Wisdom, the balance between heart, mind, and knowledge

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

In the realm of seeking truth, in the sea of information one is exposed to daily, a reflection on our means of perception is required to better understand what shapes our decisions. From the perspective of the Quran, humans are nothing more than the heart and the mind. The heart is where meaning resides, and the mind is where reason is processed.

The heart acquires it meanings from both sensory experiences and from arguments of reason. On the other hand, the mind is always attempting to form a consistent story by reconciling contradictory information using reason. The mind needs a lack of contradiction to affirm or reject an argument.

The message of Islam is based upon using reason to lead us towards true meaning. Reason is an essential cornerstone to validate the authenticity of the Quran as a divine revelation. The revelation would not be true if it were contradictory, so Allah asks us to reflect upon the consistency within the Quran:

 أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ ۚ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِنْدِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا

Do they not reflect upon the Quran? If it had been from someone besides Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction.

Surat al-Nisa 4:82

Allah also expresses through the Quran the proper values and virtues that lead to a good life in this world and in the Hereafter, while those who refuse to have faith are unable or unwilling to understand:

قُلْ هُوَ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا هُدًى وَشِفَاءٌ ۖ وَالَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ فِي آذَانِهِمْ وَقْرٌ وَهُوَ عَلَيْهِمْ عَمًى

Say: For those who have faith it is guidance and healing. And for those who do not believe it is deafness in their ears and blindness over them.

Surat Fussilat 41:44

In this verse, Allah informs us of the role the senses play in shaping meanings in the heart. When the senses deliver meanings opposed to those expressed by the Creator, they are considered to have failed their intended functions. Hearing and seeing in this context are not in the physical sense of detecting sounds waves or colors and shapes. Rather, they are in the meanings that are instilled in the heart.

The problem with perception arises when the mind and the heart are in conflict. Allah warns us against putting the heart above all else, at the expense of reason, as it will invalidate our knowledge and disable the senses from arriving at true meanings:

أَفَرَأَيْتَ مَنِ اتَّخَذَ إِلَٰهَهُ هَوَاهُ وَأَضَلَّهُ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍ وَخَتَمَ عَلَىٰ سَمْعِهِ وَقَلْبِهِ وَجَعَلَ عَلَىٰ بَصَرِهِ غِشَاوَةً فَمَن يَهْدِيهِ مِن بَعْدِ اللَّهِ ۚ أَفَلَا تَذَكَّرُونَ

Have you seen one who has taken his desire as his god, and Allah has sent him astray, despite his knowledge, and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put a veil over his vision? So who will guide him after Allah? Then will you not be reminded?

Surat al-Jathiyah 45:23

We are warned not to follow our hearts without the aid of reason because Satan (shaytan), as a force for evil, has the ability to insert false meanings into the heart. Allah describes him as:

الَّذِي يُوَسْوِسُ فِي صُدُورِ النَّاسِ

He who whispers into the hearts of people.

Surat al-Nas 114:5

At the same time, the mind, wherein reason resides, acts as a shield from the influence of Satan over our hearts. Satan himself has no power to influence us unless we follow him by abandoning our reason. As Allah said:

إِنَّ عِبَادِي لَيْسَ لَكَ عَلَيْهِمْ سُلْطَانٌ إِلَّا مَنِ اتَّبَعَكَ مِنَ الْغَاوِينَ

Verily, you have not authority over my servants except for those who follow you among the deviated.

Surat al-Hijr 15:42

It is reported that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had a dialogue with the devil about this topic. The Prophet said, “Tell me how you conquer the son of Adam.” The devil replied:

آخُذُهُ عِنْدَ الْغَضَبِ وَعِنْدَ الْهَوَى

I seize him when he is overcome by anger and desire.

Source: Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī 15:42

Anger and desire are located in the heart, in emotions and passions. This is where the devil attacks the weak point in the human being. Reason is the only way to protect ourselves from these attacks, as the mind tells us to overcome our desires when they are harmful.

