The Spirit in Islam

I am feeling that shiver of excitement that I feel every time I discover a connection.

Over the last few weeks, a discussion group at church, has been reading "No god but God" by Reza Aslan. For those of you who still don't know about it, I can't possibly praise this book enough. It's a loving yet critical overview of the history of Islam, starting with an account of the religio-socio-political environment into which Mohammed was born, then the Prophet's life, then the four caliphs up until the Sunni/Shi'a split. The insights that Aslan presents are astounding, describing Islam as in the throes of a Reformation, with its future dependent on which side wins.

But that's not why I bring it up tonight. I'm excited because of the following passage in his description of Sufism.

During the first stages of the Way (where the majority of humanity find themselves), the nafs, which is the self, the ego, the psyche, the "I" - however one chooses to define the "sum of individualistic egoistic tendencies" - remains the sole reality. As the disciple moves along the Way he discovers the ruh, or Universal Spirit. The Quran refers to the ruh as the "breath of God" blown into Adam to give life to his body (15:29). In this sense, the ruh is equated with the divine, eternal, animating spirit that permeates creation - that is itself the essence creation. The ruh is Pure Being. It is that which Hindus call prana and Taoists call ch'i; it is the ethereal force underlying the universe that Christian mystics refer to when they speak of the Holy Spirit.

Not only are there the wonderful similarities to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism with reference to the Way, ch'i, prana, and the expansion of the understanding of self from individual self/soul/atman to Self/Soul/Atman/God. But there is ruh, in Hebrew Ruach. The breathe of God. The Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Life.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative