‘It was autumn, and the Indians on the reservation asked their new chief if it was going to be a cold winter. Raised in the ways of the modern world, the chief had never been taught the old secrets and had no way of knowing whether the winter would be cold or mild. To be on the safe side, he advised the tribe to collect wood and be prepared for a cold winter. A few days later, as a practical afterthought, he called the National Weather Service and asked whether they were forecasting a cold winter. The meteorologist replied that, indeed, he thought the winter would be quite cold. The chief advised the tribe to stock even more wood.
A couple of weeks later, the chief checked in again with the Weather Service. “Does it still look like a cold winter?” asked the chief. “It sure does,” replied the meteorologist. “It looks like a very cold winter.” The chief advised the tribe to gather up every scrap of wood they could find.
A couple of weeks later, the chief called the Weather Service again and asked how the winter was looking at that point. The meteorologist said, “We’re now forecasting that it will be one of the coldest winters on record!” “Really?” said the chief. “How can you be sure?” The meteorologist replied, “The Indians are collecting wood like crazy!”‘1
The chief has unwittingly fallen into a circular argument, of sorts; a vicious circle, so to speak. His evidence for needing to stock more wood turns out to be that he was stocking more wood!
Humour aside, there is another sort of circular logic in a more serious aspect of our lives: the connection between our hearts and our outward actions. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, informed us that, ‘Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh which, if it be sound, all the body is sound and which, if it be diseased, all the body is diseased. Truly it is the heart.’2
What this hadith tells us is that when the heart is filled with piety, pious intentions and reverent submission to God, the outward acts of the limbs will reflect such piety in terms of hearing, seeing and doing righteousness. Conversely, if the heart harbours impiety, malice, spite, jealously and an inordinate love of materialism, that too will be reflected in deeds of defiance and disobedience to God; or injury and injustice to our fellow man. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali struck this simile when he wrote: ‘This is why it has been said that the heart is the king of the limbs, and the limbs its soldiers. This being so, they are soldiers obedient to the king, in its service, ever fulfilling its commands, never opposing it in the slightest. So if the king is virtuous, the soldiers will be too; but if the king is corrupt, the soldiers will act corruptly too.’3
The above hadith confirms the link between our inward and outward state, and how the heart influences the outward behaviour of the limbs. It is worth noting that other hadiths say that the reverse is also true. The Prophet, peace be upon him, would say about the need to straighten the rows for prayer: istawwu wa la takhtalifu fa takhtalifa qulubukum – ‘Straighten your rows and do not differ, lest your hearts differ.’4 So here we see that tending to the outward act of straightening the rows for prayer is a reason for hearts to be inwardly united; and visa-versa! In other words, outward acts of piety influence the heart’s purity and soundness. ‘A servant’s faith,’ says another hadith, ‘will not be upright until his heart is upright; and his heart will not be upright until his tongue is upright.’5 In short: the inner (batin) influences the outer (zahir); and the outer, the inner.
As for those deeds which best rectify the heart, and are a profound cause for its inner purification, they include: performing obligations (farad, wajibat), consuming lawful food, reciting Qur’an, making dhikr, keeping company of righteous people, praying at night and seeking God’s forgiveness abundantly.6
1. Cited in Cathcart & Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar (New York: Abrams Image, 2007), 42-3.
2. Al-Bukhari, no.52; Muslim, no.1599.
3. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:210.
4. Muslim, no.432.
5. Ahmad, Musnad, no.12636. It was graded hasan in al-Albani, Sahih al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma’arif, 2000), no.2554.
6. See: al-Haytami, Fath al-Mubin bi Sharh al-Arba‘in (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 250.