In the words of Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum:
The heart is the home of God; purify it from whatever is other than Him
So that the All-Merciful may descend into His palace at night.
The word “Qalb” (heart) has two meanings. One denotes the body’s most vital organ, which is located on the left side of the chest. 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, works by itself, like a motor, and, like a suction pump, moves blood through the system.
In Sufi terminology, the spiritual heart is the center of all emotions and (intellectual and spiritual) faculties, such as perception, consciousness, the senses, 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 it is this 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 the gifts it receives through the world of the spirit, and enables the body to breathe with peace and tranquility.
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 the 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: The heart has points of reliance and the seeking of help ingrained in it, as well as in human nature, by which the heart enables the individual to perceive God as the All-Helping and All-Maintaining. That is, the heart always reminds one of God in terms of need, 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 and recognized as a “Treasure” hidden in the heart by the heart itself.
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 (Al Imran 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, the heart resembles a projector that diffuses light to even the furthest, remotest, and darkest corners of the body. If it is commanded by the (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.
- Bukhari, Iman, 39; Muslim, Musaqat, 107.
- Tirmidhi, Qadar, 7; Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 6 vols. (Beirut, 1969), 6:302.