Nevertheless, the heart is what gives us purpose in life and it cannot be ignored. The heart, reason, and knowledge can all be used for good or evil, but it is wisdom, the pure synthesis of them all, that the Quran declares is always good in every context:

يُؤْتِي الْحِكْمَةَ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَمَن يُؤْتَ الْحِكْمَةَ فَقَدْ أُوتِيَ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا

He gives wisdom to whomever he wills, and whoever has been given wisdom has certainly been given an abundant good.

Surat al-Baqarah 2:269

Wisdom in Islam is the balance between reason and meaning, between heart and mind, with reason taking the lead role. In other words, it is the mind that investigates and seeks out consistency in its understanding of reality before it instills values, virtues, and meanings into the heart.

Human beings always take a wrong turn whenever they put the heart (meaning) before reason. Wisdom requires putting the mind first such that Muslims will not be deceived by any medium that exploits sensations or emotions. For example, indulging in frivolous music or creating sculptures of living beings are discouraged in Islam because they appeal directly to the senses and penetrate the heart, bypassing reason altogether.

Wisdom comes from the act of balancing the heart and mind, with reason leading and directing emotions and passions towards what is good. In this context, Allah mentions three categories of people based upon how they fair within this internal struggle.

The first category is the soul that is at peace. This soul used its mind first to know what the right path is, as the one that lacks contradictions, and then moved to instill the meanings that support this consistent understanding of truth:

يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَىٰ رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً

O soul at peace! Return to your Lord, pleasing and well-pleased.

Surat al-Fajr 89:27-28

The second category is the soul that always blames itself.  This soul knows what is right in the mind but struggles to get the heart to follow reason. It often slips into following the heart’s desires, against the mind’s better judgment, and thus is constantly regretful:

وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ

No! I swear by the self-blaming soul!

Surat al-Qiyamah 75:2

The third category is the soul that puts the heart’s desires firmly first, ahead of reason and good judgment. This soul allows Satan to lead the way by exploiting emotions and passions in the heart:

يَعِدُهُمْ وَيُمَنِّيهِمْ ۖ وَمَا يَعِدُهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ إِلَّا غُرُورًا

Satan promises them and arouses desire in them, but his promise is nothing but delusion.

Surat al-Nisa 4:120

Hence, this lost soul takes a path that is purely sensory, without a higher purpose and without care for the inconsistency of meaning required to continue down this road. In this case, the path that one takes is purely sensational without regard to often contradictory nature of meanings those senses instill in the heart. Such a soul becomes blind, not physically, but spiritually:

فَإِنَّهَا لَا تَعْمَى الْأَبْصَارُ وَلَٰكِن تَعْمَى الْقُلُوبُ الَّتِي فِي الصُّدُورِ

Verily, it is not eyes that are blinded, but rather the hearts are blinded within their chests.

Surat al-Hajj 22:46

This inconsistency produces a state of cognitive dissonance, mental stress at the realization that one holds contradictory beliefs and has an inaccurate view of reality. At this point, one only has two choices: to return to reason to lead the way, or to concede to a false view of reality.

Humanity is passing through an era of turmoil. Anger seems to be fueling many of the radical changes we are witnessing throughout the world. One common theme in all of these tumultuous events are that they are driven by feelings and not reason. When emotions rule over our judgment, it is because Satan has accessed our hearts.

The bias towards the heart’s desires is a result of the highly stimulated environments in which we live in the modern world. The internet transmits sounds, images, and ideas that rely heavily on the senses to provide meaning, rather than reason, logic, and established facts. We have moved from the era of the printing press, the written word, to an era of memes, sound bites, and truncated thoughts in less than 140 characters. The dangers of this trend are clear to those who still allow reason rule their judgments.

Our only hope to reverse this trend is to revive and renew the Islamic concept of wisdom, of a perfect balance and synthesis between the mind, the heart, and knowledge. By bringing these three forces into proper working order, humanity has the opportunity to see and live reality as it truly is, without contradictions or cognitive dissonance.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.

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