Lecture 13 in the Ramadaan series:
UNPACKING THE MOST INTRIGUING QUESTIONS IN THE QURAN
Tuesday 7 May 2020 (13 Ramadaan 1441)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
In this lecture we will discuss the term “Qalb” or “heart” which is mentioned repeatedly in the Quran. In the Quran the word “Qalb” is mentioned more than 100 times and you can thus imagine the importance of this word and understanding its meaning.
There are also certain other words besides the word “Qalb” which are also more or less used in the same sense like the word “sadr” which means “chest” or the word “nafs” which means “soul” or “self” or the word “ruh” which means “spirit” or “soul”. These words all share very close meanings.
Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when we refer to “Qalb” is our physical heart in our chest which pumps blood into our body and plays a very central role in our body. That is the literal meaning of “Qalb” or “heart” and this has the same meaning in Arabic.
When looking at different verses of the Quran, there is no doubt that the “Qalb” that the Quran is referring to in most of the cases is NOT referring to the physical heart.
WHAT DOES “QALB” OR “HEART” MEAN IN QURAN?
There is a possibility that because “Qalb” or “heart” plays a central role in the body in supplying blood which carries oxygen to even the brain which itself controls our body and acts as the command centre, due to the centrality of its role, it is possible that the Quran and also the Ahadith refer to the heart due to this meaning whereby everything in ourselves somehow depends on it.
This is probably why the meaning of “Qalb” or “heart” is borrowed from its literal meaning and used for a series of other related meanings which has the theme of centrality and dependency on it.
The approximate 100 verses in the Quran using the word ‘Qalb” actually use it with different intended meanings. It should be noted that perhaps there is something common between them in that there is a central theme that all those meanings share and thus one word is used for all the meanings.
We will now explore a list of these meanings.
“QALB” OR “HEART” IN THE SENSE OF “INTELLECT” OR “AQL”
The first idea I want to highlight is that the Quran uses the word “Qalb” in the sense of our intellect or power to think.
In Surah Qaaf Verse 37 we read:
إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَذِكْرَی لِمَن كَانَ لَهُ قَلْبٌ أوْ ألْقَی السَّمْعَ وَهُوَ شَهِيدٌ
“Indeed, therein is truly a reminder for him who has a heart or gives ear while he is heedful.”
In other words, in the signs of Allah that are spread across the world there is a great lesson for one’s “heart” or “Qalb” to learn.
Now learning is a function of “aql” or our “intellect” and has nothing to do with the physical heart. But due to its central role in the human personality we can understand why it is called “Qalb”
“QALB” OR “HEART” IN THE SENSE OF “SOUL” OR “RUH”
“Ruh” in Islamic Philosophical terms refers to that non-material reality which is attached to our body and our life or death is defined by the attachment of that “ruh” to our body. When the “ruh” is attached to our body, we are considered to be alive and when it departs our body, then we are considered dead.
Thus, the definition of life is not based on the life of any of one’s organs but the presence of the soul. All the organs can still be functional, but if the soul departed, then that body is not alive any longer.
In various places in Quran, the word “Qalb” is used in the sense of “ruh”.
Example in Surah Ahzab Verse 10 we read:
وَاِذْ زَاغَتِ الأَبْصَارُ وَبَلَغَتِ الْقُلُوبُ الْحَنَاجِرَ
“and when the eyes are stupefied (at time of death) and the hearts reached to the throats”
Hearts literally never reach your throat even when you die. So here again neither heart nor throat refers to our physical organs. However, since one’s throat is a departure point from which something leaves your body, so the soul reaches its departure point or the point just before departure when it has this experience. So here the word “Qalb” means “ruh” or “soul” upon which life depends.
“QALB” OR “HEART” IN THE SENSE OF “CENTRE OF OUR EMOTIONS”
Another meaning of the word “Qalb” or “heart” in the Quran is in the sense of it being the centre of our emotions or a sort of organ that reflects our feelings like love, hate, anger, fear, excitement, attachment, etc.
