Reflection No. 274 on Q 8:24 – Between a person and his heart

وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ يَحُولُ بَيْنَ الْمَرْءِ وَقَلْبِهِ
Wa-‘lamū annallāha yahūlu baynal-mar’i waqalbih
And know that Allah intervenes between man and his heart
(Sūratul Anfāl, No.8, Āyat 24)

In this verse Almighty Allah asks the human being to understand an important fact; He has the power to come between the human being and his heart. To better understand this ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī explains two important words in this verse:
– Yahūlu from the word haylula meaning a barrier between two objects. This obstructs or controls the passing of anything from one object to another.
– Qalb meaning heart, used in the Quran to signify that with which the human being understands and feels. Emotions such as love, hatred, happiness, sadness, hope, etc. are experienced through the Qalb.

The human being has many faculties and strengths which he employs to function in life. They help him move forward in life or lag behind. But God is the creator of these faculties, knows everything about them and is aware of how they are being used. He is the true owner of each of these faculties and can control them as He wishes. He encompasses each of the individual inner senses that mold human perspectives. Thus God comes between the human being and these senses. He allows the human being to use them as He wishes and can prevent him from using them as He wishes. Whatever understanding the human being arrives at, or however close he reaches to an understanding or perspective, God is still closer to it than he is. This is the meaning of God being a barrier, He is there before him and the human being reaches there only because God allows him to.

There can be no curtain or barrier between the human being and God Himself. Any veil that can be imagined, God is closer to the human being than it and comes before it. Every doubt and whispering that enters the human heart, God is closer to him than that and thus the human being is naturally inclined to the belief in God before any other understanding.
God is closer to the human being than his own heart. A barrier between two objects is closer to each object than the objects are to one another. Thus when He is closer to the heart, He encompasses more of what is in the heart than the human being himself.

This verse reveals the amazing truth that God has more control over the human heart than the human being himself. His control over it depends on the intentions and actions of the human being. When there is goodness and virtue God grants Tawfīq to increase it and take it to the best of states. When there is apathy or evil, God withholds His mercy and Tawfīq and lets the human being disgrace himself.

It is thus that believers pray to God to turn their hearts to the best of states. We recite in the famous supplication: Yā muqallibal-qulūbi walabsār, thanbbit qalbī ‘alā dīnik – O the One Who turns the hearts and the sights, make my heart firm on Your religion.

Recite this verse to remind yourself of the closeness of God to your heart and His power over it. Seek help against your own understandings and perspectives from Him as He is closer to them than you are. It is a humbling reminder than human beings need to be defended from their own selves and only God can provide that defense.

Source: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husain Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān