Because the heart is described as possessing life or death, it is classified into three types:
The First: The Correct and Sound Heart.
This is the truthful and secure (salīm) heart, the only type of heart that its owner can bring to Allāh which will rescue him on the Day of Judgement [from the Grievous Punishment]. Allāh, the Exalted says,
“The Day when neither wealth nor sons will avail, except he who brings to Allāh a truthful and secure heart.” 26:88-89
The meaning of salīm (secure) is sālim (the one who is secure), it has come in this form because it depicts an innate attribute or description of the described. As such it is grammatically like the words tall (tawīl), short (qasīr) or graceful and charming (dharīf).
Therefore the one whose heart is described as salīm is characterised so because this attribute of truthfulness and security has become a constant and established description of it. In this respect it is like the terms, ‘the one who knows’ (‘alīm) and ‘the one who has power’ (qadīr). It is also the opposite of diseased (marīḍ), sick (saqīm) and ailing (‘alīl).
The statements of the people explaining the meaning of the secure and truthful heart have differed. However they all revolve around the [following] basic concept,
[The truthful and secure heart] is that which is secure from every carnal desire that opposes the order and prohibition of Allāh. It is secure from every doubt and uncertainty that would obscure or go against His narrative. It is secure from displaying servitude to any other than He just as it is secure from seeking the ruling of other than His Messenger (ṣallallāhu `alayhi wa-sallam). Therefore it becomes secure through loving Allāh and seeking the ruling of His Messenger. It becomes secure through showing Him dread (khawf), reverential hope (rajā’), placing its trust and reliance upon Him (tawakkul), turning to Him in repentance (inābah), humbling itself before Him (dhull), preferring what pleases Him in every circumstance and distancing itself from everything that would displease Him in every possible way. This is the reality of servitude (‘ubūdiyyah) which can only be directed to Allāh, Alone.
Therefore the truthful and secure heart is that heart which is secure from committing any form of shirk whatsoever and instead its servitude is only directed to, and purely for Allāh, the Exalted. Its desire, love, trust and reliance, repentance, humbleness, dread and reverential hope is only for Allāh and its actions are purely for His sake. Hence if it loves, it loves for the sake of Allāh; if it hates, it hates for the sake of Allāh; if it gives, it gives for the sake of Allāh; and if it withholds, it withholds for the sake of Allāh.
But this alone does not suffice until the heart becomes secure from submitting to, and going to anybody else but the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu `alayhi wa-sallam) for judgement. Therefore the heart ties a firm bond with him (ṣallallāhu `alayhi wa-sallam), resolving to follow him and obey him alone in sayings and actions. These sayings comprise the saying of the heart – which are the matters of belief, and the sayings of the tongue – which conveys what the heart contains. These actions comprise the actions of the heart – which refer to its desire, love, dislike and other connected matters, and the actions of the limbs.
Therefore the judge for all these matters – the major and minor of them – is that which the Messenger (ṣallallāhu `alayhi wa-sallam) came with. Hence the heart does not put itself before him in any matter related to belief, saying and action. Allāh, the Exalted says,
“O you who believe! Do not put yourself forward in front of Allāh and His Messenger.” [49:1]
meaning: do not speak [of a matter] until he has spoken of it and do not act until he has commanded it.
Some of the Salaf said,
There is no action, even if it be small, except that two records will be unfurled for it: why? and how?
meaning: why did you do it? How did you do it?
The first question enquires about the cause, onset and motive of the action. Was it done for some temporary, worldly gain or for some worldly purpose such as attaining the praise of people? Was it done for fear of the blame of people, to attain some worldly desire, or to repress some worldly dislike? Or was the motivation of this action the establishment of the rights of servitude [to Allāh], the seeking of increasing ones love of and closeness to Allāh, the Glorious and Exalted, and seeking the means of drawing close (wasīlah) to Him?
The essence of this question is: was it upon you to perform this action for the sake of your Master or did you perform it for some personal gain or by way of following your base desires?
The second question enquires about the following of the Messenger (ṣallallāhu `alayhi wa-sallam) in that action of worship. Meaning: was that action you did from those actions which have been legislated for you upon the tongue of the Messenger or was it an action that he did not legislate and was not pleased with?
