Jumuah lecture on Friday 26 November 2021 (20 Rabiul Thani 1443)

Maulana Syed Aftab Haider

Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid

Ottery, Cape Town

One of the very serious challenges described in the Holy Quran is a disease called Qasawatul Qalb (hardening of the hearts). Almighty Allah (SWT) discusses this issue directly at least six times in the Holy Quran.

We have repeatedly explained that the reference to heart in the Holy Quran is not restricted to the physical heart located in our chest. Rather, the heart in the Quranic sense refers to the central aspect of our existence which controls the mind and body, thoughts and emotions. In simple terms, this is the soul (nafs) referred to as Qalb in the Holy Quran.


One of the conditions of this Qalb mentioned in the Holy Quran is Qasawatul Qalb (hardening of the heart). The use of this term in the Holy Quran allows us to comprehend that the heart is not hard in its natural, original state. In contrast to this condition of the heart referred to as Qasawatul Qalb, the Holy Quran makes reference to the softness of the hearts. Similarly, Almighty Allah (SWT) also uses the word “khushoo” (humbled heart).

The hearts are either soft and humble, ready to accept and absorb, or the opposite, meaning a heart which is rock-hard. In fact, the Holy Quran uses the example of rock, to describe a hardened heart!

Almighty Allah (SWT) says in verse 74 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran) that our hearts harden even after seeing all the signs. This verse, together with numerous other verses, very clearly establish that our hearts are soft by nature, humble and receptive. However, they become hardened due to the various problems we encounter, making it a serious challenge for our spiritual health.

ثُمَّ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ فَهِيَ كَالْحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً

Then, even after that, your hearts were hardened and became as rocks, or worse than rocks, for hardness.

Maula Amir al-Mu’mineen Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) describes the worst disease to have is Qasawatul Qalb (hardening of the heart).


The great prolific thinker and philosopher of the 20th century, Shaheed Ayatollah Murtaza Mutahhari (r.a), says that the hardening of the heart is a punishment from Almighty Allah (SWT). Qasawatul Qalb (hardening of the heart) has two aspects.

Firstly, the heart becomes hard in front of Almighty Allah (SWT). In other words, His commands do not affect a hardened heart. Such a person listens to the Holy Quran and duas (supplications), but there is no difference because the heart is rock hard, as referred to in verse 74 of Surah Baqarah (cited above).

The second aspect of a hardened heart is in its relationship with the creation of Almighty Allah (SWT). This is different to the first one, which is pertaining to the relationship of a hardened heart with Almighty Allah (SWT). In this second aspect, our hearts become rock hard to the point where witnessing the most terrible oppression inflicted on our fellow human beings does not affect us.

The worst form of this is where the hardened heart commits the worst of crimes, such as murder, rape and other forms of merciless brutality, without it hitting the conscience. This is where the inner voice of conscience has been completely muted.

Both these aspects are Qasawatul Qalb (hardening of the heart), and the Holy Quran addresses both.

Now, what Ayatollah Murtaza Mutahhari (r.a) is saying is that Qasawatul Qalb (hardening of the heart) is the worst punishment from Almighty Allah (SWT), because such a person has eyes which cannot see, ears which cannot hear and a heart which cannot absorb or comprehend anything. We read this in verse 18 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran):

صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ

Deaf, dumb, and blind, they will not return (to the path).


There are six verses in the Holy Quran which I want to share, relating to this subject of Qasawatul Qalb (hardening of the heart). Even just a little reflection on the translation of these verses is sufficient to understand this terrible disease of the soul.

Let us list them here, starting with verse 74 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran), cited earlier:

ثُمَّ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ فَهِيَ كَالْحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً

Then, even after that, your hearts were hardened and became as rocks, or worse than rocks, for hardness.

