wa-‘lamū anna-llāha yahūlu baynal-mar’i wa-qalbih
And know that Allah intervenes between a man and his heart.
(Sūratul Anfal, No.8, Āyat 24)
The heart (qalb) of the human being as mentioned in this verse and other verses of the Quran is the medium through which the human being thinks and feels. It is the cognitive tool given to him to traverse life on earth with reason and understanding. The awareness, insights, emotions, motivations of the human being, etc. all stem from the heart. These then lead to actions and behavior, gradually forming the personality of the human being.
This precious tool given to the human being must be preserved so that it leads man towards perfection. If it becomes sick and afflicted it will fail to perform its essential duty. Thus Allah retains control, directing and withholding in accordance with the efforts of the human being himself.
What does it mean to say Allah intervenes between a person and his heart? The following explanations from various tafāsīr throw light on this;
1) It means that Allah is there within him, between his being and his heart. He is closer to the essence of the human being than the human being himself. In another verse Allah describes the intensity of this closeness – We are nearer to him than his jugular vein (Q50:16).
2) Allah can control the movements of the heart and mind of the human being. In a Du‘ā al-Gharīq we recite: Ya muqallibal qulūbi wal absār – O One who changes the hearts and sights. He is aware of all that enters the heart and has full control over it.
2) It also means that Allah comes between the dictates of the heart that lead man astray – for those who deserve it. If it had not been for the Grace of the Almighty the human being would not have recognized Truth and Falsehood.
The message of this verse is that Allah encompasses the human being completely. He is not separate from him and in fact is very close, closer than the human being can imagine. He controls all things for the human being. Life and death, knowledge and ability, tranquility and happiness . . . all are in His hands. The human being can do nothing without the permission and opportunity given to him by Allah.
The human being is master over the many different parts and forces within him in a limited sense only. His body parts, the five senses, his different abilities are all part of his being which he combines and uses as he likes. He is master over his own being but that mastership has been granted to him by the real Master and Creator. Almighty Allah gives man limited control but He Himself ultimately retains full control, granting to the human being what He wishes and withholding from him what He wishes. This underscores the need of being God-conscious (taqwā) at all times.
The word qalb means turn, change, transform. There is no stability. The human being is constantly fluctuating in his thoughts and emotions, and Almighty Allah helps him or leaves him to himself as he deserves. The Holy Prophet (s) has said: All the hearts of the human beings are between two fingers from the fingers of Allah, He turns them the way He wishes. Then the Prophet (s) prayed: Allāhumma musarrifal qulubi isrif qulūbanā ila tā‘atika– O Allah, One who turns the hearts, turn our hearts towards Your obedience. (Āmālī al-Murtadhā, v.1, p. 318). Of course this does not mean physical fingers but signifies control and mastership.
This verse is a declaration of the Mastership of Allah. Recite it to remind yourself that hearts are constantly changing and are in the control of the Almighty. Pray that He may help your heart be stable and firm on His path, and that He may turn the hearts of others towards you.
Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; www.islamquest.net/fa/archive/