In a metaphysical sense, we use our hearts in a variety of interesting ways. We love, hate, shed tears, feel happy, etc. based on the beliefs and understanding of various matters that we hold in our hearts. In general, our behavior is largely driven by the world that we build in our hearts. Mankind are known to go to great lengths to perform acts that range from being heroic to being absurd, all based on the value that one places on various matters – people and things – in one’s heart.
It is no wonder therefore that Allah mentions the “heart” in various contexts in more than 100 places in the Quran.
Consider what the prophet said in a hadith:
“There is a piece of flesh in the body if it becomes good (reformed) the whole body becomes good but if it gets spoiled, the whole body gets spoiled – and that is the heart.” [Bukhary, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 49: Part of the Hadith Narrated by An-Nu’man bin Bashir]
If what we hold in our hearts drives us to act – sometimes pushing us to extremes – then it’s only prudent that we feed the right beliefs and knowledge to the world of our hearts.
Without proper knowledge and religious understanding, we can’t expect to build the levels of our faith and without faith there can’t be devotion in our actions. Ibn Al-Qayyim said, “..if actions were useful without devotion, He (Allah) would never have dispraised the hypocrites.” He also said, “Allah will never purchase any good (deed) that has not been refined by faith.” (Al Fawwaid)
It should come as no surprise therefore that we will be questioned about the knowledge that we acquire and how we use that knowledge to build the worlds of our hearts.
Consider the following verse:
“And follow not (O man, i.e., say not, or do not, or witness not) that of which you have no knowledge. Verily, the hearing, and the sight, and the heart of each of those ones will be questioned (by Allâh)” [al-Israa’ 17:36]
We know that the foundation of our religious understanding is based on our upbringing and our continued efforts to acquire knowledge. The weaker the foundation, the more difficult does it become to live Islam. It also lets a carefree attitude take root in our hearts making us even more negligent of our priorities. One of the pious and knowledgeable salaf ‘Ata’ al-Sulaymi was asked about his fear of Allah and his concerns and he said: “…. Death is close at hand, the grave is my house, on the Day of Resurrection I will stand and my path is over a bridge across Hell, and I do not know what will become of me.”
Obviously, if our knowledge and understanding is weak, our minds wouldn’t worry about such matters.
Unfortunately, in such a state many don’t even care to know what they don’t know and what they need to know.
On the contrary, when we invest in building the foundations of our knowledge and religious understanding, we become more cognizant of Allah and fear Him accordingly.
For those of us who feel better about their levels of knowledge, understanding and faith, we need to be careful about not developing a false sense of ‘Iman’ (faith). This is because we live in a world where it is common to find religious understanding founded on superficial knowledge garbled with philosophies of the day (that abound) and bits of personal viewpoints.
Sometimes that religious understanding is also tainted with cultural norms giving rise to Islamic viewpoints that are not in line with what was revealed by Allah on our prophet Muhammad (SAWS).
We, therefore, should be wary of falling into such traps of distorted enlightenment.
Consider the example of Umar Al-Khattab (the second Caliph of Islam). The prophet had said that if there was going to be a prophet after him, it would have been Umar. It was the same Umar who on his death bed asked for his head to be put on sand and he kept saying that “…May God be merciful on me. Oh you whose kingship never deviates have mercy on the one whose kingship has just deviated.”
If Umar – one of the very few who had been promised paradise in his life – was so worried and anxious about getting Allahs mercy, how can we become complacent about the levels of the faith and Iman that live in our hearts?
Elevating our knowledge and religious understanding thus should get a renewed sense of urgency. Let’s remind ourselves that the excuses that we may have today for not enhancing or correcting our religious knowledge and understanding, won’t pass the test of time. They have not for anyone in the past.
ibn Al-Qayyim said, “The person who is profoundly knowledgeable of Allah would be interested in consolidating the foundation and strengthening it. And the ignorant person would be interested in constructing but without taking care of the foundation, and in no time, his establishment would collapse.”
Allah says in the Quran:
“Is it then he, who laid the foundation of his building on piety to Allah and His Good Pleasure, better, or he who laid the foundation of his building on an undetermined brink of a precipice (steep rock) ready to crumble down, so that it crumbled to pieces with him into the Fire of Hell?” (At-Tawbah, 9:109)”
Getting the right knowledge will also elevate our positions in front of our Creator. As Allah says:
“Allah will exalt in degree those of you who believe, and those who have been granted knowledge” [Part of the verse in al-Mujaadilah 58:11]
Finally, a useful Dua that we can make to inculcate the fear of our Creator is the one taught to us by the prophet. He (SAWS) used to make the dua:
“I seek refuge in you, O Allah, from knowledge that does not benefit and from a heart which does not fear.”
Let’s therefore spend our time to acquire the knowledge that can correct the condition of our hearts and make our lives a bit more meaningful. Let’s also be wary of what we are not feeding our hearts. Ultimately, we are in front of people and in front of our Creator based on what’s in our hearts.