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 centered 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 centered 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 Quran 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
The Heart and the Brain
The actual physical heart in our breast beats at 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 life time! 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 center of the human being. Many people think the brain is
the center of consciousness, yet the Quran clearly states, "They have hearts
that they are not able to understand with." According to the Muslims, the
center 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's 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 kufur is: "kufur" means "covering up."
To hide their agitation, people use alcohol, drugs, and sexual
xperimentation; they also seek power, wealth, and fame, taking
themselvesinto 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 fowl, 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 it 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 Quran 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 Quran 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 Quran 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 always 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 Quran states, "standing, sitting, and reclining on their
sides." These are the people who are not the people of heedlessness
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 Mat-hartul 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 Judgment, 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 Hamid al-Ghazzali.
Rectification Begins with the Self
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 fowl 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 outward.
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 mu'minun
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 Elevate
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 in sha Allah.