Diseases of the heart: Symptoms and Cure


MashaAllah this is another study circle a sister initiated on Sundays based on Al-Ghazalis book called Disciplining the Soul. This has worked out so nicely for me as both girls being at Arabic school, I can take this day out to work at myself, improve my own Arabic/Tajweed or increasing my knowledge inshaAllah, along with the baby, of course.

I could go on about how wonderful Ghazali’s above named book is, especially for those who are seeking to develop their own self and reach a higher level of tazkiya etc. But, instead I will just share the notes and handouts from today’s khalaqa. Each week a different sister will chose a chapter from the book, prepare the questions to be discussed and the talk to be delivered. And it was my turn today. And the topic was “An Exposition by which the diseases of the heart might be recognized and the symptoms that indicate the return to health”

First of all, let’s look at the definition of the heart. In Arabic it is the word Qalb; which can also be interpreted as soul. The meaning in Arabic is more wholesome than the meaning in English. When the prophet saw said “‘Surely there is in the body a small piece of flesh; if it is good, the whole body is good, and if it is corrupted, the whole body is corrupted, and that is surely the heart’.” He was not talking merely about an organ that pumps up blood and circulates it to the body. He referred to Qalb/soul. So, each part of the body has a function. We have eyes to see, hand to strike, feet to walk etc. And the heart/ qalb is the central organ.

And what is the function of the heart? The function of the heart is the formula below

the acquisition of knowledge –> acquisition of wisdom –> the love of God –> the love of His worship

We should note that knowledge and wisdom are two separate things. Knowledge is acquired through studying and wisdom is acquired through experiencing and implementing. There are many verses in the Qur’an that refer to the above formula. The most popular one being

[I created Jinn and mankind so that they would worship Me ] Ad-dhaariyat 51:56

I looked at tafseer ibni Katheer of the above ayah and it states the following: I, Allah, only created them so that I order them to worship Me, not that I need them.’ `Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas commented on the Ayah,

[إِلاَّ لِيَعْبُدُونِ]

(…except that they should worship Me.) meaning, “So that they worship Me, willingly or unwillingly. I seek not any provision from them nor do I ask that they should feed Me. Verily, Allah is the All-Provider, Owner of power, the Most Strong.)

So, we have been commanded to worship one and only God and that should be the only function of our hearts.

What is the disease of the heart?

Al Ghazali states that “possessing a thing in the heart more dear to him than God” is ultimately a disease. He also states that every heart is sick except those whom God has saved. We should not prefer none of the things of this World over Him. And again there are many verses referring to this but one most quoted one Allah says in the Qur’an

[If your fathers, and your sons, and your brothers, and your wives, and your tribe and your wealth you have acquired and the trade you fear may not prosper, and the dwellings you desire are dearer to you than God and His Messenger and striving in His way, then wait until God brings His command to pass]

And if we ponder on this one verse, we realize why Ghazali claims every heart is sick. It is indeed very hard to implement in our daily lives to completely submit ourselves to the will of Allah, to put our ultimate trust in Him swt, not to rush about things and not to stress about worldliness. But diseases of the heart is one of a kind that remains unknown to people they afflict. Even if we become aware of it, we may find it extremely hard to treat it in a proper way. So what is the cure

What is the cure?

There is only one medicine for sickness of the heart. That medicine is very bitter. And that cure is opposing our desires. We shall persevere in the bitter medicine of opposing our desires. Some of us have been led to deny altogether the existence of such medicine, especially in today’s society. Instead we have given ourselves to worldliness. Ghazali said “A soul should return to God with a sound aspect so that it retains not a single tie with anything connected to this world, where soul will be enabled to leave this world unattached to it, paying it no heed and no longer yearning for the things which it contains”. We should hold on to the rope of Allah by being thankful to Allah, worshipping and loving Allah, becoming his Hanif and striving in His path. Impediments in holding on to Allah are pride, hypocrisy, pessimism, uncontrollable anger, abuse of the tongue and lustful sexual desires. Ghazali says that righteous acts proceed from good traits of character. Therefore we should look at our attributes and qualities and devote our energies treating them one after the other.

The hardest part…?

So we have established the function of heart is the love of God and the love of His worship. We know that in every heart there is a sickness that needs cure. And we know that cure is in opposing our nafs and desires and become unattached to worldly matters and things. Now, the most difficult part is keeping rectitude on this straight path. Or the word in Arabic is “Istiqaama” – maintaining the same level of imaan, maintaining opposing our desires and maintaining the healthy Qalb/heart/soul. Istiqaama on sirotal mustaqeem is something extremely obscure therefore we have been asked to recited Al Fatiha on every raka’h. We ask Allah Guide Us to the Straight Path 17 times a day. The prophet saw used to say “Surah Hud had turned my hair grey” and a man asked him why. He saw said “because of this statement [Practise rectitude as you have been commanded] ”. It is very hard to keep istiqama on the straight path. Nevertheless, Ghazali states if we are unable to do this properly, we must at least strive to keep in its vicinity.

And to finish off, I would like to quote from Ali r.a on the heart. He said the following which I find so true 
I am amazed at the heart of man: It possesses the substance of wisdom as well as the opposites contrary to it … for if hope arises in it, it is brought low by covetousness: and if covetousness is aroused in it, greed destroys it. If despair possesses it, self piety kills it: and if it is seized by anger, this is intensified by rage. If it is blessed with contentment, then it forgets to be careful; and if it is filled with fear, then it becomes preoccupied with being cautious. If it feels secure , then it is overcome by vain hopes; and if it is given wealth, then its independence makes it extravagant. If want strikes it, then it is smitten by anxiety. If it is weakened by hunger, then it gives way to exhaustion; and if it goes too far in satisfying its appetites, then its inner becomes clogged up. So all its shortcomings are harmful to it, and all its excesses corrupt it.
There are four things that make the heart die: wrong action followed by wrong action, playing around with foolish people, spending a lot of time with women, and sitting with the dead. Then they asked Imam Ali: ‘And who are the dead, O Commander of the believers?’ He replied: ‘Every slave who follows his desires.’
Surely want is a trial, and having sickness of the body is more difficult to bear than indigence, and having a sickness of the heart is more difficult to bear than having a sickness of the body. Surely being very wealthy is a blessing, and having a healthy body is better than being very wealthy, and having awe of Allah in your heart is better than having a healthy body.
Surely hearts have desires, and they turn towards, and they turn away … so approach them by means of what they desire and what they turn towards, for surely if the heart is forced to do something against its will, it goes blind.

So, we should train our hearts so they may conform to what Allah swt commands. We should keep opposing our desires and nafs and realize that it is a never ending task. Only after the soul leaves us we may stop because it is no longer functioning in this world. But until then we should keep striving and struggling every single day in order to maintain a healthy heart- a heart that contains no love for the things of this world for it realizes that everything is so much better and longer-lasting in Jannah. And the heart should be yearning for the pleasure of God, and worship Him out of love, yearning for the pleasures of the HereAfter by becoming totally unattached to this world.



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