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Safeguarding the heart

If the heart is so essential and yet unstable, its health must be eagerly and carefully protected. The heart, much more than our bodies, is susceptible to sickness and the influences around it. Yet many of us allow everything to flow into it without attention to the damage this can do.

We allow our eyes to look at everything, our ears to listen to everything, and our tongues to say everything. But does not this all affect our hearts? We jump from one video to another on YouTube, click on links because we are curious, and read inane and offensive posts because they are in front of us. We fail to filter out content that feeds the instability in our hearts and plants pain and foolish desires in them. When we get bored, a symptom of the longing in our hearts for meaning, we feed this boredom with images and words that further damage our hearts. Listen to what the Prophet (saw) said: “If one hears of al-Dajjal then let him stay away from him. I swear by Allah, the one who believes he has faith would come to al-Dajjal and would follow him because of the doubts that he sends or are sent with him.” (Abu Dawud)

Here we have someone who is fully sure that he has iman and that his iman is unshakable. But when he exposes himself to this fitnah, he is swept away by it. We here from some people sometimes that if our faith is truly strong, that it does not matter what it gets exposed to – what we read, hear, or attend – because our faith would endure.

The hadith about al-Dajjal teaches us not to expose ourselves to temptations as long as we can afford to stay away from them. We do not truly know the strength of our iman and what it can and cannot endure. We may not know that there is a soft spot in our heart: doubts or love for something that Allah hates, and our ill-advised encounters may revive all that until it overtakes our heart. Yes, if it is inevitable that we be exposed to tests, then we ask Allah for help and protection as we go through it. But we should not throw ourselves in the fire unnecessarily. We put clean and healthy food into our bodies but not the contaminated, inadequately cooked, or unhealthy. We are more discriminating than eating every piece of food we find lying on the ground. We may believe that we have a healthy immune system, but we do not test it by exposing ourselves to every disease around us; in fact, we take precautions and distance ourselves from it. Our hearts need more care than our bodies. 

Some may say or think that this will create a Muslim intellectual ghetto, where Muslims only read to other Muslims, and perhaps only to a specific segment of Muslims. But this is not necessarily the case. We must distinguish between (1) what we need to go into and what we don’t, (2) what will bring us harm and what won’t, and (3) the level of our Islamic knowledge. The deeper our Islamic knowledge is and the more we consult the wise around us, the better we will be at steering our intellectual ship to safety and avoiding drowning at sea.

The life of the earlier pious Muslims displays the delicate care they treated their hearts with, especially when they feared harm. The way they left reading specific books, sitting with specific people, accepting specific gifts and money, and working in specific professions demonstrates that they put the safety of their hearts above everything else. As al-Dhahabi said: “The hearts are weak and doubts are aggressive snatchers.” (Siyar A’lam al-Nubala’)

Anchoring the heart

The lightness of our hearts demands that we stabilize them, to make them heavier. But how can we do this? The rest of the book is an answer to this question. For now, let us consider what Allah said about it in the Qur’an: “Indeed, We are going to send down to you a heavy saying.” (Al-Muzzammil: 5)

One of the ways in which the Qur’an is heavy is that it gives stability to human life and heart. Those who desire comfort and clarity for their hearts should seek it from the Qur’an.

The image of the boiling water pot suggests to us that we should oversee our hearts more than we oversee an important meal we are preparing. We should be more finicky and careful about what we allow into our hearts than the ingredients we allow into our bodies or demand in our favourite dishes.

(ends)

by Dr. Ali Albarghouthi