Almost all traditions stress a good heart. In Islam neither wealth nor children will benefit anyone on the Day of Judgement, except one who comes to God with a sound heart (QURAN, 26:88-89), free of character defects and spiritual blemishes.
This of course, refers to the spiritual heart, although, like the Heart chakra of Hinduism, it centre’s in the region of the physical organ. In traditional Chinese medicine, the heart houses what is known as shen, or spirit. The Chinese characters for thinking, thought, love, the intention to listen, and virtue all contain the ideogram for the heart.
Now extraordinary research suggests the fist sized 10 ounces of heart, that so marvellously pumps life-giving oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood throughout our bodies, greatly influences our mental, emotional and physical processes.
“The heart is a sensory organ and acts as a sophisticated information encoding and processing center that enables it to learn, remember, and make independent functional decisions,” Institute of HeartMath Director of Research Rollin McCraty wrote in the paper, The Energetic Heart: Bioelectromagnetic Communication Within and Between People.
The heart’s electromagnetic field contains certain information or coding, which researchers are trying to understand, that is transmitted throughout and outside of the body. One of the most significant findings of IHM’s research related to this field is that intentionally generated positive emotions can change this information/coding. Heart Math research suggests the cardioelectromagnetic field transmitted from the heart of people angry, fearful, or depressed take on beneficial energetic influence of others positive emotions.
That care, compassion, or love can be transmitted throughout through our body’s cardioelectromagnetic field suggests the truths found in many ancient traditions.
Metaphors abound. The merciless and unkind are “Hard-hearted”. People are cold hearted or warm hearted. Others wear their hearts on their sleeves, unconcealed. In love someone person “touched my heart” or “touched the core of my being.”
I am not a Muslim but have lived with the Muslim community in India and enjoyed kind hospitality. So I write as an outsider seeking to understand.
The Arabic equivalent for the English word core (which originally in Latin meant heart) is known as lubb, which also refers to the heart, as well as the intellect and the essence of something.
Hamza Yusuf in his Translation and Commentary of Imam Mawlud’s Matharat al-Qulub, points out that “in most ancient Indo-European word for heart means “that which leaps,” which is consonant with the idea of the beating heart that leaps in the breast of man.”
We find this in every day expressions their heart “skipped a beat” when startled, a lover’s “stealing one’s heart.”
Ancient traditions speak of spiritual heart disease.
“And this understanding is certainly at the essence of Islamic teachings. The Quran defines three types of people: al-mu’minun (believers), al-kdfirun (scoffers or atheists), and al-munafiqun (hypocrites). The believers are described as people whose hearts are alive and full of light, while the scoffers are in darkness: Is one who was dead and then We revived [with faith] and made for him a light by which to walk among the people like one who is in darkness from which he cannot exit? (QURAN, 6:122). According to commentators of the Quran, the one who was dead refers to having a dead heart, which God revived with the light of guidance that one may walk straight and honorably among human beings. Also, the prophet Muhammad %£> said, “The difference between the one who remembers God and one who does not is like the difference between the living and the dead.” In essence, the believer is someone whose heart is alive, while the disbeliever is someone whose heart is spiritually dead. The hypocrite, however, is somebody whose heart is diseased. The Quran speaks of certain people with diseased hearts (self-inflicted, we understand) and, as a result, they were increased in their disease (QURAN, 2:10).”
In the Muslim tradition belief is intended to be more than formalism.
Just as the heart is slightly to the bodies left, the “two sacred languages of Arabic and Hebrew are written from right to left, toward the heart, which, as some have noted, mirrors the purpose of writing, namely to affect the heart.” The importance of the heart on the left side is mirrored in Islamic ritual.
The circumambulation of Ka’ba in Makkah during the Hajj pilgrimage is performed counter clockwise, with the believers left side facing the Ka’ba, “heart inclined towards it to remind us of God and His presence in the life of humanity.”
