deals with our relationship to Allah and our ability to fully submit to the will of Allah. However, this is also a difficult question because it deals with a divine mystery of which we have limited knowledge.


When readers of the Qur’an hear the words “holy spirit,” they equate this expression with the Arabic, ruh-ul qudus. There are several Qur’anic passages that use this expression, but they do not clearly identify what or who this ruh-ul qudus is. One of those passages is the following as rendered in Yusuf Ali’s world-renowned translation:

Say: the Holy Spirit (ruh-ul qudus) has brought the revelation from thy Lord in truth, in order to strengthen those who believe, and as a Guide, and glad tidings to Muslims.

—Surat-un Nahl (16):102


Most Muslims believe this ruh-ul qudus to be Gabriel. Because he is an angel, they know that he is a spirit; and because he transmits the Word of Allah, he is in a special sense a very holy spirit.


There are other passages, however, where the expression ruh-ul qudus is not as easily interpreted. For example, there are three Qur’anic passages that use the expression “holy spirit” in reference to the ministry of Isa Al-Masih.

We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit (ruh-ul qudus).

—Surat-ul Baqara (2): 87


To Jesus the son of Mary, We gave clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit (ruh-ul qudus).

—Surat-ul Baqara (2): 253


Then Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount my favor to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit (ruh-ul qudus).…”

—Surat-ul Ma’ida (5): 110


Today, the common opinion is that the ruh-ul qudus of these verses refers again to the angel Gabriel. But according to the opinions of the early classical interpreters, such as Ibn Zayd, Ibn Abbas and Ibn Anas, and later confirmed by al-Baidawi (d.685/1282), in these passages ruh-ul qudus was understood in a variety of ways. Other interpretations included: 1. the spirit that Allah breathed into Isa; 2. the Injil that Allah sent down to Isa; and 3. the one name of Allah that superceded all others, which Isa invoked to perform miracles, such as raising the dead. In each of these instances, ruh-ul qudus was interpreted to be something more profound than an angel; it was something that was of Allah and that came down from Allah. Furthermore, in each of the above three passages, this holy spirit came to give strength to Allah’s servant. This idea is conveyed in yet another verse of the Qur’an that speaks of believers fully devoted to Allah:

He [Allah] has written faith in their hearts, andstrengthened them with a spirit from Himself (ruh min hu).

—Surat-ul Mujadila (58): 22


Yusuf Ali, in his commentary for this verse, says the following:

Here we learn that all good and righteous men are strengthened by Allah with the holy spirit. If anything, the phrase used here is stronger, “a spirit from Himself.” When anyone offers his heart in faith and purity to Allah, Allah accepts it, engraves that Faith on the seeker’s heart, and further fortifies him with the divine spirit, which we can no more define adequately than we can define in human language the nature and attributes of Allah.


Notice Yusuf Ali’s description of this spirit as “the divine spirit.”Again we see a reference to something that is of Allah, comes from Allah and comes to strengthen. We have already seen references of Isa Al-Masih being strengthened, but this is the only verse in the entire Qur’an that speaks about the common believer being strengthened by the Spirit of Allah.


There is no doubt that this is a critical spiritual truth that must be explored. To learn more about this experience, we need to consult the scriptures of the Injil, which has much to say about this important matter. First, notice the wording in the following Injil selection, which is similar to what we found in Surat-ul Mujadila (58):22:

I pray that out of his glorious riches He (Allah) may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being….

—Injil, Ephesians 3:16


The Injil also refers to Allah’s Spirit as the Holy Spirit—being of Allah and from Allah. This expression, Holy Spirit, is never used in the Injil to refer to Gabriel or any other created being. It is always used in reference to Allah. Furthermore, the Injil makes it clear that Allah’s desire is not to dwell in any human-made building; He wants to dwell in the human heart!

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? …God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

—Injil, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17


If it is true that Allah wants to live in our hearts, then we have a serious problem! Allah, who is holy, will only dwell in a heart that is pure. Consequently, our hearts must be cleansed from all disease and corruption. Our sins must be forgiven—not just temporarily covered by some good deed, but fully forgiven and completely washed away. Such forgiveness and cleansing can come to those who put their faith in Isa Al-Masih who once declared:

This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

—Injil, Luke 24:46-47


That is precisely why Isa Al-Masih came to the world. He came to resolve the sin issue in our lives. He paid the penalty for sinning against Allah’s holiness and defiling His honor that we could never pay. The mission of Isa Al-Masih was to reveal Allah’s mercy as the Savior of humankind. Because of his willingness to endure the penalty of sin on our behalf, we can find forgiveness of sin in his name. The diseased heart (Surat-ul Baqara 2:10) can be replaced by a pure heart, and in that newness of life, we can become eligible for the indwelling of Allah’s Spirit. This experience is a gift from Allah to everyone. Thus the Injil calls everyone to repentance in the name of Isa Al-Masih:

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ [Isa Al-Masih] for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children.

—Injil, Acts 2:38-39


Why is it so important to be filled and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that is of Allah and from Allah? The scriptures warn us that we are in a constant spiritual battle:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

—Injil, Ephesians 6:12


This is the battle that rages in the soul. This is jihad akbar—spiritual warfare! The record of human history clearly reveals that without the strength of Allah’s Spirit within, the rule of Satan and all his evil prevails. To live a holy life with a pure heart, and to do the work of Allah, the strength provided by Allah’s Spirit is extremely critical.


The Injil continues to give instruction about not only being filled with the Spirit of Allah, but being influenced by the Spirit of Allah. For example, we read these words:

Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other….


The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like… those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

—Injil, Galatians 5:16-17; 19-21


Though these words were inspired 2,000 years ago, today the same problems mark the struggle between good and evil, between believers and unbelievers. We cannot survive spiritually without divine intervention. As servants of Allah, we definitely need to be strengthened in our hearts by the Spirit from Allah. We cannot ignore this truth. May this truly be our prayer:

Oh Mighty God, through the revelation of your mercy for humankind, help us to be people whose hearts have been fully cleansed from sin, so that our lives may be fully strengthened by Your Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Only then can we serve as a holy people submitted to a holy God. Only then can You truly be glorified in our lives. Amin!

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