The Diseased Heart

This is the heart that contains life but also possess a defect. It has two urges calling it: one leading to life and the other leading it to death; and it follows whichever of the two that predominates.

It contains love of Allah, Exalted is He, faith in Him, sincerity to Him, and trust and reliable upon him: those matters that are essential to life.

It also contains the love of its carnal desires, giving preference to them, and eagerness to attain them. It contains jealousy, arrogance, self-amazement, love of ranking through attaining leadership: those matters that necessarily lead to its destruction and ruin.

It is constantly being tried by two callers: one calling it to Allah, His Messenger, and the Abode of the Hereafter; and the other calling it to temporal, worldly matters. It responds to the one that is closest and most influential at the time.

Therefore the first type of heart is the living, humble, soft, attentive and heedful heart. The second type is the brittle, dry and dead heart. The third type is the diseased heart, either it is closer to its salvation or it is closer to its devastation.

Allah, the Glorious, has mentioned these types of hearts in his saying,

“Never did We send a Messenger or a Prophet before you without Shaytan insinuating something into his recitation while he is reciting. But Allah revokes whatever Shaytan insinuates and then Allah confirms His Signs, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. That He may make what Shaytan insinuates a trial for those in whose heart is a disease and whose hearts are hardened. Indeed the wrongdoers are entrenched in hostility. And that those who have been given knowledge may know that it [the Qur’an] is the truth from your Lord, and they may believe therein and their hearts may submit to it with humility. Indeed Allah is the Guide of those who believe, to the Straight Path.” (Surah al-Hajj 22:52-54)

In these three verses, Allah, Glorious and Exalted is He, has mentioned two types of hearts put to trail and one type that is victorious. The two types of heart that are put to trial are the diseased and the harsh heart. The victorious heart is the heart of the believer that is humble before its Lord; it is at rest and satisfaction with Him, submissive and obedient to Him.

It is desired of the heart and other limbs that they be healthy and sound, having no defect so that they can do that which agrees to their nature and fulfil the purpose for which they were created. Their hearts’ stepping outside the bounds of steadfastness in obedience (istiqamah) could either be due to its dryness and harshness, or the absence of doing that which is desired of it. In this respect it is like a mute tongue or eye that cannot see, or only partially see, due to some form of illness or defect.

This is why the hearts have been classified into three types:

  1. The healthy and sound heart which contains no impediment preventing it from accepting the truth, loving it, and giving it preference other than its coming to know of it. Therefore its comprehension of the truth is correct and it accepts it with complete submission.
  2. The dead, harsh, and dry heart that does not accept the truth nor submit to it.
  3. The diseased heart, when its disease predominates, it joins the ranks of the dead and harsh heart; but if soundness predominates, it joins the ranks of the truthful and sound heart.

Anything that is directed to the person by Shaytan such as his making him hear certain words, or suggests to the heart such as suspicion and doubt act as a trial for the latter two types of hearts and serve to further strengthen the living, truthful, and sound heart.

This is because the living heart rejects all of this, dislikes it, and is angered by it for it knows that the truth opposes it. Therefore it submits to the truth and is content with it. It knows the fallacy of that which Shaytan has tempted it with and therefore increases with respect to its certainty of the truth, its love of it, and its rejection of falsehood.

However the heart put to trial remains in doubt and dispute concerning what was directed to it by Shaytan. The healthy and sound heart, on the other hand, is not harmed by what Shaytan directs to it.

Hudayfah ibn al-Yaman said that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, said,

“Trials and tribulations will be presented to the heart [one after another] in the same way that the mat is knitted together, reed by reed. Any heart that accepts them will have a black spot form on it. Any heart that rejects them will have a white spot put on it until the heart ends up being one of two types: a black heart, murky and like an overturned vessel, it does not know the good and does not reject the evil, all it knows is its base desires; and a white heart which will not be harmed by trials for a long as the heavens and the earth remain.” (Recorded in Muslim no.144)

Hence he likened the onset of trials to the heart to knotting the reeds of a mat, one after the other.

