The state of our heart determines our spiritual state. Our spiritual state either positively or negatively impacts our interactions and experiences in all areas of life. Being in a good spiritual state does not take all our problems away, but it gives us the strength to bear them. We can perform our religious duties with enthusiasm and love instead of with guilt and fear. As such, it becomes clear that purifying the state of our heart is crucial from both a Dunya and an Akhirah perspective.
This dua of Ibrahim (A) is recorded in the Qur’an where he asks Allah to protect him on the Day of Judgment from disgrace and humiliation. He acknowledges that nothing will benefit a person on that day except a “qalbun saleem,” a sound heart. The sound heart is the one that is purified from sin and hypocrisy, a heart that strives to worship Allah SWT as if he could see Him and keeping in mind that Allah SWT sees him.
The sound heart is the one that strives to forgive others and harbor good thoughts about others. The sound heart is not one that never sins, but the one that acknowledges its constant failing and seeks forgiveness and assistance from Allah in the darkness of the night when the entire world is asleep. The sound heart is the one that is in a state of submission and gratitude to Allah (SWT) no matter what happens. When we bring this sound heart to Allah SWT on the Day of Judgement, that is the only thing that will prove to be of benefit to us. All the things we amassed in the Dunya will be gone.
Our family will be worried about themselves as will our friends. Our riches will not save us. Our reputation will not save us. Our social standing will not save us. Only the purity of the heart that we bring to Allah SWT will save us, by His Permission. The sound heart is a prized possession that one must protect and purify, constantly. So how do we attain a qalbun saleem, a sound heart?
Everything in Islam starts with intention. It is foolish to embark on a journey without knowing where one is going. We have to know where we are headed and why. When we embark on a journey to purify the heart, we have to make the intention to do it for the sake of Allah SWT. Only Allah SWT truly sees the state of our heart, so it is a sign of sincerity to Him is if we try hard to purify our hearts.
It means that we care about what we present to Allah SWT on the Day of Judgment. It means that we care to take care of our interiors just like we care about our exteriors. Our intention while going through this process to achieve a sound heart should be to come closer to Allah SWT and earn His pleasure and reward.
There is a three-step formula we can use to transform our heart into a sound heart: cleaning the heart, feeding the heart, and protecting the heart.
Sins, jealousy, shamelessness, resentment, greed, and arrogance are the things that plague our hearts. “No! Rather, the stain has covered their hearts of that which they were earning.” (83:14)
Our sins and spiritual diseases cover our hearts with a stain. This stain becomes a veil between us and Allah SWT. It keeps us from seeing His Mercy and gifts in our lives. It becomes a barrier that keeps us from experiencing His Presence in our lives. If not cleaned out, it threatens to kill our spiritual heart, which is a calamity. As a result, we cease to feel the sweetness of worship and closeness to Allah SWT. As a result, we lose the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong.
The darkness of the heart clouds the heart’s compass. If we want to clean our hearts, we must turn to Allah SWT in sincere repentance. Repentance is not just a one-time event. Repentance is a continual process. The Arabic word for repentance is 'tawbah' comes from 'taaba', which means to turn back, to return. Tawbah is the continual, active process of turning back to Allah SWT every time we sin, making the intention not to return to the sin no matter how many times we fall.
Allah says in Surah Al-Imran about the people who seek His forgiveness:
The only way to keep the rust of sin from forming on our hearts is to be like those Allah SWT described in this ayah—the ones who fall and get back up, the ones who when they sin, immediately their attention turns to Allah SWT, the Forgiver of all sins, and they ask Him for forgiveness.
Cleaning the heart leaves it empty, but now it’s time to fill. This is where feeding the heart comes in. Feeding the heart its spiritual food takes the form of dhikr. Dhikr is the polish of the heart. It is the nourishment that the heart needs to be revived after a time of neglect. Dhikr is the sustenance the heart needs on an ongoing basis. Dhikr means mention and remembrance. Allah SWT told us about the superior form of mentioning Him and remembering Him in His conversation with Musa (A) in Surah Taha:
“Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.”
