The heart is the machine that drives all acts of worship. It is what moves the entire body! As long as the heart is alive, then the limbs will be alive, and the soul will open itself up to worship. However, if the heart becomes diseased, then worship will become too heavy on the soul, leading to it eventually disliking and hating – and we seek refuge with Allah from this – worship. Because of this, Allah – the Glorified and Exalted – said, regarding the prayer: “…and truly, it is extremely heavy and hard except on those who are submissive…” [Surah 02/al-Baqarah, v:45]
The prayer is heavy, because one’s legs and hands are not what get up for the prayer. What gets up for the prayer are the heart and the soul?
“Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is He Who deceives them. And when they stand up for the prayer, they stand with laziness and to be seen of men, and they do not remember Allah but little.” [Surah 04/an-Nisaa’, v:142]
Because of this, it is the heart that stands up for worship. The limbs are simply slaves of this heart, carrying out what it commands them. If the heart is alive, then the soul will be alive, and worship will become beloved and sweetened to the hearts and the souls, and they will open up for it.
However, if the heart becomes diseased, then worship becomes too heavy on it. The heart is like the digestive system: right now, the most beloved thing to you is meat. However, if you develop an ulcer somewhere in your digestive system, then the meat – along with its fat and oil -becomes the most hated thing to it, since it is diseased. Sweets are also something that are beloved to the soul. For example, if you were fasting right now and were to break your fast on some desserts, then your soul would become satisfied with that, right? However, if one were to be stricken with diabetes, then he would not be able to handle these sugary foods, even if they were beloved to him.
The heart is like this: it must be strong so that it can handle worship that is strong. The stronger your heart becomes, then throw as much worship upon it as you wish. You would get up to pray at night, and you would cherish this prayer and consider sleep to be your enemy:
“Their sides forsake their beds, to invoke their Lord in fear and hope…” [Surah 32/as-Sajdah, v:16]
He begins to forsake it because an enmity develops between him and his bed. He prays behind the imaam, and he says to himself: “If only he would make the prayer longer,” so that he would increase in his opening up to this worship, and his tasting of its sweetness.
At times, I would pray a normal prayer with the people behind me, so I would elongate the prayer. The youth would then come to me and say (the hadeeth): “Whoever leads the people in prayer should go easy on them,” -the youth! And there was an old man behind me who was between 90 and 100 years of age – his face filled with light – and he would say to me: “Keep making the prayer long and do not answer them.” A man of ninety years getting pleasure out of a long prayer, and a youth of twenty, who probably practices karate and judo, cannot handle the same prayer.
If he went to the soccer field and spent two hours playing there without becoming bored, then why would he become bored from hearing the Qur-aan for five minutes? The difference between a short prayer and a long prayer is simply five minutes, so why does he become bored from these five minutes of Qur-aan, yet he does not become bored from two hours of soccer? Why does he not get bored from standing for two hours staring at an inflated piece of leather, his heart attached to it?
Because, what stands up to pray is the heart, and what stands up for sports are simply the body and muscles.[From a lecture given by ‘Abdullah ‘Azzaam on June 15, 1988 entitled ‘The True Preparation’ found in the collection ‘at-Tarbiyyah al-Jihadiyyah wal-Binaa’; 1/220
How do we train the heart? By purifying the soul and denying the ego (nafs). It is best to surround oneself with good Islamic literature and pious company to create an Islamic environment that will remind one of Allah and help one carry out good deeds in a steadfast manner. Ramadaan is a brilliant way to train basic desires of the self (nafs), as mentioned by (Abu’l-Faraj Jamal al-Din) Ibn al-Jawzi (rahimahullaah), [d.597 AH] in his book “Tibb-ar-Roohaani”;
1. Excessive Eating
2. Excessive Sexual Appetite
3. Hoarding Wealth
Know that within every human being there exists three capacities: A lingual capacity, a lustful capacity, and an anger capacity.
That said, he who Allah honoured by bestowing upon him the love of knowledge should care for perfecting his lingual self, by which Allah favoured him over all animals, and with which he shared a common characteristic with angels. He should make this self-capacity predominant over the other two capacities. So that it be comes like the rider, his body becomes like the horse, because a rider should be predominant over a horse due to his elevation, so he be able to lead it wherever he likes and he should be able to slaughter it if he so wishes. Likewise the lingual capacity should be predominant over the other two capacities, using and ceasing to use them as it likes and whoever is like that truly deserves to be called a human being.
Know that discipline of the self is achieved through lenience and moving from one state to another. This should not be done violently but rather leniently, and then he should combine both hope and fear. He strengthens this discipline by keeping good company, leaving bad company, studying the Qur-aan, beneficial stories, thinking about paradise, hell and reading the biographies of wise people and ascetics.
Some of the righteous predecessors would desire a sweet treat, and so they would promise themselves to eat it. If they prayed the night prayer they would allow themselves this reward.
A neighbour of Maalik ibn Dinaar (rahimahullaah) said, “One night I heard him saying to himself, ‘That’s how you should be!’ The next morning I told him, ‘There was no one home with you, so who did you say that to?’ He said, ‘My self asked me for some bread, it insisted so I restrained it from eating for three days, then I found a dry piece of bread, when I was about to eat it I said, ‘Wait I will get soft bread’ so it [his selfj said, ‘I am contented with this.’ So I said, ‘That’s how you should be!’”.
Know that if the self (nafs) knows that you are serious it will also be serious and hardworking, if it knows that you are indolent it will become your master.
From among the practices of discipline of the self is bringing it to account for every statement, for every action, for every negligence and sin. When its discipline is over, it will appreciate the exhaustion it endured.
Thaabit al-Banaani (rahimahullaah) said, “I endured the night for twenty years (by praying) and )then] I delighted in the night for twenty years.”
Abu Yazid said, “I kept driving myself to my Lord while it cried, until I drove it while it smiled.”
Nevertheless one should not forget the rights of the self, which is giving it its gratifications that do not oppose the object of discipline. For if it is prevented from its aims in general, the heart will become blind, worries will disperse, and the slave will be come constrained.
And know that the estimation of the self with Allah, May He be exalted, is greater than the estimation of the acts of worship. This is why He has permitted the breaking of the fast for a traveler; however it is only the people of knowledge who understand this.
Keep trying, no matter how we falter, we get up each time and stumble in repentance and the hope of being forgiven and gaining nearness to Him. What is life without Allah? Not a life worth living at all, for He is the very reason we breathe each second of our lives.
1. “The True Preparation” found in the collection ‘at-Tarbiyyah al-Jihadiyyah wal-Binaa’; 1/220 by Shaykh ‘Abdullah ‘Azzaam (rahimahullaah)
2. “Tibb-ar-Roohaani” by Imam Abu’l-Faraj Jamal al-Din Ibn al-Jawzi (rahimahullaah), Dar-as-Sunnah Collection, translated by Aymān bun Khālid as “Disciplining the Soul”