السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله، والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله، وبعد:
PREPARING FOR RAMADAN: PURIFYING THE HEART
(Part 2: THE SICK AND DYING HEARTS - CAUSES AND REMEDIES)
Allah Almighty (SWT) created mankind from clay and breathed part of his blessed spirit into the mold, thereby giving us life. In so doing, Allah also gave us human beings an instinctive disposition of innocence and purity, called the fitrah (الفطرة). We are therefore inclined by our constitution to be good by nature and inherently inclined towards all that is moral and wholesome, and repelled by that which is harmful and bad.
Thus Allah (SWT) gave us the propensity to be divinely inspired and to rise to a very high spiritual status, like that of the angels. And at the same time, He also gave us, as part of our instinctive being, the ability to recognize and feel the ill effects of straying from the good nature that is part of us. So as human beings we have the capacity, nay the instinctive desire, to seek Allah’s guidance, and (when we go against our nature and fall into error) to return in a cyclical manner back to Him.
And so it is: we were all given a clean slate and pure heart to start with. That purity and soundness must be maintained and coveted as much as possible (as discussed in my previous article). From time to time, the moral compass within us may need to be recalibrated and every attempt must be made to return to the quasi-angelic state of our original creation. As we grow and live our lives, we are challenged by internal elements as well as outside forces to keep the heart cleansed and polished. If left unchecked, they may lead to sickness and decay in the heart and this may ultimately cause the heart to die - spiritually speaking, of course.
There are among the living those whose hearts are already dead. They are the ones who have no belief in God - they chose to reject Him and ignore His favors, they point to another (or no) source of our existence, and deny the accounting of the Hereafter. This posture may also reflect in their behavior: they have no compassion for others and absolutely no regard for the advice of others. A typical example of such a person was the Pharaoh at the time of Musa (AS), whom Allah described as “having truly transgressed all bounds”. Allah says to His Prophet Musa (AS): “Go to him and say, ‘Would you be willing to purify yourself, and let me guide you to your Lord so that you will reverence Him?’” (Al-Quran 79:17-19)
ٱذۡهَبۡ إِلَىٰ فِرۡعَوۡنَ إِنَّهُ ۥ طَغَىٰ . فَقُلۡ هَل لَّكَ إِلَىٰٓ أَن تَزَكَّىٰ . وَأَهۡدِيَكَ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ فَتَخۡشَىٰ .
Then there are others whose hearts are decaying and sliding dangerously towards a spiritual death. These are the people who have forgotten Allah (SWT) and disobey Him constantly, succumbing to their every desire and falling prey to all their whims. They are in reality slaves to their base self and to the worldly allure, and there is no space in their existence for God and His will. They have become victims of Satan, indeed his allies; there is no resisting his advances and he uses them as instruments in his evil ploys. There is a seal on their hearts, so no good can enter into it, as Allah (SWT) tells us:
مَن ڪَفَرَ بِٱللَّهِ مِنۢ بَعۡدِ إِيمَـٰنِهِۦۤ إِلَّا مَنۡ أُڪۡرِهَ وَقَلۡبُهُ ۥ مُطۡمَٮِٕنُّۢ بِٱلۡإِيمَـٰنِ وَلَـٰكِن مَّن شَرَحَ بِٱلۡكُفۡرِ صَدۡرً۬ا فَعَلَيۡهِمۡ غَضَبٌ۬ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَلَهُمۡ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ۬ . ذَٲلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمُ ٱسۡتَحَبُّواْ ٱلۡحَيَوٰةَ ٱلدُّنۡيَا عَلَى ٱلۡأَخِرَةِ وَأَنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يَهۡدِى ٱلۡقَوۡمَ ٱلۡڪَـٰفِرِينَ . أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ ٱلَّذِينَ طَبَعَ ٱللَّهُ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمۡ وَسَمۡعِهِمۡ وَأَبۡصَـٰرِهِمۡۖ وَأُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ هُمُ ٱلۡغَـٰفِلُونَ . لَا جَرَمَ أَنَّهُمۡ فِى ٱلۡأَخِرَةِ هُمُ ٱلۡخَـٰسِرُونَ .
