Why Emphasize Using the Heart Instead of the Brain?

11 June, 2021
Q Asalamualikum, dear brothers in Islam. I am a medical student in my 2nd prof mbbs ... In our lovely religion of Islam, it is mostly the heart that is related with faith, belief, waswaas etc ... As a medical student, I have learned it is brain the controls the body not the heart ... Please if you could describe it? JazakaAllah hu kheir Allah bless every single one of you.

Answer

Salam Brother,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

From the point of view of neuroscience it is the brain that controls the body and not the heart, though the heart has its own role in the functioning of the body.

In the context in which you have raised the question, there is a confusion that arises from the way we use words like “heart” and “head” (in the sense of brain) in language.

A Linguistic Introduction

We need to understand that the use of words varies from language to language. There cannot be an exact translation of words in one language to another language unless they refer to concrete objects or things that are easily recognized.

But in language, we use symbols and metaphors as well as idioms which defy easy translation or understanding by the speaker of a different language.

Because each language is the medium of expression of a particular community and of its culture derived from their specific experience, we often cannot find exact equivalents in one language for concepts expressed in another language.

For example, the Eskimos have several words to depict subtle changes in the snow, which the Arabic language doesn’t have; so the people of Arabia cannot properly understand the shades of meaning expressed by those words.

Now about the use of the word, qalb (meaning ‘heart’) in the Quran:

In several languages including the English language, the word “heart” is understood to be the seat of emotions, and the word “head” the seat of intellect. Incidentally this has nothing to do with the latest findings of scientific investigations into the working of the heart or the brain.

Remember no heart surgeon has so far discovered any trace of any emotion – say sorrow or happiness – in any heart they have cut open. And science tells us that the brain controls the functions of the body; but no neurosurgeon so far has been able to discover any proof for the presence of intelligence in any brain they have operated upon.

Feelings & Consciousness

As conscious beings, we have a feeling that our consciousness or mind is somewhere in the region of our heart. This has been the feeling of humans from the very beginning, and we use expressions like: “I speak from the bottom of my heart”, “a heart to heart talk”, “heart has its reasons, which reason doesn’t know”, etc.

The Holy Quran comes in the language of humans; otherwise it wouldn’t be understood by humans. And so we do not have any difficulty in understanding verses like the following:

{In their hearts is disease, so Allah has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment because they [habitually] used to lie.} (Quran 2:10)

{Then your hearts became hardened after that, being like stones or even harder.} (Quran 2:74)

The word “heart” in the above verses does not actually mean the organ that we call the heart in our chest, but it stands metaphorically for our mental disposition or behavior.

There are several verses, where “heart” (qalb) is used for reason or power of understanding and judgment, such as the following:

{Will they not, then, ponder over this Qur’an? – or are there locks upon their hearts?} (Quran 47:24)

{So, have they not traveled through the earth and have hearts by which to reason and ears by which to hear? For indeed, it is not eyes that are blinded, but blinded are the hearts which are within the breasts.} (Quran 22:46)

The Ability to Understand

In the two verses quoted above, the word “hearts” stands for the ability to understand, to analyze, and to apply logic and reason. Here too the Quranic use of the word “heart” does not signify the physical organ in our chest.

It stands for reasoning power, analytical acumen, logical faculty, and such other capabilities usually associated with the “mind”.

The function of the brain and the heart as discovered by medical science is concerned with the human body and it has little relevance to the hearts mentioned by the Quran.

But it is also noteworthy that recent researches in the relevant fields show that even our heart contains neurons similar to those in the brain, and the brain and the heart work in close connection creating a symbiotic whole.

David Paterson, Professor at Oxford University, is the head of a team of researchers in the field of cardiac neurobiology that covers the two areas of the brain and the heart.

His work shows that our heart also contains thousands of specialized neurons, predominantly located around the right ventricle surface, forming a complex network.

Neurons are what allow our brain to form thoughts. While much about the neurons in our heart is still unknown, one thing is sure — the ‘brain’ in our heart communicates back and forth with the brain in head. It’s a two-way street.

The above finding of science gives a support to the Quranic use of the word “heart” to depict both the emotional and the intellectual capacity of humankind.

And Allah knows best. I hope this helps. Please keep in touch.

(From Ask About Islam archive)

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

https://aboutislam.net/spirituality/easy-steps-for-a-sound-heart-part-1/
About Professor Shahul Hameed
Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.