The following is the third 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.
For human beings, two kinds of worlds exist. The first is the material world, which we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands. Along with it, there’s another world (batin) which we can neither see nor touch. In this hidden world, the soul lives, the heart beats, wishes are born, hopes and desires find wings, joy and sorrows, love and hate, selflessness, and other emotions are cultivated. The fascinating thing is that it is this hidden world that we can neither see nor touch that is our real world. As long as it works, the person stays alive, they get all rights in society, when it no longer works, the person is declared deceased and their rights cease to exist.
Just as the human’s apparent body is sometimes healthy and sometimes sick, the soul too is sometimes healthy and sometimes it becomes sick. Just as flu, fever, and other diseases are from the sicknesses of the body, so too are sorrows and anger, selfishness, arrogance, pretense, and vanity from the diseases of the heart.
Islam’s Holistic Way of Life
Because Islam is a holistic way of life, it has not disregarded either of these two worlds. It has given us guidance for the outward diseases, it has also given us rulings for the hidden diseases. For our outward lives, it has given such brilliant actions like prayers, fasting, zakat; it has also refrained us from bad deeds. Similarly, for our inward lives, it has decreed certain beautiful attributes for us and refrained us from vile ones. The rulings of outward acts are the subject of the field of fiqh, the rulings relating to the inward acts are explained in the field of tasawwuf.
The Reality of the Heart
The subject matter of tasawwuf, therefore, relates to the world of the heart which is hidden from us, yet which holds deep importance for us. The question arises, what is the heart? If we ask doctors, we’ll get the reply that the heart is a lump of flesh in the chest of the human being, which pumps blood. But the heart spoken of in tasawwuf is different from this lump of flesh. In the spiritual understanding, the heart and soul are two forces that the Creator created with the outward heart. Just as the eyes can see, the ears can hear, and the hands can touch, so the lump of flesh that is the heart is able to desire. In the spiritual understanding, the heart is this very force capable of creating different emotions and desires.
Tasawwuf teaches us that this hidden world of the heart is the foundation of the outward world. The making and unmaking of human beings depends on this, if the world of the heart is right, if its system is okay, the right desires are created in it. If the right emotions are born in the heart, the person remains healthy, if the world of the heart begins to disintegrate, the outward life of the person also begins to disintegrate.
To Remedy the Heart
The treatment (islah) of the heart is necessary. If you desire salvation in the hereafter (akhirah) and well-being (afiya) in this world, rectify your heart. After the obligatory acts of worship (fard) start spending more time in voluntary acts, in the reading of the Qur’an. Many people spend more time in worship but they do not have much religious knowledge. They should acquire the knowledge of the deen. The cure to the diseases of the heart is religious knowledge, the remembrance of Allah, and the company of the people of Allah.
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.