Lecture 15 in the Ramadaan series:
UNPACKING THE MOST INTRIGUING QUESTIONS IN THE QURAN
Saturday 9 May 2020 (15 Ramadaan 1441)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Previously in this series, we discussed the meaning of heart in the Holy Quran. We continue this discussion today by delving into understanding diseases of the heart, as explained in the Quran. We concluded our previous discussion on the subject of Qalbun Saleem (healthy heart). In other words, only those people who will come with healthy hearts will be successful on the Day of Judgement.
As we remember, the heart is very important, and we basically said that from the Quranic definition of the heart, the personality of anyone basically depends on the truth and reality which Almighty Allah (SWT) refers to as the heart. The mirror of that reality is our heart. Therefore, the Holy Quran is immensely concerned about this heart.
Our physical heart is central and the health of this heart in the chest is crucial, as all the functions of the different organs of the physical body depends on the heart. Similarly, when it comes to humanity and spirituality, focusing on the world beyond this material life, this spiritual heart is central, and all our deeds and attitudes/behaviours depend on this heart.
A. THE SPIRITUAL HEART IS AN ENDLESS DISCUSSION!
As much as we are concerned about the health of this physical heart, similarly we are supposed to be concerned about the health of our real heart, as explained in the previous lecture.
Therefore, the Holy Quran extensively discusses different conditions of the heart and what affects it, resulting in diseases of the heart and the eventual failure of the heart if these diseases go unaddressed! According to the Holy Quran, it is possible for your physical heart to be pumping strong, and you are a living healthy as a result, but your true, inner heart is unfortunately dead. The Holy Quran regards such people as the walking dead!
Recognition of that sense of humanity is through the heart. Therefore, if that heart is dead, then that human essence is dead. Once you reach that point, you are like animals or as the Holy Quran says, worse than cattle. The Holy Quran speaks in great length about this issue of diseases of the heart in various verses we will expound upon in this discussion.
Our program is structured to address a different intriguing question in the Quran on each of these blessed nights of Ramadaan. This issue of the heart, its health, diseases of the heart, symptoms of sickness of the heart, and the cure for these diseases are all relevant and vast topics of discussion, such that the whole month of Ramadaan of 30 nights will not even be enough.
Our religious scholars of Akhlaq (morals and ethics) and Irfan (spirituality) have written books on the heart, which is over multiple volumes. Someone wrote three volumes explaining the conditions of hearts, what makes a healthy heart, types of sicknesses of the heart, reasons and symptoms for these sicknesses, and treatments to cure the sick heart. It is therefore quite an extensive discussion, but we will package this all into one lecture.
B. QURANIC LINGUISTIC REFERENCES TO THE DISEASES OF THE SPIRITUAL HEART
There is a word in Arabic known as “maradh”, which is used for sickness or disease, and has been repeated 12 times in the Holy Quran, in reference to the heart. Surah Baqarah, Surah Maaida, Surah Anfaal, Surah Hajj, Surah Noor, Surah Ahzaab, Surah Muhammad, Surah Muddaththir all serve as reference, amongst other chapters of the Holy Quran.
Not only is the word “maradh” used to describe diseases of the heart. Sometimes, other words like “zagh” are also used. An example is verse 8 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3 of the Holy Quran) which is in the form of a dua (supplication):
رَبَّنَا لَا تُزِغْ قُلُوبَنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنَا
“Our Lord! Make not our hearts to deviate.”
So, this word “zagh” is also in a way close to the same meaning of disease (maradh). Sometimes, the Quran uses the word “akin”, like in verse 25 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6), which means veil. Again, this is in reference to some sort of disease of the heart which pollutes it.
وَجَعَلْنَا عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ أَكِنَّةً
“and We have cast veils over their hearts…”
The word “rana” is another reference to diseases of the heart, according to the Holy Quran, which means rust. Verse 14 of Surah Mutaffifeen (chapter 83) refers:
كَلَّا ۖ بَلْ ۜ رَانَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ مَا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ
“Nay, but that which they have earned is rust upon their hearts.”
