We have all been through it, at one point or another. Everything is copacetic. We couldn't ask for too much more, and when we ask, somehow, we receive. alḥamdulillāh, our quality of life is influx, but it certainly is not dreary or difficult. Simply, we are blessed and well off compared to many others. The needs are met and the wants are attainable and within reasonable reach.
And then it happens. A tempest is at hand but the heralding winds are calm. The outward signs all seem to indicate that, māshā'Allāh, “Life is good and will remain so for the foreseeable future.”
We fail to see that fitnah – a divine tribulation, is upon us. Not cancer, death, tragedy or war; this fitnah is more sinister – inward. We substantiate “our” success and rationalize our providence as being entirely deserved. We overlook the multiplicity of our flaws and exaggerate the virtuousness of our life. We are blissfully unaware that we are much more distant from Al-Rahman (The Ever Merciful) than we assume.
The hallmark of this fitnah is an overestimation of our righteousness and underestimation of the All-Mighty's Generosity and Mercy upon us, assuming that we deserve everything we have.
Silently, maybe even subconsciously, some make note of their successes and attribute it to what can only be, in their estimation, Divine approval of their way of life. Consequentially, our thankfulness (shukr), evidenced by way of worship diminishes and our life fades into a pattern that denies spiritual advance.
The Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) would warn the companions:
“If you see Allāh granting an individual everything they ask for at the same time you witness that same individual involved in sin, know that Allāh is giving them time before they will be brought to account.” (Ahmed – Sahih)
The saintly scholar of Islam, Ibn al-Qayyim, states, devastatingly,
“Fitnah by way of comfort and luxury, is more difficult than fitnah by way of hardship and pestilence.”
Then calamity strikes.
The world that we invested so much of ourself in begins to dissipate, slipping away from our grasp with every pull that we seek to recapture it.
The fitnah of comfort proved us unworthy. Now we find ourself in a trial of discomfort. Ill-equipped and in uncharted waters due to a record of fumbled, delayed and missed prayers, we inexpertly try to find a path to Allāh because by now we realize that we have NONE but Allāh to turn to.
The Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) dramatizes the situation by mentioning a traveler on a long journey, who is disheveled and dusty, and he stretches forth his hands to the sky saying, “O my Lord! O my Lord!” – while his food is unlawful, his drink is unlawful, his clothing is unlawful, and he is nourished unlawfully; how can he (expect to) be answered? (Muslim)
For some, it might be a child we thought we raised well, only to find them declaring an aversion to everything we believe it. Or a business we invested ALL of our waking hours in, at the expense of our family, that brings about family dissolution and divorce. Maybe it is the natural progression from life to death of a loved one that tests us. Perhaps it is a personal illness that we now are afflicted with. Sadly, faithfulness slips; ṣalāh is missed, piety is overwhelmed by lust, humility erodes and the mosque seems much further away than it used to be. Decent friends drift out of our life, and our family is just not enough.
Ya Rabb! Ya Rabb! – My Lord! My Lord! … Do you deserve an answer?
The crux of the matter is al-qalb - the seat of spiritual responsiveness or, fatally, a sealed off pit of spiritual death.
Al-qalb can be relatively translated to mean the seat of conscious morality; a spiritual heart. It is Divinely directed by Allāh as per the action and conscious intention of an individual. Al-qalb is the compass of the believer, leading him or her through the valleys of darkness to the Promise of Allāh. It is where the seed of faith is planted and nurtured.
Al-qalb, therefore, is the most important component of a human being – spiritually as well as physiologically. Our actions, praiseworthy or sinful, all are initiated here. The ailing heart must be nurtured back to purity and well being; your life depends on it.
The root of all righteous conduct is the qalb and the sincerity it contains. It is the pure heart that guides to righteousness and becomes a compass for others to find their way to Allāh. It is the soft heart that shelters others and conceals their indiscretions. It is the bright heart that resonates with the Qur'an and its meaning, and finds solace and comforting tranquility in the remembrance and daily devotions. It is the heart wherein faith takes root and manifests its reality in our conduct.
Allāh refers to a pure, repentant heart as being the pre-requisite to enter Paradise.
Who feared the Most Merciful unseen (in the worldly life) and came with a heart returning [in repentance]. (50:33)
The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, except him who brings to Allāh a pure heart. (26:88/89)
Equally, the root of all evil is the heart that is dark and spiritually dead. We sin with our heart long before we sin with our actions. It is that heart that will contain racism, love of excess, and disdain for the needy. It is that dark heart that absorbs rumors and spreads gossip. It is the dim heart that relishes the failure of others and seeks praise and recognition – even if undeserved. It is that hard heart that elates in vulgarity and is slow to repentance. It is this pitiful heart that cannot recognize, see or feel the truth. That is the heart that Allāh has sealed.
