Heart is a very important part of the human body. A lot depends on the heart: Not only our physical health, but also our spiritual and moral health depends on the soundness of the heart. Someone said rightly, “The problem of the heart is the heart of the problem.” All problems, whether individual, familial, social, economic, political, national, or international, stem from the problems of the heart.

Allah says while giving regards to the men of understanding that they supplicate to their Lord: [Our Lord, let not our hearts deviate (from the truth) after You have guided us, and grant us mercy from You. Truly, You are the Bestower.] (Al- Imran 3:8)

The heart indeed has a physical function, but there is no evidence to prove that it has no spiritual or moral functions. The soul probably resides in the heart or is attached to it. The soul is the inner dimension of our being. It is related to the body and mind as well, but it has its own existence, most probably, in or near the heart.

The heart is an amazing organ. I am not going to talk about the physical problems of the heart. That is a subject for cardiologists to discuss, but I shall talk about the moral and spiritual aspects of the heart.

In the Qur’an, the words qalb and fou’ad are used. The word qalb (plural qoloub) occurs 132 times and the word fou’ad (plural af’idah) occurs 16 times.

Qalb is used both in its physical and spiritual senses, while fou’ad is used more in the spiritual sense. Both mean heart, and the heart is the seat of awareness, consciousness, feelings, and thought. It could be good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.

Believers are required to pay special attention to their hearts. We pay attention to the physical health of our hearts; we should also pay attention to the spiritual and moral health of our hearts. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was quoted by Abu Hurairah as saying,

“Allah does not look at your bodies or possessions, but He looks at your hearts and actions.”(Muslim)

Allah, of course, looks at everything and He knows everything, but the point of the hadith is that the real thing that matters to Allah is not whether you are young or old, tall or short, fat or skinny, white or black, Arab or non-Arab, rich or poor, upper class, middle class, lower class, etc. What matters in the sight of Allah is whether your heart is sincere, truthful, and honest or not and whether your actions are good or not.

Allah tells us in the Qur’an that He has prepared Paradise only for those who are good at heart, not those who have a strong family, power, or wealth,

[The Day when neither wealth nor children can help, but only he (will prosper) that comes before Allah with a sound heart. To the righteous, the Garden [ Paradise] will be brought near.] (Ash-Shu`araa’ 26:88-90)

[And the Garden will be brought nigh to the righteous, no more a thing distant. (A voice will say,) “This is what was promised for you, for everyone who turned (to Allah) in sincere repentance, who kept (His Law), who feared (Allah) Most Gracious unseen and brought a heart turned in devotion (to Him): Enter you therein in peace and security; this is a Day of Eternal Life!’ There will be for them therein all that they wish, and more besides in Our Presence.](Qaf 50:31-35)

Types of Hearts

From the spiritual and moral point of view there are different types of hearts. These types are related to their awareness and consciousness. In this respect, the Prophet is reported to have said,

“There are four types of hearts: a pure heart that shines like a lamp, the covered up and closed heart, the upside down heart and the mixed up heart. The pure heart is that of the believer. The covered up heart is that of the non-believer. The upside down heart is that of the hypocrite who knows and then denies. The mixed up heart is that in which there is both faith and hypocrisy. The example of faith in it is like a small plant that grows with good water and the example of hypocrisy in it is like a wound that grows with pus and blood. So whichever grows bigger takes over the heart.” (Ahmad)

Diseases of the Heart

According to Imam Al-Ghazali in his book Ihyaa’ `Uloum Ad-Deen [The Revival of Religious Sciences], every organ of our body has a function. When it fails to do its function, that’s a sign of it being not well.

The function of the soul or the spiritual heart is to know its Creator, to love Him, and to seek closeness to Him. If the heart fails in this function, then we must realize that it is sick.

It is important to know the ailments that make the heart weak and sick. In the language of the Qur’an, it is not only the eyes that go blind, the hearts also become blind.

[Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts that are in their breasts.](Al-Hajj 22:46)

The Qur’an tells in many places about the sickness of the hearts. Allah says [about the hypocrites] in the Qur’an:

[In their hearts is a disease, and Allah has increased their disease: And grievous is the penalty they (incur) because they are false (to themselves)](Al-Baqarah 2:10)

When the heart gets sick, it loses its desire and ability to do right and good deeds. This affects the morals and manners as well as the general behavior of a person.

What are the major diseases that affect the heart? What is there to do to take precaution? What are the cures in case one is affected with these ailments? Scholars have spoken about seven major diseases of the hearts:

  1. Arrogance and conceit (kibr and ghurur)
  2. Ostentation (riyaa’)
  3. Jealousy or envy, hate and deceit (hasad, hiqd, and ghish)
  4. Suspicion (sou’ azh-zhan)
  5. Anger (ghadab)
  6. Stinginess (bukhl)
  7. Love of power, position, and fame (hub al-jah)

These are called “diseases of the heart” and they lead to major sins if they are not controlled and carefully treated. In the Qur’an and Sunnah and in the spiritual writings of Muslim scholars such as Al-Ghazali and Ibn Al-Qayyim, we find a lot of discussion on the treatment of these ailments.