In contrast to this, we have healthy hearts defined in the Holy Quran as Qalbun Saleem or Qalbun Muneeb.
These discussions are mostly Akhlaq oriented, focusing on ethics and purification of the soul. This is also a common theme from the daily midday inspiration lectures and afternoon boosts in the indigenous languages. These issues are also hard to discuss, especially when one feels awkward talking about them, as these discussions are more suitable to be led by those people whose hearts are truly healthy and pure and diverted towards Almighty Allah (SWT).
We hope that Almighty Allah (SWT) will shower His mercy upon us, and that He will accept us with our weak, diseased hearts, out of His compassion and beneficence Insha Allah.
C. FROZEN ROCK HARD HEART IS THE DEATH OF YOUR SPIRITUAL EXISTENCE
The first important issue which the Holy Quran discusses as being a disease of the heart is “taba’i”. Almighty Allah (SWT) refers to this heart as being closed. This refers to a condition when something becomes frozen and does not perform its function. It is incapable of the growth it is meant to have.
To put it simply, this is when one loses freedom of thinking ie. liberation of the mind. In other words, Almighty Allah (SWT) has placed the capacity of transformation in our hearts, with information which comes to us through our senses and intellect. Now, when this data reaches our heart, it influences that heart, being the centre of our personality, transforming it. As a result, our heart develops and evolves and there is progress through this positive change.
Now, the Holy Quran says that one of the most common diseases of the heart is that it freezes. In other words, the information which is supposed to play the role of development and transformation does not have any impact. This is what is meant by the Quran that such people’s hearts are in a stationary condition ie. frozen.
This condition is so common, such that the Quran repeats this particular term for the heart on 11 occasions.
D. WHAT CAUSES OUR HEARTS TO BECOME ROCK HARD?
Many reasons are there to explain why our heart becomes hard, losing its evolution. The Holy Quran gives examples of root causes, such as prejudice, suppression of free thinking, when you don’t listen and when you are a prisoner of the culture of your society and traditions of your forefathers, and therefore not adaptable.
The Quran explains that this results in a situation where that freedom of thought and evolution of the heart is not there.
- The Quran notes examples like ARROGANCE as being amongst the main reasons for frozen hearts. Dictators are a case in point – you do not find a dictator with a soft heart! The end of verse 35 of Surah Ghaafir (chapter 40 of the Holy Quran) explains this quite clearly:
كَذَٰلِكَ يَطْبَعُ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ قَلْبِ مُتَكَبِّرٍ جَبَّارٍ
“Thus does Allah set a seal over the heart of every proud, haughty one.”
- Another example in the Holy Quran is those who transgress the rights of the people.
- Also, those people who do not have any drive to learn and comprehend.
- Similarly, people or groups who use religion as a smokescreen to run their business of worldly pursuits (dunya).
- Furthermore, the Quran speaks about nations who do not concern themselves with divine laws and divine traditions. Their concern is all about this world.
- Then also the hypocrites who present a pious face!
E. QASAWATUL-QALB: THE DEEP, DARK STATE OF SATANIC PLEASURE
Another disease which the Quran mentions repeatedly is “qasawatul-qalb” – hardened hearts! Numerous causes of this sickness are mentioned in the Quran. Love of dunya, and disobeying parents are noted as prime reasons for the hardening of hearts.
What I am explaining here is with the help of the traditions recorded from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s).
Qasawatul-qalb is when you commit a sin and it has an affect on your heart. You then commit another sin and it affects on the health of your heart. It is no different to how the physical heart deteriorates. It gets gradually weaker and weaker as you do not take care of it. Now, in the case of the spiritual heart, weaker and weaker means harder and harder.
I have many times shared the Hadith from Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) which says that when a person commits a sin, a black spot appears on the spiritual heart, which is your inner reality. Committing another sin adds another spot and this is how the black spots on your spiritual heart accumulate with the more sins you commit.
Of course, this is now exemplification, as the spiritual heart is not in the shape of the physical heart. Whatever it is, it is covered with these black spots which are the consequences of committing sins and disobeying Almighty Allah (SWT).