Then your hearts became hardened after that, being like stones or even harder. (2:74)
Allāh has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment. (2:7)
In their hearts is disease, so Allāh has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment because they [habitually] used to lie. (2:10)
Ya Allāh! Keep our heart firm in faith and fill it with the desire to please You!
The Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) states emphatically,
“Temptations are presented to the heart, one by one. Any heart that accepts them will be left with a black stain, but any heart that rejects them will be left with a mark of purity.” (Muslim).
He (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) warns us as a collective community of faith, not just individually, about diseases of the heart that crippled the nations preceding us. The Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:
“The ailments that overcame the nations preceding you were destructive envy and hatred. These are shearers. I do not mean that they shave hair but they shave away commitment to the faith. By the One in whose Hand is my soul, you will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I not tell you of something which if you do it, you will love one another? Spread (the greeting of) salam amongst yourselves.” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 2510 – Good hadith)
A heart can become so accustomed to immorality that it is imprinted and stained.
No! Rather, the stain has covered their hearts of that which they were earning. (83:14)
I ask Allāh to purify our hearts of stain and fill it with the love of the Qur'an. I ask Allāh to turn our hearts to Him and away from that which transgresses the example of Muḥammad (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam).
An ailing heart needs urgent attention. Ibn al-Qayyim assesses this sickly heart. He contends that a sickly heart is a heart with life in it as well as illness. It has love for Allāh, faith in Him, sincerity towards Him, and reliance upon Him, and these are what give it life. However, it also has a craving for lust and pleasure, and prefers them and strives to experience them. It is full of self-admiration, which can lead to its own destruction. The heart is alive and healthy when it is submitted to Allāh, humble, sensitive, and aware; the illness can render it brittle and dead, wavering between either its safety or its ruin.
Comprehending all that is above is paramount. Reformation and development of our qalb naturally must follow. Comprehension, reformation, and development are the three integrals to establishing al-qalb'l-saleem – a Pure Heart.
Comprehension is not acknowledgement or mere knowledge. It is an awareness of causes and ramifications that produce an awaking. The spiritual successes and failures you experience in life are NOT random. Two people attend the same mosque and listen to the same admonition from the same vantage point. One of them is moved to bettering themselves and the other is ambivalent. Why?
And among them are those who listen to you, but We have placed over their hearts coverings, lest they understand it, and in their ears deafness. And if they should see every sign, they will not believe in it. (6:25)
Allāh, the Majestic, will bar an individual from acceptance and clarity due to the malice and ill-intention that He, The Divine, Knows exists in their heart. Allāh will restrict them from the truth because of their intentional pattern of unrelenting disobedience in that which they already know to be true and is within their means. Sinfulness renders a petitioner unworthy of guidance, since what they already comprehend of the truth was looked over with blind eyes and heard with deaf ears.
Thus the word of your Lord has come into effect upon those who defiantly disobeyed – that they will not believe. (10:33)
Essentially, we receive guidance and hidayah from Allāh, based on what we prove ourselves worthy of receiving and due to the Grace of Allāh upon us that we are not deserving of, yet still receive out of Allāh's Mercy.
And if not for the Grace of Allāh upon you and His mercy, not one of you would have been pure, ever, but Allāh purifies whom He wills, and Allāh is Hearing and Knowing. (24:21)
Allāh repeatedly instructs us to obey Allāh and the Messenger (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) in the Qur'an. After repeating this instruction in Surat'l-Anfal (8) Allāh, the Most High, instructs:
O you who have believed, respond to Allāh and to the Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life (Faith). And know that Allāh intervenes between a man and his heart and that to Him you will be gathered. (8:24)
Respond to Allāh through that which you already know. Allāh, the Most Wise, will bless you with greater insight and faith about that which you are ignorant of.
For this reason the Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) would supplicate,
“O Allāh Grant me beneficial knowledge (that I put into practice) and a heart that is humble (worthy of more knowledge to put into practice)!”
The saintly arrive at that station in life because of their unrelenting desire to improve their standing before Allāh. Improvement begins where comprehension ends.
Allāh, the Most High, continuously seeks our return to Him and admonishes us to purify ourselves through sincere repentance.
