Qalb (Heart)

In the words of Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum:

The heart is the home of God,
purify it of whatever is there other than Him,
so that the All-Merciful may descend into His palace at nights.

The word qalb “heart” has two meanings. One denotes the body’s most vital part, which is located in the left part of the chest and resembles a pinecone. With respect to its structure and tissue, the heart is different from all other bodily parts: it has two auricles and two ventricles, is the origin of all arteries and veins, moves by itself, works like a motor, and, like a suction pump, moves blood through the system.

In Sufi terminology, “heart” signifies the biological heart’s spiritual aspect as being the center of all emotions and (intellectual and spiritual) faculties, such as perception, consciousness, sensation, reasoning, and willpower. Sufis call it the “human truth”; philosophers call it the “speaking selfhood.” An individual’s real nature is found in the heart. With respect to this intellectual and spiritual aspect of existence, one is able to know, perceive, and understand. Spirit is the essence and inner dimension of this faculty; the biological spirit or the soul is its mount.

It is one’s heart that God addresses and that undertakes responsibilities, suffers punishment or is rewarded, is elevated through true guidance or debased through deviation, and is honored or humiliated. The heart is also the “polished mirror” in which Divine knowledge is reflected.

The heart both perceives and is perceived. The believer uses it to penetrate his or her soul, corporeal existence and mind, for it is like the eye of the spirit. Insight may be regarded as its faculty of sight, reason as its spirit, and will as its inner dynamics.

The heart or spiritual intellect, if we may so call it, has an intrinsic connection with its biological counterpart. The nature of this connection has been discussed by philosophers and Muslim sages for centuries. Of whatever nature this connection may be, it is beyond doubt that there is a close connection between the biological heart and the “spiritual” one, which is a Divine faculty, the center of true humanity, and the source of all human feelings and emotions.

In the Qur’an, religious sciences, morals, literature, and Sufism, the word “heart” signifies the spiritual heart. Belief, knowledge and love of God, and spiritual delight are the objectives to be won through this Divine faculty. The heart is a luminous, precious ore with two aspects, one looking to the spiritual world and the other to the corporeal, material world. If an individual’s corporeal existence or physical body is directed by the spirit, the heart conveys to the body the spiritual effusions or gifts it receives through the world of the spirit, and causes the body to breathe with peace and tranquillity.

As stated above, God considers one’s heart. He treats men and women according to the quality of their hearts, as the heart is the stronghold of many elements vital to the believer’s spiritual life and humanity: reason, knowledge, knowledge of God, intention, belief, wisdom, and nearness to God Almighty. If the heart is alive, all of these elements and faculties are alive; if the heart is diseased, it is difficult for the elements and faculties mentioned to remain sound. The truthful and confirmed one, upon him be peace and blessings, declared: There is a fleshy part in the body. If it is healthy, then the whole of the body is healthy. If it is corrupted, then all the body is corrupted. Beware! That part is heart. This saying shows the importance of the heart for one’s [spiritual] health.

The heart has another aspect or function, one that is actually more important than those already mentioned: It has the points of reliance and seeking help ingrained in it and in human nature, by which it enables the individual to perceive God as the All-Helping and All-Maintaining. That is, it always reminds one of God in the tongues of neediness and seeking help and protection. This is vividly expressed in a narrated Prophetic Tradition, which Ibrahim Haqqi relates as follows:

God said: “Neither the heavens nor the earth can contain Me.”
He is known by the heart as a Hidden Treasure in the heart.

The individual’s body is the physical dimension of his or her existence, while one’s heart constitutes its spiritual dimension. For this reason, the heart is the direct, eloquent, most articulate, splendid, and truthful tongue of the knowledge of God. Therefore, it is regarded as more valuable and honored than the Ka’ba, and accepted as the only exponent of the sublime truth expressed by the whole of creation to make God known.

The heart also is a fortress in which one can maintain sound reasoning and thinking, as well as a healthy spirit and body. As all human feelings and emotions take shelter and seek protection in this fortress, the heart must be protected and kept safe from infection. If the heart is infected, it will be very difficult to restore it; if it dies, it is almost impossible to revive it. The Qur’an, by advising us to pray:

Our Lord! Do not cause our hearts to swerve after You have guided us (3:7),

and our master, upon him be peace and blessings, by his supplication:

O God, O Converter of hearts! Establish our hearts firmly on Your religion,

remind us of the absolute need to preserve the heart.

