Hardening of the Heart - Introduction
(Zawaj.com Editor's note: I added the subheadings to make the article easier to follow).
The Heart is the Home of Iman, Taqwaa and Good Intentions
The Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu 'Alayhi wa sallam informed us in a very famous tradition, commonly quoted with reference to halal and haram, about the importance of the heart. He said:
"There is in the body a lump of flesh - if it becomes good, the whole body becomes good and if it becomes bad, the whole body becomes bad. And indeed it is the heart."
The hadith in full:- Bukhary, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 49: Narrated An-Nu'man bin Bashir: I heard Allah's Apostle saying, 'Both legal and illegal things are evident but in between them there are doubtful (suspicious) things and most of the people have no knowledge about them. So whoever saves himself from these suspicious things saves his religion and his honor. And whoever indulges in these suspicious things is like a shepherd who grazes (his animals) near the Hima (private pasture) of someone else and at any moment he is liable to get in it. (O people!) Beware! Every king has a Hima and the Hima of Allah on the earth is His illegal (forbidden) things. Beware! There is a piece of flesh in the body if it becomes good (reformed) the whole body becomes good but if it gets spoilt the whole body gets spoilt and that is the heart.'
He said that after explaining that the halal is clear and that the haram is clear and that between them are obscure areas, not known to most people. However, what protects a person from the haram and ensures that he remains in the halal is knowledge; but beyond knowledge, it is the state of the heart. If the heart is good, then it makes use of the knowledge and it avoids what is prohibited. If the heart is bad, then the knowledge is of no benefit to it and it will indulge in what is prohibited.
The Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wa sallam, on the last pilgrimage, informed his Companions and the nations of Muslims to come, that there is no favour or no special place of the Arab over the non-Arab; nor is there any favour or special position of White over Black, but that favour in the sight of Allah, is with those who fear Him, those who have taqwa. After bearing witness to that, he said that "Taqwa is in the heart."
In these statements and other similar statements, we find stress being placed on the heart - that the heart is the part of the body, which Allah has favoured over all other parts. It is the place of iman. Had there been in the body another part that were nearer to Allah, taqwa would have been placed there because iman is the most valuable thing that a human being can have. There is nothing more valuable. It is the determination ultimately of those who have belief in Allah - those who have accepted the message and who have chosen Paradise over Hell. It is the distinction of those who have belief and those who have disbelief.
The value of iman is more than all of the things of this world. This is why the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu 'Alayhi wa sallam said that for ALLAH to guide by your hands a single person to Islam is worth more than anything in this world. For you to help someone to find iman is worth more than any of the things in this world.
The heart is the place by which the correctness of deeds is judged. The Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu 'Alayhi wa sallam said: "Deeds are judged according to the intention." The place of the intention is not on the lips. It is in the heart.
The hadith in full:- Bukhary, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 51: Narrated 'Umar bin Al-Khattab: Allah's Apostle said, "The reward of deeds depends upon the intention and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for Allah and His Apostle, then his emigration was for Allah and His Apostle. And whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for."
Our deeds - what we do externally - are judged ultimately by the states of our hearts. These are good deeds. Evil deeds are evil, but these good deeds are in reference to those that we perceive to be a part and parcel of righteousness. Allah will inspect the hearts to determine whether they are truly acts of righteousness.
The Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu 'Alayhi wa sallam had informed us that the first 3 people who would be cast into the Hell Fire are people who were involved in what everybody considers great acts of righteousness. They are the scholar who taught knowledge; the wealthy person who gave from his wealth in charity and the martyr who gave his life fighting in the path of God.
The Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wa sallam, in an authentic narration, said that they would be among the first groups of people thrown into because the scholar, when he taught the knowledge that Allah gave him, did not do so for the sake of Allah. He taught so that people would praise him, saying what a great scholar he is and how knowledgeable he is. Allah will say to him: You received your praise, what you sought in that world. But there will be nothing for you in the next. So he will be drawn off on his face and thrown into Hell.
Similarly the rich individual - the philanthropist, who was generous with his wealth. He gave and people praised his generosity, but Allah will say, You did it for the praise and you were praised. There was no sincerity there; it was not for the sake of Allah. You did it for as long as people appreciated it, but when people did not pay you mind, you were not generous anymore. Your generosity was conditional; it was not really for the sake of Allah. So that individual will be drawn off on his face and thrown into Hell.
And the martyr - the one whom we all assumed had died fii-sabilillah. We would think that his place in Paradise is guaranteed. But Allah will say: You fought so people would say, 'How brave this one is! How strong and courageous he was! People said it; they praised him, but he did not do it for the sake of Allah, so he will be drawn off on his face and thrown into Hell.
