Maktub (lit. “written”, “ordained”). In the sense of “it is written”, it is an expression pronounced frequently in resignation to God’s Providence. It refers to the Divine decrees written on al-lawh al-mahfuz (the “guarded tablet”), and to such Koranic statements as: “There befalls not any happening in the earth or in your souls except it is in a book [Kitab] before We [God] manifest it…” (57:22). Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah says in the Hikam:

Antecedent intentions [sawabiq al-himam] cannot pierce the walls of predestined Decrees [aswar al-aqdir].

While Islam views man’s life as predestined in the sense that nothing can finally oppose the Will of God, man nonetheless has the gift of free will in that he does make choices and decisions. Resignation to the Will of God is a concomitant to striving in the Path of God. Above all, man is completely free in what is essential, that is, he can accept the Absolute and surrender himself to It, or reject God and pay the price. In this he has absolute free-will. The Talmud also says: “Everything is in the Hands of God, except the Fear of God.”

Source: Cyril Glassé, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition, p. 319



Ruh. (lit. “spirit”) The word is used in all the possible meanings of “spirit”, but in particular means the non-individual aspect of the soul, the intellect or nous, in Arabic al-‘aql al-fa’al (or fa’il) (“active intellect”), as opposed to the lower individual soul, the psyche, in Arabic an-nafs.

The spirit (ar-ruh) in the individual is continuous with Being itself, al-wujud, or al-‘aql al-awwal (“first intellect”), and is the dignity which exalts man above animals, and even above Angels. This is signified by the ability of Adam in the garden to name the objects of existence, which the Angels could not do and by which they recognized Adam’s superiority over them, except of course Iblis, the devil, who saw in Adam only clay—and not spirit—and so revolted against God.

Within the individual, ar-ruh is also referred to as al-haqiqah (“reality”) or as-sirr (“the secret”).


Source: Cyril Glassé, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition, p. 445


Nafs. The soul. The Arabic nafs corresponds to the Latin anima and the Greek psyche. It is the individual substance, and corresponds to the receptive pole of Being. It exists alongside ruh (“spirit”), corresponding to Latin spiritus and Greek pneuma, which is non-individual and represents the active pole of Being in man, also called the ‘aql (“Intellect”).

Often the term nafs is used in a pejorative sense, because in its fallen, unregenerate state, admixed with passion and ignorance, it is an-nafs al-ammarah bi-s-su (“the soul which incites to evil”, 12:53). Passing through the stage of an-nafs al-lawwamah (“the reproachful soul”, 75:2), which corresponds in a way to conscience advocating conversion, it can become purified and reconciled to the source of its reality as an-nafs al-mutma’innah (“soul at peace”) assured of paradise:

‘O soul at peace, return unto thy Lord, well-pleased, well-pleasing! Enter thou among my servants! Enter thou My paradise!’ (89:27)

Source: Cyril Glassé, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition, p. 388


al-Buraq.  The miraculous steed which the Angel Gabriel brought to the Prophet (Muhammad) for the Mi’raj, or Heavenly Ascent, also known as the Isra’, or Night Journey. The root of the word is ba’-ra’-qaf, which means “to glitter”, especially of lightening…

The traditional account of the Night Journey says that the Buraq proceeded in flashes of speed; where its glance landed, the next bound brought it, and from this it can be seen that the Buraq is an embodiment of the Intellect which, when it perceives an object in Being, or a spiritual reality, can immediately recognize its nature, or “know” it, without a process of analysis and reason.

Source: Cyril Glassé, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition, p. 106

The Prophetic tradition, reported on the authority of Anas Ibn-Malik, which provides a description of al-Buraq:

Prophet Muhammad (S) said,

“I was brought al-Buraq Who is an animal white and long, larger than a donkey but smaller than a mule, who would place his hoof a distance equal to the range of his vision.”