Allah subhanahu wa t'ala says, "On that day nothing will benefit
the human being, neither wealth nor children, only the one who brings Allah
a sound heart." A sound heart is one that is free of defects and spiritual
blemishes. Though the spiritual heart is centred in the physical heart,
the heart being referred to here is the spiritual heart, not the physical
heart. In ancient Chinese medicine, the heart houses what is known as "chen"
which is "a spirit." The Chinese character for "thinking," "thought," "love,"
"virtue," and "intending to listen" all contain the ideogram for the heart.
In fact, in every culture in the world, people use metaphors that deal
with the heart; in English, we call people who are cruel, "hard-hearted
people." There is also the idea of having "a cold heart" and "a warm heart."
People who do not hide their emotions well "wear their hearts on their
sleeves." When deeply affected, we say, "he affected me in my heart" or
"in my core." In fact, the English word "core" means "inner most," and
in Arabic, the equivalent "lub" comes from the Latin word, meaning
"heart." Thus, the core of the human being is indeed the heart. The word
"courage" also comes from the same root word as for "heart" because courage
is centred in the heart. The most ancient Indo-European word for heart
means "that which leaps." The heart leaps or beats in the breast of man.
For example, people say, "my heart skipped a beat" in reaction to seeing
somebody. Many such metaphors are used for the heart.
Three Types of People
The ancients were aware of the spiritual diseases of the heart, and
this is certainly at the essence of the Islamic teaching. One of the first
things the Qur’an does is define three types of people: the mu'minun,
the kafirun, and the munafiqun. The mu'minun are people
whose hearts are alive while the kafirun are people whose hearts
are dead. The munafiqun are people who have a disease or a sickness
in their hearts; thus, Allah subhanahu wa t'ala says, "In
their hearts is a disease, and they were increased in their disease." This
is also in accordance with another verse: "When their hearts deviated,
Allah made them deviate further." When somebody turns away from Allah subhanahu
wa t'ala, Allah subhanahu wa t'ala causes them to deviate even
further from the truth.
The Heart and the Brain
The actual physical heart in our breast beats about 100,000 times a
day, pumping two gallons of blood per minute, 100 gallons per hour, 24
hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for an entire lifetime!
The vascular system that sends this life-giving blood is over 60,000 miles
long: it is more than two times the circumference of the earth. Furthermore,
it is interesting to note that the heart starts beating before the brain
is formed; the heart begins to beat without any central nervous system.
The dominant theory was that the central nervous system is what is controlling
the entire human being from the brain, yet we know now that in fact the
nervous system does not initiate the heartbeat. It is actually self-initiated;
we would say, it is initiated by Allah subhanahu wa t'ala.
The heart is the centre of the human being. Many people think the brain
is the centre of consciousness, yet the Qur’an clearly states, "They have
hearts that they are not able to understand with." According to the Muslims,
the centre of human consciousness is the heart and not the brain itself,
and it is only recently that human beings have learned there are over 40,000
neurons in the heart; in other words, there are cells in the heart that
are communicating. Now, it is understood that there is two-way communication
between the brain and the heart: the brain sends messages to the heart,
but the heart also sends messages to the brain. The brain receives these
messages from the heart, which reach the amygdala and the thalamus. The
cortex receives input from the amygdala and thalamus that it processes
to produce emotion; the new cortex relates to learning and reasoning. These
processes are recent discoveries, and although we do not fully understand
them, we do know that the heart is an extremely sophisticated organ.
According to the hadith, the heart is a source of knowledge.
The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said that wrong action
is what irritates the heart. Thus, the heart actually knows wrong actions,
and this is one of the reasons why people can do terrible things, but,
ultimately, they are affected negatively. In Crime and Punishment,
the brilliant Russian author Dostoevsky indicates that crime itself is
the perpetrator's punishment because human beings have to live with the
result of their actions: their souls are affected. When people do something
against the heart, they act against the soul, and that actually affects
human beings to the degree that they will go into a state of spiritual
agitation, and people will use many ways to cover this up. This is what
is: "kufur" means "covering up." To hide their agitation, people
use alcohol, drugs, and sexual experimentation; they also seek power, wealth,
and fame, taking themselves into a state of heedlessness, submerging themselves
into the ephemeral world which causes them to forget their essential nature
and to forget their hearts. Thus, people become cut off from their hearts.
Wrong Actions Sicken the Heart
One of the things about being cut off from the heart is that the more
cut off from the heart one becomes, the sicker the heart grows because
the heart needs nourishment, and heedlessness starves the spiritual heart.
