What is the role of the heart in Islam?
In Islam, iman, that is faith, takes place through the affirmation of the heart and pronouncement of the tongue. What that means is that the true precinct where faith becomes manifest is not reason, but the heart, the center of spiritual sensing and feeling. This point is very important, for faith is a sublime feeling, whereas reason, in contrast, consists in providing means to overcome certain initial phases of understanding to reach that feeling of faith.
True faith is not accomplished unless the Divine truths accepted by reason receive their affirmation in the heart. A faith not entrenched in the heart does not transform into deeds and provide a direction to ones behavior. A faith as such carries no worth in the sight of the Almighty, who condemned the past scholars of the people of Israel for not practicing what they studied and learned of the Divine truths due to not having digested those truths in their hearts, comparing them with donkeys burdened with volumes of books. (See, al-Juma, 5.)
Knowing Divine truths, therefore, does not mean stashing them in the mind. To know is to decipher, through contemplating and sensing, the mystery of the tremendous order in the universe and in life and acting accordingly. And only a heart enlightened with the light of faith can live up to that.
What reason reaps through contemplating man, the universe and the Holy Quran, is comparable to raw minerals acquired from the earth. Processing these minerals into things of value, on the other hand, is part and parcel of the heart.
The heart is the center of spiritual sensing, of feeling. The function of the heart, also indicated by the terms intuition and inspiration, is to unify the proofs presented by reason and thereby enable a perfect comprehension of the truth, a process comparable to bringing the pieces of a broken vase together and revealing its true shape and pattern.
It is thus clear that the most perfect manner to reach the true and the good requires reason to be trained under revelation and a heart with a maturity of faith to step in and make amends for its inadequacy.
The value of contemplation, too, depends on it being reinforced with spiritual sense. Simply put, it rests upon a harmonious and balanced exertion of both the heart and reason. A balance swinging heavily in the way of reason may make someone a good man of the world, a self-seeking person. But in order to be a refined Muslim, it is imperative for the heart, the center of feeling and sensing, to receive spiritual training and act as a guide to reason; for the heart gives direction to thinking, while thinking provides direction to willpower. This effectively means that deeds of intent have their primary incentive in the heart; in effect, they are nothing but feelings embedded therein. Rectifying the heart in accordance with Divine commands is therefore of greater importance than setting other parts of the body in proper balance.
A kind of pseudo contemplation, based on desires egotistic in nature, vulnerable to spiritual diseases like pride and conceit and devoid of the guidance of the heart, digresses from its natural course, misleading man to devilish transgressions and depravity.
Mawlana Rumi says:
“Had Lucifer’s love been as immense as his reason, he would not have been the Satan he is today.”
It is therefore clear that reason alone holds no value. To take the helms of reason and give it an unswerving direction, it is vital to spiritually refine the feelings embedded in the heart.
To be concise, true contemplation begins at the point where a revelation inspired reason meets with a spiritually matured heart. Our use of the concept ‘contemplation’ throughout this book should therefore strictly be taken in its most perfected form: contemplation trained under Divine truths and reinforced with the sense of the heart.
Contemplation (اَلتَّفَكُّر) means to derive a lesson from any given thing or experience and focus on it, so as to gain a depth of understanding.
Deliberation (اَلتَّأَمُّل) means to stop and think and to further the investigation by virtue of persisting in contemplation. It denotes a process of delicate thought conducted on the universe and surrounding events, with the aim of deriving a lesson and thereby reaching the core of the given matter.
Forethought (اَلتَّدَبُّر) is to reflect on the pending consequences of a given event.
Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, Contemplation in Islam, Erkam Public.