Any time the creation deviates from the natural state God designed for it, it is bound for corruption. Any time we take on qualities reserved for other creations, we degenerate and descend in spiritual status. Like cattle, or iron even.
Even though they glorify God, the cattle’s aims in life are to eat, drink, sleep and procreate. They do nothing more, and nothing more is expected of them. As Dr. Mokhtar Maghraoui explains, “Any human whose average life is centered around those things—to eat, drink, sleep, copulate—and works to make more money to eat, drink, sleep, copulate, and to have vacation to get more special types of eating, drinking, sleeping, and copulating, lives the life of cattle.”
That is why God says, “Have you seen the one who takes his own whim as a god: are you to be his guardian? Do you think that most of them hear or reason? They are just like cattle—no, they are even farther astray from the Path,” (Qur’an 25:43-44). The Arabic word for whims or personal drives in this ayah (verse) is “hawa,” which literally means to fall freely. So, the one who follows her desires is in a free-fall that leads ultimately to spiritual death and repercussions in the Hereafter.
Why are these people even more astray than cattle? Because humans have way more potential in this life than cattle do. Humans were created for a loftier purpose of knowing God, filling their hearts with Divine Light, and elevating His word in every sphere of life. They were created to establish, for themselves and for humanity, a God-centered life that promotes spiritual devotion in worship and uprightness and morality in dealings. It is a trust from God that even the heavens, the earth, and the mountains turned down because of its gravity and weighty responsibility (Qur’an 33:72). Yet, if our hearts do not feel and embrace this duty, how will they guide our minds and limbs to fulfilling God’s trust? If our hearts are too busy entertaining our desires and indulging our physical pleasures, how can they beat with passion for this greater mission? They can’t of course, if they’ve become too tough and harsh—like iron.
God says, “[…] We also sent down iron, with its mighty strength and many uses for mankind, so that God could mark out those who would support Him and His messengers, (though) unseen. Truly, God is Powerful, Almighty,” (Qur’an 57:25). Iron’s utilization in making tools, machines, or weaponry is made possible because of its inherent strength and solidity. God designed it this way, and that’s how it provides benefit. At the heart of the same chapter (The Iron), though, God shows us that if the human heart possesses similar qualities to iron, it degenerates into malfunction. He says, “Isn’t it time for the believers to humble their hearts to the remembrance of God and the Truth that has been revealed? And let them not be like those who received the Scripture before them, whose time was extended but whose hearts hardened and many of them were defiantly disobedient,”(Qur’an 57:16).
This is a gentle reproach and warning from our Most-Loving Rabb (Lord). He wants us to regain sensitivity in our hearts so we can feel and live again. He shows us what would happen to our hearts if they continue to be heedless of Him. And right after, He gives us hope: “Know that God revives the earth after it dies; We have made Our revelation clear to you so that you may use your reason (i.e. restrain yourselves),” (Qur’an 57:17). If He can bring life back to the earth, He can certainly infuse our hearts with life again. What was lost can be regained, and the feelings toward God that withered in the heart can be revived. But it doesn’t come easy; it takes incredible struggle and very patient perseverance!
From one of the Prophet’s ﷺ descriptions of the believer’s heart, we can understand where we want our hearts to be. He said that a believer’s heart is “ajrad,” and it contains a glowing source of light. This heart is completely free and liberated. It is absolutely empty of anything of the created world in it. It is free of arrogance, envy, delusion, hate, doubt, restlessness, agitation, and attachments to all that is low and base. This heart is filled with love, awe and reverence for the Divine. It sees Divine Beauty and Majesty, and thus it radiates with Divine Light. It is illuminated by the light of knowledge and imaan (faith) that pierces through perceptions and falsehoods. This is a heart that sees things as they truly are!
God says, “Is a dead person brought back to life by Us, and given light with which to walk among people, comparable to someone trapped in deep darkness who cannot escape? In this way, the evil deeds are made to seem alluring to them,” (Qur’an 6:122). For the believer, when Satan adorns a sin, he sees through the deception and illusions. He knows that the act is inherently ugly because the imaan in the heart allows him to feel it. When the dunya (worldly life) tempts a believer with wealth, possessions, and fame, her heart sees that all of it is fleeting, and she longs instead for eternal bliss near the Divine.
