“Look for your heart in three places:”
The word “heart” is one of the most commonly used motifs, metaphors, and symbols in human history. It is a term whose definition is broad enough to include the fierceness of strength and courage as well as the tenderness and vulnerability of intense emotion. Traditional science, however, has downplayed the heart as merely a monotonously contracting muscle, while the brain is touted as both the center and originator of intelligence and feeling.
In spite of this, the tendency to ascribe psychological sensitivities to that constantly beating organ continues to haunt contemporary human thought. At the language level, the word “heart” remains a strong conveyer of emotion and meaning. If human beings are discouraged, they are disheartened; if stoic, heartless; if in the best state of energy and enthusiasm, hearty.
In the face of traditional science, why does the collective psyche of humanity continue to fixate upon this same intangible concept of the heart? Perhaps it is because, to this day, the stopping of the heartbeat signifies the coming of death. It might be ascribed to the way that the heart responds so readily to emotional signals, increasing or reducing pace in direct correlation to the human psychological state. Within human consciousness, the heart’s meaning extends beyond that of a muscle; within Islam, the role of the heart cannot be understated.
The heart is mentioned repeatedly in the Qur’an. One of the mentioned du`a’ (supplications) of Prophet Ibrahim, `alayhi salam (peace be upon him), beseeches to Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (the Exalted and Glorified): “Do not forsake me on the Day of Resurrection, a day where neither money nor children will benefit except whoever meets Allah with a sound heart” (26:87-89). Allah (swt) revealed this powerful supplication about the Day of Resurrection, for the judgement on the eternal fate of each soul is decided by Allah (swt) on that day, rendering a pure heart necessary for entering Paradise.
The Arabic term for the heart, qalb, has a very specific meaning. It refers to what defines the existence of the individual: one’s personal center of faith. A most illustrious and beautiful chapter of the Qur’an, Surah Yaseen, is referred to as the heart of the Qur’an. According to the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu `alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings be upon him), the virtues of reciting this qalb, among others,include receiving benefits of the dunya (earthly life) and the removal of the dread of the akhirah (life after death).
Furthermore, worship of Allah (swt) is divided into four categories, two of which deal with the heart: its sayings and its actions. A true Mu’min (Believer) is said to possess a pure heart that is well-informed in the total belief of Allah (swt) and complete trust in Him—a heart that is true to its Maker (swt) in both its impulses and the carrying out of those impulses. The qalb was created to hold its Creator as its highest Authority, Love, and Loyalty. If the heart is dead, then spiritual (and, eventually, physical) problems would manifest themselves in the individual.
In purifying the heart, a Believer can rest assured that the best of examples is being followed: that of Prophet Muhammad (saws), the most virtuous of the creations of Allah (swt) and the most beloved to Allah (swt). Indeed, despite his perfection in the sight of Allah (swt), the Prophet’s heart (saws) was not only cleansed by Angel Jibreel (Gabriel), but was also purified by his own strategies of
One of the greatest interpreters of Shari`ah (Islamic law) of the fourteenth century, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, was greatly concerned with matters of the qalb. According to him, `Abdullah ibn Mas`ood, radi Allahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with him), one of the closest companions of the Prophet (saws), once presented a diagnostic by which a Believer may determine the state of the qalb. He said: “Look for your heart in three places: when listening to the Qur’an, when seeking knowledge (of Allah) and when in privacy. If you cannot find it in these places, then ask Allah (swt) to bless you with a heart, for indeed you have no heart.”
A soul with no heart can not even begin to work on increasing its level of submission to its Lord—the very foundation of its purity. A vital conductor of faith must be found and awakened within every loyal slave of Allah (swt). The following exploration of `Abdullah ibn Mas`ood’s (ra) mentioned places transcends the mind and body and deals with a site precious to all human beings. ̹