23. Jibril, the Holy Spirit and the Koran

The Spirit of God is God. We could specify that it is God who acts, sometimes by the intermediary of angels, but not necessarily.

The sura “The Table” makes it reproachable to put the Spirit (who is called the mother of ‘Issa [Jesus])[1] at the side of God: “‘Issa, son of Maryam, did you say to people: Take me and my mother for two divinities, at the side of God?” (s. 5, 116). In fact, Christians have never imagined a second or third “God.” But if it is Life which is in God and which wants to transmit itself, then there is a whole other meaning to seek.

We have also seen that at the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, Maryam the all pure, the angel Gabriel (Jibril) told her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most Hight will overshadow you” (Luke 1, 35). To no other person has God ever said this, and he will never say it again. She understood well that, if she was consenting, the promise of Scripture would be accomplished in her and that God would thus “visit his people” (Luke 1, 68 and 7, 16).

Even if we cannot see the Holy Spirit, we can name him. It seems nevertheless that this is problematic since the Iranian grammarians of the Koran have intervened. In Arabic, we say: ar-rūḥ al-qudus, with the article al- in front of rūḥ, and this means “Holy Spirit.” The article al- in front of rūḥ is seen for example in the sura “The Poets”: “The faithful Spirit (ar-rūḥ al-amīn) is descended with this” (26, 193). Likewise, in the inferior inscription of the manuscript (called palimpsest) of Sana DAM 01-27.1, which dates from the 7th century: “We have aided (or made act, verb ayyada) him [‘Issa (Jesus), son of Maryam] by the Holy Spirit (ar-rūḥ al-qudus)” (Sura “The heifer,” 2,87).

Yet in the posterior Korans, the article al- has disappeared, so that we are obliged to read thus: ruh al-qudus, “the spirit of the Saint.” What “spirit of the Saint”? According to the commentators it was about the angel Gabriel (Jibril)! Problem: in the sura “The heifer” (s. 2, 87) and in parallel passages, [2] this doesn’t go: we cannot “read” that it is the angel Gabriel-Jibril who would have helped (or made to act) ‘Issa (Jesus)! And so, the translators rendered it as “the Spirit of Holiness” (or the Holy Spirit). But everywhere else, since the article al- was removed,[3] we say that ar-rūḥ al-qudus is Gabriel-Jibril. What this incoherence reveals is especially that the Iranian commentators had a problem with the Holy Spirit.

God is not Someone who sends messages now and then and who applies from afar his immutable decrees. He is fully alive, and his Life is meant to be shared and to grow – if not, on the contrary, it would be death. If He is alive and wants to communicate Himself, He has in himself Life, and in Him this Life circulates according to three poles, according to what was revealed earlier in a veiled and then an unveiled manner in the Bible (in the Old and New Testaments). The message of the Bible is Life, it is much more than a message, and the Spirit of God is fully implicated in this communication.

The Virgin Mary, Maryam all pure, lived with particular force this communication. We are invited “take her home” to understand this mystery of life and of love.


[1] The ancient Muslim commentators understood still very well such Syro-Aramean traditions.

[2] Racine yad, main. Idem in 2, 253 and 5, 110.

[3] The codicological studies put this in the light.