Reflection No. 184 on Q 2:74 – Softening of the Heart

ثُمَّ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ فَهِيَ كَالْحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً ۚ
Thumma qasat qulūbukum min ba‘di dhālika fahiya kal-Hijārati aw ashaddu qaswah
Then your hearts hardened after that, so that they were like rocks, rather worse in hardness; Sura al-(Sūrtual Baqarah, No. 2, Āyat 74)

The above verse refers to the Banū Israel who were told to sacrifice a cow and strike a murdered man with a part of it. The man would then become alive and tell them who his murderer was. The many excuses and questions the Banū Israel asked Prophet Musa (a) about this, and their obvious reluctance to do as they were commanded, is condemned by Allah in this verse. Their attitude resulted in hardness of the heart.

One of the diseases that afflict the heart is hardness of the heart, known in Arabic as Qaswatul Qalb. Āyatullāh Dastghaib in his book Qalbe Salīm, describes it as a spiritual disease that prevents a human being from accepting the truth, and from submitting to, or having awe for, a Higher Authority. Hardness of the heart is a metaphorical term meaning indifference to advice or warnings. The heart is unaffected by scenes or events which evoke emotion such as the complaints of the oppressed and the weeping of the orphan. It generally becomes cold and stony.

Hardness of the heart is a disease and needs to be cured. To achieve true success in both the worlds, the human being must have a heart that is soft and responsive. Imam Muhammad al-Bāqir (a) said:  No-one has been struck with a punishment greater than hardness of the heart (MH, H. 16,695). The human heart is not created hard. The child’s heart is very soft and tender. The adult however, through accumulation of sins and heedlessness, gradually acquires a hard heart. It is the duty of every believer to be wary of the state of his heart and take steps to avoid hardness.

Islam has shown many preventive measures as well as remedies for the hard heart. Many of the activities performed by Muslims, individually as well as in congregation, help believers in this matter. Salaat, Dhikr of Allah, helping the poor, going for Hajj or Ziyārat, are all actions that soften the heart and allow it to let the light of Allah pierce through.

One of the ways through which the heart is softened is through the ‘Azā’ during the days of Muharram. Mourning the tragedy of Karbala help soften the heart intellectually as well as emotionally; intellectually through listening to Qur’anic verses, Ahādīth of Ma‘sūmīn and their interpretations, and emotionally through active participation in the grief and tragedy of the Holy Ahlul Bayt (a).

The following are some ways in which ‘Azā’ help in preventing the hardening of the heart.

‘Azā’ and Remembrance of Allah
One of the best ways to prevent the death of the heart is to remember Allah. Muharram is an intensive period of reminders; reminder of the need to focus one’s life on pleasing Allah, reminder of the Hereafter and the transiency of life, and a reminder of what is really important in life.

‘Azā’ and Knowledge
One of the ways suggested by Islam to soften the heart and prevent its death is the acquiring of wisdom and knowledge. Luqmān al-Hakīm advised his son to seek knowledge, saying: Surely Allah gives life to the hearts through the light of wisdom, the way He gives life to the earth with rain from the sky (MH, H. 16733) Through the majālis that are part of ‘Azā’, knowledge and wisdom is transmitted from the pulpits of the mosques to the hearts of the believers. Thousands of believers listen to Majālis during these days thereby increasing their knowledge and softening their hearts.

‘Azā’ and Grief
Although a human being likes happiness for himself all the time, perpetual feelings of joy lead to arrogance and rebellion. Grief softens the heart, and makes the human being wiser and more emotionally mature. The Holy Prophet (s) has said: When Allah loves a person, He places in his heart a part of sorrow, for Allah loves every grieving heart. And when He dislikes a person, He will place in his heart a part of laughter, for laughter deadens the heart and Allah does not love those who are excessively happy. Grieving for Imam Husayn (a) and the sufferings of the holy family softens the hearts. The sorrow that is felt, the tears that are shed help to remove hardness of the heart and thus slow down or prevent the dying of the heart.

Use this verse to remind yourself of the dangers of a hard heart. Appreciate the opportunities we have to soften the heart, opportunities that are really blessings from the Lord who loves us and desires that we stay away from hard heartedness.

Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīre Namune;
Muhammadi Rayshahrī, Mīzānul Hikmah