Vital Signs of a Healthy Heart
What are some signs of a pure heart by which one can measure the sincerity of his or her own intentions and attitudes? In everyday life we like to judge how closely we are conforming to the highest standards. As committed Muslims, it is natural that we would want to evaluate our spiritual hearts: How pleasing might we be to Allah? What are some vital signs of our heart health known to please our Lord?
In Part 3 we discussed Trust in Allah; Love of Him, His Messenger and His community; and a Truthfulness in all aspects of our behavior, serving as signs of a clean and pure heart. The following are other characteristics highly promoted in the Quran and Sunnah as essential for a successful Muslim, one who pleases Allah and one who is pleased with Him.
[But unto the righteous God will say,] “O you human being who has attained to inner peace! Return unto your Sustainer, well-pleased [with Him and] pleasing [Him]: enter, then, together with My [other true] servants; yea, enter thou My paradise. [Surah Al-Fajâr, 89:27-30]
Gratitude is apparent when the servant responds to the favors of Allah bestowed on him. He shows it in his heart by having belief in Allah, on his tongue by thanking Allah and in his limbs by worshipping Allah.
A person shows gratitude while being patient as a means to receiving from Allah what he/she needs or wants. Showing gratitude could be through acts of the heart, tongue or limbs.
The deepest meaning of gratitude is to use the favors of Allah in obedience to Him.
Patience is indicated when one leaves off complaining to those other than Allah, for the trials he undergoes in life. Do voice your complaints, but to Him alone; leave off complaining to those other than Him.
“Indeed the steadfastly patient will be given their reward without accounting [i.e., without limit].” [Surah Al-Zumar, 39:10]
The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Whoever remains patient Allah will bestow patience upon him, and no one is ever given anything better and more generous than patience.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
” I wasn’t tested with a trial except that Allah had four favors over me: that it [the testing] wasn’t in my religion, that it wasn’t greater [than I could bear], that I wasn’t deprived from being pleased with it [that testing], and that hopefully I would be rewarded for it.”
Consider these Levels of Patience:
1) To stop voicing your complaint, and at the same time you are no longer displeased with what Allah has brought to you. This is the minimum level of Islamic patience.
2) No longer to complain and at the same time you are pleased in spite of an undesirable situation. This is an improved level of patience.
3) To accept what Allah has brought to you; in fact, you thank Allah for being tested. This is the highest level of patience.
Patience can be understood as applying to two categories:
1) Physical patience. This category is sufficiently straightforward and is not discussed here.
2) Psychological patience. This type of patience entails resisting one’s own natural desires and inclinations.
When one is oppressed and supplicates against the oppressor, that means that he has thus, in effect, tried to avenge himself and to take his right on his own terms. He hasn’t been patient with Allah —on Allah’s terms, and in Allah’s timing.
Every Situation a Servant Faces in this World Belongs to one of these Psychological Categories:
- What agrees with his desires. In this case a person needs to be patient in fulfilling the right of Allah in it by thanking Him and not using it to disobey
- What contradicts his desires. Consider these three types:
- To be patient in obeying Allah. It is mandatory to do that which is an obligation (fard) and it is praiseworthy (mustahabb) to do that which is supererogatory (beyond what is required, but rewardable when one chooses to do it).
- To be patient in abstaining from disobeying Allah. It is mandatory to leave that which is unlawful (muharram) and it is praiseworthy (mustahabb) to leave that which is disliked (makrûh).
- To be patient during the trials brought upon a person by Allah —accepting that nothing happens without the permission of Allah. It is mandatory to keep one’s tongue from complaining, to stop the heart from objecting to what Allah has decreed and to keep the limbs from doing what is displeasing to Allah, such as mourning, slapping the cheeks and tearing the clothes. It is praiseworthy (mustahabb) for the heart to be pleased with Allah’s
Patience and Thankfulness
Who is better: the rich person who is thankful, or, the poor person who is patient?
- If the rich person spends his money in obedience to Allah or saves it for that, then he may be better than the poor person.
