What is meant by “heart” in Islamic theology?


Hazrat Amirul Momineen, Khalifatul Masih Vaa was asked in a letter, “When we speak of the ‘heart’ in religious and spiritual terms, does it refer to the human organ that circulates blood, or does it refer to the soul and the brain?” 

Huzooraa, in a letter dated 26 January 2021, gave the following reply to this question:

“The words قلب [qalb] and فؤاد [fu‘ad] are commonly used in the Arabic language for the heart. The Holy Quran uses these two words both literally and metaphorically, for example, ‘veils on the hearts’, ‘crookedness or deviation of the hearts’, ‘hardening of the hearts’, ‘disbelief of the hearts’, ‘disease in the hearts’, ‘seal on the hearts’, ‘rusting of the hearts’, ‘denial of the hearts’, ‘wrath of the hearts’, ‘doubting of the hearts’, ‘hearts being blind’, ‘hearts reaching the throats’, ‘turning of the hearts’, ‘hearts not understanding’, ‘sinning or doing good of the hearts’, ‘hearts being oblivious to the remembrance of Allah’, ‘purity of the hearts’, ‘contentment of the hearts’, ‘having piety in the hearts’, ‘having strong hearts’, ‘intention of the hearts’, ‘faith entering the hearts’, ‘the revelation of the Word of God upon the hearts’, ‘hearts being free from worries’ and ‘seeing of the hearts’ etc. Similarly, in the ahadith, the word ‘heart’ has been used as a metaphor as well as in the literal sense. 

“Therefore, the usage of this word in the Quran and the hadith with different meanings shows that in the religious and spiritual language, ‘heart’ does not just denote the physical organ that performs the function of circulating blood, rather it is also used as a metaphor to convey various meanings. It has numerous meanings such as soul, knowledge, understanding, intellect, intention, disposition, courage and primordial nature [fitrah], etc. 

“Hence, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra states in his lexical analysis of the terms qalb and fu‘ad:

“‘Qalb […] means al-fu‘ad (the heart) […] and sometimes the term qalb also refers the intellect […] And by the word qalb, human states are described that are related to soul, knowledge and courage, etc. […] Qalb also denotes thinking and pondering.’ (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 1, p. 153)

“The Promised Messiahas states [with reference to كَتَبَ‭ ‬فِيۡ‭ ‬قُلُوۡبِهِمُ‭ ‬الۡاِيۡمَانَ (‘…. in whose hearts Allah has inscribed [true] faith…)], as mentioned in verse 23 of Surah al-Mujadalah]:

“‘By the inscribing of faith in the heart, it is meant that faith has entered into their heart’s desires and become a part and parcel of their nature, every insincerity having vanished away. This stage is reached when, assisted by the Spirit of holiness, a person attains a new life. As the constant presence of the soul in the body is a source of protection and light to it, so the Spirit of holiness of the new life should make its permanent habitation in the heart and cast a light upon it every hour and every moment, and as the soul gives life to the body, so the Spirit of holiness should be a source of life to the heart and all spiritual faculties. It is for this reason that in the verse quoted above, Almighty God has spoken of the assistance of the Spirit of holiness immediately after the statement that faith was inscribed in their hearts. For, when faith enters into the nature of man, he attains really a new life, and this new birth does not take place without the assistance of the Spirit of holiness. In short, the Holy Quran very frequently speaks of the spiritual or new life, and speaks of the true and perfect believers as the living and of the unbelievers as the dead, thus showing that the true believers obtain a new life by the entrance of the Spirit of holiness into their hearts while the disbelievers are not granted such life.’ (Aina-e-Kamalat-e-Islam, Ruhani Khazain Vol. 5, pp. 100-102)

“The Promised Messiahas also says:

“‘The Holy Quran states:

خَتَمَ‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬عَلَى‭ ‬قُلُوبِهِمْ‭ ‬

“‘[Allah has set a seal on their hearts (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V. 8)]. The meaning of God’s setting a seal on their hearts is that when a person commits evil, the result of that evil is manifested on his heart and face by God Almighty. And that is also the meaning of the verse:

 فَلَمَّا‭ ‬زَاغُوا‭ ‬أَزَاغَ‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬قُلُوبَهُمْ 

[Surah al-Saff, Ch.61: V.6]. That is, ‘When they deviated from the truth, Allah caused their hearts to deviate from the suitability to the truth.’ Eventually, under the influence of hostile zeal, a strange metamorphosis took place in them and they became so evil that it was as if they lost all previous identity and gradually the poison of selfish opposition suppressed the radiance from their fitrah.’ (Kitab-ul-Bariyyah, Ruhani Khazain Vol. 13, pp. 47-48)

“With regard to أَلَا‭ ‬بِذِكْرِ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬تَطْمَئِنُّ‭ ‬الْقُلُوبُ [Aye! it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort. (Surah al-Ra‘d, Ch.13: V.29)], the Promised Messiahas states: 

“‘The general meaning of this is that hearts find comfort in the remembrance of Allah but its reality and philosophy is that when a person remembers Allah the Exalted with true sincerity and complete loyalty and believes himself to be in front of Him at all times, this creates a fear of Divine Greatness in his heart. That fear protects him from abominations and prohibitions and such a man progresses in piety and purity until the angels of Allah descend upon him and give him glad tidings and the door of revelation is opened to him. In that moment, it is as if he sees Allah the Exalted and sees [some of] His hidden powers. Thereafter, no sorrow can befall his heart and his natural disposition is always filled with joy and happiness.’ (Al Hakam, Vol. 9, No. 32, 10 September 1905, p. 8)

“Explaining the verse:

‭ ‬فِي‭ ‬قُلُوبِهِمْ‭ ‬مَرَضٌ‭ ‬فَزَادَهُمُ‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬مَرَضًا‭ ‬

“[In their hearts was a disease, and Allah has increased their disease to them. (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.11)] in Tafsir-e-Kabir, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra writes: 

“‘In this verse, it is stated that their acting contrary to the sound nature [fitrat-e-sahihah] indicates that their hearts are diseased because if there was no disease in their hearts, they would at the very least be conscientious of those things that are born of the sound nature. Just as excess bile spoils the taste of mouth and makes even the sweet taste bitter, likewise those whose hearts are diseased cannot hear the voice of their fitrah properly.’ (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 1, p. 173)

“Thus, the Holy Quran, the hadith and the above-mentioned statements prove that in the theological and spiritual contexts ‘heart’ does not only denote the physical organ but the term also serves as a metaphor to convey various meanings.”

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