Republished with kind permission from Understand Quran.
The Prophet Muhammad said:
Beware, in the body there is a piece of flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound and if it is corrupt the whole body is corrupt, and hearken it is the heart. (Sahih Muslim)
Allah the Exalted also said about the Day of Resurrection,
The Day when there will not benefit [anyone] wealth or children, but only one who comes to Allah with a sound heart. (26:88-89)
Thus it is of utmost importance to have a sound heart at all times, because we don’t know when we are going to die. After an accident, we will not wait with a bleeding leg and say to ourselves, ‘I’ll go to the doctor after I finish watching this movie!’
In the same way, we can’t go around with a hardened heart. Let us look at some of the ways in which a hard heart can be broken open by the will of Allah.
1. Remembrance of Death
The Messenger of Allah said:
Frequently remember the destroyer of pleasures,’ meaning death. (Ibn Majah)
Al Qurtubi quoted, in his book at-Tadhkirah, that scholars of the past said:
‘Remembering death deters one from committing sins, softens rigid hearts, alleviates one’s indulgence in this worldly life and decreases the impact of catastrophes.’
He also mentioned a story where a woman came to the Mother of the Believers Aisha and complained that her heart was hardened. Aisha told her:
‘If you remember death frequently, your heart will be softened.’
The woman followed her advice and her heart became softer. Then she came back and thanked the Mother of the Believers.
2. Visiting Graves
The Prophet said:
I forbade you to visit graves, but you may now visit them, for in visiting them there is a reminder (of death). (Abu Dawud)
Al Qurtubi quoted that scholars of the past said:
‘The best thing for the hearts, particularly if they are hardened, is to visit cemeteries.’
3. Visiting the Sick and Terminally Ill
Al Hasan al Basri, a famous Follower, went to visit a sick person on his deathbed. He was suffering the pangs of death. When Al Hasan returned home, his family served him food. He said:
‘O my dear family! Do eat your food and drink yourselves. I swear by Allah, I have seen an unforgettable scene of death for which I shall strive until the day I undergo it.’
The Prophet said:
When the believer commits sin, a black spot appears on his heart. If he repents and gives up that sin and seeks forgiveness, his heart will be polished. (Ibn Majah)
5. Reflecting on the Quran
If We had sent down this Quran upon a mountain, you would have seen it humbled and coming apart from fear of Allah . And these examples We present to the people that perhaps they will give thought. (59:21)
Surely, our hearts are not harder than a mountain? Reciting the Quran, memorizing it, learning its language and reflecting deeply on it are all acts which are worship, and which lead to softening of the heart, Allah willing.
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6. Reflecting on Creation
In many places in the Quran, Allah has told us to reflect on various creations of His. Here are some examples:
Then do they not look at the camels – how they are created? And at the sky – how it is raised? And at the mountains – how they are erected? And at the earth – how it is spread out? (88:17-20)
I’m sure you have experienced it sometime in your life, when you just looked at a natural phenomena – it might have been looking at the vastness of a sea, or watching a sunset – and you were just mesmerized. Your eyes started watering from the sheer beauty of what you were beholding. Allah said in the Quran:
We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. (41:53)
7. Du’a (and Dhikr)
Lastly, the most important part of the process of softening of the heart is direct communication with Allah. It may be through du’a, or dhikr, or in salah, you have to feel that direct connection, feel it physically in your heart. It may not come immediately. If there has been a long gap since you last called your Lord, then it might take some time to re-establish that connection.
Keep trying and it will come in sha Allah.