Surah Al-Isra Ayat 85 in Arabic Text
Here you can read various translations of verse 85
And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the soul. Say, “The soul is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind have not been given of knowledge except a little.”
They ask thee concerning the Spirit (of inspiration). Say: “The Spirit (cometh) by command of my Lord: of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you, (O men!)”
They ask you about “the spirit”. Say: “The spirit descends by the command of my Lord, but you have been given only a little knowledge.”
And they ask you (O Muhammad SAW) 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.”
They are asking thee concerning the Spirit. Say: The Spirit is by command of my Lord, and of knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little.
And they ask you about the Spirit. Say, “The Spirit is of the Command of my Lord; and in no way have you been brought of knowledge except a little.”
[Prophet], they ask you about the Spirit. Say, ‘The Spirit is part of my Lord’s domain. You have only been given a little knowledge.’
Quran 17 Verse 85 Explanation
For those looking for commentary to help with the understanding of Surah Al-Isra ayat 85, we’ve provided two Tafseer works below. The first is the tafseer of Abul Ala Maududi, the second is of Ibn Kathir.
(17:85) They ask you about “the spirit”. Say: “The spirit descends by the command of my Lord, but you have been given only a little knowledge.”
103. It is generally understood that the Arabic word Rooh stands here for soul as if the people asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) about the soul of man in regard to its nature, and the answer was that it came by the command of Allah. But we have great hesitation in accepting this meaning for it could be taken only if the verse be isolated from its context; otherwise these words would become quite incoherent for there is no reason why the question about soul should have intervened between the preceding three verses and following verses which deal with the theme of the Quran.
If we read the verse in its context, it becomes quite obvious that here the word Rooh (The Spirit) stands for the angel who brings revelation. This was in answer to the question of the mushriks: Where from do you bring the Quran? as if to say: O Muhammad, these people ask you about the Spirit, that is, the source of the Quran or the means of acquiring it, so tell them: This Spirit comes to me by the command of my Lord but your knowledge is so little that you cannot distinguish between the nature of human words and the divinely revealed words. That is why you suspect that this has been fabricated by some man.
The above interpretation is to be preferred, because it fits in excellently between the preceding and the succeeding verses. This is also supported by the Quran itself: He sends down by His command “The Spirit” to any of His servants He wills so that they should warn the people of the Day, when they shall be assembled together. (Surah Al-Momin, Ayat 15). And likewise, We have sent down “The Spirit” to you by Our command: You did not know what the Book was and what the faith. (Surah Ash-Shurah, Ayat 52).
Besides this, Ibn Abbas, Qatadah and Hasan Basri (may Allah bestow His mercy upon them all) have also adopted the same interpretation. Ibn Jarir has attributed the same thing to Ibn Abbas on the authority of Qatadah, but at the same time he tells a strange thing that Ibn Abbas stated this thing only in secret. Again the author of Ruh-ul-Maani cites these words of Hasan and Qatadah: By Rooh is meant Jibril: the question was about the nature of his coming down and inspiring the heart of the Prophet (peace be upon him) with Revelation.
85. And they ask you concerning the Ruh (the spirit). Say: “The Ruh (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-Bukhari recorded in his Tafsir of this Ayah that `Abdullah bin Mas`ud said, “While I was walking with the Prophet on a farm, and he was resting on a palm-leaf stalk, some Jews passed by. Some of them said to the others, `Ask him about the Ruh.’ Some of them said, `What urges you to ask him about that’ Others said, `Do not ask him, lest he gives you a reply which you do not like.’ But they said, `Ask him.’ So they asked him about the Ruh. The Prophet kept quiet and did not give them an answer, and I knew that he was receiving revelation, so I stayed where I was. When the revelation was complete, the Prophet said:
(And they ask you concerning the Ruh (the spirit). Say: “The Ruh (the spirit) is one of the things, the knowledge of which is only with my Lord…”) This context would seem to imply that this Ayah was revealed in Al-Madinah, and that it was revealed when the Jews asked him this question in Al-Madinah, although the entire Surah was revealed in Makkah. This may be answered with the suggestion that this Ayah may have been revealed to him in Al-Madinah a second time, after having previously been revealed in Makkah, or that he was divinely inspired to respond to their question with a previously-revealed Ayah, namely the Ayah in question. Ibn Jarir recorded that `Ikrimah said, “The People of the Book asked the Messenger of Allah about the Ruh, and Allah revealed:
(And they ask you concerning the Ruh…) They said, `You claim that we have only a little knowledge, but we have been given the Tawrah, which is the Hikmah,
(and he, to whom Hikmah is granted, is indeed granted abundant good.)’ ﴿2:269﴾ Then the Ayah
(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 to its (supply),) ﴿31:27﴾ was revealed. He said, “Whatever knowledge you have been given, if Allah saves you from the Fire thereby, then it is great and good, but in comparison to the knowledge of Allah, it is very little.”
(And they ask you concerning the Ruh.) Al-`Awfi reported that Ibn `Abbas said, “This was when the Jews said to the Prophet , `Tell us about the Ruh and how the Ruh will be punished that is in the body – for the Ruh is something about which only Allah knows, and there was no revelation concerning it.’ He did not answer them at all, then Jibril came to him and said:
(Say: “The Ruh (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.”) So the Prophet told them about that, and they said, `Who told you this’ He said,
(Jibril brought it to me from Allah.) They said, `By Allah, no one has told you that except our enemy ﴿i.e., Jibril﴾.’ Then Allah revealed:
(Say: “Whoever is an enemy to Jibril (let him die in his fury), for indeed he has brought it (this Qur’an) down to your heart by Allah’s permission, confirming what came before it.)” ﴿2:97﴾
As-Suhayili mentioned the dispute among the scholars over whether the Ruh is the same as the Nafs, or something different. He stated that it is light and soft, like air, flowing through the body like water through the veins of a tree. He states that the Ruh which the angel breathes into the fetus is the Nafs, provided that it joins the body and acquires certain qualities because of it, whether good or bad. So then it is either a soul in (complete) rest and satisfaction (89:27) or inclined to evil (12:53), just as water is the life of the tree, then by mixing with it, it produces something else, so that if it mixes with grapes and the grapes are then squeezed, it becomes juice or wine. Then it is no longer called water, except in a metaphorical sense. Thus we should understand the connection between Nafs and Ruh; the Ruh is not called Nafs except when it joins the body and is affected by it. So in conclusion we may say: the Ruh is the origin and essence, and the Nafs consists of the Ruh and its connection to the body. So they are the same in one sense but not in another. This is a good explanation, and Allah knows best. I say: people speak about the essence of the Ruh and its rulings, and many books have been written on this topic. One of the best of those who spoke of this was Al-Hafiz Ibn Mandah in a book which we have heard about the Ruh.
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