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Tazkiyyah series Part 1: Importance of the heart

The world today is in agony under the weight of radical materialism – our lives and societies are judged based on material markers – money, game, attention, number of followers, clicks etc. Everything is reduced to a pound sign and many think this defines success and failure.

In these opening sections of the Qur’an we listened to in taraweeh, we note that Allah(SWT) categories people into three camps – the good, the bad and the ugly. What is this a description of? It is none other than the state of the heart, and Ramadan is a pursuit for one mighty goal – an action of the heart – Taqwa. And the hadith states “At-taqwa is here” pointing to the chest (Muslim 2564)

We also heard towards the end of the recitation that Allah(SWT) sent the messenger to us with 3 goals: 

  • Yuzakeekum Purification and Blessing your hearts
  • Yu’allimukumul kitaab
  • Al Hikmah

كَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا فِيكُمْ رَسُولًۭا مِّنكُمْ يَتْلُوا۟ عَلَيْكُمْ ءَايَـٰتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيكُمْ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ وَٱلْحِكْمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُم مَّا لَمْ تَكُونُوا۟ تَعْلَمُونَ 

Purity and growth are intertwined – there can be no real and sustainable growth without purification, just like a garden won’t give you the best fruits until you protect it from weeds, insects, rodents, chemicals and all that would harm it.

When the soul adopts habits and a character that debases it, it experiences tightness in the form of anxiety, boredom and lack of meaning. And finally it gets used to swimming in the swamps of crookedness until it does not think of leaving.

The Prophet ﷺ said, “There are three things if one does, they will experience the taste of īmān:
– they worship Allah Alone believing that there is no one worthy of worship but Allah
– they happily give zakāh on their wealth every year, with their soul happy and helping him (to give zakāh)
– and for a servant who purifies himself. A man asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah! What does it mean for a person to purify himself?’ He replied, ‘He knows that Allah is with him wherever he may be” (Sahih, Bayhaqī)

Prophet Ibrahim (AS) prayed to Allah(SWT): And do not disgrace me on the Day all will be resurrected – the Day when neither wealth nor children will be of any benefit. Only those who come before Allah with a pure heart ˹will be saved˺.” (Surah ash-shuara 87-89)

وَلَا تُخْزِنِى يَوْمَ يُبْعَثُونَ ٨٧ يَوْمَ لَا يَنفَعُ مَالٌۭ وَلَا بَنُونَ ٨٨ إِلَّا مَنْ أَتَى ٱللَّهَ بِقَلْبٍۢ سَلِيمٍۢ 

In the famous hadith in Imam Nawawis collection, considered a foundational hadith by all of the scholars, al-Nu’man ibn Bashir reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The lawful is clear and the unlawful is clear, and between the two of them are doubtful matters about which many people do not know. Thus, he who avoids doubtful matters clears himself in regard to his religion and his honor, and he who falls into doubtful matters will fall into the unlawful as the shepherd who pastures near a sanctuary, all but grazing therein. Verily, every king has a sanctum and the sanctum of Allah is His prohibitions. Verily, in the body is a piece of flesh which, if sound, the entire body is sound, and if corrupt, the entire body is corrupt. Truly, it is the heart.” Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 52, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1599

أَلَا وَإِنَّ فِي الْجَسَدِ مُضْغَةً إِذَا صَلَحَتْ صَلَحَ الْجَسَدُ كُلُّهُ وَإِذَا فَسَدَتْ فَسَدَ الْجَسَدُ كُلُّهُ أَلَا وَهِيَ الْقَلْبُ

Immense reward for simple actions?

Anas ibn Malik reported: There was a tree in the road that used to harm people, so a man came and cleared it from the road. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “I have seen him enjoying himself in its shade in Paradise.”

 فَلَقَدْ رَأَيْتُهُ يَتَقَلَّبُ فِي ظِلِّهَا فِي الْجَنَّةِ Source: Musnad Aḥmad 12332

On the Day of Judgement, we will be presented ‘inside out’ – those who have taken the greatest care to preserve their soul will the most beautiful, regardless of their physical appearance on Earth. In contrast, those who have neglected to follow His instructions will turn up as ugly as the hearts they harboured on Earth.

