Short Answer: Yes. Islam recognizes that our choices of what to do with our body directly affect the well-being of our souls, and vice-versa. We were born with pure souls, but our free will allows us to choose to pollute them or not. We must not wait until we are near death to begin reforming our lives in order to purify our hearts.
Salam (Peace) Dear Andrew,
Thank you for your questions and for contacting Ask About Islam.
Islam does not ignore the effect of actions of the body on the ruuh, which is commonly translated as spirit, but better as soul.
Whatever actions, good or bad, the physical body is engaged in would be reflected in the on-going development of the souḷ.
To understand it in its true perspective, one must distinguish between the human body, the nafs (person or personality), and the soul.
In fact, the human being is a soul cloaked in a physical body, and hence the believer is committed to moral and spiritual values.
He/she must therefore strive for the development of both aspects of oneself through his/her body, which has life and human qualities.
This is along with the soul, which has spiritual qualities. The body could be improved with cosmetic surgery but the soul needs to be spiritually elevated.
We Were Born With Pure Souls
According to Islam, the human being is born in a pure state, free from sin, in a state of fitrah (natural instinct and tendency towards truth) in complete submission to Allah, the One and Only Creator.
At birth, the baby is totally innocent and is not responsible for the sin of his/her parents or any of his/her ancestors.
He/she starts off with a clean slate, and as he/she grows up, he/she uses his/her own freedom of choice to do good or evil.
This free will gives the person independence of intention, decision and action in various situations of moral conflict.
This is without any kind of imposition of external constraints, as exercised by any person endowed with normal mental faculties.
Our Free Will, Our Choices
Free will or freedom of choice – as opposed to determinism – is a power we possess. We choose either to obey or disobey Allah and His messenger.
We choose to blame ourselves or to blame others for the prevailing conditions.
In our thoughts, we harbor violence against others, due to anger or jealousy.
Yet, although we have no control over our in-coming thoughts, we have a choice over our intentions and actions.
So, both Allah’s guidance and the evil of Satan are available to us.
That of God is through spiritual means and long-term benefits and that of Satan’s through short-term pleasure and long-term anguish.
The choice is ours as to whom we wish to befriend.
Our Actions Affect Our Souls
The development of human personality and soul are controlled by human actions.
This is because the soul is permanently bonded to the body, as long as the person is alive.
Personality is determined by the behavior-response patterns of each individual.
This represents a compromise between his needs and inner drives on the one hand and controls of his conscience on the other.
Every human act has some kind of consequences.
A good act benefits the personality and the soul, while an evil one produces a detrimental effect.
Our evil actions cling almost disease-like to our soul and might thus be carried to the Hereafter.
By shunning all abominations, we keep our soul as chaste and pure as possible.
Although all of us make our journey to the Hereafter together, it is a journey which each of us must do alone and take full responsibility for every decision we make and for every step we take.
Don’t Wait Until Death To Improve Yourself
Normally, on our death-bed, we reflect on our past mistakes, but since we do not know when our number will be called, we might as well look for them now.
Our catalogue of deeds is usually crowded with those bad actions, which we could have easily avoided with some foresight and a little resolve.
At the end of a full life, when wisdom has set in, we find we have a long way to go again to become a perfect human being!
It is a pity that most of us do not realize that we are created for the Hereafter and that this life is only a preparatory period.
The life of this world, compared to that of the Hereafter is but a brief passing moment.
We need to know that death is only a starting birthday for eternity. Death is only a change of worlds.
However, in spite of the certainty of death, none of us wants to die. In fact, if Allah were to grant any single wish for mankind, we all would plead: “O Allah, do not let us die.”
We always need to remind ourselves that Allah’s call is to an eternal home of bliss, where there is a much higher and better life.
I hope this helps answer your questions.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From AboutIslam’s archives)