What does the word ‘spirit’ mean to an English person, particularly from a religious perspective?

    • Something that can possess people: The New Testament, Mark 9:25

And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek word used for spirit was πνεῦμα (pneuma) meaning, in traditional Greek, a movement of air (breath, wind).

  • Liquor, i.e. alcoholic drinks: spirit in this sense goes back to when chemistry (known then as alchemy) was reaching European shores from the Middle East. The muslim scientists said that, during chemical reactions, a vapour was given off. The translation of this vapour was ‘spirit’ – The word for vapour at that time in the Arabic being (I believe) روح (ruḥ), usually translated as ‘soul’ . This word is linked to the word ريح (riḥ) meaning ‘wind’.
  • Going back to the Old Testament and Judaism we have two relevant words, nafash and ruah. These are obviously cognates to the arabic words نفس (nafs) and روح (ruḥ) – see more here and here.

In the English language the word ‘spirit’ derives from the Latin spirare, to blow. There are many other derivative meanings in English, here’s just a few:

  • Spiritual world
  • In good spirits
  • Spirited defence
  • Inspired, inspiration

Clearly, then, the English word spirit has a similar root (in terms of meaning) as has the Arabic word for soul i.e. روح (ruḥ). Allah says in the Qur’aan:

alHijr 15:29

فَإِذَا سَوَّيْتُهُ وَنَفَخْتُ فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِي فَقَعُوا لَهُ سَاجِدِينَ

translated as:

“When I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and breathed into him of My spirit, fall ye down in obeisance unto him.”

i.e. both spirit and the Arabic word for soul روح (ruḥ) have connotations of breath, wind.

I found the following answer from Sheikh Hamza Yusuf very interesting:

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf – Modern idea of re-establishing Shariah Hudood Punishments

I agree with the Sheikh wholeheartedly, applying many of the Hudood (حدود) punishments to the muslims living in the modern world would, in these times, lack mercy (رحمة) due to the fact that the all-consuming material culture we are in has corrupted us too much to be held to these noble standards. As a consequence we should, in these times and this culture, refrain from their implementation. He also points out that the noble way of the companions of the Prophet, may God be pleased with them,  was to try to hide violations of the Hudood, not to go hunting for them and to force them into the public. I strongly recommend viewing the whole video.


In a thread on DeenPort we were asked for comments on Prof Krauss’ book  A Universe from Nothing in which he claims that according to modern physics the universe could have spontaneously come into existence without any act of creation. My simple response was to ask, how did the laws of physics come into existence?

Mansoor Malik brought to our attention the excellent critique of the book here: hysicist-george-ellis-knocks-physicists-for-knock ing-philosophy-falsification-free-will/

Here I capture some further thoughts about the issue.

The scientist who gives the opinion in the linked article is a Christian, however I believe that most atheist scientists would also strongly agree with the thrust of the article.

When I asked where the laws of physics came from, I wasn’t trying to prove the existence of God, but more to show that Professor Krauss’s opinion that something came out of nothing is not true because there existed something (e.g. physical laws) that provided the necessary infrastructure for the something (our material universe) to come into being. For instance it is a theory in modern physics that particles such as electrons can be spontaneously created “ex nihilo” in a vacuum. However, these particles are not really coming out of nothing (nihilo), as it requires a certain amount of energy for the particle to come into existence. It turns out that a vacuum in space is believed to have an energy density (i.e. it contains energy which can spontaneously convert into matter) and therefore a vacuum in space is not, to my mind, “nothing”. ( The energy is changed into matter (the electron) as per Einstein’s well known formula E = mc2. Prof Krauss presumably thinks that space (a vacuum) was ‘always there’ and its existence needs no explanation. I consider that a highly naive assumption and strongly disagree. Further, how and why does E = mc2 hold, for example?

Having said the above, there is a stronger argument at the meta level (i.e. stepping back a bit and looking at the problem from the outside). Consider a thought experiment. We simulate a universe similar to our own (in some type of computer for example). Whether that is in fact physically possible is not relevant to the argument. Let us call this simulated universe the Inner universe, and our actual universe the Outer universe. The Inner universe is entirely simulated in all dimensions i.e. all points in Inner space and time are simulated and observable by us so that we can look at any simulated point at any moment in simulated time. According to scientists of Professor Krauss’s ilk, life and even consciousness can evolve in such a universe. Let us therefore say that an entity very similar to Prof Krauss is found to have evolved in the Inner simulated universe. He sees a universe with exactly the same properties as our own. This entity, having a simulated brain very similar to Prof Krauss and observing a universe of the same laws as those of our own universe, makes the statement that his universe came into being entirely ex nihilo and therefore was not the result of an act of creation.

