This discussion appears in the recent published English Volume 39 and it is a discussion of rare excellence by Allamah Tabataba’i. Below is the gist of the discussion.
Is the human being a single reality or a dichotomous reality made of the spirit and body? Certain Qur’anic verses, at first glance, would suggest the latter but the real and actual Qur’anic view is the former – a single reality which is immaterial in essence.
No doubt, as evident in the Qur’an, the source of consciousness and volition in every human being is a life principle which is called the “spirit” or the “soul”. God says: Then He proportioned him and breathed into him of His spirit (32:9).
When the spirit is coupled with the body, they compose a living human being and when it leaves the body, the person dies.
However, the above verse (32:9) should be interpreted and understood in the light of the following verse: Say: you will be taken away by the angel of death, who has been charged with you (32:11). What the angel of death seizes is one’s spirit and that is the totality of one’s reality indicated by the pronoun “you” in the verse. The verse also clarifies that the spirit is not part of the whole. What is meant by the blowing of the spirit into the body (in verse 32:9) is that the very body evolves into a human being not that two different entities are pieced together like the dough which is made up of flour and water.
The idea that the human being is a single reality or a single whole is also conveyed in these verses: And certainly We created man of an extract of clay, Then We made him a small seed in a firm resting-place, Then We made the seed a clot, then We made the clot a lump of flesh, then We made (in) the lump of flesh bones, then We clothed the bones with flesh, then We caused it to grow into another creation, so blessed be Allah, the best of the creators (23:12-14). These verses show that what evolves into a another creature is the same drop of seminal fluid which had evolved into a clinging mass, then into a fleshy tissue and then into bones.
Another verse in this regard is: There surely came over man a period of time when he was a thing not worth mentioning (76:1). This verse does not negate the person’s existence but it negates the mention of the person. In other words, the person was something (clay or sperm) but not a thing to be mentioned (such and such a person). Later on they became who they are!
Reference: Al-Mizan Eng. Vol. 39 (pub. by Tawheed Inst. Australia, 2019).