By Umarrah Javed Al-Hadi
Our hearts are the foundation of what we know and believe. We use our hearts to make decisions, to interpret reality and our hearts also hold the capacity to receive and benefit when expanded or to reject and dismiss when constricted.
The Meaning of Qalb
In Arabic, the heart is known as the qalb. The qalb is the basis of activities, intentions, meaning and deep understanding of the world around us. While the mind has its function, we are reminded in The Qur’ān about the significance of the heart by it being mentioned more than 120 times. The word qalb (قَلْب) literally means to ‘turn about.’ As humans, our hearts are always turning, we experience a range of emotions, states and thoughts throughout the day.
Our Beloved Prophet ﷺ was aware of this aspect of the human condition and thus we learn from a hadith:
Shahr bin Hawshab said: “I said to Umm Salamah: ‘O Mother of the Believers! What was the supplication that the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said most frequently when he was with you?”
She said: ‘The supplication he said most frequently was: “O Changer of the hearts, make my heart firm upon Your religion (Yā Muqallibal-qulūb, thabbit qalbī alā dīnik).’”
She said: ‘So I said: “O Messenger of Allāh, why do you supplicate so frequently: ‘O Changer of the hearts, make my heart firm upon Your religion.’
He said: ‘O Umm Salamah! Verily, there is no human being except that his heart is between Two Fingers of the Fingers of Allah, so whomsoever He wills He makes steadfast, and whomever He wills He causes to deviate.’” [Jami at-Tirmidhi 3522]
Types of hearts in the Quran
1. The sealed heart
Early on in The Qur’ān, in the seventh verse of Surah Baqarah, we learn about a group of people:
“Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment.” [Surah Al-Baqarah 2:7]
This group of people is such that their hearts are sealed by Allāh. Their hearing and their sight is covered and they are headed towards a punishment. The same way that this is not describing the physical eyes or ears, is the same way that this is referring to the spiritual heart. When something is sealed it means there is no means of getting inside it, nothing can enter or leave and it can usually be interpreted as a permanent state.
The fact is that hearts are the place where guidance comes, where light settles and where reform happens. If goodness cannot enter the heart then a person cannot move forwards in a positive direction. If light cannot enter then there is just darkness and when there is darkness we struggle to take even one step in the right direction. Such is the state of these hearts that have been sealed by Allāh. In addition to this, other faculties through which one may come to realize the truth or acquire information that inspires change are the ears and the sight. In this case, those also have been covered. Therefore though a person is alive they are not living in the truest sense as their avenues for receiving from Allāh and for interpreting reality are shut off.
The Qur’ān descended upon the heart of the Beloved Prophet ﷺ and from there it spread into the hearts of believers. Allāh knows hearts, not just external actions or words. He knows the deepest places of our inside states and He knows which hearts will be receptive to His Words and which hearts will turn away.
2. The sick heart
A few verses later, we learn more about another negative condition that the hearts can fall into. The disbelievers mentioned above often displayed hypocrisy. While their hearts would be in denial, with their mouths they would profess their beliefs. This means they would display untruths. While engaging in this behavior, people with sick hearts felt that they were deceiving Allāh yet truly who are they deceiving when He knows everything and a person on the other hand does not even know what will happen in the next hour?
“In their hearts is disease, so Allah has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment because they [habitually] used to lie.” [Surah Al-Baqarah 2:10]
Hypocrisy is a disease of the heart, such as hate, anger, envy and arrogance. The characteristic of hypocrisy is that one is lying to oneself as well as others. There is no fluidity and consistency in someone that proclaims with their mouth something that their insides do not believe, such a person is not reliable, not trustworthy and ignores or is unaware of the fact that Allāh is Ever-Knowing of what each human does. Lying is a trait that belongs to hypocrites and in a hadith from our beloved prophet ﷺ we learn that:
‘Abdullah reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: “It is obligatory for you to tell the truth, for truth leads to virtue and virtue leads to Paradise, and the man who continues to speak the truth and endeavours to tell the truth is eventually recorded as truthful with Allah, and beware of telling of a lie for telling of a lie leads to obscenity and obscenity leads to Hell-Fire, and the person who keeps telling lies and endeavours to tell a lie is recorded as a liar with Allah.” [Sahih Muslim 2607c]
In both these verses from Surah Baqarah, punishment is described as the fate of those that carry within them hearts that are not open or not well. Allāh is entirely Self-Sufficient as does not need us, we on the other hand need Allāh in this life and the next. With that in mind, Allāh is Most Appreciative of those that turn towards Him while He is also entirely capable of punishing those that harbor ill-thoughts and ill-intentions in their hearts regarding Him, His signs, His Messengers and His creation. If the heart is in a dark place and no attempts are made to clean it and no light enters and no change comes, the heart will continue to sink into deeper darkness eventually leading to the darkest place of all. May Allāh protect us all.
