Two years ago, when I gave a brief presentation on this topic, it stirred quite a controversy among the listeners, who perhaps thought of heart as a mushy and bawling-over-love organ only, which has nothing to do with logic. However, after two years of studying Quran, Ahadeeth and Arabic, I stand my ground even firmer. Generation of thinking is indeed, a feeling.
I don’t have much scientific backup to it; but Ahadeeth and the verses from Quran speak for themselves. Though I also hope that someday someone would have an extensive scientific research on it as well to change the face of this cliché, since we all believe the Quran and Snnah more, when they are backed by science (which isn’t wrong either). Let’s strike at the heart of it, shall we?
Heart or brain: in the light of the Quran
“Have they not travelled through the land, and have they hearts wherewith to understand and ears wherewith to hear? Verily, it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts which are in the breasts that grow blind.” (Al-Hajj 22:46) Hearts are the main source of reasoning. Here, rationality has been associated with it, since no organ works, if the heart doesn’t.
“And you see those in whose hearts there is a disease (of hypocrisy), they hurry to their friendship, saying: We fear lest some misfortune of a disaster may befall us.” (Al-Maidah 5:52) Almost everywhere feelings precede the thinking. What you feel is what you say usually. It all starts from the root, out until the fruit. Think before you speak; or feel before you do.
“The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, except him who brings to Allah a clean heart (clean from Shirk (polytheism) and Nifaq (hypocrisy)).” (Ash-Shuara 26:88-89)
Heart comes first
If you have a damaged heart, then it makes a lot of difference. So don’t take this half-heartedly. “Do they not then think deeply in the Quran, or are their hearts locked up (from understanding it)?” (Muhammad 47:24) It implies that one can’t reflect, if his/her heart is locked. Perhaps we should say ‘think with an open heart’, instead of ‘an open mind’, because eventually the latter will happen, since thinking sprouts from the bottom of the heart.
“And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah (i.e., this Quran), and be not divided among yourselves, and remember Allah’s favour on you, for you were enemies one to another but He joined your hearts together, so that, by His grace, you became brethren (in Islamic faith).” (Al-Imran 3:103)
Great minds think alike? Or how about, great hearts bond alike?
Heart or brain: in the light of Ahadeeth
“Allah (swt) said: ‘I have prepared for My righteous slaves (such excellent things) as no eye has ever seen, nor an ear has ever heard nor a human heart can ever think of.’” (Bukhari)
Heart – source of our imagination
“Allah (swt) has forgiven my nation for the evil suggestions of their hearts, so long as they do not act upon it or speak of it, and for what they are forced to do.” (Ibn Majah)
The false dichotomy of head vs. heart cannot be resolved by the mind gaining dominance over emotions, but by increasing the balance between the two systems.
“Verily Allah (swt) does not look to your bodies nor to your faces; but He looks to your hearts.” (Muslim) You can’t have a sweet fruit with a bitter root.
Narrated Abu Hurairah (ra): “I came to the Prophet (sa) and spread out my garment to him, then he took it and gathered it at my heart, so I did not forget after that (any Hadeeth).” (Tirmidhi) This was really new to me, because I would never have connected forgetfulness with the blood-pumping organ, but now I know why they say ‘know/learn it by heart’.
Heart or brain: in the light of science
Our heart senses emotional info five to seven seconds before it happens, while brain senses it three to five seconds beforehand. So not only emotions are important contributors to our output of thoughts, but may be one of the best ways to influence and create a change in what and how we think.
In 1974, the French researchers Gahery and Vigier, stimulated the vagus nerve (which carries signals from heart to the brain) in cats and found that the heart and nervous system were not simply following the brain’s directions.
In 1983, the heart was reclassified as an endocrine gland, when a new hormone called Atrial Natriuretic Factor (ANF), which affects blood vessels, kidneys, adrenal glands and regulatory regions in the brain, was found being produced by the heart. Dr. J. Andrew Armour discovered the heart also contains a cell type known as Intrinsic Cardiac Adrenergic (ICA), which synthesizes and releases neurotransmitters once thought to be produced only by neurons in the brain and nerve ganglia.
Heart starts beating in an unborn fetus before the brain has been formed – a process scientists call Autorhythmic. Dr. Armour introduced the concept of a functional “heart brain” in 1991. Considered an independent entity, the heart’s brain is composed of an elaborate network of neurons, support cells and neurotransmitters, which enable it to process information, learn, remember and produce feelings of the heart and then transmit information from one cell to another. “We observed the heart was acting as though it had a mind of its own and was profoundly affecting perception, intelligence and awareness,” explained Mc Craty.
According to Goleman, it’s a person’s EQ (Emotional Quotient) as much or more than their IQ (Intelligence Quotient) that enables them to succeed in life.
During the 1960s and 70s, pioneer physiologists John and Beatrice Lacey conducted research that showed the heart actually communicates with the brain in ways that greatly affect how we perceive and react to the world around us.
Neurologist Antonio Damasio stresses the rationality of emotion in his book “Descartes’ Error”, where he emphasizes the importance of emotions in decision making. He points out that patients with brain damage in the areas of the brain that integrate the emotional and cognitive systems, can no longer effectively function in the day-to-day world, even though their mental abilities are perfectly normal.
I don’t mean to say that brain has nothing to do with our lives. There are many places in the Quran, where Allah (swt) has mentioned the use of intellect. However, the main point to note is the high importance of the heart. You have to water the roots first. Don’t cut off the connection with your heart, merely because you want to be a logical/rational person. That way you are just gradually burying it under the debris of darkness. Dark hearts breed dark thoughts.
It is never too late to take steps towards change. There is time, until the last breath crawls out of our lungs. Heal the heart for curing the brain and mending the actions. Instead of solely relying on your own self or the people around, seek help from Allah (swt), as Prophet (sa) used to do. The supplication he said most frequently was: “O Changer of the hearts, make my heart firm upon Your religion.” (Tirmidhi)
May Allah (swt) give all of us sound heart. Ameen.