Imam Sadiq (a.s) explains that this heart becomes rock hard, to the point where advice does not help.
F. UMAR IBN SA’AD: PRIME EXAMPLE OF THE MOST HARDENED HEART
I have often shared the example of Umar ibn Sa’ad, the commander of the opposition camp in the tragedy of Karbala. We all know his high-profile background, as his father was amongst the first generation of people to accept Islam. Umar ibn Sa’ad was promised the position of governor of Rey (modern day Tehran) if he would return with the head of Imam Husain (a.s).
This love of dunya (material world) makes his heart rock hard. On the night of Ashura, Imam Husain (a.s) tries his level best to melt this rock hard heart of Umar ibn Sa’ad by giving him guidance to bring him to the right path and avoid committing such a heinous crime of killing the family of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) in the most brutal manner.
This had no effect on Umar ibn Sa’ad, who scorns Imam Husain (a.s) with sarcasm. This was driven by the arrogance of Umar ibn Sa’ad’s rock hard heart.
G. A HEART WHICH IS BLIND HAS DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES ON SOCIETY
Another disease of the heart is the blindness of the heart, which Quran elaborates quite explicitly in verse 46 of Surah Hajj (chapter 22 of the Holy Quran):
أَفَلَمْ يَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَتَكُونَ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ يَعْقِلُونَ بِهَا أَوْ آذَانٌ يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا ۖ فَإِنَّهَا لَا تَعْمَى الْأَبْصَارُ وَلَٰكِنْ تَعْمَى الْقُلُوبُ الَّتِي فِي الصُّدُورِ
“Have they not travelled in the land so that they should have hearts with which to understand, or ears with which to hear? For surely it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts which are in the breasts.”
There is so much meaning in this deeply reflective verse. The conclusion of this verse is so amazing. Yes, they can see what happened to Fir’oun and other arrogant, despotic rulers like him. Their eyes are not blind. This means that they are able to comprehend intellectually and can draw very good moral lessons from the fate of the oppressors in history. However, the spiritual hearts are blind. This information which they can capture by their senses and analyse by their intellectual capacity is indeed there, but since their heart is blind, it does not have any effect on their practical life. This is the blindness of the heart!
H. REASONS FROM QURAN FOR THE SPIRITUAL HEART DEVELOPING DISEASES
The Holy Quran explains reasons for these diseases in various verses, but establishes the principle point in verse 125 of Surah Tauba (chapter 9):
وَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ مَرَضٌ فَزَادَتْهُمْ رِجْسًا إِلَىٰ رِجْسِهِمْ وَمَاتُوا وَهُمْ كَافِرُونَ
“And as for those in whose hearts is a disease, it adds uncleanness to their uncleanness, and they die while they are unbelievers.”
- One is the feeling of superiority over others. Verses 25 – 28 of Surah Hud (chapter 11 of the Holy Quran) refers. Another is apostasy, as explained in verses 51 – 54 of Surah Maaida (chapter 5 of the Holy Quran).
- The next is a very dangerous one, namely when we mock those who are inviting us towards the path of truth. We look at such people with contempt, thinking they are crazy idiots. This contempt towards those calling towards truth results in the heart becoming sick. Verses 10 – 14 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran) is clear proof, together with verses 30 and 31 of Surah Muddaththir (chapter 74 of the Holy Quran).
- Abstinence from the Wilayah (authority) of Allah (SWT) and the abstinence from the Wilayah (authority) of the Auliya (friends) of Allah (SWT). When you surrender to the authority of Satan and the evil forces, it results in your heart no longer being alive and healthy. Almighty Allah (SWT) explains this in verses 48 – 50 of Surah Noor (chapter 24 of the Holy Quran).
- Lying, accusations, and not protecting the dignity of a believer is another major cause for the heart to develop diseases. Verse 49 of Surah Anfaal (chapter 8 of the Holy Quran) serves as reference.
As you can tell, I am simply listing a few causes here for diseases of the heart as explained in various verses of the Holy Quran, but each of these are a topic of discussion by itself!