When one goes into a state of unawareness of Allah and the akhira,
one becomes unaware of the infinite world in relation to the finite world,
unaware that we are in this world for a temporary period. When we look
at the infinite world in relation to the finite world, suddenly our concerns
become focused on the infinite world and not on the finite world. On the
other hand, when people are completely immersed within the finite world,
believing that they will be here forever, believing that they will not
be taken to account for their actions, this action in and of itself ultimately
leads to the spiritual death of the hearts. However, before it dies and
becomes putrid and completely foul, the heart will show many symptoms.
These are the spiritual diseases of the hearts.
Shubahat and Shahawat:
Two Types of Diseases
There are two types of diseases of the heart. The first are called shubahat,
and these are diseases that relate to understanding. For instance, if somebody
is fearful of his provision from Allah, afraid he will not get his food
for the day, then there is a disease in his heart because a sound heart
has complete trust in Allah subhanahu wa t'ala, and a sick heart
has doubt. For this reason, a sound heart does not worry. It is the nafs
(ego), shaytan, hawa (caprice), and dunya (the love
of this ephemeral world) that lead to this state of fear or of anxiety.
The heart in [and] of itself is an organ designed to be in a state of stillness,
but the stillness will only come about by the remembrance of Allah subhanahu
wa t'ala. The Qur’an states, "Isn't it by the
dhikr of Allah
that the heart is stilled?" This is what the heart wants: it wants to remember
Allah subhanahu wa t'ala. When Allah is not remembered, the heart
goes into a state of agitation: it goes in a state of turmoil, and it becomes
diseased because it is not being fed. Just as we need to breathe because
cells need life-giving oxygen and if we stop breathing, cells die, similarly,
the heart also needs to breathe, and the breath of the heart is the remembrance
of Allah subhanahu wa t'ala. Dhikr is what feeds and nourishes
the heart. The company of good people is the food and exercise of the heart.
All of these things are necessary for the heart to be sound and healthy,
and this is basically the purpose of Revelation. The Qur’an has come to
remind people that our hearts need nourishment. Thus, Allah subhanahu
wa t'ala tells us that the human being who will be in a good state
in the next world is the one who brings a sound heart.
When we are born, we enter the world in a state of fitra: the
original inherent nature of the human being; then we learn to be anxious.
We learn anxiety from our mothers, fathers, and society. Thus, the Qur’an
says that the human being is created in a state of anxiety (hala'),
and the one group of people who are removed from this state of anxiety
are the musallin: the people of prayer. This "prayer" is not the
five daily obligatory prayers; rather, it is the prayer of people who are
in a state of prayer (dhikr); they are always in a state of connection
with Allah subhanahu wa t'ala, and this is the highest station.
This is the station of people who are not diverted from the remembrance
of Allah subhanahu wa t'ala by buying, commerce, or anything else.
They are the ones who remember Allah subhanahu wa t'ala, as the
Qur’an states, "standing, sitting, and reclining on their sides." These
are the people who are not the people of heedlessness (ghafla).
The second type of the diseases of the heart is called shahawat,
and these are the base desires of the self. For instance, food and sex
are shahawat; they are appetites. These become diseases when they
grow out of proportion from their natural states. In Islam, we have a method
or a means by which our hearts can be remedied and return to their sound
state again. The dhikr that the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa
sallam did more than any other dhikr was "Oh Turner-Overer of
the hearts, make my heart firm on your deen," and it is important
that Muslims be reminded of this.
The Text: Mat-hartul Qulub
In Arabic, "Mat-hara" is ism makaan (a noun of place),
and it means "a tool of tahara (purification)," and that is what
Qulub is. This text is the alchemy of the heart: it explains how to
transform the heart. Mat-hartul Qulub was written by a great scholar,
Shaykh Muhammad Maulud al-Musawir al-Ya'qubi from Mauritania. He was a
brilliant scholar of West Africa who mastered all of the Islamic sciences
as well as the inward sciences of Islam. He wrote this didactic poem in
order to teach people the means to purify their hearts because he looked
around and realized that everybody he saw had a diseased heart. Though
he recognized the benefit in learning the abstract sciences of Islam, such
as grammar, rhetoric, and logic, he felt that people may not have a great
deal of need for that knowledge given the fact that on the Day of Judgement,
the heart is the only thing about which we will be asked. The state of
our hearts is the only thing that may benefit us because "actions are by
intentions" as the hadith states. Since all our actions are rooted
in intentions, and the place of intention is the heart, every action we
do is rooted in our hearts. Thus, in reality when we are asked about our
actions, we are asked about the intentions behind the actions, and given
the fact that intentions emanate from the heart, what we are actually being
asked about is the human heart. When Shaykh Muhammad Maulud realized this,
he said that suddenly Allah subhanahu wa t'ala inspired him to write
this text, and he based it upon many of the previous texts that had gone
before, such as the last book of the Ihya 'Ulumudin by Imam Abu
Rectification Begins with the
If we look at the world today, the tribulations, the trials, and every
war that we have, we will see that every bit of human suffering is rooted
in human hearts. The reason people are aggressive against other people
is due to diseases of the heart: covetousness, the desire to conquer, the
desire to exploit other people, and the desire to steal their natural resources
are all from diseases of the heart. A sound heart cannot commit such acts.