But then this verse goes further in that it gives hope that sometimes these rocks also break, creating streams of hope:

وَإِنَّ مِنَ الْحِجَارَةِ لَمَا يَتَفَجَّرُ مِنْهُ الْأَنْهَارُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَشَّقَّقُ فَيَخْرُجُ مِنْهُ الْمَاءُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَهْبِطُ مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّهِ ۗ وَمَا اللَّهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ

For indeed there are rocks from out which rivers gush, and indeed there are rocks which split asunder so that water floweth from them. And indeed, there are rocks which fall down for the fear of Allah. Allah is not unaware of what ye do.

The next verse I would like to reference is the first part of verse 13 of Surah Maa’ida (chapter 5 of the Holy Quran), which explains the punishment of the hardened heart:

فَبِمَا نَقْضِهِمْ مِيثَاقَهُمْ لَعَنَّاهُمْ وَجَعَلْنَا قُلُوبَهُمْ قَاسِيَةً

But because of their breach of their covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard.

Verse 43 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6 of the Holy Quran) has a deep reflection for us all. The hardened heart continues, without making changes, when faced with calamity. There is no sense of awakening from this hardened heart:

فَلَوْلَا إِذْ جَاءَهُمْ بَأْسُنَا تَضَرَّعُوا وَلَٰكِنْ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ

When the suffering reached them from us, why then did they not learn humility? On the contrary their hearts became hardened, and Satan made their (sinful) acts seem alluring to them.


The alarming reality we see emerge from the second part of this verse is that our hearts become hardened because Satan decorates their sins. This is when we think we are the best and justify our wrongs. This is when we look at our shortcomings as positives, because Satan beautifies them! We then are duped into thinking we are the best! This results in a hardened heart.

There are so many people in history who had a great deal of spiritual upliftment, but Satan somehow trapped them. They do not realize they are trapped and get fooled through Satan’s process of gradually decorating their sins, thereby losing that softness of their heart. Their heart becomes hardened, without realizing!

The Ahlul Bait (a.s) have taught us that when we recite the Holy Quran with proper attention and supplicate to Almighty Allah (SWT) through dua, and it does not bring tears in our eyes, we should know that our hearts are going in the direction of hardening – Qasawatul Qalb!

Let’s ponder on this for a second. That heart, which was supposed to be soft, becomes hard!

Of course, the remembrance of Almighty Allah (SWT) is absolutely crucial. Verse 22 of Surah Zumar (chapter 39 of the Holy Quran) explains that the worst situation to be in is when the hearts are hardened, because that is when one has forgotten the remembrance of Almighty Allah (SWT).

أَفَمَنْ شَرَحَ اللَّهُ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ فَهُوَ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ مِنْ رَبِّهِ ۚ فَوَيْلٌ لِلْقَاسِيَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ مِنْ ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ

What! Is he whose heart Allah has opened for Islam so that he is in a light from his Lord (like the hard-hearted)? Nay, woe to those whose hearts are hard against the remembrance of Allah; those are in clear error.


Another point of hardening of the heart is perpetual sin, to the point where sin becomes the normal behaviour of such a person, as the habitual sinning has now been engrained in the person’s essence. Imam Ali (a.s) made a very insightful statement on this point, where he says that eyes never dry but from the hardening of the heart, and the heart does not get hardened but from continuously committing sins.

Now, here comes the crucial point of hope. Even if one is in the most disastrous state of compounded sinning, the doors of mercy of Almighty Allah (SWT) are always open to make a turnaround, provided you repent sincerely. Let me present a beautiful example in this regard.

There was a person in history who was a well-known highway bandit. He committed the worst of crimes and was clearly a hardened heart, to the extent that habitual sinning was his essence. No kind advice from anyone had any impact on him. However, there is a time when the heart is ready to receive!

So, one late night, when he was climbing the wall to break into someone’s house for a robbery, he heard another person in the neighbourhood reciting verse 16 of Surah Hadid (chapter 57 of the Holy Quran) from a distance, which shook him into an important realization and served as his catalyst to change:

أَلَمْ يَأْنِ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَنْ تَخْشَعَ قُلُوبُهُمْ لِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَمَا نَزَلَ مِنَ الْحَقِّ وَلَا يَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِنْ قَبْلُ فَطَالَ عَلَيْهِمُ الْأَمَدُ فَقَسَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ ۖ وَكَثِيرٌ مِنْهُمْ فَاسِقُونَ

Has not the Time arrived for the Believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been revealed (to them), and that they should not become like those to whom was given Revelation aforetime, but long ages passed over them and their hearts grew hard? For many among them are rebellious transgressors.

