Symptoms Of the Hearts Sickness & Signs of Its Health
Chapter 4 of "The Purification of the Soul" © 1993 Al-Firdous Ltd.
The Signs of a Sick Heart
A servants heart may be ill, and seriously deteriorating, while he remains oblivious of its condition. It may even die without him realising it. The symptoms of its sickness, or the signs of its death, are that its owner is not aware of the harm that results from the damage caused by wrong actions, and is unperturbed by his ignorance of the truth or by his false beliefs.
Since the living heart experiences pain as a result of any ugliness that it encounters and through its recognising its ignorance of the truth (to a degree that corresponds to its level of awareness), it is capable of recognising the onset of decay - and the increase in the severity of the remedy that will be needed to stop it - but then sometimes it prefers to put up with the pain rather than undergo the arduous trial of the cure!
Some of the many signs of the hearts sickness is its turning away from good foods to harmful ones, from good remedies to shameful sickness. The healthy heart prefers what is beneficial and healing to what is harmful and damaging; the sick heart prefers the opposite. The most beneficial sustenance for the heart is faith and the best medicine is the Qurân.
The Signs of a Healthy Heart
For the heart to be healthy it should depart from this life and arrive in the next, and then settle there as if it were one of its people; it only came to this life as a passer-by, taking whatever provisions it needed and then returning home. As the Prophet, may Allâh bless him and grant him peace, said to Abdullâh ibn Umar, “Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a passer-by.” The More diseased the heart is, the more it desires this world; it dwells in it until it becomes like one of its own people.
This healthy heart continues to trouble its owner until he returns to Allâh, and is at peace with Him, and joins Him, like a lover driven by compulsion who finally reaches his beloved. Besides his love for Him he needs no other, and after invoking Him no other invocations are needed. Serving Him precludes the need to serve any other.
If this heart misses its share of reciting the Qurân and invoking Allâh, or completing one of the prescribed acts of worship, then its owner suffers more distress than a cautious man who suffers because of the loss of money or a missed opportunity to make it. It longs to serve, just as a famished person longs for food and drink.
Yahya ibn Muâdh said: “Whoever is pleased with serving Allâh, everything will be pleased to serve him; and whoever finds pleasure in contemplating Allâh, all the people will find pleasure in contemplating him.”
This heart has only one concern: that all its actions, and its inner thoughts and utterances, are obedient to Allâh. It is more careful with its time than the meanest people are with their money, so that it will not be spent wastefully. When it enters into the prayer, all its worldly worries and anxieties vanish and it finds its comfort and bliss in adoring its Lord. It does not cease to mention Allâh, nor tire of serving Him, and it finds intimate company with no-one save a person who guides it to Allâh and reminds it to Him.
Its attention to the correctness of its action is greater than its attention to the action itself. It is scrupulous in making sure that the intentions behind its actions are sincere and pure and that they result in good deeds.
As well as and in spite of all this, it not only testifies to the generosity of Allâh in giving it the opportunity to carry out such actions, but also testifies to its own imperfection and shortcomings in executing them.
The Causes of Sickness of the Heart
The temptations to which the heart is exposed are what cause its sickness. These are the temptations of desires and fancies. The formers cause intentions and the will to be corrupted, and the latter cause knowledge and belief to falter.
Hudhayfa ibn al-Yamanî, may Allâh be pleased with him, said: “The Messenger of Allâh said, Temptations are presented to the heart, one by one. Any heart that accepts them will be left with a black stain, but any heart that rejects them will be left with a mark of purity, so that hearts are of two types: a dark heart that has turned away and become like an overturned vessel, and a pure heart that will never be harmed by temptation for as long as the earth and the heavens exist. The dark heart only recognises good and denounces evil when this suits its desires and whims.’ ”
He, may Allâh bless him and grant him peace, placed hearts, when exposed to temptation, into two categories:
First, a heart which, when it is exposed to temptation, absorbs it like a sponge that soaks up water, leaving a black stain in it. It continues to absorb each temptation that is offered to it until it is darkened and corrupted, which is what he meant by “like an overturned vessel”. When this happens, two dangerous sicknesses take hold of it and plunge it into ruin:
The first is that of its confusing good with evil, to such an extent that it does not recognise the former and does not denounce the latter. This sickness may even gain hold of it to such an extent that it believes good to be evil and vice-versa, the sunnah to be bida and vice-versa, the truth to be false and falsity to be the truth.
The second is that of its setting up its desires as its judge, over and above what the Prophet taught, so that it is enslaved and led by its whims and fancies.
Second, a pure heart which the light of faith is bright and from which its radiance shines. When temptation is presented to pure hearts such this, they oppose it and reject it, and so their light and illumination only increase.
 Al-Bukhârî, Kitâb ar-Riqâq, 11/233.
 Muslim, Kitâb al-Imân, 2/170 (with different wording).