Arrogance and conceit. These diseases stem from egotism and overestimation of oneself and one’s abilities or merits. This leads sometimes to the denial of the Creator, as what happened to Satan.

The best treatment of this disease is to cultivate modesty. We have to remind ourselves always that we are the servants and slaves of Allah. We totally depend on Him for our being and existence.

Ostentation.This is called “hidden idolatry” (ash-shirk al-khafi). It is a desire to show off and seek praises from others. It takes away sincerity and seriousness to pursue one’s goals and objectives. When a person becomes too much involved with ostentation, he or she becomes shallow and superficial. It may also lead to hypocrisy.

The best cure for it is to check the “intention” before any action. A believer must remind oneself that his or her work is for the sake of Allah alone.

Jealousy, envy, hate, and deceit. These diseases are due to lack of respect, mercy, and love for others. A jealous person does not like to see others happy, successful, and prosperous. Very often jealousy and envy lead to hate, deceit, and violence.

The best treatment is to have positive envy by competing with others in acts of goodness and use this as an incentive to achieve more and better goals.

Suspicion. This comes from lack of trust and confidence in others. Allah says in the Qur’an,

[Surely, suspicion in some cases is a sin. ] (Al-Hujurat 49:12)

Suspicion creates cynicism and takes away hope and optimism. Suspicious persons Suspicion creates cynicism and takes away hope and optimism. Suspicious persons or cynics are those who, when they see actions and hear some words that have the possibility of being positive or negative, focus on the negative and evil sides of the matter.
Suspicion sometimes leads to violence. It is good to be cautious and careful, but we must keep our attitude positive. If we want to be trusted, we must trust others as well.

Anger. This is given to people as a mechanism for self-defense. However, if it is not properly controlled, it becomes very destructive. In the hadith, it is called “fire.” The Prophet said that when one gets angry, one is to change one’s position (Abu Dawud). Imam Al-Ghazali said, “Love of Allah extinguishes the fire of anger.”

Stinginess.This is a terrible disease. The Prophet taught us to seek Allah’s refuge from stinginess. Stinginess stems from selfishness, materialism, and too much love of this world. It means lack of care and consideration for others. It holds people from fulfilling their duties and recognizing the rights of others. It leads sometimes to cheating and dishonesty. The Prophet said,

“Beware of stinginess. It destroyed many nations before you. It made them shed the blood of one another and misappropriate what was sacred.”(Muslim)

Extreme desire for power, position, and fame.This is called in Arabic hubb al-jah. It is another major disease of the heart. This is also called in the Qur’an and Hadith as “love of this world” (hub ad-dunya). The Prophet was quoted as saying,

“Two hungry wolves in a herd of sheep are not as destructive and harmful as the love of the money and extravagance for the religion of a person.”(Al-Tirmidhi)

The cure for this is to remind oneself always that this world is a test and trial, and that the real world is that of the hereafter.

Duties of the Heart

Rulings of Shari`ah — being obligatory (fard), recommended (mustahab), forbidden (haram), undesirable (makrouh), and permissible (mubah) — do not apply only to the external laws that we observe, they apply also to the internal matters of the heart. There are duties of the bodies, and there are duties of the hearts. It is thus:

  1. obligatory for the heart to have sincerity, trust, awe, and reverence of Allah, as well as hope and repentance;
  2. recommended to have contentment and satisfaction, humbleness, and the desire to be closer to Almighty Allah;
  3. forbidden to have belief in the divinity of anyone other than Allah, and forbidden to doubt in Allah’s existence or in the truth of His Prophets. It is also prohibited to show off and to show arrogant pride, jealousy, or hypocrisy;
  4. undesirable to have desire for sinful acts, to feel too much attachment to worldly things;
  5. permissible to like and care for worldly and material things without neglecting one’s duties or committing anything that is forbidden.

According to many scholars, the following hadith contains one third of Islam:

An-Nu`man ibn Bashir reported that he heard the Prophet saying,

“Halal(things permitted by Allah ) is clear and haram (things prohibited by Allah) is clear and between the two of them are doubtful matters about which not many people know.

Thus, the Muslim who avoids doubtful matters clears himself in regard to his or her religion and honor, but the Muslim who falls into doubtful matters falls into that which is forbidden, like the shepherd who pastures around a boundary line ofa private pasture of someone else and at any moment he is liable to get in it.

Truly, every king has a boundary line [that is not to be crossed by others], and truly Allah’s boundaries are his prohibitions. Truly, in the body there is a morsel of flesh that, if it be whole, all the body is whole, and that, if it be diseased, all the body will be diseased. This is the heart.” (Al-Bukhari)

By Muzammil H. Siddiqi