Well, clearly this Prof Krauss in the Inner universe is wrong, as we in the Outer universe created his universe. You see where this argument is going, we too are potentially in an Inner universe, and our Prof Krauss is equally as wrong as the one in our Inner universe. God (ultimately) created our Inner universe. We have absolutely no conception of what lies “outside” our universe and experimentation within our universe tells us nothing about how our universe came into being. We are entirely trapped in this universe and cannot see nor even have the faintest conception of what “exists” other than our universe (except by revelation).

It was noted that in my book A Message For Tuqa, I do not advance a proof for the existence of God.

Yes, in the Science chapter of my book A Message For Tuqa I do not attempt to prove the existence of God, but instead to place and picture science properly in a more accurate world-view, showing the limitations of science and how it is not as absolute as is commonly held. What I also try to explain, albeit very briefly, is how when we take modern science to its limit it claims to elaborate how a consciousness can evolve simply from the fundamental laws of physics, without needing any extra ‘magic’. I hold that this ‘clockwork’ consciousness whose thoughts unfold according to the laws of physics, and therefore has no free will, is unacceptable to me and more importantly, does not match my inner experience.

Given therefore that science does not answer the fundamental questions to which I sought answers, I turned to a recognition of my soul, and the creator of my soul. In the quran and the teachings of the prophet I found a sound compass as to where and how to seek further insight.

Where does faith come from?

Descartes famously said ‘cogito ergo sum’. He meant that the only experience we can be entirely sure of is the experience of being and having a self, because all incoming external sensations might be incorrect. AlGhazali preceded him with a similar insight. In Ghazali’s book almunqidh min aDDalaal (Deliverance From Error) he describes how as a young man he had a crisis of faith, which he kept to himself. He realised how little he could be sure of. He points out how faith, once lost, is like a shattered glass bowl which cannot be repaired but must be re-blown afresh. As he very briefly describes it, God cast a light into his breast and his faith was restored. He went on to respond to the challenge of Greek philosophical thought and wrote the hugely influential book iHyaa’ `uluum iddiin (Revival of the Religious Sciences). Once the naive belief in one’s parent’s religion is lost, we must re-blow a new world-view. There is no longer anyone to tell you what is truth or who can show that his way is clearly and obviously the right path. You must search within yourself, learn what you can of what seems most useful, try to walk the straight path of what you find to be true. You must constantly ask God, as we do in alFaatiHa, “Guide us on the straight path!”.

AlHamdulillaah I’ve finished my book A Message For Tuqa.

When a muslim sets off on the straight path he can be overwhelmed with the amount of information available and be left confused by divergent and sometimes controversial opinions.
Originally written by the author for his daughter, this book helps clear the confusion. It provides guidance on how to approach the huge body of knowledge presented to the muslim, understand why opinions diverge, and helps the seeker to keep focussed on the priorities.

What is terrorism?

A few points up front:
1) Killing innocent people is abhorrent and as muslims we totally shun it.
2) There are many things worse things than the ‘terrorism’ we see now – Hiroshima, the fire bombings of Dresden, Hamburg etc., large scale female infanticide etc., etc.
3) There is no universally agreed definition of terrorism vs murder.

Terrorism has been elevated as the worst sort of evil when in fact it is not. It has been elevated in this way because it becomes a convenient ‘justification’ for (particularly) when the government want to attack and/or invade a country or e.g. launch a massive spying operation on the general population.

In terms of our own internal reasoning about the world and what is right and wrong, for me terrorism is when a small group of people get together and attack the larger group of people to achieve a goal, often political. This is wrong and a disaster for the entire society.

If the state goes about the systematic killing of civilians then that is often labelled as state terrorism, perhaps because people have come to think that the biggest accusation/crime is ‘terrorism’ and therefore it’s best to call it that to get the best effect.

The word has become totally degraded to the point of being useless. It’s just a jingoistic expression to lump all resistance into the same group as mindless murderers of civilians – e.g. compare what Hamas do to WWII bombings etc., and what Israel does. Hamas is labelled terrorist (and they do target civilians) but the UK/US/Israel (who also target civilians) are not.

To my mind all targeting of civilians by whatever actors is to be abhorred. Modern warfare is an abomination, nail bombs, cooker bombs, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, daisy cutters, barrel bombings, automatic weapons, drones, tanks, mass killing, destruction of entire cities – a truly foul collection.

Year by year the many ways of communicating with others, both friends and strangers, increases and become easier. Likewise the media has an increasing impact on our lives, to the extent that it can now introduce serious and challenging problems. I want to talk about four areas, that are increasingly overlapping:

  • The Television
  • The Internet
  • The Mobile Phone
  • The News

The Television


Surat anNur, 24:30-31 – “Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do.”

and in the next ayat:

“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed”

Here I’m talking about video content designed for mass consumption. Until recently this has almost exclusively been viewed in the home through the television, but this content is now available through many other channels such as the internet and mobile phones. It is largely paid for by advertising (the content producers and broadcasters are selling eyeballs to the advertisers) or by subscription or tax (such as in the UK with the TV licence).