The heart transcends this realm, for example, the groups of people that are being mentioned in these verses, their hearts are sealed in this life, the disease that is mentioned is in this life however the punishment may or may not manifest in this life whereas it will definitely come to be when Allāh judges on the Final Day and there is no turning back.
3. The faithful hearts
The hearts of believers are not the same as the hearts of disbelievers. The believers do not express with their words something different to what is within them because their internal states are aligned with what Allāh wants and their hearts are devoted to Allāh at all times.
“The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely” [Surah Al-Anfal 8:2]
The believers: their hearts become fearful when Allāh is mentioned. Why does this happen? We can understand that their ears are not covered, nor are their eyes. They are ready to take and internalize. Such people have taqwa in their hearts (taqwa itself is a combination of fear of Allāh and love of Allāh) with that in mind, such people receive the signs of Allah and know them to be true and it increases them in faith.
For example, when they hear about the punishments for disbelievers or liars or those with sicknesses in their hearts, they take heed and reform and make amends and strive to do good deeds before the inevitable end comes. At the same time, the hearts of believers find comfort in the words of Allāh and find motivation in the promises He has made. Due to their hearts being faithful and then the faith increasing through the blessings Allāh has given them, they are cleansed from diseases such as ego and arrogance and rather than rely on themselves or anything else, they rely only on He who is worthy of reliance — Allāh.
4. The reassured hearts
Elsewhere in The Qur’ān we learn about another characteristic of the heart of a believer, such hearts find peace when they remember Allāh: whether this is through dhikr or tasbīḥ, salah, spending time with the Qur’ān or being in places and/or among people who are conscious of Allāh. Such environments and experiences are deeply enriching and comforting for those that believe in Allāh and believe in His words to be the truth.
“Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.” [Surah Ar-Ra’d 13:28]
It is also a cycle of positivity, the more one reflects on the signs of Allāh, the more one finds oneself in gratitude to Allāh, the more one loves Allāh and wants to attain closeness to Him which leads to obeying Him by following His commands and by staying away from those things that are displeasing to Him. Reliance on Allāh is in fact the only worthy reliance.
We learn from the names and attributes of Allāh that His Majesty is Most Supreme. He is The Preserver of Safety (al-Muhaymin) and the Supreme Bestower (al-Wahhab). Allāh is The Embodiment of Justice (al-Adl) and The Majestic One (al-Jaleel). He is The Watchful One (ar-Raqeeb) and The Loving One (al-Wadud).
There is no doubt in the hearts that are sound, such hearts are free from doubts and unlawful desires and they think well of their Creator. Allāh tests His creation through blessings and trials to see how pure the hearts are for His sake.
Purifying the heart for Allah
The heart is made to obey and love Allāh. As everything in the cosmos is created with purpose, so is the heart. The heart is made to embody taqwa and to be the basis of constant self-improvement as well as taking the internal light and spreading it across the world. The heart has to be checked regularly, assessed and cleaned. Though this requires effort and consciousness, a believer engages in this every day in order for their heart to remain soft, humble and focused. Allāh rewards the believer for intention, effort and action and we learn about the importance of reaching and maintaining a positive state of heart in this hadith:
It was narrated that ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr said: It was said to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ): ‘Which of the people is best?’
He said: “Everyone who is pure of heart and sincere in speech.”
They said: ‘Sincere in speech, we know what this is, but what is pure of heart?’
He said: “It is (the heart) that is pious and pure, with no sin, injustice, rancour or envy in it.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 4216)
- Read: 5 Verses about the Heart in the Quran
- Khutbah: The Meaning of Taqwa
- Course: Quran & Self-Improvement
What do you think? Share your reflections below!
The Holy Qur’ān
Sunan Ibn Majah