Nafs stands for the ego, the self or soul. But I've also come across nafas al-rahman which was translated as the breath of the Merciful.

Thus nafas is breath. How does this connect to nafs?

Does it refer to the breath of Allah that first animates the soul in man?


In the scholarly works on Irfan that I have studied, I have not seen any discussion underlining specific connections between the two terms. The two concepts are also discussed under two different and relatively distant fields of Islamic sciences.

Nafs as human soul is discussed mainly in philosophical works concerning the nature of human consciousness, and is also the central focus in "knowledge of the self" as an important theme in practical ethics (الأخلاق العملي) practical philosophy (الحکمة العملية) and practical mysticism or irfan (العرفان العملية). Whereas Nafas ur-Rahman is a concept in Theoretical Mysticism which discusses the essence, attributes and acts of God.

But due to the possible common lingual roots of the two terms, and also the similarities that exist between the characteristics of the two beings as discussed in respective fields of Islamic knowledge, we may reasonably hypothesize or highlight some implicit connections.

In both scientific and common usage, nafs refers to the incorporeal substance in every living creature that is the source of consciousness, life and power. Nafas is also a vital sign of most living creatures. That is nafas is the sign of nafs. I personally have no knowledge on the etymology of these similar sounding words. But it is very likely that they might have identical roots and therefore even similar meanings on the lingual level.

Nafs similar to Nafas ur-Rahman, is a being that sustains and permeates its subject just as Nafa ur-Rahamn as the First Principle sustains and permeates all consequent levels of creation (not just human soul).

Nafas ur-Rahman as defined in Irfan, therefore, excels and dominates the Divine breath that animates human souls according to the Quran. Because the former is the source of all being, from angels and human souls all the way down to the lowly matter.

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  • Nice answer. It was the possible commonality in linguistic roots that I was after. From what I've been told about arabic words have a tri-consonantal basis, which in the case of nafs and nafas is nfs. – Mozibur Ullah Aug 27 '14 at 5:04
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    @MoziburUllah, that's right. Their apparent structure suggests common lingual roots. But I couldn't find any article specifically discussing their etymology. Mujahid has a good knowledge of Arabic. He may be able to tell us about the original meaning of the root word. – infatuated Aug 27 '14 at 5:11

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