With the many changes in attitudes in recent decades, firstly in the sixties with the so called ‘sexual revolution’ and more recently with the widespread consumption of pornography, the images and story lines being presented to us are further and further from Islamic norms. If we allow ourselves to consume a steady diet of this type of programming we become accustomed to such debased material and our standards can, internally, sink to the same level.

On a more mundane note, but also very serious, we can end up wasting large amounts of time in front of these programmes, gaining no benefit whatsoever.

The Prophet (pbuh) said:
“Take benefit of five before five:
your youth before your old age,
your health before your sickness,
your wealth before your poverty,
your free-time before your preoccupation,
and your life before your death.”

My advice regarding the TV and related programming:

  • Try to watch less and less TV, replacing it with reading. The ultimate goal is to stop watching these types of programmes altogether.
  • Avoid watching programmes that contain sexual content – this information is now available in the TV guide so use it.
  • Be very conscious of the younger members of the household, you’re giving tacit approval to them of the behaviour that you sit and watch on TV for entertainment. It’s no good condemning something to them and then paying rapt attention to the bad behaviour on the TV that you condemned before.
  • Don’t watch the adverts – I achieve this easily by only watching recordings on a PVR where I can skip the adverts with the touch of a button. If you can’t do that the turn off the volume when the adverts are running. It’s amazing how the effect of the advert is reduced when there is no sound.

The Internet

We all know the obvious dangers of the internet.

  • Marriages have broken up when spouses create new relationships on the internet with strangers they have never met physically. Men and women in particular can mix much more freely and easily, and inappropriate emotions can develop unexpectedly.  Chat rooms and instant messaging make illicit communication simple and quick.
  • The internet is choc-a-bloc with images that are totally forbidden for a muslim to view. It is so prevalent on even ‘everyday’ web sites that it is very easy to become accustomed to seeing men and women in many states of undress, and ultimately become totally mentally saturated and desensitised to these images.

There are other privacy related dangers too:

  • All the web sites that we visit, and searches that we conduct, are stored by the ISP for a few years, in case the police request access to it. You can be prosecuted now for simply reading some material, and what you viewed can be taken out of context and used against you, especially if you are a muslim.
  • Such data is also routinely intercepted by GCHQ and the NSA, together with, no doubt, numerous other spying agencies. Some of the largest data centres in the world are maintained by these people.
  • As we know from the PRISM scandal much of our data such as private emails that we trust to Google, Apple, Microsft, Yahoo etc., is available to these same agencies. The SSL certificates of these organisations are almost certainly known to the main spying agencies, meaning that even when we are supposedly engaging in encrypted transactions (where the URL starts https:// instead of http://) the spying agencies can read it clearly.
  • Social media posts on sites such as Facebook can’t be really deleted and can prove a source of future embarassment, or even can cause problems with future employment as prospective employers seek out your social media postings.

My advice regarding the internet is:

  • Protect everyone in the family from inappropriate browsing and chatting on the internet by keeping the main internet device such as the PC in a place such as the lounge, where doors are not closed and the whole family can see what is going on. The default policy for waht we do on the internet is Public – we should not be ashamed for anyone to see what we have said or (harder) seen on the net.
  • Don’t maintain email or messaging accounts that your spouse cannot see. Keep these easily viewed by the spouse, and it protects you and your spouse from even thinking about sending inappropriate messages.
  • Install plugins such as AdBlock and FlashBlock that cut out adverts, both static and dynamic. The web site will load much more quickly too. You can also disable the loading of all images if you wish.
  • Think very hard before posting social material on the internet, could it pose a problem or be embarrassing to anyone now or in the future?

The Mobile Phone

  • The mobile phone, or smart-phone, has become a route to the TV programmes and internet activities such as chat and messaging that I have already mentioned. Because the phone can be carried to private places it presents all sorts of dangers. Be alert to those for yourself, spouse and children. One brother said to me, when I warned him about it, ‘but muslim kids wouldn’t do that!’. I don’t agree that being muslim gives us invulnerability to such things, so be vigilant, particularly for ourselves.

The News


“O you who believe! if an evil-doer comes to you with a report, look carefully into it, lest you harm a people in ignorance, then be sorry for what you have done.”

