IN A PREVIOUS article we discussed some of the means by which the spiritual heart becomes unhealthy, putting us at risk for having a “spiritual heart attack.” Naturally just as there are ways the heart can become out of shape, there are ways we can stay fit and healthy as well. Allah says in the Quran that only the person who comes forth with a sound heart on the Day of Judgment will be successful:
The Day on which neither wealth nor sons will be of any use, except for whoever brings to Allah a sound heart. [Sûrat Al-Shû¢arâ’, 26:88-89]
Having a heart that is free of disease is paramount. We should not be content to merely call ourselves Muslim and perform daily worship; it is dangerous to assume that outward acts alone are enough to keep our hearts strong. Let us look at some ways the heart can be kept in spiritual-Olympiad condition.
It is essential that we do all actions with sincerity, not just acts of worship. It is a mistake to think that being sincere simply means that when we pray we have an intention to do so for the sake of Allah and not another deity. It is also not enough to say that being sincere means not trying to show off or impress other people. Sincerity expands far deeper into our character than that, and an insincere person cannot hope to have a heart that is sound.
Sincerity includes our truthfulness in speech and in our dealings—like business—and not covering up the truth or twisting it to avoid the ramifications of our choices. Being sincere also means wanting an outcome in our worldly undertaking that is pleasing to Allah, even if it is not pleasing to other—even to ourselves. Sincerity also means living according to principle and applying it, not cherry-picking when we want to follow Allah’s commands versus following our own emotions. Being sincere means wanting genuinely to give up bad habits and to be the person that Allah wants us to be.
It was reported that the Prophet œ would ask for Allah’s forgiveness throughout the day. Abu Hurairah said: I heard the Messenger of Allah œ saying, “I swear by Allah that I seek Allah’s pardon and turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times a day.” (Bukhâri)
One may wonder what the reason for such an action would be if the Prophet œ was essentially free from being sinful. Of course his sunnah is meant to teach us how to live our lives, but there were actions in the sunnah that were specific to him, such as marrying nine wives, and there were actions he recommended, such as telling Aisha to pray Ṣalât Al-Ḍuḥa, something he approved of but did not do himself. So why would Allah’s messenger ask for Allah’s forgiveness, and in such abundance, when he did not seem even to need it? Perhaps one wisdom is to show that repentance holds benefits beyond being forgiven for sins, such as constantly being in a state of taqwa, or awareness of one’s actions and whether or not they are displeasing to Allah.
The one who repeats the phrase “Allah forgive him” so regularly will be hard-pressed to be busy in sin. Also this shows that repentance is not meant to be an occasional action that occurs in response to a sin, but rather it is something which one is constantly seeking regardless of whether or not one has sinned or is aware of it. Constantly seeking Allah’s forgiveness and will is intended to keep one’s heart free of the black spots of sin and will keep him, inshâ’Allah constantly in Allah’s mercy.
Another means to keeping the spiritual heart fit is to establish a habit of making du¢a to Allah.
Du¢a can mean the learned du¢a’s of the Prophet œ—the ones he made at the beginning and the end of the day, or when entering and leaving the home, for example. We should select a few of these du¢as and memorize them and make it our habit to say them. We should also understand their meaning because the chances that one’s du¢as are answered will increase if one can develop an emotional connection to what one is saying. Other du¢as are those we say in our own language, and we should have some time put aside each day where we sit and make du¢a to Allah as our Friend, Lord, the Most Merciful and the One who is Always Listening.
Two other ways to enhance the quality of our du¢a is to learn the Names of Allah or to have them on a list and to look for the Name that applies to our du¢a’ specifically and to use that Name to call upon Allah. Another way to make du¢a more often is make du¢a’ when one is in regular conversation with one’s family or friends. Saying the phrase, jazâkallâhu khairan is a start, but also making du¢a’ for them in our own words, saying to our child for example, “I feel so proud when you do such good work, may Allah make it easy for you always to make your best effort.”
Du¢a’ is not only about seeking a thing we want and calling upon the One Who can truly give it to us, but it is about our relationship with Allah, about reaching out to Allah and being in regular conversation with him. Though we cannot “hear” Allah’s response like we would in normal conversation, the heart feels the impact of the du¢a’ by being in connection with its Lord. It is brighter and more resilient, it feels contentment and security.
Regular Good Deeds
A good deed brightens a dark world, so the saying goes. Good deeds are one of the means by which our hearts are purified of darkness and we become more beloved to Allah. Good deeds are a shield from shayṭân and the punishment which begins in the grave for some people. Good deeds are like the cinder-blocks which build a fortress around the heart.
Deeds are also easy and a great place to start if one feels distant from Allah and feels restless during dhikr or du¢a’. So while one’s internal state may still be lackluster, good deeds are simple actions that one can do initially without much feeling perhaps; but as one persists in them, they correct the state of the heart. The operative word being “persists.”
Aisha narrated, ‘Allah’s Messenger said, Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant, even though it were little.
This is because good deeds are not solely for the benefit of the recipient, such as is in the case of charity or da¢wah. Good deeds are for the benefit of the doer, and just like making a small but tolerable change to one’s diet can be easy to maintain and can yield amazing results, so too can committing to a handful of small but regular good deeds. If one simply does one huge workout or starves oneself for a day or two, s/he won’t see any significant change and will feel burnout and be more likely to regress and feel crestfallen.
Being Good to Others and Helping Them
How many are the Muslims who think that the state of their hearts is sound because of their excessive worship and personal actions, yet when they interact with people they become some of the worst people, giving way to bad tempers, arrogance, impatience, slandering, laziness, jealousy and even abuse. Their hearts are riddled with the disease of bad character, and nothing weighs more heavily in the scale than good character.
Our true character is exposed when we interact with other people—not in the solitude of worship. When we help other people, we are exposed to our flaws and are given an opportunity to challenge them. When we are good to others, we are overcoming impulses driven by shaytan to be selfish and self-centered. We are also constantly interacting with other people, while the time spent in worship is comparatively small. Our relationships with other people are constantly providing us opportunities to uplift others’ hearts as well as our own, and we should not let go to waste these opportunities—to help ourselves by helping others.
These are some easy steps to get our hearts in a state of good spiritual fitness. If we can select even one to focus on, inshâ’Allah we will see the benefits right away, and Allah will make it easier for us to overcome the whispering of shayṭân—and do even more. May Allah put baraka in our efforts to purify and strengthen our hearts.