He divided the hearts into two types based on how they react to these trails:

  1. A heart that infuses trials when exposed to them in the same way that a sponge soaks in water. Therefore it has a black spot form on it, and it will keep on accepting these trails until it becomes totally black and inverted. This is the meaning of his saying, ‘like an overturned vessel’ i.e. inverted. Then, when it becomes black and inverted, it is subjugated to the following two dangerous diseases that push it to destruction: a) Its confusion of good and evil such that it does not know the good or reject the evil. It is also possible that its disease dupes a person into believing good to be evil, evil to be good, Sunnah to be biddah, biddah to be Sunnah, truth to be falsehood, and falsehood to be truth. b) Its giving precedence to its base desires when seeking judgement rather than that which the Messenger, peace be upon him, came with, its yielding to them, and following them.
  2. A white heart that has been set ablaze with the light of faith and its niche has been illuminated. When a trial is presented to it, it rejects it and refutes it and hence its light, blaze and strength increase.

The trials that are presented to the hearts are the causes of its disease. They are the trails of carnal desires and doubts, the trials of aimless wandering and misguidance, the trials of sins and innovations, and the trials of oppression and ignorance. The first type [carnal desires] lead to the corruption of desire and intent and the second type [doubts] lead to the corruption of knowledge and belief.

The Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, divided the hearts into four categories as is authentically reported from Hudayfah ibn al-Yaman, ‘The hearts are of four types: The heart that has solely been illuminated by a blazing torch and that is the heart of the believer; the heart that is encased and that is the heart of the believer; the heart that is inverted and that is the heart of the hypocrite – he knew only to reject, and he saw only to become blind; and the heart that has two urges: an urge calling it to faith and an urge calling it to hypocrisy: it belongs to the urge that is most influential.’ (Reported by ibn Abi Shayban)

The meaning of his saying, ‘a heart that has solely…’ means a heart that has detached itself of everything besides Allah and His Messenger. Therefore it has separated and secured itself from everything save the truth.

The meaning of his saying, ‘illuminated by a blazing torch’ refers to the niche of faith. Therefore he indicated by his words, ‘that has solely…’ that it it is secure from false doubts and misguiding carnal desires. He indicated by his words, ‘a blazing torch’ that it was set blaze and illuminated by the light of knowledge and faith.

The ‘encased heart’ refers to the heart of the disbeliever because it is wrapped by a veil and covering and hence the light of knowledge and faith cannot reach it. This is as Allah said, relating from the Jews that,

“They say: our hearts are wrapped…” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:88)

This veil is the covering that Allah has placed on their hearts by way of punishment for their rejecting the truth and being too arrogant to accept it. Therefore it is a covering upon the hearts, a screen upon the eyes talked about in His saying,

“And when you recite the Qur’an, We put between you and those who believe not in the Hereafter, an obscuring screen. We have put coverings over their hearts lest they should understand it and deafness in their ears.” (Surah al-Isra 17:45-46)

When the people who have these types of hearts are admonished to purify their Tawhid and following, they turn on their heels and run!

The ‘inverted heart’ refers to the heart of the hypocrite as Allah, the Exalted says,

“Then what is the matter with you that you are divided into two parties regarding the hypocrites? Allah has cast them back [to disbelief] because of what they earned.” (Surah al-Nisa 4:88)

Meaning: He caused them to replace and return to the falsehood that they used to be in due to their working their false deeds.

This is the most evil of hearts and the vilest of them for it believes falsehood to be the truth, and shows love and allegiance to those who follow it. It also believes the truth to be falsehood and displays enmity to those who follow it. The Aid of Allah is sought!

The ‘heart that has two urges’ refers to the heart that has not become established upon faith because it has devoted itself solely to the truth that Allah sent His Messenger with. Instead it contains some faith and some of its opposite: it is closer to disbelief than faith sometimes; and at other times it is closer to faith than disbelief. The heart follows whatever is most influential at that time.

Taken from Ighathatu’l l-Lahfan fi Masayid al-Shaytan, Vol 1, pp11-19 by Imam ibn al-Qayyim