We should be aware that the western media tends to pick up stories about muslims, and then casts an anti-Islamic stance over the story.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the news (as excellently expressed in the original article :

  • News misleads – A car drives over a bridge, and the bridge collapses. What does the news media focus on? The car. The person in the car.
  • News is irrelevant – Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business.
  • News has no explanatory power – Will accumulating facts help you understand the world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements
  • News is toxic to your body – It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones (chronic stress)
  • News increases cognitive errors – News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias
  • News inhibits thinking – Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes.
  • News works like a drug – As stories develop, we want to know how they continue. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore
  • News wastes time
  • News makes us passive – News stories are overwhelmingly about things you cannot influence
  • News kills creativity – Finally, things we already know limit our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age

I enjoyed reading this article about the home office setups of journalists and editors working for Ars Technica. I thought I’d share mine, largely as a kind of personal history:

(With all photos, click to see full detail)

I’m using Ubuntu Linux, I’ve used linux as my primary OS for a very long time, and am using Ubuntu through laziness on my part. The prayer time widget in the top left hand corner of the left screen is one I developed myself (kprayertime). Below it is a moon phase widget, you can see it was just after the middle of the lunar month when I wrote this (in the blessed month of Ramadan). You can also see a weather widget that tells me it’s raining a lot in Bristol – well, I already knew that. Various items belonging to my daughter and wife are scattered on the desk, every few days I have to ‘send’ things back to their owners, usually by throwing them onto the respective bed. The desk lamp was given to me by my friend Zubair. There’s an uber mouse mat with the map of the world, that is now up-side down. An IKEA clock and Aldi watch can be seen, together with some Kumon homework.

Here you can see my wife’s books, and others about science, the philosphy and history of science and other miscellanea. Notable books for me in terms of my personal development are “Godel, Escher and Bach” and “Complexity, Entropy and the Physics of Information”.

Here we have a distilled collection of IT books. Such is the ephemeral nature of IT books that recently I gave/threw away two thousand pounds worth (well, spent) of IT text books due to lack of space in the flat. Below those is the books I studied during my physics degree, and some travel books below them. In the early 1990s I bought the book “The Science of Fractal Images” at Foyles in London. I spent many Saturday afternoons up and down Charing Cross Rd (also eating far too many pizzas at the Pizza Hut there) and bought my first islamic book at The Middle-Eastern Bookshop at the south end of the road. I think it was ‘The Book of Knowledge’, the first book in Imam alGhazali’s Ihyaa’. I also bought various books by Muhammad Asad including his translation of the Qur’aan. I think it’s fair to say that these books still have a great influence on me. Subhaan Allaah when I look back at my life there are definitely times when I was guided like an arrow to the straight path, in terms of knowledge and people.

This bookcase largely contains miscellanea, including various books about language in general, which is an interest of mine. The maps are there because when I travel I like to keep the maps that I used, as a memento. A number of the linguistics books are my wife’s, whose PhD thesis (in arabic-english linguistics) can also be seen.

Here we have various islamic books and below them some arabic language learning resources. I now teach arabic to beginners and intermediate level, while continually trying to improve my own level of arabic too.

We’re getting on to pride of place now, these books and those you can see below are on either side of me when I am doing my prayers, reading the Qur’aan or meditating on life, the universe and everything :-). There are numerous translations of Imam alGhazali, particularly from his Ihyaa’. A notable book is Searching For Solace, a biography of Yusuf Ali. A sad tale but which somehow sums up the state of the muslim world at the moment. Various books by Charles Le Gai Eaton, who I think writes beautifully about islam and explains it so well to the Western mind. Because he has some heterodox views he is not promoted by the muslims, which is a shame.

We’ve reached some truly great books now. Bottom left in blue and white are some grammar and morphology books by Antoine Dahdah. I love those books. We then have various less technical books about iman and other important islamic topics. Above them we have Sharh wa Tahleel of alHikam al`Ataa`iyya by Dr Ramadan Buti (they’re up-side down too – how did they get like that!) which is an explanation of the great book by Ibn `Ataa’illaahi alIskandariyya. My wife chose many of these books when we came back from Syria. There are the five volumes of Sufficient For Seekers of the Path of Truth which is a fine translation of the great book AlGhunya.

Pride of place, of course, goes to the masaahif (copies of the Qur’aan) and tafaaseer (explanations of the Qur’aan). For those who can’t read arabic the red and gold volumes are Tafseer utTabari, an explanation of the Qur’aan largely based on hadith narrated about the meaning of each ayat. The black and gold volumes are Lisaan al`Arab, a wonderful (and huge) dictionary of arabic. There are hundred of thousands of words, often accompanied by arabic poetry (or hadith or ayats) giving an example of the word in use. At the top, physically and metaphorically, are the masaahif, copies of the noble Qur’aan.

Writing the above has made me realise why I cart some of these older books around, even though in a sense they represent a skin that has been shed. They are a part of my history and remind me of the times when I was reading them. They serve as a type of authentication that my islam is not based on an ignorance of the pinnacle of Western knowledge, but as an ascent from it to higher goals.

If you enjoyed this post then please do something similar yourself and let me know!

P.S. my wife is complaining about the mess in the photos, but I wanted it to be ‘as-it-is’ 😉

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