Getting to the Heart of It

Getting to the Heart of It

The human heart is the most meaningful part of our human existence both physically and spiritually. In the womb, the heart is the first organ to begin developing and transporting blood and nutrients to the embryo. In Arabic, the word for heart ‘qalb’  قلب  literally means ‘to turn’ which is indicative of the nature of both the corporeal and spiritual heart. The pumping action of our physical hearts churns constantly keeping our body systems operating correctly. Our spiritual heart or our thoughts, emotions, and actions have a natural tendency to change. It is Allah Who  instructs us to come to Him with a heart that is authentic, transparent in its devotion, steadfast and resolute. 

Only those who come before Allah with a pure heart (qalb un saleem)

(Quran 26:89)

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, told us the importance of the heart when he said, 

“There lies within the body a piece of flesh. If it is sound, the whole body is sound; and if it is corrupted, the whole body is corrupted. Verily this piece is the heart (qalb).”

(Sahih Bukhari 52)

The heart needs to be taken care of and maintained to operate in the most efficient manner. It is through our hearts that we are truly able to perceive and comprehend the profound nature of Islam and how to truly submit to Allah, The Most High and our physical hearts regulate our very existence. 

The traditions of Islam teach us how to preserve the development of a healthy cardiovascular system. The American Heart Association lists action items for a healthy heart that are consistent with Islamic practices.

Eat healthy and watch weight 

  • As Muslims, we are instructed to do everything in moderation.  By eating in moderation this keeps us from becoming overweight. In addition, the Quran itself mentions the consumption of healthy foods – olives for instance which are scientifically proven to be healthy for our hearts and associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular death. The Quran instructs the believer:

Eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He does not like those who commit excess.”

(Quran 7:31)

Physical Activity 

  • The best exercise that we have as Muslims is the performance of salah. Each day we stand, bend over, kneel, prostrate 17 times. We start the day before the sun rises with this activity and end it with it as well. These physical and repetitive movements keep blood pumping, joints moving and muscles strengthening. A neuroscience study entitled, “The Effect of Prostration (Sajdah) on the Prefrontal Brain Activity: A Pilot Study” included in the National Institute of Health archives revealed that the act of prostrating with the head to the ground that Muslims make when in the Sujood prayer position was beneficial to brain activity (Yousefzadeh). In the Quran we are compelled to prostrate as a means of pleasing our Lord as well. 

O believers! Bow down, prostrate yourselves, worship your Lord, and do what is good so that you may be successful

(Quran 22:77)

Control cholesterol and blood pressure 

  • The American Heart Association explains that high blood pressure is when blood pressure, the force of your blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels, is consistently too high. When the level of pressure is consistently too high, this forces the heart and blood vessels to have to work much harder, and thus less efficiently. High cholesterol is a condition that occurs in the human body when levels of cholesterol in the blood are elevated enough to cause health problems, typically heart disease or stroke. High cholesterol may be hereditary, but it is also impacted by age, weight, diet, diabetes or tobacco use. Weight, diet, diabetes and tobacco use are addressed within the Islamic lifestyle. Another study listed in the National Institute of Health archives, “Cardiovascular Responses during Head-Down Crooked Kneeling Position Assumed in Muslim Prayers” proved that the act of making Sujood or prostration showed a significant decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressures.

Tobacco use and secondhand smoke 

  • The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that smoking cigarettes can permanently damage heart and blood vessels, leading to cardiovascular disease. The nicotine in tobacco smoke travels quickly to the brain, where it acts as a stimulant and increases heart rate and breathing. Tobacco smoke also reduces the level of oxygen in the bloodstream, causing a drop in skin temperature. Tobacco has long been classified as an intoxicant because it has the ability to alter the mood of the person using it. Therefore, the use of tobacco is not in keeping with Islamic principles.
    Allah warns the believers:

O believers! Intoxicants, gambling, idols, and drawing lots for decisions are all evil of Satan’s handiwork. So shun them so you may be successful

(Quran 5: 90)

Manage stress 

  • Stress can be a physical, mental, or emotional reaction to pressure we may receive from a particular situation or event. Stress cannot be avoided as we deal with other human beings and have disagreements, but it can be managed.  Managing is a form of regulating or controlling things that we are confronted with.  In Islam, we often manage emotional stress by engaging in Dhikr – remembrance of Allah. When we remember that nothing happens without the knowledge or leave of Allah and reflect on His attributes that He is Al-Rahman, The Most Merciful in delivering compassion to us, Al Ghafar, The Most Forgiving in sparing us from torment, and Al-Noor, The Light that will guide us, we can reduce those moments of stress by calling on Him.

Those who believe and whose hearts find comfort in the remembrance of Allah. Surely in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find assurance.

(Quran 13 : 28)


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