The heart we are referring to is the spiritual heart. Modern science has recently discovered that the heart starts beating before the brain is fully fashioned, but the dominant theory is that the centre of consciousness is controlled by our brains. Rather we know that the heart is initiated and maintained by Allah(SWT).

Take a moment to think about a time when you felt really happy and contented – on the birth of a child or receiving news of a promotion perhaps. How did your body feel? Were your eyes happy finding beauty in everything. Was your tongue happy, gushing with sweetness and kindness? Were you more satisfied with your life?

Now, remember a time when you were sad and depressed – perhaps your beloved football team got thrashed. Did food lose its taste? Was your tongue filled with sorrow? Were you depleted of energy? In a rotten mood? Science shows our illnesses pervade when we down – our immune system is less able to fight infection, stress hormones increase as does our chance of heart disease.

Abu Hurayrah(RA) would said “The heart is the king and the limbs are its soiders (Al Qalb malik wa a’adhaa’u junooduhu), so if the king is good, so too will be the soldiers. (Bayhaqi, Shu’ab al Iman 108)

“There is no salvation like the hearts salvation,
Given that all the limbs respond to its desires.”
Imam Mawlud states that one realises the quality of humility and shame and empties oneself of their opposites (shamelessness and arrogance) comes true freedom, wealth and dignity. People may claim to be free but cannot control themselves from their desires.

He (rh) goes on to say that if the two dominant ones – the stomach and the private parts are controlled, all other aspects of desire can be kept in check.

Imam al Ghazali (rh) said “If you learned that your life would only last another week, you would not spend it learning law, jurisprudence and the like. Rather you would occupy yourself by inspecting your heart, discerning the features of your personality, staying away from worldly attachments, adoring Allah the Exalted, worshipping Him and acquiring good qualities. And not a day or night passes for any worshipper without his death during it being a possibility (Ayyuhal Walad, p56-57)

So how do we improve ourselves?

Abu a-Darda (RA) said “Ista’eedhu billahi min khushoo’in nifaaq Seek Allahs protection from hypocritical reverence (humility/respect). He was asked “What is hypocritical reverence?” And he responded “It is for you to see reverent body while the heart is not” (al Bayhaqi Shu’ab al Iman 6567)

Know that the heart has its special worship that does not include the body, while the body’s worship always includes the heart. Love, tawakkul, sincerity and contentment are examples of actions of the heart.

So coming back to the hadith, the one who leaves what is potentially sinful (the doubtful matters) is more likely to leave the clear sin. And the one who indulges in what is potentially sinful is about to violate what is clear. (Al Bukhari 2051)

Just like physical illnesses require medical treatment, our sick hearts also need purification with 3 objectives:

  1. Ijtinaab – staying away from harmful things such as lust, anger, malice, jealousy, love of the world, love of fame, stinginess, greed, showing off, vanity, deceit etc.
  2. Imtithaal – actions which strengthen the good heart – perseverance, gratitude, fear of Allah(SWT), hope, abstention, unity, trust, love, truthfulness, remorse, reflection, reckoning etc.
  3. Ridwaan – seek the good pleasure of Allah(SWT)

It is reported that Jundub b. ‘Abdillāh Al-Bajalī – Allah be pleased with him – was once asked for advice and instruction. He said:

I advise you to fear Allāh and obey Him (taqwā) and I advise you to adhere to the Quran, for it is a light in the dark night and a guidance during the day, so implement it no matter how much struggle and poverty you have to face. If a calamity befalls you, put your wealth forward to protect your religion, and if the calamity continues, put forward your wealth and your life to save your religion [but never risk your religion], for the ruined is he whose religion is ruined, and the looted is he whose religion is taken. And know that there is no poverty after Paradise, and no riches after the Fire.

Al-Dhahabī, Siyar A’lām Al-Nubalā` 3:174.

Purification Series

  1. The importance of the heart 
  2. The nature of the heart
  3. Weaning off sins
  4. Take from the world what you need

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