Whoever disbelieves in Allah after their belief—not those who are forced while their hearts are firm in faith, but those who embrace disbelief wholeheartedly—they will be condemned by Allah and suffer a tremendous punishment. This is because they prefer the life of this world over the Hereafter. Surely Allah never guides those who (choose to) disbelieve. They are the ones whose hearts, ears, and eyes are sealed by Allah, and it is they who are (truly) heedless. Without a doubt, they will be the losers in the Hereafter. (Al-Quran 16:106-109)
Losers indeed! They do not respond positively to any advice in this life; instead they oppose it and degrade the bearer. One of the pious predecessors said: “Amazingly, we gather around, mourning the one whose body is dead, but we don’t do the same for the one whose heart is dead - which is a much more severe condition!” We have also been warned that having an amicable relationship with such a person is toxic and must be avoided at all cost.
The next type of heart is the one that most of us possess: the heart that is alive (spiritually) but has some types of disease and sickness, ranging in severity between minor and major illnesses and maladies, often fluctuating in this spectrum over our lifetimes. This is the heart that has some degree of belief and trust in Allah, and love and sincerity for Him and what He has commanded. However, there is also a lack of devotion and dedication to those commands, and a strong attraction to worldly desires and sinful characteristics that include pride, malice, hate, envy, greed, etc.
Such a heart is the battlefield for an ongoing struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, sometimes submitting to one of these for the rest of its life. Al-Imam ibn al-Qayyim (RA) describes the sickness of the heart as; “a type of decay that pervades the heart and perverts one’s perception and one’s will. The perception is blighted by whims and desires that blinds one from the truth or paints a false picture, while the will is blighted by one’s aversion to the truth that is beneficial and by one’s affinity to falsehood that is undoubtedly harmful and destructive. This is why sickness in the heart (as mentioned in the Quran) is interpreted as ‘doubt and unbelief’ as in 2:10, and as ‘whims and desires’ as in 33:32.”
The most profound causes of disease in the heart include the absence in that heart of knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment, as well as the absence of the love for Allah, His Prophet (SAW) and His creation - and of giving them preference over oneself and one’s desires. The primary symptom of this sickness is the lack of remorse or discomfort when sins are committed, and indifference to one’s ignorance of the truth and of one’s duties to Allah.
Among the most destructive maladies of the heart are pride or self-conceit (kibr/الكِبْر) and vainglory or self glorification (‘ujb/العُجْب), the two main characteristic features of Satan, the accursed one. The former is an internal disposition and the latter manifests itself outwardly.
Pride is one of the most dangerous spiritual diseases that can infect the heart, blocking genuine faith from entering into it while also rejecting the truth. It is usually demonstrated as a feeling of superiority over others and contempt for them. Abdullah ibn Mas’ood (RAA) reports that Prophet Muhammad (SAW), said: “Pride, even an atom’s weight, in the heart will prevent one from entering Paradise” and “is rejection of the truth and despising people” (Saheeh Muslim)
لا يدخل الجنة من كان في قلبه مثقال ذرة من كبر …الكبر بطر الحق وغمط الناس
Vainglory is a depravity that poisons the heart and one's actions, and causes one to minimize one’s obligations and downplays the ill effects of sins. The person that is self-conceited forgets the blessings bestowed by Allah and is deceived by their “position in society”. Such persons do not appreciate admonishment and advice from anyone, rather they despise most other people, in particular the righteous folk. Worst of all, they persist in their wayward behavior and have false hopes in Allah’s mercy and judgment.
There are, in addition, factors outside the heart that can increase its sickness if not restrained or resisted, and examples include bad company or undesirable friends, vain pursuits and hobbies, diseased societies, etc.
To cure and rid oneself of these diseases or remove the stains, and give the heart wholeness and purity once again, we should engage in as many of the following actions as possible:
Sincerely return to Allah (SWT) by seeking forgiveness and recommit to Him,
Fulfill our obligations and increase the voluntary and recommended deeds,
Remember Allah often and recite and reflect on the Quran with the intent of following its guidance,
Dispel heedlessness and shrug off complacency,
Increase our knowledge and awareness of Islam,
Constantly strive (in jihad) against evil desires and the insinuations of Satan.
Ramadan is the perfect time to cleanse the heart and fill it with the love for Allah and His creation. May this upcoming month of huge blessings and goodness be the moment we seize to make a permanent change, for the better, to become closer to Allah and serve His cause and our fellow human beings with dignity and gratitude, faithfully and humbly. We should do so by adding into our daily routines as much of the spiritual exercises described above as we can, Allah willing.
O Allah, we ask you for sound hearts and righteous actions. Guide us to the truth and the straight path. Forgive our shortcomings and our sins, and accept our modest offerings and our prayers. Reward us with Paradise and save us from Hellfire, through your Grace and Mercy, most Sublime, most Compassionate. Ameen.