Once upon a time, we were not here.
Our father, Adam, and our mother, Hawa (Eve), were at home in the Divine presence. Then, by the decree and wisdom of Allah, they had to leave Paradise. But out of His Mercy, Allah showed them the way back to Him saying:
So surely there will come to you a guidance from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve. (2:38)
Allah has given us the guidance and now we are all on a journey, a journey we must take, not only with our physical limbs, but with our hearts. It is the journey of the heart to get back home…
This example is etched in my mind. I heard it years ago, but still remember every word. Taken from an audio lecture by Sheikh Mokhtar Maghraoui, it introduces in a very simple way the beautiful knowledge of the heart, the knowledge that helps us purify and keep our hearts healthy so that they may undertake the journey to their Lord.
The Knowledge of the Heart
Since then, I have tried to learn more about the journey of the heart. I have found that although many people appreciate the importance of this knowledge, at the practical level it is often forgotten in the contexts of our busy lives, and to this I admit I am no exception.
But understanding the importance of the heart and working to purify it and make it sound should be of utmost importance to all Muslims. Allah tells us in the Quran that this knowledge is part of the reason for which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent:
Certainly did Allah confer [great] favor upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error. (3:164)
A Simple Equation
Islam does not tell us that the only thing which we should focus on is the heart. Rather, Islam teaches that the heart serves as an internal compass to help a person navigate this life.
In order for the heart to work correctly, it must be fueled with beneficial knowledge and worship, and must be purified through the process of tazkiyah, which involves training and disciplining the self (nafs). When this occurs, one is able to fulfill the purpose for which he or she was created and earn Allah’s reward.
Islam sets up a very simple equation for the believer.
Correct Belief + Correct Action = Reward from Allah
This equation is not of my own making. Belief (Iman) is almost always coupled to doing righteousness (‘amal salih) when Allah describes those who will earn His reward.
And whoever believes in Allah and does righteousness – He [Allah] will admit him into gardens beneath which rivers flow to abide therein forever. Allah will have perfected for him a provision. (65:11)
Allah has given us the Quran and Sunnah as a reference on which to base our judgments of what is correct and incorrect. However, when a person’s heart is diseased, corrupted or evil, he or she may be unable to distinguish truth from falsehood. This is why the heart is so critically important.
Understanding the Nafs
Our ability to fulfill this equation, to perfect both our beliefs and our actions depends on the health of our hearts. Islam teaches that the health of our hearts begins with the purification of and the inner struggle against our nafs, the part of our selves that is inclined to base whims and desires.
Distracted and polluted by worldliness, the nafs has a tendency to drag the human heart down into arrogance and vice. The heart is thus unable to journey as it should to Allah.
Purifying the nafs enables the heart to be set free, not only of whims and desires, but of doubt, worry, and other diseases that the nafs can inflict upon the heart. This is what gives the believer ultimate success, not only in this life, but in the hereafter.
Hearts Floating Freely
I was thinking about this recently while preparing to speak to a group of Muslim women at a university on the topic of the sound heart. I wanted to present this idea in a material way to make it easier to understand. So, I decided to bring in a bubble machine.
A bubble machine is a simple, battery powered machine that when filled with bubble solution – a clear, soapy liquid – blows hundreds of bubbles automatically.
In addition to the bubble machine, I brought in a glass container filled with soil from my garden. During the presentation, I turned on the machine and bubbles filled the room, each transparent sphere floating higher and higher to the ceiling.
I told the audience that our hearts were meant to be clean, transparent, and light, like these bubbles, in order to know Allah and journey to Him freely.
Then I brought out the container of soil. I said that this soil, this earth, represented all that the nafs desires and wants us to hold on to. I asked the women what they thought would happen to the bubble machine if I mixed the soil into the bubble solution. Their answer: our room would have no more bubbles. Indeed, the soil would weigh down the bubbles so much that they would probably not begin their journey at all.