We understand the use of the word “Qalb” in this sense when we for example read Surah Anfaal Verse 12:
سَأُلْقِي فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا الرُّعْبَ
“Soon I will cast fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve”
Fear or terror is not related to “thinking” but is related to our emotions or feelings.
Similarly, we read in Surah Aali Imraan Verse 159:
فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لاَنفَضُّواْ مِنْ حَوْلِكَ
“Thus, it is due to the mercy from Allah that you have been lenient with them, and had you been rough, hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you”
Hard heartedness refers once again to emotions.
On this point some exegetes say when the word “Qalb” or “heart” is used, it does refer to the same physical heart in our chest. This is because our emotions first reflect on our heart like when we are stressed we see our blood pressure increases and our heart beat races, when we hear good news we get excited and it affects our heart, whereas shocking news can lead to heart attack, etc. Based on this argument they say that most likely in these instances the word “Qalb” refers to our physical heart.
Therefore, even in literature and poetry when the word heart is used it refers to emotions, etc. with the idea that it is the responsibility of the physical heart. Just like the brain is the centre of intellectual exercise, they claim the heart in our chest is the centre of our emotions.
However, I do not agree with it.
Even experts in medical sciences also agree that emotions in the form of fear or anger or stress or excitement, etc. while certainly impacting on your heart, they also affect your brain which is the centre from which the heart gets affected as well as a number of different organs in our body like our muscles, the colour of our face, etc.
Thus, it is not correct to say that the physical heart is the centre of our emotions.
“QALB” OR “HEART” IN THE SENSE OF “CENTRE OF HUMAN PERSONALITY”
Our position in Islamic Philosophy is that we do not think that the brain itself is capable of comprehension or, as referred to earlier, is the one responsible for comprehension. However, the brain prepares the groundwork using the information it receives from our senses and different resources. But the reality that finally is responsible for comprehension is not the brain itself but the “ruh” or soul which is non-material.
And therefore, basically even in case of our emotions, it is the soul that receives these emotions and processes them. But the emotions are also connected to the brain which reflects the emotions in the different organs of our body. In this reflection on the physical organs, perhaps the heart gets more affected by emotions than other organs.
Thus, we say that our soul or “ruh” is the centre of the human personality. If I ask you “who are you”, your reply will be “I am so and so”. This “I” or “me” refers to the personality in you. When referring to the brain we say “my brain” – in other words “brain” is not “I” or “me” as it is related to me – but who is “me”??
That “I” is “Qalb” in Quran.
This “I” sometimes plays the role of the power of comprehension and sometimes plays the role of being the centre of emotions.
“QALB” OR “HEART” IN THE SENSE OF “INTERNAL FACE OF HUMAN PERSONALITY”
Another interesting meaning of ‘Qalb” in Quran is that it is the internal, real face of the human personality. In other words, the logic of the Quran is that the human personality is a combination of your body, brain, heart, etc. plus your deeds, attitude, behaviour, etc. This human personality then as a whole has an internal mirror which is also called “Qalb” or “heart” and in fact that is the real “Qalb”!
That “Qalb” is reflective of your real personality and who you really are. It reveals whether you are a good person, a pious person, a person with integrity and purity or a person who is corrupt, who has a dual personality, etc. It reveals whether you are a strong person or a weak person, etc.
That internal face of the human personality is called “Qalb”.
Therefore, Almighty Allah emphasizes that it is the “Qalb” in this sense that is most important which requires your focussed attention. That is the “Qalb” whose health you should be concerned about the most.
Almighty Allah says in Surah Shu’araa Verse 88 and 89:
يَوْمَ لاَ يَنفَعُ مَالٌ وَلاَ بَنُونَ
إلاَّ مَنْ أَتَى اللَّهَ بِقَلْبٍ سَلِيمٍ
“The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail,
Except for him who comes to Allah with a pure heart.”
The Day of Judgement is the Day wherein nothing will help us, with ONE exception and that is to come Allah with a pure or healthy heart (not referring to physical heart) which is having that internal reflection of your personality being a healthy one. Our actions and deeds are a reflection of this internal reflection.