Just as the heart can function as a bridge by which all good and blessings may reach the believer, it can also become a means by which Satanic and carnal temptations and vices can enter. When set on God and guided by Him, it resembles a projector that diffuses light even to the furthest, remotest, and darkest corners of the body. If it is commanded by the carnal (inherently evil) self, it can become a target for Satan’s poisonous arrows. The heart is the native home of belief, worship, and perfect virtue; a river gushing with inspiration and radiation arising from the relationships among God, humanity, and the universe. Unfortunately, innumerable adversaries seek to destroy this home, to block this river or divert its course: hardness of heart (losing the ability to feel and believe), unbelief, conceit, arrogance, worldly ambition, greed, excessive lust, heedlessness, selfishness, and attachment to status.

Our Lord! Do not let our hearts swerve after You have guided us, and bestow on us mercy from Your Presence! Surely Your are the All-Bestowing. And bestow blessings and peace, my Lord, on our master Muhammad and his noble Companions.

Belief is the life of heart; worship is the blood flowing in its veins; and reflection, self-supervision, and self-criticism are the foundations of its permanence. The heart of an unbeliever is dead; the heart of a believer who does not worship is dying; and the heart of a believer who worships but does not engage in self-reflection, self-control, or self-criticism is exposed to many spiritual dangers and diseases.

The first group of people carry a “pump” in their chests, but it cannot be said that they have hearts. The second group of people live in the cloudy, misty atmosphere of their surmises and doubts, separate from God, and are unable to reach their destination. The third group of people, those who have traveled some distance toward the destination, are at risk because they have not yet reached the goal. They advance falteringly, struggling in the way of God, experience cycles of defeat and success, and spend their lives trying to climb a “hill” without being able to surmount it.

On the other hand, those who have firm belief, live as if they see God and in the consciousness that God sees them, enjoy complete security and are under God’s protection. They study existence with insight, penetrate the nature of existence, discover their reality through the light of God, and behave soberly and with self-control. They tremble with fear of God, full of anxiety and hope concerning their final goal, and pursue His pleasure by seeking to please Him and living in a way that shows their love for Him. In return, God loves them and causes other believers to love them. They are loved and esteemed by humanity and jinn, and receive a warm welcome wherever they happen to be.

Joseph’s Brothers Sell Him into Captivity (1855 painting by Konstantin Flavitsky)

Prophet Joseph (Yusuf), upon him be peace, the truthful hero of Sura Yusuf, is mentioned five times in this sura as a man of perfect goodness and deep devotion. All of creation, including the Creator and the created, friend and foe, Earth and the heavens, testified to his strict self-control and self-supervision:

When Joseph reached his full manhood, We bestowed on him wisdom and knowledge. Thus do We reward those who are perfectly good [worshipping and acting in consciousness of being always seen by God] (12:22).

Here, the Almighty states that Prophet Joseph was a man of perfect goodness and self-control when he reached the age of puberty. During his imprisonment in Egypt, every prisoner, whether good or evil, discerned the depth of his mind and purity of his spirit, and appealed to him to solve their problems:

Tell us the interpretation of events, including dreams, for we see you [to be] among those who are perfectly good (12:36).

Joseph succeeded in every trial he faced, and had a place in everyone’s heart, both friend and foe.

Once more God mentions him as a man of perfect goodness, a perfect embodiment of goodness, since he did not change when he was appointed to a high government post:

Thus We established Joseph in the land, to take possession of it where he pleased. We reach with Our mercy whom We will, and We never cause to be lost the reward of those who are perfectly good [worshipping and acting in consciousness of being always seen by God] (12:56).

When his brothers, who had always envied him, acknowledged his goodness and truthfulness before they discovered that the charitable minister in the royal palace of Egypt was Joseph, They said:

O exalted sir. He has a father, aged and venerable; so take one of us instead of him, for we see that you are among those who are perfectly good (12:78).

Lastly, as a man perfectly matured and having acquired full spiritual contentment, Prophet Joseph himself testified to God’s blessings on him: God has been indeed gracious to us.

Whoever acts in fear of God and full submission to Him and is patient, surely God does not waste the reward of those who are perfectly good (12:90).

Prayers For God's InspirationIt is inconceivable that an individual with such a sound heart could deviate or be deprived of God’s blessing. Such a heart has the same meaning with respect to its owner as God’s Supreme Throne has with respect to the universe, and is a polished mirror in which the Almighty looks in full appreciation. Such a mirror is not something to be discarded or allowed to break, for it is the essence and spirit of human reality and praised by God.

In the following couplets, Rumi recalls this:

The Ultimate Truth says: “I consider the heart,
not the form made from water and clay.”
You say: “I have a heart within me, whereas
the heart is above God’s Throne, not below

O God! O Converter of hearts, establish our hearts firmly on Your religion, and bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad, the beloved of hearts.

By M. Fethullah Gulen

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