I. REASONS FROM HADITH FOR THE SPIRITUAL HEART DEVELOPING DISEASES
There are also plenty of reasons recorded in Hadith about diseases of the soul.
- A common reason listed here is that of too much eating! This is when you eat till you drop! Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) is recorded in Hadith to have said that one’s heart dies when overeating!
- Eating Haraam (forbidden) food has a great effect on the health on one’s spiritual heart.
- Too much sleeping is also another reason listed in Hadith for developing an unhealthy spiritual heart.
- Amazingly, another common reason for diseases of the soul listed in Hadith is excessive laughing. There is nothing wrong in cracking a joke in an appropriate manner, but if it reaches an excessive point where all that you are known for is to be the clown in the room, then naturally, this results in forgetting about remembrance of Almighty Allah (SWT), creating an unhealthy heart.
- In the same vein as excessive laughing, excessive stress is also a cause for the weakening of the spiritual heart, especially if someone is constantly stressed about money matters impacting day to day life in this world.
The list can go on and on…
J. SEVEN STAGES OF THE DEMISE OF THE SPIRITUAL HEART EXPLAINED IN THE QURAN
What I would like to conclude with is that these sicknesses of the spiritual heart ultimately result in its death. Some of the religious scholars of akhlaq (morals and ethics) have taken these different verses of the Holy Quran listed above and explained the death of the heart in a very beautiful manner.
They say that the heart does not die suddenly. It is a gradual demise of the heart.
- They say that the first stage is when the heart starts getting rusty due to our bad deeds. Verse 14 of Surah Mutaffifeen (chapter 83) noted at the beginning of this discussion refers:
كَلَّا ۖ بَلْ ۜ رَانَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ مَا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ
“Nay, but that which they have earned is rust upon their hearts.”
- The second stage, after the heart is rusty, is that it becomes inclined towards deviation and wrongdoing. At this stage, the person does not go directly towards wrongdoing, but rather, tries to justify the wrong. This is explained in verse 7 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3 of the Holy Quran):
فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ ۗ
“Then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to mislead and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation.”
These people with rusty hearts follow the Holy Quran, but they try to spread the interpretation of the verses of the Holy Quran in a manner which benefits their agenda.
- The third stage which these religious scholars of Akhlaq explain is when the heart now becomes sick, rendering it not able to distinguish between right and wrong. It loses its power of comprehension. The following excerpt from verse 179 of Surah A’araaf (chapter 7 of the Holy Quran) explains:
لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لَا يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌ لَا يُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ آذَانٌ لَا يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ كَالْأَنْعَامِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْغَافِلُونَ
“They have hearts with which they do not understand, and they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear; they are as cattle, nay, they are in worse errors; these are the heedless ones.”
- The next stage links in with what I explained earlier in this discussion, and that is the heart starts losing its natural condition after it becomes sick. The natural condition of a heart is soft, but due to the pollution of sins it loses this natural condition and becomes rock hard instead. The following excerpt from verse 43 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6 of the Holy Quran) serves as reference:
وَلَٰكِنْ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
“But their hearts hardened and the Shaitan made what they did fair-seeming to them.”
- After this, the heart is no longer a heart, as it has transformed into a piece of rock, as explained at the end of verse 100 of Surah A’araaf (chapter 7 of the Holy Quran):
وَنَطْبَعُ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ فَهُمْ لَا يَسْمَعُونَ
“and set a seal on their hearts so they would not hear.”
This means that the heart reaches a point where they are worse than not being able to comprehend, in that they are not able to even hear any longer. Nothing goes in!
- Thereafter, locks are placed on the heart, as explained in verse 88 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran):
وَقَالُوا قُلُوبُنَا غُلْفٌ ۚ بَلْ لَعَنَهُمُ اللَّهُ بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَقَلِيلًا مَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
“And they say: Our hearts are covered. Nay, Allah has cursed them on account of their unbelief; so little it is that they believe.”
- This all culminates in the final stage, which signs their death certificate! Verse 7 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran) explains clearly:
خَتَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَعَلَىٰ سَمْعِهِمْ ۖ وَعَلَىٰ أَبْصَارِهِمْ غِشَاوَةٌ ۖ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ
“Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing and there is a covering over their eyes, and there is a great punishment for them.”