Quran sometimes talks about “Qalbun Saleem” which is a healthy heart as in the above-mentioned verse. Sometimes Quran speaks about having a “Qalbun Mubeeb” or a hopeful heart.
And then opposite to that Quran speaks about having a sick heart like in Surah Baqarah Verse 10 we read:
فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ فَزَادَهُمُ اللّهُ مَرَضاً وَلَهُم
“In their hearts is a disease, so Allah has increased their disease”
Therefore, in this month of Ramadaan all our spiritual exercises are meant for purification of our hearts as in our human personality or inner heart to ensure we have a personality free from maliciousness, hatred, jealousy, etc.
6th Imam Saadiq (a.s) says something interesting about “Qalbun Saleem” when he says:
“The healthy heart is the one that meets his Lord while there is none in that heart other than Him”.
That is Qalbun Saleem! Nothing lives in such a heart other than Almighty Allah!
In another hadith from Imam Saadiq (a.s) he says:
“The one with a pure intention is the one who has a pure heart (Qalbin Saleem), because health of the heart depends on being pure from all impurities which results in purification of intention being only for Allah in every matter”.
That is someone who has unpolluted motives in life.
FURTHER STATIONS THAT A PURE HEART REACHES
Sometimes the same inner reality of heart is there and is healthy, but sometimes this reality develops further and evolves in its journey of purification and seeking sincerity to reach a point where Almighty Allah gradually showers this healthy heart with His special favours and gives special eyes or sight to this heart so much so that this heart opens up to streams of wisdom and knowledge and information and an unseen world which no other heart can see.
This heart travels even further where it reaches a point where it becomes capable of receiving Divine Revelation. This is where we read in the Quran that Almighty Allah says the following about Prophet Muhammad (sawa) in Surah Shu’araa Verses 192 to 194:
وَإِنَّهُ لَتَنزِيلُ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
نَزَلَ بِهِ الرُّوحُ الأَمِينُ
عَلَى قَلْبِكَ لِتَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُنذِرِينَ
“And verily this (Qur’an) is from the Lord of the Worlds.
The Faithful Spirit has descended with it.
Upon your heart that you may be of the warners.”
This heart has eyes and a capacity that other hearts do not have where it is able to have knowledge of the type known as “knowledge by presence” (ilmul huzuri or intuitive knowledge) which is undeniable and the most accurate. Thus, again in relation to Prophet Muhammad (sawa)’s heavenly journey in the Mi’raj, the Quran says in Surah Najm Verses 11 to 18:
مَا كَذَبَ الْفُؤَادُ مَا رَأی
أفَتُمَارُونَهُ عَلَی مَا يَرَی
وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ نَزْلَةً اُخْرَی
عِندَ سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَی
عِندَهَا جَنَّةُ الْمَأوَی
إِذْ يَغْشَی السِّدْرَةَ مَا يَغْشَی
مَا زَاغَ الْبَصَرُ وَمَا طَغَی
لَقَدْ رَأی مِنْ آيَاتِ رَبِّهِ الْكُبْرَی
“The [Prophet’s] heart lied not in what he saw
Will you then dispute with him about what he saw?
And indeed he saw him at another descent.
Near Sidrat al-Muntaha
Near it is the Paradise of Refuge.
When that covered the lote tree which did cover it!
The sight turned not aside nor did it transgress beyond the limit.
Verily, he did see of the Greatest Signs of his Lord.”
It is not possible for Prophet Muhammad (sawa) to have lied about what he saw as it was knowledge by presence! That heart saw Reality and Truth itself!
Taking into consideration this extensive discussion about the meaning of “heart” in Quran, we can thus understand its reference to a heart that is negligent, fearful, tranquil, filled with belief, healthy and sick hearts, excited hearts, inclined heart, familiar heart and different diseases of the heart that the Quran refers to in detail.
May Almighty Allah grant us Tawfeeq to purify our hearts so that we can be carriers of “Qalbun Saleem” Insha’Allah.