The more imaan and knowledge of God there is in the heart, the more illuminated the heart is; and with more light comes deeper vision and more certitude in the realities it sees. Can you imagine how a person’s actions, manners, and speech would look like if his heart radiated with such light? So angelic, subhanAllah (Glorified is God)! Toward the end of Surat al-Hadeed (Chapter of the Iron), God says, “Believers, be mindful of God and have faith in His messenger: He will give you a double share of His mercy; He will provide a light for you to walk with; and He will forgive you—God is Most-Forgiving, Most Merciful,” (Qur’an 57:28). The Prophet ﷺ would ask for this radiant light as he walked to the masjid: “O Allah, place within my heart light, and upon my tongue light, and within my ears light, and within my eyes light, and place behind me light and in front of me light and above me light and beneath me light. O Allah, bestow upon me light.”
Interestingly, the spiritual reality in the heart also becomes a physical reality in the Hereafter; the light that glows in your heart will be manifested on your face, limbs, surroundings and the path you walk to Paradise! God says, “On the Day when you see the believers, both men and women, with their light streaming out ahead of them and to their right, [they will be told], ‘The good news for you today is that there are Gardens graced with flowing streams where you will stay: that is truly the supreme triumph!’” (Qur’an 57:12). Can you see the glowing beauty emanating from these believers?! O God, please make us one of them!
And it’s not over yet. Incredible events follow! The hypocrites see all the light the believers have, and they want to take some! “On the same Day, the hypocrites, both men and women, will say to the believers, ‘Wait for us! Let us have some of your light!’ They will be told, ‘Go back and look for a light.’ A wall with a door will be erected between them: inside it lies mercy, outside lies torment,” (Qur’an 57:13). The hypocrites can still talk to the believers, so they call out and ask, “‘Were we not with you?’ They will reply, ‘Yes. But you allowed yourselves to be tempted, you were hesitant, doubtful, deceived by false hopes until God’s command came—the deluded one (Satan) deluded you about God,’” (Qur’an 57:14).
It is so scary because these are some of the traits that can taint our own faith and make it incomplete. These are characteristics that can strip our hearts of its Divine Light. We are not immune to having hypocritical traits, and any time the Qur’an or the Sunnah (narrations of the Prophet ﷺ) describe them, we have to assess if our hearts contain similar elements. The same goes for descriptions of disbelief. In this state, for example, the heart is so enveloped with sin that Divine Light cannot even penetrate. The sins suffocate the heart so much that they extinguish that inner light. These are not just sins of the senses, but also of the heart, like arrogance, pride, envy, greed, stinginess, and selfishness. Our hearts as believers may not be completely encrusted, praise be to God, but there might be a layer forming around our hearts that prevents all the rays from entering. We want a clear and uninterrupted flow of light from the Divine sources—and that takes constant polishing and cleansing of our hearts.
That is why frequent istighfar (seeking God’s forgiveness) is so crucial to the spiritual health of our hearts. While sins coat our hearts in darkness, asking God for forgiveness masks the negative effect of our sins on our relationship with God, and on our mental and psychological state. Sins cause pain, suffering, restlessness and agitation—even though we might be so intoxicated with sin that we can’t feel it. Seeking forgiveness quells these feelings; it lifts the weight of the sins off the heart, and uplifts your mind, mood and spirit. Remember that when we sin, we are turning our backs on God and running farther away from Him. Making tawba (repentance) reorients our hearts back to God so that we draw nearer to Him. Both istighfar and tawba purify the heart to make it worthy of an intimate relationship with the Most-Majestic One.
Du`a’ (supplicating) to God is also necessary in healing and cleansing the heart. Not making du`a’ is a sign of arrogance, and the more we do not ask of our Lord, the more arrogant we become. We ask God to protect our hearts from such a state! The Qur’an says, “And Your Lord says, ‘Call on Me and I will answer you:’ those who are too proud to serve Me will enter Hell humiliated.” (Qur’an 40:60). So, let us ask of God in times of hardship and stress, and in ease. Ask Him, the Most-Generous and Most-Merciful, even when you think you got it covered. If you humble yourself in prayer, He will increase you, and bless you and shower you with unexpected gifts.
May God help us taste the sweetness of imaan, and illuminate our hearts and entire being with His Light!
Note: Some points in this article were adopted from Tazkiyah Sessions with Dr. Mokhtar Maghraoui in June 2012.