Every murderer, every rapist, every idolater, every foul person, every
person showing an act of cruelty has a diseased heart because these actions
emanate from diseased hearts. If the hearts were sound, none of these actions
would be a reality. Therefore, if we wish to change our world, we cannot
go about it by attempting to rectify the outward; rather, we change the
world by rectifying the inward because it is the inward that precedes the
In reality, everything that we see outside of us comes from the unseen
world. The phenomenal world emerges from the unseen world, and all actions
emerge from the unseen realm of our hearts. Thus, if we want to rectify
our actions, we must first rectify our hearts. Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr., the famous American preacher and civil rights activist, said that
in order for people to condemn injustice, they have to follow four stages:
the first stage is that they must ascertain that injustices are indeed
being perpetrated. People must point out the injustices, and in his case,
it was injustices against the African-American people in the United States.
The second stage is to negotiate: people must go to the oppressors and
demand justice. If the oppressors refuse, then Dr. King said that the third
stage is self-purification. He said that we must ask ourselves, are we
ourselves wrongdoers? Are we ourselves oppressors? The final stage is to
take action once we have looked into ourselves.
One of the things the Muslims of the modern world fail to recognize
is that when we look at all of the terrible things that are happening to
us, we often refuse to look at ourselves and ask ourselves, why are these
things happening to us? If we ask that in all sincerity, the answer will
come back in no uncertain terms that this is all from our own selves. We
have brought all of the suffering upon ourselves. This is the only empowering
position that we can take, and this is the Quranic position. Allah subhanahu
wa t'ala says quite clearly that He places some of the oppressors over
other oppressors because of what their hands were earning. According to
Fakharudin ar-Razi's explanation, radi Allahu 'anhu, this verse
means that whenever there is oppression in the earth, it is a result of
other people's oppression. Thus, those people who are being aggressed upon
are being oppressed because of their own oppression. However, this is obviously
with the exception of tribulation. There are definitely times when the
are tried, but if they respond accordingly with patience and perseverance,
Allah subhanahu wa t'ala always gives them victory.
The Impure Oppress and the Pure
There is no doubt that the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam
and the sahaba were being oppressed when they were in Makkah, but
Allah subhanahu wa t'ala later gave them victory. Within 23 years,
the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam was not only no longer
oppressed, he had conquered the entire Arabian peninsula, and all of the
people who had previously oppressed him were begging him for mercy. Even
though they deserved to be recompensed with punishment, the Prophet sallallahu
'alayhi wa sallam forgave them, and this is the difference between
somebody whose heart is pure and somebody whose heart is impure. The impure
people oppress, and the pure people not only forgive their oppressors,
they actually conquer them by the power of Allah subhanahu wa t'ala,
and then they elevate them. This is what Muslims must recognize: the only
solution to all of our problems is that we have to purify ourselves, and
this is what Mat-hartul Qulub is about; it is a book of self-purification.
If we take this book seriously, work on our hearts, and actually implement
what we learn from it, we will begin to see changes in our lives, around
us, and within our own family dynamics. It is a blessing that we have this
book and that this teaching still exists in our community. All that is
left is for us to take this teaching upon ourselves and to take it seriously.
Medicine for the Diseased Heart
If you use the techniques that are given by the imams, you will see
results. However, it is just as the prescription that the doctor gives
you: the doctor can only write the prescription; he can give you the medicine,
but he cannot force you to take the medicine. It is left for us to take
the medicine. The imams have given us the medicine: our teaching is there;
it is clear; it does work; and we can change ourselves with it. If we do,
Allah subhanahu wa t'ala has promised that we will be rewarded in
this world and in the next. Thus, all that is left for us to do now is
to go through these diseases and then set out to implement their cures
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