What Is the Heart? by Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanwi


The following is the first in a series of three excerpts on the heart of the believer from Hakim al-Umma Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanwi’s book (Allah have mercy on him) Sukoon-e-Qalb, translated by Saad Razi Shaikh.

From the pen of Mawlana Aslam Shaykhpuri: “Though it is a small lump of flesh, it is a marvel. People say that is naïve but also cunning. It is arrogant but also humble. It is unaware and deprived of secrets. It is attached to the idols but is a worshipper of the Creator, too. If seen in the gatherings of love, it is drunk. If seen in the gathering of reason, it is intelligent. It is the messiah but also the sick. It is obedient but also a sinner. It is careless but also careful. It is the merchandise but also the customer. It is the rose but also the thorn. It is the center of peace, yet also in battle. It is the subject but also the ruler. it is strong but also helpless. It is the slain but also the sword. It is the enslaved but also the free. It is deserving of heaven but also of hell.”

A wise man said of the heart that the ignorant lose the contentment of the heart for wealth, whereas the intelligent lose their wealth for the contentment of the heart. A second wise man said that to win other’s hearts, you must win your own heart first. If you can gain control over your heart, the world will be in your control. A third wise man opined that it is stupid to be happy over a fair face when the heart is dark. A fourth wise man said that a stupid man’s heart is on his tongue, whereas an intelligent person’s tongue is in his heart.

Hasan al-Basri (Allah have mercy on him) said that there are five signs of the worsening of the heart:

  1. To sin in the hope of repentance (tawba).
  2. To gain knowledge but not act upon it.
  3. To lack sincerity.
  4. To have providence (rizq) and not be grateful.
  5. To bury the dead and not take any lessons from it.

Imam Shafi‘i (Allah have mercy on him) says that to brighten the heart, turn away from useless things. Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (Allah have mercy on him) says the reality of taqwa is that were the contents of your heart uncovered and taken to the market, you would not be embarrassed or worried by any of it. Hazrat Usman (Allah be pleased with him) said: The sorrows of the world darken the heart, the sorrows of the hereafter brighten the heart.

The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) said that “In your heart, there’s a piece of flesh, which when it stays healthy, the entire body is healthy. When it becomes sick, the entire body becomes sick. Know that it is the heart.” (Bukhari 52, Muslim 1599)

In the Musnad of Imam Ahmad, there is a hadith mentioning the four kinds of hearts. The first is the polished heart, which is clear and transparent. It’s parable is that of a lamp that contains no defects. The second kind of heart is the sealed heart which has been tied with a thread from above. The third kind of heart is the one that is upside down. The fourth kind contains two dimensions.

The first kind of heart, in which the Light of Faith shines forth brightly belongs to the believer. It contains no impurities. The sealed heart is that of the disbeliever. The upside-down heart is that of the hypocrite, who has recognized the faith but refuses to submit to it, and only for his protection does he continue to deceive. The fourth type contains faith (iman) but also hypocrisy (nifaq). It is practically hypocritical To an extent it is faithful but sometimes it also turns apostate.

Hazrat Abu Bakr Waraq was a noted elder. He said: “Six kinds of states befall the heart. They are life and death, health and sickness, wakefulness, and sleep. He said that the life of the heart is indebted to guidance (hidaya). If guidance is received, the heart is alive. The death of the heart occurs through misguidedness. If misguidedness befalls the heart, know that it spells its death. The health of the heart depends upon purification and cleansing. Purification is obtained through faith and monotheism (tawhid). Without faith, purification cannot be obtained. A sound heart is that which has purity and the light of faith. In stark contrast to it, diseases are formed in the heart through reprehensible relations. The wakefulness of the heart is obtained through the remembrance of Allah. If a  person becomes heedless of the remembrance of Allah, his heart is said to be deep in the sleep of heedlessness (ghafla).”

If the body is sick, we become worried, but the sicknesses of the heart do not draw our attention. Hypocrisy is a disease of the heart. Arrogance is a disease of the heart. Lust is a disease of the heart. Greed is a disease of the heart. Stinginess is a disease of the heart. Malice is a disease of the heart. Jealousy is a disease of the heart. The Prophets (peace be upon them all) came to the world to treat these diseases of the heart. They strove the most for the purification of the hearts, for if the heart becomes pure, the person becomes pure. If the heart changes, the person changes, their life changes, the purpose of their life changes, their viewpoints changes, the criteria for love and enmity changes, the objectives of work and trade changes, their home changes. Society changes, history changes, their character (akhlaq) changes.

Come, let us all strive to change our hearts, to bring about the purification of our hearts.

About the Author

Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (Allah have mercy on him) was one of the foremost Indian scholars of the twentieth century. A prolific writer with over three hundred books to his name, his works span the Islamic Sciences, touching on matters of everyday fiqh, correct beliefs, and spiritual remedies, amongst others.