Salah is how we establish the dhikr of Allah SWT in our lives in an ongoing manner. It is the method of dhikr mandated upon us because Allah SWT knows the nature of our hearts. We need consistency to maintain cleanliness. We need consistency to keep our hearts alive. The salah is the oxygen of the heart. It keeps us grounded and detached from the dunya. It serves as a reminder that we must orient our hearts to Him, again and again, and again.
Other forms of dhikr include reading the Qur’an and allowing our heart to soften to Allah SWT's words, or to recite and remembrances that the Prophet (SAW) taught us. There are many apps to learn these
Al-Nu’man ibn Bashir reported: The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said,
“Verily, the lawful is clear and the unlawful is clear, and between the two of them are doubtful matters about which many people do not know. Thus, he who avoids doubtful matters clears himself regarding his religion and his honor, and he who falls into doubtful matters will fall into the unlawful as the shepherd who pastures near a sanctuary, all but grazing therein. Verily, every king has a sanctum and the sanctum of Allah is his prohibitions. Verily, in the body is a piece of flesh which, if sound, the entire body is sound, and if corrupt, the entire body is corrupt. Truly, it is the heart.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
Protecting the heart is a matter of sound knowledge of the halal and haram and good judgment of the doubtful matters, and then making good choices following that judgment. A clean heart can lead one to make good choices. Protecting the heart involves restraining the nafs from indulging in that which Allah SWT dislikes, and even from the doubtful matters out of fear of falling into the prohibited matters. Protecting the heart means understanding that whatever you feed the heart, the heart will feed you. Your limbs are only a slave to the master that is your heart. That’s why the Prophet (SAW) said that if your heart is sound, your body (actions) will be sound, and if your heart is corrupt, your body (actions) will be corrupt as well.
To protect the heart, we have to watch what we let in. Just like we wouldn’t let a stranger into our home or poison into our bodies, we must be careful not to let harmful things enter our hearts, such as shameless images, lewd and vain speech, negative thinking, and people who carry toxic habits. In our journey of protecting ourselves, we must remember that we are not immune to negative influences simply because we have made some progress. We are human and susceptible to falling into the same traps that we fell into before. That’s why we need to rely on Allah SWT and not rely on ourselves for protection. We must strive, yes, but our striving is not enough. We are desperately in need of Allah SWT.
We should make this du’a part of our daily routine so that we can rest assured that it is Allah SWT Who will be protecting our hearts, and who can harm what Allah SWT protects?
We are so dependent on Allah SWT that we cannot even worship Him without His Permission and Mercy. It is a gift from Allah SWT if He allows us to call on Him, to pray to Him, to give charity for His sake, to turn back to Him in repentance. So, on this journey, we should not feel alone. Allah SWT is always with us, guiding us, helping us, and bringing the creation to our assistance. He inspires us, He leads us away from sin, and He fills our hearts with peace and tranquility when we remember Him.
Here are a few du’as that we can use to help us purify our hearts:
1. Allahumma aati nafsi taqwaaha, wa zakkihaa anta khairu man zakkaaha, anta waliyyuha wa mawlaaha.
“O Allah, give my nafs its taqwa (God-consciousness), and purify it for You are the Best of those who purify, You are its Caretaker and Protecting Friend.”
Allahumma tahhir qalbi minal-ghilli, wal-hiqdi, wal-hasadi, wal-kibri.
“O Allah, purify my heart from hatred, resentment, jealousy, and arrogance.”
Rabba naghfir lanaa wa li ikhwaaninal-ladhina sabaqoona bil-imaani wa laa taj’al fee quloobina ghillal-lil-ladhina aamanu. Rabbana innaka ra’oofur-raheem.
“Our Lord forgive us and our brothers [and sisters] who preceded us in faith and put not in our hearts [any] resentment toward those who have believed. Our Lord, indeed You are Kind and Merciful.”
May Allah SWT protect our hearts and allow our hearts to be centered with His remembrance, ameen.