Understanding ‘Sharh al-Sadr’

فَمَن يُرِدِ اللَّهُ أَن يَهْدِيَهُ يَشْرَحْ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ

Faman yuridillāhu an yahdiyahu yashrah sadrahu lil-islām

Whomever Allah desires to guide, He expands his chest for Islam.

(Sūrat al-An’ām, No 6, Āyat 125)

The human capacity for deep understandings is expandable. A small mind can have limited horizons of thought and can only grasp so much. But a mind that is expansive can see beyond petty matters and is able to have profound insights that give a clearer perspective of life. The fact that the mind can be expanded gives hope of guidance and ultimate success.

According to the above verse, Almighty Allah expands the chest – the heart/mind – for those whom He wishes to guide. Allah ‘azza wajall only wishes to guide those who are working on the path of guidance themselves. As a gift and boost to their struggles, He expands their chest. This means:

  1. They can think lofty and noble thoughts.
  2. They can overlook petty matters.
  3. They can understand subtleties of life.
  4. Their ability to gain knowledge and awareness increases.
  5. It becomes possible for them to submit wholeheartedly to the beliefs of Islam.
  6. The heart is soft and receptive to the truth.
  7. They are bestowed with calmness and inner peace

Expansion of the chest has been described as a light placed in the heart by Allah. The Quran says: Is someone whose chest Allah has opened to Islam so that he follows a light from His Lord…? (Q 39:22). Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā also talks about this light as life after the death of the heart. He says: Is he who was lifeless, then We gave him life and provided him with a light by which he walks among the people, like one who dwells in a manifold darkness which he cannot leave? (Q 6:122).

The human being has the potential to know and understand truths and realities. This potential is awakened in the heart that is expanded and the light of Ma’rifah of Allah shines in such a heart. The light shines in three stages. There is the light of intelligence at the beginning of the path, light of knowledge in the middle, and awareness or gnosis at the end of the path. As the believer traverses this path, many of the veils before the eyes are removed and there is familiarity with the secrets of the other world. The Prophet (s) says: Beware of the intuition of the believer, for he sees with the light of Allah. (Kanzul Ummāl, H 30731).

Almighty Allah tells the Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam: Have we not expanded your chest for you? (Q94:1). This ability allowed the Prophet to perfectly understand and convey the mission of Allah as well as to bear all the difficulties that came with the task. His soul could carry the heavy responsibility of Prophethood and carry it out his work with patience and steadfastness. It is reported that when the Prophet (s) asked Allah about the miracles given to the other Prophets such as control over the wind, and giving life to the dead, Almighty Allah told him He had granted him the blessing of Sharh al-Sadr – expansion of the chest. This shows that this gift was greater than the miracles granted to the other Prophets.

When Prophet Musa (a) was given the responsibility of inviting Fir‘awn to belief in One God, he asked Allah for Sharh al-Sadr (Q 20:25). It was a necessary tool for facing the tyrant, going through the challenges of preaching the word of Allah, guiding the Ummah, and being a good leader. Sharh al-Sadr is the most important capital of Prophets and leaders. Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) says: The instrument of leadership is Sharh al-Sadr. (Nahjul Balāgha, H. 176)

The Prophet identified some signs of Sharh al-Sadr. When asked how to recognize if a person has Sharh al-Sadr he explained that there are three signs: Inclination towards the eternal abode, not being attached to the transient world, and preparing for the end of life. As a believer goes forward in the path of Sharh al-Sadr, these signs become more manifest in him.

Let this verse remind us of the value of Sharh al-Sadr and its effect on the life of a believer. It is a blessing we should constantly be asking for and working to attain.

Sources: Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; www.pasokh.org/fa/question/view/10006/