- If the poor person spends most of what little money he has in that which is permissible, then he is better because of his patience in having little.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“The one who eats and is grateful is like the one who fasts and is patient.” (Ahmad).
To be satisfied with what Allah has decided for a person is to be pleased and content with something after it happens.
- To be pleased with the Decree of Allah is from the highest levels of those who are brought close to Allah, and is from the fruits of love and trust.
- To supplicate to Allah to remove something that is harmful does not contradict being pleased with Him.
Submissiveness and a humble demeanor (Khushû’) is the glorification of Allah through sincere humility in a person’s heart.
” Be aware of the humbleness of the hypocrites.” Whereupon it was said to him: “What is the humbleness of the hypocrites?” He said:” For you to see a body in the state of humbleness while the heart is not.”
He also said:
“The first thing you are going to lose of your religion [in later times] is humbleness.”
For any act of worship in which humbleness is an essential part of it, its reward is according to the person’s degree of sincere humility in which this act is done, such as in prayer.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said about the one who performs his Prayer:
…that he may be rewarded for only a half of its full intended value—or a fourth, or a fifth… or a tenth. In fact, it may happen that a person may not get any reward for his Prayer due to a total lack of sincere humility in his heart.
Prayer is intended to be of benefit to the worshipper. When one draws near to Allah, he is more likely to be satisfied with the Decree of Allah. Nearness to Allah is the time to ask for relief from harm and His reward for one’s suffering.
The fact that the Prayer is mandated to be performed by the Believer every day —at five various points in time—should inform the Believer that he has great opportunity to be rewarded for this familiar act of connecting to Allah in the manner that Allah has prescribed.
When any prescribed act is completed with khushû’, there is a great potential for multiplied reward. Satisfaction with pleasing Allah goes hand-in-hand with Allah being pleased with us.
To have hope is to look at the vastness of Allah’s mercy and to realize that He is able —and desirous— to provide the best for His sincere believers. What contradicts that state of hope is giving up on receiving Allah’s provision.
When a person does a deed, he should have more hope than fear in Allah, because this reminds him to think good of Allah and to expect His goodness.
“I am just as My slave thinks I am, (i.e. I am able to do for him what he thinks I can do for him). (al- Bukhari and Muslim).
Consider these Levels of Valid Hope:
- The level of those who do a deed solely in the hope of reward from Allah.
Aisha said: “O Messenger of Allah, [regarding the verse:] “And they who give what they give (their charity) while their hearts are fearful” [23:60], Are they those who steal, commit fornication and drink alcohol? He (ﷺ) replied: “No, Oh daughter of Siddeeq. They are the people who fast, perform prayer, and give charity, while fearing that their actions will not be accepted: “It is those who hasten in doing good deeds” [23:61].”
This is the highest level of hope and is the most praiseworthy. Its motivation is to please Allah and to avoid displeasing Him.
- The level of those who sincerely repent and hope for the forgiveness of Allah. This, too, is an acceptable act of the heart.
But as for the sinner who insists on being disobedient and does not repent while imagining that he can nevertheless expect the mercy of Allah while minimizing his need for a penitent and pure heart, he is really wishing —not having a reasonable expectation grounded in a valid hope. This distortion and misunderstanding of the second type of hope is blameworthy.
- The sincere believer combines doing good with a humility (Khushû’) before Allah, which includes a fear of failing to live up to a clean heart.
- The hypocrite combines doing evil with mistakenly feeling safe from Allah’s requirement for accountability.
To be fearful means to experience the grief that overcomes (afflicts) a person due to the expectation of something potentially harmful. If the harmfulness of something is certain then it’s called khashya, which is the opposite of safety — not the opposite of hope. Danger motivates one to be in fear, whereas hope motivates one to be encouraged.
A sound heart is one which combines Love with a balance of Fear and Hope.
Ibn al-Qayyim said:
“The heart on its way to Allah is like a bird: Its head is love; hope and fear are its wings. If the heart has [a healthy] fear in it, then it will burn all of its desires and remove the worldliness from itself.”
There is an obligatory —and healthful— Fear of Allah that encourages you to fulfill what is required of you according to the Guidance of your Creator and to leave aside what is prohibited by it.
A healthy fear encourages you to do what is praiseworthy and to leave that which is disliked.
Consider these Types of Fear which Take the Believer Away from Allah:
- The first is that fear which is called the “Greater Shirk” (shirk akbar).
This is when one fears harm from the various false “gods” worshipped by idolaters —those alleged divinities or forces other than the singular, undivided Absolute Sovereign of the Universe.
- The second is what is called the “Lesser Shirk” (shirk asghar).
This is when the fear of other people leads one to disobedience of Allah —either to commit a sin or to leave off something required by Allah.
There is another, permissible type of fear, such as the natural fear one feels towards the threat of bodily or other harm, such as from a violent person, a wild animal or a natural disaster.
Asceticism and the Wealth of this World
An ascetic believer renounces something for that which is better than it. Renouncing the meaningless ornaments and amusements of this world relieves a burden from one’s heart and body, but longing for them increases worry and anxiety.
‘Loving’ worldly gain, favoring its temporal enjoyment, is the source of temptations and sins which undermine the integrity of our hearts, while ‘hating’ it, preferring instead the approval of Allah is the cause of every good deed. To renounce this world is to remove its allure from your heart —not to remove it from your hands while your heart is still attached to it. For that would be the asceticism of the ignorant people.
Lastly, how should the Believer relate to the things of this world and to his opportunities for owning and using its resources, if he seriously wants to maximize a pure and clean heart?
Consider these Attitudes toward the Wealth of this World
- A person who turns away from wealth “detesting” it —in terms of how it can harm the acts of his spiritual heart— thus keeping away from its harm and distraction. This is an ascetic.
- A person who is not unduly pleased by gaining wealth, nor does he “hate” it in a way that may harm him. This is satisfied
- A person who prefers to have wealth due to his appreciation of it, but not to the extent to go after it at all cost. If it comes to him, he takes it and is happy with that, but if there are difficulties in gaining it, he doesn’t busy himself with it. This is a content
- A person who does not bother to seek wealth because he is incapable of succeeding; otherwise he would have too much a desire for it. If he were to find a way to gain it even with difficulty, he would try for it. This is an attracted It may be that Allah has blessed this person with just enough wealth to maintain himself and his family —while maximizing his faith and preventing his going astray.
5) A person who seeks the wealth of this world out of necessity, such as a hungry or naked person who does not have food or clothing. This is a desperate person. It is required of the rest of us, as a religious obligation, to help provide for the needs of the destitute. By sharing our wealth —whether small or great— the rest of us are afforded the remarkable opportunity for purifying our spiritual hearts, and thus for attaining nearness to Allah in the Next Life.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“How great is good wealth when it is put in the hands of a righteous man!” (Ahmad)
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THIS SERIES has examined the spiritual heart, especially its acts as they build and reflect one’s motivations in doing good and avoiding harm. We have explored how wrongdoing and sin emanate from unfortunate and blameworthy decisions made in the heart, and how understanding the mechanisms at work in the spiritual heart can be harnessed so as to maintain a pure heart and thus help one to please Allah and to gain His highest reward.
By pure acts of the heart we live out the qualities that Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) brought anew to the world with Islam, promoting these perfect personal practices through both example and instruction, Finally, we detailed major attitudes and behavioral characteristics that display the fruits of sincerity in the pure heart.
May Allah honor and multiply our faltering human efforts to understand and carry out His perfect Religion, wherever we live.
 I would like to acknowledge my debt of gratitude for assistance in writing this article to Al-Azhar Univeristy graduate, Mr. Ahmed Nagy, now Director of the online Firdaws Academy for English language teaching of the Qur’an, Arabic language and Islamic Studies <https://firdawsacademy.com>,where the author is a tutor.