O you who have believed, repent to Allāh with sincere repentance. Perhaps your Lord will remove from you your misdeeds and admit you into gardens beneath which rivers flow [on] the Day when Allāh will not disgrace the Prophet and those who believed with him. Their light will proceed before them and on their right; they will say, “Our Lord, perfect for us our light and forgive us. Indeed, You are over all things competent.” (66:8)
Comprehending our deficiencies and actively purging them from our life is noble. All of us fall prey to sin, but it is the select few who consciously attempt reform. That is the essence of the Prophet's (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) invoking Allāh for forgiveness (istighfar) and turning to Him in repentance (tawbah) 100 times or more a day.
The companions, Allāh be pleased with them, and those soon after them, would say,
“Whoever does not repent to Allāh every morning and evening is from the wrongdoers.”
Ending our error, consciously making lifestyle changes to protect us from returning to the error again and sincerely regretting our sin, evidenced through our repatriation of belongings to their owners is tawbah in its most broad sense.
Reformation is contriteness. Reformation is optimism. Reformation is life-long. It is the awe of the Majesty of the Creator of all that exists that compels the pious to possess an element of fear.
The fear of Allāh is the fear of not worshiping Allāh as He deserves. It is a fear of being insincere and rendering our deeds worthless. It is the fear of setting a bad example for others and leading them away from Allāh. It is a fear of knowing and not doing, of hearing and not responding, of advising but not implementing ourself. It is fear that our love of Allāh is not complete and that the love of the dunya is greater than our attachment to its Creator. It is a fear of standing before Allāh the All-Knowing
The masters would teach us to estimate the Grandeur of the Creator and not the seeming minuteness of our recklessness.
They are those who, when Allāh is mentioned, their hearts are fearful, and [to] the patient over what has afflicted them, and the establishers of prayer and those who spend from what We have provided them. (22:35)
Why is it so hard to improve ourselves? We know what is required and we have the means, time, energy and support of others to attain it if we so desire. Why is it so hard?
Imām Ghazali said, “The place of knowledge is the heart.” Couple that with the statement of the famous companion, 'Ubadah ibn al-Samit (radiyAllahu 'anhu) who said, “If you want, I will tell you what the highest knowledge is, which raises people in rank: it is humility,” and we get a better picture.
All that we know has not penetrated our heart. It is with us but distant. The Qur'an on the tongue is dissimilar to the Qur'an in the heart.
Ibn Mas'ud (radiyaAllahu 'anhu), discussing the statement of the Messenger of Allāh (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) that “Some will recite the Qur'an, but it will not go beyond their throats,” said that the Qur'an is only beneficial when it reaches the heart and is firmly planted in it.
You lead yourself in prayer and read the opening chapter haphazardly. You praise and invoke, you beseech and request throughout the chapter. Yet, your heart does NOT make the same plea. It is distant. It is not present.
Surat'l-Ikhlas (112) is next. It is short and you learned it early on. You read it most often after the Fatihah out of habit. Once again, your heart is not bearing, at that moment, the same testimony as your tongue.
The Qur'an is only beneficial when it reaches the heart and is firmly planted there.
Spiritual development is a steep incline, traversed by the sincere and determined. Its aim is to appreciate the message of Islam that is encapsulated in the Qur'an and Sunnah. The aim is for the Qur'an to reach the heart, so as to motivate us into righteous action. The more we learn and put into practice, the greater and quicker our spiritual development. Each step advances us to higher aspirations of obedience of Allāh, the Most High. The Qur'an is a polish. It is a healing, the epitome of barakah (blessing).
Purity of intention is the first step to actualizing nearness to Allāh. It is the basis of Islam. The intention of a person is not his utterance of the words, “I intend to do so and so.” A person whose heart is overwhelmingly righteous finds it easy to summon pure intentions at most times. Such a person has a heart generally inclined to the roots of righteousness, which, most of the time, blossom into the realization of good deeds. As for those whose hearts incline towards and are overwhelmed by worldly matters, they find this difficult to accomplish and even obligatory acts of worship may become difficult and tiresome.
And is one who was (spiritually) dead and We gave him life (by Knowledge & Faith) and made for him light (sincerity & righteous deeds witnessed by others) by which to walk among the people like one who is in darkness, never to emerge there from? (6:122)
Good intentions of course must be coupled with righteous conduct that is authorized. Once while the Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was speaking, there was a man standing (under the hot sun), so he asked about him and they said, “[He is] Abu Isra'il. He vowed to stand, not to sit, not to seek shade, not to speak and (he also vowed) to fast.” So the Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said, “Order him to speak, to seek shade and to sit, and let him complete his fast .” (Bukhāri)
Another time Allāh's Messenger (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) saw an (elderly) man walking supported between his sons, so he asked about him. They said, “O Messenger of Allāh, he vowed to walk (and not to ride on top of anything to please Allāh).” So he said (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam), “Allāh does not need this person to suffer” and ordered him to ride. (Bukhāri, Muslim)
Worship is not suffering or exaggerated attempts of piety. True worship is constancy in fulfilling the obligations. It is not imaginative or speculative. It is measured and determined by the Messenger of Allāh (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam).
Three individuals came to the house of the Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and asked about his worship. So when they were informed – as if it seemed little to them – one of them said, “How can we be compared to the Messenger of Allāh (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) whom Allāh forgave past and future sins? As for me, I will stand (in prayer) and will not sleep (during the night).” Another said, “As for me, I will fast (everyday of my life) and will not break for a day,” while the third said, “As for me, I will not marry women.” When the Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was informed, he said, “What is wrong with people so they say such and such. Am I not the most knowledgeable of you about Allāh and one who fears Him most of you. As for me, I fast and I break fast, I spend nights in worship and I sleep, and I marry women. Whoever is not pleased with my Sunnah, he is not of me.” [Bukhāri (9/89, 90), Muslim (9/176)]
The modality of the Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) dictates love of our fellow man.
The spiritually advanced are cheerful of disposition, warm in reception, generous in gifting, quiet in public denouncements, loudest in private sincere counsel, and consistently give more than they receive.
The pious conceal the shamefulness of others, while amplifying the good. They look to their faults before assessing others. They excuse the belligerent and defend the weak. They speak the truth, even if against themselves.
The righteous treat the young mercifully and the learned respectfully. Their tongues are engaged in praising of Allāh, their eyes gaze upon the Qur'an daily and instinctively shift away from immorality. They always have something to give, whether in prosperity or austerity. Contentment fills their heart and their mind is at ease.
The one who follows the Sunnah is a teacher by vivid example, works hard at whatever task is at hand, all the while encouraging those around them. They simplify and resolve problems. They listen more than they speak and when they are addressed, they pay attention. Their home life in private is full of worship that is hidden from the eyes of others who would admire them if they knew. They are full of belief and are certain of their Lord.
Certainty, yaqeen, and surety of faith fill the heart by way of experience. Experience is witnessing Allāh's influence in our life. Forgetting Allāh is ever present in your life is why submission is so difficult.
And be not like those who forgot Allāh, so He made them forget themselves. Those are the defiantly disobedient. (59:19)
And if there should come to you guidance from Me – then whoever follows My guidance will neither go astray [in the world] nor suffer [in the Hereafter].
And whoever turns away from My remembrance – indeed, he will have a depressed life, and We will gather him on the Day of Resurrection blind.”
He will say, “My Lord, why have you raised me blind while I was [once] seeing?”
[Allāh] will say, “Thus did Our signs come to you, and you forgot them; and thus will you this Day be forgotten.” (20:123-126)
Is it really that simple?
Sincerity and doing as many good deeds as possible are the cure to the illnesses of the heart?
Yes, it is.
That is why Allāh states over and over again in the Qur'an, “Those who believe and work righteous deeds.” That is why the Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) prayed for half the night, every night for the entirety of his Messengership. That is why Allāh will weigh out our good deeds and not just count our sins. That is why Abu Bakr gave ALL of his net worth in charity and Umar gave HALF (radiyAllahu 'anhum). That is why imām Bukhāri prayed two rakat before recording a hadith in his Sahih Hadith book. That is why imām Shafi'i would recite the entire Qur'an 60 times during the month of Ramadan.
But those who believed and did righteous deeds – We charge no soul except [within] its capacity. Those are the companions of Paradise; they will abide therein eternally.
And We will have removed whatever is within their breasts of resentment, [while] flowing beneath them are rivers. And they will say, “Praise to Allāh , who has guided us to this; and we would never have been guided if Allāh had not guided us. Certainly the messengers of our Lord had come with the truth.” And they will be called, “This is Paradise, which you have been made to inherit for what you used to do.” (7:42-43)
Belief with unwavering sincerity that is directed towards earning Allāh's pleasure alone, proven through righteous deeds with purity of Heart is the way to Paradise.You and I will never earn Jannah. We cannot pray enough, fast enough or be charitable enough to EARN eternal comfort. Our deeds are a symbol of our faith in the pursuit of Allāh's Mercy, which results in Paradise.
O Lord of Mercy! We ask You to bless us with the Highest Levels of Jannah and the worship that leads us there!
O Lord of Mercy! We ask You to protect us from Hell Fire and the deeds that lead us there.