Verse 46 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6 of the Holy Quran) shares the same message:
قُلْ أَرَأَيْتُمْ إِنْ أَخَذَ اللَّهُ سَمْعَكُمْ وَأَبْصَارَكُمْ وَخَتَمَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِكُمْ مَنْ إِلَٰهٌ غَيْرُ اللَّهِ يَأْتِيكُمْ بِهِ ۗ انْظُرْ كَيْفَ نُصَرِّفُ الْآيَاتِ ثُمَّ هُمْ يَصْدِفُونَ
“Say: Have you considered that if Allah takes away your hearing and your sight and sets a seal on your hearts, who is the god besides Allah that can bring it to you? See how We repeat the communications, yet they turn away.”
Yes, these people may be physically alive, but spiritually they are dead.
K. REMEDIES TO CURE A SICK HEART
I am sure you are all thinking that if Almighty Allah (SWT) explains in such great detail about the diseases of the heart on its different levels, then what about the treatment? Of course, the Quran speaks about the treatment of sick hearts. A long list of remedies can be discussed, but I would like to only say one thing which the Quran as a principle explains to us as a treatment for our heart and to take care of it.
This treatment is remembrance (zikr) of Almighty Allah (SWT) and will make the heart recover from its sick state to a healthy state.
How will you know whether your heart has hardened? Signs such as not feeling like praying when it is time for Salaah, or not feeling like engaging in Dua, or not enjoying reading Quran. Similarly, if your heart does not melt when reading the striking, touching sentences from Dua Abu Hamza Thumali of Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s), and you take it as if it is just something normal.
Now, even if someone reaches this situation, the Holy Quran still offers hope. This hardened heart can be treated, and that is by turning back to Almighty Allah (SWT). First is sincere repentance, as advised in verse 8 of Surah Tahrim (chapter 66 of the Holy Quran):
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا تُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ تَوْبَةً نَصُوحًا
“O ye who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance…”
Sometimes we have to force ourselves to turn back to Him, because the load we are carrying feels too heavy. Hence, we have to really push ourselves hard and force ourselves to turn towards Him. When we divert ourselves towards Almighty Allah (SWT) and engage in His remembrance, then that sick and restless heart will gain satisfaction.
When a metal gets rusty, it needs to be polished to shine again. Imam Ali (a.s) says that the remembrance of Almighty Allah (SWT) and engaging with recitation of the Quran takes the rust away from the heart in the same way that polishing the iron does. This heart will gradually start shining and healthy again.
Tahajjud and the night prayers, communicating with our Lord (SWT) in the peace of the night, is the best communication between the lover and the beloved! You may feel that you need to force yourself initially, but gradually you will reach the point where you will taste the joy of Ibadah (acts of worship) and communication with your Lord (SWT).
L. REMEMBERING THE TRAGEDY OF KARBALA HAS MELTED THE MOST HARDENED HEARTS
Let me conclude with this dua from verse 8 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3 of the Holy Quran):
رَبَّنَا لَا تُزِغْ قُلُوبَنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنَا وَهَبْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ رَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْوَهَّابُ
“Our Lord! Cause not our hearts to stray after Thou hast guided us, and bestow upon us mercy from Thy Presence. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Bestower.”
Almighty Allah (SWT), please let our hearts not deviate from the right path, after you have already guided us, and rewarded us with Islam and Imaan, and the love of Quran and love of Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s).
On this point I would like to add that the religious scholars who are subject matter experts on matters of the heart have advised us that a very important pill to treat a sick heart is the zikr (remembrance) of Imam Husain (a.s). If you discuss and keep the memory alive of what Imam Husain (a.s), then according to these greatest of mystics, then you will find your heart emerge from this status of being rock hard.
There are numerous examples across the centuries of people who were the most terrible gangsters in society, but Imam Husain (a.s) rescued them, and they transformed into becoming the most pious people and their hearts accommodated no one other than Almighty Allah (SWT).