And abase me not on the Day when (humanity) will be raised up. The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, except for him who comes to Allah with a pure heart. [Sûrat Al-Shuʿarâ’, 26:87-89]
FREQUENTLY, THE TERM “qalbin salîm” is translated as a “pure heart.” In many of our minds, a pure heart is often connected to a person who commits no sins, who does not err. For most of us, it’s impossible to live a sinless, errorless life. This makes some of us feel like qalbin salîm is somewhat an unattainable goal.
But qalbin salîm wasn’t understood to relate to perfection by Qur’anic commentators. The masters of Quranic understanding in fact specified that qalbin salîm does not refer to a person who commits no sin.
In Tafsîr al-Baghawi, Imam Al-Baghawi explains the heart in this verse to mean:
Pure from associating partners with God and doubts. As for sins, not a single person is protected from [not] committing them. And this is what most Qur’anic commentators have said.
So, if qalbin salîm isn’t specifically for those who are sinless, perfect believers…to whom is it referring?
As mentioned in Tafsîr ibn Kathîr, according to Muhammad Ibn Sîrîn:
The qalbin salîm knows that Allah is the truth, that the Hour is coming without doubt, and that Allah raises the dead from their graves.
Ibn ʿAbbâs explains that this type of heart,
Testifies there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah.
Mujâhid and Al-Ḥasan Al-Baṣri both agree that it refers to being pure from shirk (associating partners with Allah).
And Saʿîd Ibn Al-Musayyib said:
It is the heart that is sound; the heart of the believer. Because the heart of the disbeliever and the hypocrite are sick (as Allah says, In their hearts is sickness… [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:10])
Imam Jalâl Al-Dîn Al-Ṣûyuṭi mentions in Tafsîr Al-Jalâlayn that qalbin salîm refers to a heart,
free of shirk and hypocrisy- and that is the heart of the believer…
Al-Ṭabari mentions it as the heart being sound from doubt in the Oneness of Allah and resurrection after death.
Al-Ḍaḥâk mentioned it’s a heart that is sincere.
As we can see from numerous Quranic commentators, the “pure” heart isn’t referring to a believer who commits no sins or who is perfect. It is referring to a heart that is free of associating partners with God, that believes in Him without doubt and that believes in the Hereafter.
In other words, if you’re a Muslim who worships Allah directly, have no doubt in His existence or that there is a Hereafter, then you already have one part of qalbin salîm: a sound, pure heart.
BUT WHAT IF you do have doubts? What if sometimes, you have a question that festers in your heart and you feel it is slowly chipping away at your soul? Does that mean your heart is wretched? Does it mean you aren’t a good enough believer?
No. It’s normal to have questions and to need reassurance. Ibrahim—the Friend of God, the one who physically was thrown into a fire that was made cool for him- the Prophet who has seen miracle after miracle coming from Allah—asked God:
My Lord! Show me how You give life to the dead.” [Allah] said: “Do you not believe?” [Ibrahim] said: “Yes [I believe], but to be stronger in faith.” [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:260]
If someone in Ibrahim’s lofty station is seeking another sign to help his heart feel firm and certain about the truth, then what about you and me? There will certainly be times where we need our faith strengthened, need our questions answered, so that our doubts, concerns and questions can lead us to feel stronger in our own faith as well.
SO, IS THAT IT? Is that all there is to having a ‘pure’ and ‘sound’ heart?
There’s another aspect mentioned by Qur’anic commentators and encompassing qalbin salîm: that of character.
Ibn ʿÂshûr explains in his tafsîr that the second part of qalbin salîm refers to actions that are righteous. In Ṭantâwi’s Al–Tafsîr Al-Waṣîṭ, he includes that this term refers to purity from committing ugly actions. Imam Al-Qurṭubi explains that the second part of the meaning of this term refers to a heart that is free from reprehensible characteristics and that is described with beautiful ones.
A number of mufasirûn cite the words of the Prophet ﷺ:
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. (Bukhari)
Thus, they posit that righteous deeds begin with a heart that is salîm as this is the center from which all other actions stem.
A heart that is free of jealousy, free of hating a fellow believer without valid reason, free of arrogance, free of self-awe and arrogance, are amongst the qualities which we must all work on if we are to achieve qalbin salîm.
How can we achieve a qalbin salîm? Here are a few suggestions:
- As related to the faith in God and certainty of the Hereafter:A. Find aspects of Islam that help our hearts feel firm on the reality of Allah and the reality of the Hereafter. For example, the natural world miracles of the Quran and the prophesies of the Prophet ﷺ.— How could the Prophet ﷺ, someone who was illiterate, who had no formal study and who certainly did not have any present-day technologically advanced tools in the middle of the desert over 1400 years ago, state scientifically-sound concepts that range from astronomy to botany to embryology and so much in-between as related in the Quran?— How could he ﷺ have predicted what would happen after his death, only for those prophecies to come true not only once, but over and over? These are not the actions of a human who was [God forbid] crazy or simply passionate about a cause. These are signs from the Divine.
B. Contemplation: Spending time in nature, considering the vastness of the power of Allah and the greatness of His creation.— Contemplating the incredible and complex nature of the human body and brain.
— Contemplating the miracle of life: how a human is born out of combined liquid!
How could any of this exist randomly, without His perfect power?
C. Self-reflection: Considering all the miracles, the bounties and the blessings that He has bestowed upon us.
— How many times have we been saved from something, only to realize it was undoubtedly by Allah’s mercy?
— How can we deny His special attention to each and every one of us when we reflect on the intricacies of our lives?
D. Questions: If a person has a question that’s plaguing the heart and blocking the ability to feel certain of Allah and the Hereafter, seek the answer from those who are qualified to respond. If the answer isn’t satisfying, continue to search. Sometimes the way one person explains something to us might not make sense, whereas the words of another may click.
E. Always make duʿâ’ for Allah to keep our hearts firm. Amongst the most voiced duʿâ’ of the Prophet ﷺ was: Yâ muqalib al-qulûb, thabbit qalbî ʿala dînik. Oh Turner of hearts, keep my heart firm on Your religion. (Tirmidhi)
As related to character:
Improving our characters is an ever-evolving process; this is a journey that takes a lifetime. Here are just two ideas on how to begin the process of character purification:
— Write a list of beneficial characteristics we believe we have, as well as characteristics we need to improve on. Take one characteristic in each category and develop a plan for enhancing one positive characteristic and working on one negative characteristic over a specific time period. What are ways I can be a better parent to my children when they irritate me? What are ways I can be a better child when my parents frustrate me? How can I work on the arrogance that creeps into my heart? How can I want for my brother or sister that which I want for myself, without being jealous of what Allah has blessed them with?
— Increase in my duʿâ’ and dhikr, asking God to purify my heart, hoping that purification will affect my character. When the Prophet ﷺ would look in the mirror, he would say: Allâhuma, ‘aḥsanta khalqi, fa’aḥsin khuluqi. Oh Allah, You have perfected my creation, so perfect my character. (Ahmad)
OUR HEARTS DON’T NEED to be perfect for us to validly expect that we can come on the Day of Judgment with qalbin salîm. Instead, qalbin salîm means having certainty in Him and in the Hereafter, worshipping Him directly and without partner, and striving to improve our characters throughout our lives by doing righteous deeds that are pleasing to Him. And when we mess up: go back to Him, repent and seek His forgiveness and help in improving. It’s a lifelong process, but inshâ’Allah in the end, if we strive, we will all be counted as those who spent their lives seeking to attain qalbin salîm.