Beginning the current month on a wishful spiritual-high after attending Ustad AbdelRahman Murphy’s enlightening HeartWork Tour. As the tour title suggests, the focus of the talk was on the miraculous nature of the heart, both in its physical, but more importantly, spiritual capacity. The word قلب or heart, is mentioned by Allah (swt) 168 times in the Qur’an, and though its literal meaning is the Arabic for ‘heart’, it is also derivative of the nature of flipping, toppling or turning. The heart in its literal form, as a vessel of spirituality and emotive meaning, is specifically mentioned 102 times in the Qur’an.
Now this interchangeable meaning of the word قلب has a wisdom behind it. Akin with human nature, the state of our hearts is constantly changing and it is in Allah’s hands how our hearts can be flipped from one nature to another. The heart is not solely to do with feelings but there is a need for fiqh (an understanding of right from wrong) which dictates your proximity to Allah.
As with anything precious, the heart needs to be taken care of and looked after in the best way, both in its physical health and, most importantly, its spiritual state. This is what dictates eternity for us. The heart possesses the key spiritual cognitive ability to understand the profoundness of the nature of Allah’s words without even knowing or understanding the Arabic language. Understanding the Qur’an is less about intellectual capacity and more to do with the spiritual resume you choose to update regularly.
The spiritual heart is similar to the mind in that the mind is a metaphysical portion of the brain which you cannot tangibly touch. We often hear the phrases that allude to a person’s “big heart”, or if a person is “broken-hearted” or “cold-hearted” – terms which cannot be manifested literally. If we were to say that someone’s “heart is in the right place”, we identify this through the actions of the individual; through their choices, their demeanour, their moral compass – this further clarification that the spiritual heart and our actions are inseparable.
One of Murphy’s great analogies was to compare the desires of world to dough. When you pull your hand out of the dough after kneading it for a while, it is natural to have dough residue still remaining on your hands. So if you involve yourself in behavior that does not follow the example of the Qur’an or the prophet (pbuh), you may be able to remove yourself eventually but like the dough – the residue and effects could be long-lasting.
When we engage in haram (unlawful) activity, we are also effecting all of our being; our cognitive being, our moral conscious, how we make decisions, and this eventually changes our moral outlook over time.
We may ask ourselves, “Why do we succumb to bad habits?”. The answer is simply because it is the easy option opposed to being the right choice as it is easier to give into the desires of the world. For example, we would take an interest-based loan on a car that we don’t need simply because saving up for it over a long period of time appears to be more of an obstacle for us. However, following the Islamic pathway is only purifying your path, and therefore your heart. We must remember that a diseased heart is self-inflicted, we choose to backbite, to feel hatred and envy, to love material things through our own free will and choice.
“Many are the Jinns and men we have made for Hell: They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle,- nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning) (7:179)
We learn from this verse that the purpose of the heart is not to necessarily feel, but to understand right versus wrong (fiqh), our heart is meant to guide us to righteousness. Those who turn their backs on this warning are not literally blind/deaf, but their eyes cannot process or understand the creator. When they come across natural beauty such as waterfalls, oceans, mountains – they cannot process that the creator can only be Allah. They are described as cattle as they are living their life for pleasure, desires and for no spiritual meaning. The heart is the core of our existence and it is to protect us from what is hurtful. However we must remember that we all go through our own spiritual journey at varying points in their lives, some earlier than others, and therefore patience is key and one of the greatest Islamic virtues.
How to counter the diseases of the heart? The first step is to get out of indenial through self-evaluation and to admit to our faults, “What problems do I have?”.
Heart Work: by bettering yourself constantly through all the challenges we face daily. Repentance is articulation of Heart Work because it is the first steps in acknowledging your shortcomings and accepting Allah’s mercy of cleansing you. There is dignity in making mistakes only by repenting; don’t ever feel that the shortcomings we experience constantly are a hindrance to Allah’s forgiveness. Through His constant calling He is waiting for us to humble ourselves and submit our changing hearts.
يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِى عَلَى دِينِكَ
“Oh Turner of Hearts, keep my heart firm on Your Deen.”
This piece is based on The Heart Work tour by Ustad AbdelRahman Murphy.