Beating 100,000 times a day, pumping 100 gallons per hour through 60,000 miles of the cardiovascular system, the heart beats before the brain is fully formed, without control of the Central Nervous System, “it is actually self-initiated, or, as we would say, initiated by God.” Even if all of its connections to the brain be severed as during a heart transplant, the heart continues to beat.
Hence traditional Islamic thought differs from the modern view the brain is the centre of consciousness.
Wayward people who have hearts with which they do not understand (Quran 7:179). It is God placed over their hearts of mockers of the prophet a covering that they may not understand it and in their ears [He placed] acute deafness (6:25).
“Their inability to understand is a deviation from the spiritual function of a sound hear ……. we understand from this that the center of the intellect, the center of human consciousness and conscience, is actually the heart and not the brain. “
With over 40,000 neurons in the heart, brain and heart are in constant communication.
As early as the 1970’s researchers John and Beatrice Lacey found the heart itself has its own type of intelligence that made its own decisions in response to signals from the amygdala, thalamus, and cortex. The amygdala relates to emotions, while the cortex or the neocortex relates to learning and reasoning.
“The Prophet of Islam described the heart as a repository of knowledge and a vessel sensitive to the deeds of the body. He said, for example, that wrongdoing irritates the heart. So the heart actually perceives wrong action. In fact, when people do terrible things, the core of their humanity is injured.”
As Fyodor Dostoyevsky reminds us in his Crime and Punishment, crime itself is the punishment because we ultimately live with the painful consequences of our actions.
To commit a crime, is first against your own heart, which affects your whole human being. Then follows spiritual agitation, which you may suppress.
“The root meaning of the word kufr (disbelief) is to cover something up .. the problems we see in our society come down to covering up or suppressing the symptoms of its troubles” perhaps with drugs, alcohol, sexual deviance or power grabs.
Heedless of their essential nature, we work hard at distracting ourselves fro from our heart and natural feelings. Once connection to the heart is severed we decline further into spiritual malnutrition.
A starved heart is unaware of God and mans ultimate destiny. Refusing to accept accountability for their actions, physical disease manifests before spiritual death.
In Islamic tradition, these diseases fall under two categories:
The first is known as shubuhat or obfuscations, diseases that relate to impaired understanding.
The second category of disease concerns the base desires of the self and is called shahawat. This relates to our desires exceeding their natural state, as when people live merely to satisfy these urges and are led by them.
shubuhat or obfuscations
Consider someone fearful God will not provide for him or her. “This is considered a disease of the heart because a sound heart has knowledge and trust, not doubt and anxiety. Shubuhat alludes to aspects closely connected to the heart: the soul, the ego, Satan’s whisperings and instigations, caprice, and the ardent love of this ephemeral world. The heart is an organ designed to be in a state of calm, which is achieved with the remembrance of God: Most surely, in the remembrance of God do hearts find calm (QURAN, 13:28). This calm is what the heart seeks out and gravitates to. It yearns always to remember God the Exalted.
But when God is not remembered, when human beings forget God, then the heart falls into a state of agitation and turmoil. In this state it becomes vulnerable to diseases because it is undernourished and cut off, Cells require oxygen, so we breathe … the breath of the heart is none other than the remembrance of God. “
This the purpose of divine revelation.
At birth our original state and inherent nature is state is called fipa: disposed to accept faith and prefer morality. Soon we learn from anxiety from others According to the Quran the heart is created vulnerable to anxiety and agitation (QURAN, 70:19). Prayer protects the heart. The highest of people are not diverted from the remembrance of God, whether standing, sitting, and reclining on their sides (QURAN, 3:191).
When led by our desire to satisfy natural urges, our desires exceed their natural state.
Islam claims to be method to make the heart whole and safe again. Centuries of scholarship have gone into examining the human heart.
The Islamic tradition, says Hamza Yusuf, is “in essence is a program to restore purity and calm to the heart through the remembrance of God.”