History has recorded that this robber fell to the ground upon hearing this verse and proclaimed “indeed, the time has arrived for the heart to be softened!” This person underwent a complete revolution, such that his rock-hard heart broke and a stream of water and mercy replaced it. This man went on to become one of the great mystics in history.

What I am trying to say is that one of the ways to soften the heart is to listen to the Holy Quran. Even when you think it is not penetrating, reading and listening to the Holy Quran repeatedly will result in it softening the heart one day, Insha Allah!


Shaykh al-Kulayni, the author of al-Kafi, which is our main point of reference for Hadith narrations, has dedicated a whole chapter on this subject of Qasawatul Qalb (hardening of the heart). He recorded numerous Hadith from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his holy Ahlul Bait (a.s) explaining why the heart becomes hardened, and similarly, numerous Hadith about the treatment of this disease of the soul.

The key remedies prescribed are remembrance of Almighty Allah (SWT), recitation of the Holy Quran, being kind to orphans, Tawassul of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and remembering their tragedies. When we narrate the tragedy of Karbala, people mistakenly think of it as simply being a session of feeling sorry for what they went through. This thinking is astronomically far from the reality of why we remember their tragedy, as it has a much deeper philosophy underpinning it.

One of the main roles that this Masa’ib (narrating the tragedy) of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) plays is that it softens the hearts. This same heart which is not accepting any other language of influence is now able to capture and absorb what is good and righteous through internalizing the Masa’ib. This is one of the key benefits of the Masa’ib of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), amongst many other benefits.


Any one of us can deviate from our focused path at any point. The worst position to be in is when we are confronted with calamities from different directions and our hearts remain rock-hard! That is why Ayatollah Mutahhari (r.a) described Qasawatul Qalb (hardening of the heart) as the worst of punishments from Almighty Allah (SWT), and the worst of consequences from committing sins.

This is when one’s heart resembles that of Umar ibn Sa’ad, the cursed commander of the enemy’s army in the tragedy of Karbala, where even the advice of Imam Husain (a.s) had no effect on his heart! We all know that this man was the son of Sa’d ibn abi Waqqas, who was from the first generation of Muslims.

Imam Husain (a.s) explains to the camp of the enemy, in the build up to the tragic Day of Ashura, that the path they are pursuing is guaranteed to take them to Hell! Imam Husain (a.s) further warns them that they are not going to get anything good in this world (dunya) nor the hereafter (Akhirah), if they commit their heinous crimes. It still had no effect! Just imagine how rotten these people were, if the advice from Imam Husain (a.s) could not penetrate their hearts!

Let me conclude with the deeply thoughtful Hadith which Amir al-Mu’mineen Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) narrates from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). Imam Ali (a.s) narrates that Rasulullah (SAWA) said to him that there are five things which polish one’s heart and softens it. They are:

1. Sitting in the company of scholars, such that looking at them brings one closer to Allah (SWT).

2. To place your hand of compassion on the head of an orphan.

3. Repeatedly seeking forgiveness from Almighty Allah (SWT) in the early morning.

4. Keeping the nights alive.

5. Fasting during the day.


As we draw closer to the festive season, gatherings and travel will increase interaction amongst people. I therefore wish to remind everyone of the importance to uphold the protocols to protect ourselves and all those around us.

We see heightened anxiety now with the appearance of the new variant in our part of the world. This should equally heighten our consciousness to do our best in protecting each other. We cannot be selfish. Quite frankly, it all comes back to the hardening of hearts, if we do not care about others!

Coronavirus demands seriousness from all of us, without exception. Even if we consider ourselves to not be in danger, our careless actions could cause the most vulnerable to be in serious danger.

Vaccinations, social distancing, masks, good ventilation and staying away from crowded areas should be followed at all times

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