This is all telling us that ultimately, even the highest of deeds can be of no avail if the hearts are sick; if the hearts are corrupt. So the place of the heart should, in our minds, occupy great attention. We have to spend much of our time observing, being aware of the state of our heart. When the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu 'Alayhi wa sallam described Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, explaining to the people his status over the rest of them, he said, "He does not surpass you by performing more prayers and fasts - there are among you those who pray and fast more - but by something which deeply has embedded itself in his heart. Iman in his heart." That was where his superiority laid.
So there is no other faculty in the human body and existence that a believer should more concerned about. We have to make sure that this faculty is functioning as Allah wishes it to function. We should be greatly concerned about it. The Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi wa sallam used to make dua often, beginning: "I seek refuge in you, O Allah, from knowledge that does not benefit and from a heart which does not fear".
Softness of the Prophet's Heart
The Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu 'Alayhi wa sallam had a very soft heart. He treated people gently. His wives said that they could not recall an incident where he hit them or scolded them harshly. He was known for his gentleness. And Allah confirmed that this quality is an essential quality.
Allah said in the Quran, Surah Ali-Imran (3:159), "Due to Allah's mercy, you are gentle with them. Had you been severe and harsh hearted, they would have fled from around you."
This was the quality of the Prophets and this is the characteristic that all those who seek to guide others to Allah must have. As it was essential for the Prophets, it is essential for us. It is essential for those who seek knowledge; it is essential for all people. It is essential for parents, with regard to their children.
Softness of the heart is something that we cannot spend too much time on.
With regards to children, Al-Aqra Ibn Habis was visited by the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wa sallam. The Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi wa sallam lifted one of his children and placed the child on his lap. He kissed the child out of the kindness and softness of his heart towards the child. Al-Aqra said, "I have 10 other children and I have not kissed a single one of them." This was a point of pride, manhood - that one is not soft, that one is tough. The Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi wa sallam said to him, "Can I help it if Allah has removed mercy from your heart?" He went on to say, "And whoever is not merciful will not receive mercy."
So it is essential that parents show mercy to their children. And if we look at a home where a father is kind and merciful with his children, we find a home that is full of happiness and joy.
Mercy is something that we cannot live without.
Knowledge is Useless Without a Soft Heart
The reality for those seeking knowledge - as it is compulsory for us to seek knowledge of the Deen - is that if there is not, along with that knowledge, a soft heart, then we cannot taste the beauty of that knowledge. As Hassan Al-Basri had said, "If a man seeks knowledge, it will appear in his face, hands and tongue and in his humility to Allah."
The opposite is true - that nothing corrupts knowledge and da'wa more than the harshness of the heart. Where hearts have become hardened, the knowledge is of no benefit to the individual, nor can that individual benefit others with it. Softness of the heart is the characteristic of true Muslims. If it becomes absent, then a person's life is filled with distress and discomfort. This is the promise of Allah. Those who lack hearts that are soft will lead woeful lives. As Allah said in Surah Az-Zumar (39:22), "Woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allah." They are in obvious misguidance. Woe to those whose hearts hear the Quran and they do not become fearful and humbled as a result of it. Woe to those whose eyes are reminded of the Words of Allah, but they do not weep in fear of Him. Woe to those who are reminded of the Warnings of Allah and they do not humble themselves to His Words.
It is a curse to have a hardened heart and it is a blessing to have a soft heart. Those with hardened hearts suffer in this life, even though they may have all of the trappings of this life. What seems to be an enjoyable life is empty - it is filled with loneliness. They cannot find peace of mind and of heart because their hearts are hardened to Allah, to belief in Allah, to submission to Allah.
That is why Allah said, "Whoever turns away from my remembrance will have a wretched life." [Quran, Surah Ta-Ha 20:124: "Whosoever turns away from My Message, verily for him is a life narrowed down, and We shall raise him up blind on the Day of Judgement." It is only with the remembrance of Allah that hearts find rest. Quran, Surah Al-Ra'd 13:28: "Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction."
How do One Achieve a Softened Heart?
What is most beneficial in this life is a soft heart. We should strive to achieve it because everything else would be meaningless and useless if we do not have softened hearts. How do we achieve this?
It is not a secret. It is not something known only to a few, handed down in special sessions and gatherings. As the Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi wa sallam said, "I have left you on a clear white plain, whose day is like its night. Anyone who deviates from it is destroyed." The way of the Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi wa sallam clarifies for us how to achieve a soft heart.