A major text on the “alchemy of the hearts,” the poem known as Matharat al-Qulub (literally, Purification of the Hearts), which offers the means by which purification can be achieved. Written by the great scholar and saint, Shaykh Muhammad Mawlud alYa’qubi al-Musawi al-Muratani, from Mauritania in West Africa.
A manual on heart transformation, It was written because he observed the prevalence of diseased hearts, neglecting the spiritual condition of the heart.
For example, he often cites the Prophet who said, “Actions are based upon intentions.” All deeds are thus valued according to the intentions behind them, and intentions emanate from the heart. So every action a person intends or performs is rooted in the heart.
Imam Mawlud realized social weakness is weakness of character in the heart, Imam Mawlud based his text on many previous illustrious works.
“If we examine the trials and tribulations, wars and other conflicts, every act of injustice all over earth, we’ll find they are rooted in human hearts. Covetousness, the desire to aggress and exploit, the longing to pilfer natural resources, the inordinate love of wealth and position, and other maladies are manifestations of diseases found nowhere but in the heart. Every criminal, miser, abuser, scoffer, embezzler, and hateful person does what he or she does because of a diseased heart. If hearts were sound, these actions would no longer be a reality. So if we want to change our world, we do not begin by rectifying the outward. Instead, we must change the condition of our inward.
Everything we see happening outside of us is in reality coming from the unseen world within. It is from the unseen world that the phenomenal world emerges, and it is from the unseen realm of our hearts that all actions spring.”
As Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, to condemn injustice people go through four stages.
- Ascertain an injustice has occurred
- Negotiate, approach the oppressor and demand justice.
- If the oppressor refuses, King said that the third stage is self-purification, which starts with the question: ‘Are we ourselves wrongdoers? Are we ourselves oppressors?”
- True self-examination, after removing one’s own wrongs before demanding justice from others.
Modern man is reluctant to look at himself. It is easier to condemn.
When terrible things occur Hamza Yusuf suggests we ask “Why do they occur?” And if we ask that with all sincerity, the answer will come resoundingly: “All of this is from your own selves.” In so many ways, we have brought this upon ourselves. This is the only empowering position we can take. The Quran implies that if a people oppress others, God will send another people to oppress them: We put some oppressors over other oppressors because of what their own hands have earned (6:129).
As a non Muslim how this doctrine works out is hard for me to grasp. Because, as Hamza Yusuf notes, 12th century scholar Fakhruddin al-Razi explains the verse to mean the existence of oppression on earth may be caused by previous oppression. Being part Gandhian in my views could this justify retaliation? I recognize that historically it has been true. The great epics of Major religions tackle the full range of human experience: for example cause and consequence fuels the Mahabharata.
A type of social karma, where, by implication, victims of aggression were once aggressors themselves. But could it now justify retaliation?
Not always. People can be tried and God gives relief and victory to those of patience and perseverance, just as the Prophet s community in Makkah won over oppression. Despite their former brutality toward him, the Prophet forgave them and admitted them into the brotherhood of faith.
“Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One above the heavens will have mercy upon you. The womb is derived from the Merciful, so whoever keeps relations with his family then Allah will keep relations with him, and whoever abandons his family then Allah will abandon him.”
Impure people oppress, and the pure-hearted not only forgive their oppressors, but elevate them in status and character.
This requires a truthful heart examination. Self purification changes our life and the lives of others around us.
There are two types of therapy: a theoretical understanding of the disease and the practical prescription we must take in order to restore the heart’s natural purity.
Islam teaches therapy comes from knowledgeable scholars of spiritual purification, the teachings of the Quran and the exemplary model of the Prophet.
Having searched across a vast religious terrain, I feel that in all traditions, in and out of Islam, few people examine their lives and hearts. Religion to easily becomes formalism. Or a good luck charm, designed to buy favour of God.
Few take their spiritual medicine, whatever tradition they choose.
We must turn to a life of spirit, that examines the leadings of our heart.