Therefore the first question concerns sincerity (ikhlāş) and the second concerns following (mutāba‘ah) for indeed Allāh does not accept any action until both these pre-requisites are met.
The method of absolution from the first question is to purify ones sincerity such that it is for Allāh Alone.
The method of absolution from the second question is to actualise the following of the Messenger (ṣallallāhu `alayhi wa-sallam) and by securing the heart from any intent that would impair its sincerity and any base desire that would impair its following.
This is the reality of the secure and truthful heart from which ensues victory and bliss.
The Second: The Dead Heart
This is the heart that contains no life. It does not know its Lord and it does not worship Him by complying to His command and doing that which He loves and is pleased with. Instead it is a slave to its carnal desires, temptations and pleasures, even if these lead to the displeasure of its Lord and His anger. As long as it fulfils its cravings and attains its worldly desires, it does not care if its Lord is pleased or displeased. Therefore it worships other than Allāh. It directs its love, dread, reverential hope, pleasure, displeasure, glorification and submission to other than Him. If it loves, it loves for the sake of its base desires; if it hates, it hates for the sake of its base desires; if it gives, it gives for the sake of its base desires; if it withholds, it withholds for the sake of its base desires. It gives preference to its base desires and these are more beloved to it than the Pleasure of its Master.
Base desires are its leader, carnal desires are its commander, ignorance is its driving force, and negligence is the vessel [upon which it travels]. It is completely engrossed in contemplating how to attain its worldly desires. It is driven wild by the intoxication of its base desires and love of the temporal things. It hears the call to Allāh and the Abode of the Hereafter from a distant place and does not respond to the sincere advisor. It follows every cunning devil and the world is the cause of its anger and the cause of its pleasure. Base desires make it deaf and blind to anything other than falsehood. In this world it is like that which is said concerning Laylā,
An enemy to whosoever she displays enmity and at peace with those she likes
Whosoever she draws close to, he loves and draws close to.
Mixing with the person who has this heart is a sickness, interacting with him is poison and sitting with him is destruction.
The Third: The Diseased Heart
This is the heart that contains life but also possesses a defect. It has two urges calling it, one leading it to life and the other leading it to death and it follows whichever of the two that predominates.
It contains love of Allāh, the Exalted, faith in Him, sincerity to Him and trust and reliance upon him from those matters that are essential to its life.
It also contains the love of its carnal desires, giving preference to them and eagerness to attain them. It contains jealousy, arrogance, self-amazement, and love of ranking and sowing corruption in the land through attaining leadership from those matters that necessarily lead to its destruction and devastation.
It is constantly being tried by two callers, one calling it to Allāh, His Messenger and the Abode of the Hereafter and the other calling it to temporal, worldly matters. It responds to the one that is closest and most predominant at that time.
Therefore the first type of heart is the living, humble, soft, attentive and heedful heart.
The second type is the brittle, dry and dead heart.
The third type is the diseased heart, either it is closer to securing itself or it is closer to its devastation
Allāh, the Glorious, has mentioned these types of the hearts in His saying,
“Never did We send a Messenger or a Prophet before you without Shayţān insinuating something into his recitation while he was reciting. But Allāh revokes whatever Shayţān insinuates and the Allāh confirms His Signs, Allāh is All-Knowing, All-Wise. That He may make what Shayţān insinuates a trial for those in whose heart is a disease and whose hearts are hardened. Indeed the wrongdoers are entrenched in hostility. And that those who have been given knowledge may know that it [the Qur’ān] is the truth from your Lord, that they may believe therein and their hearts may submit to it with humility. Indeed Allāh is the Guide of those who believe, to the Straight Path.” [22:52-54]
In these three verses, Allāh, the Glorious and Exalted, has mentioned two types of hearts put to trial and one type that is victorious. The two types of heart that are put to trial are the diseased and the harsh and dry. The victorious heart is the heart of the believer that is humble before its Lord, it is at rest and satisfaction with Him, submissive and obedient to Him.
This is because it is desired from the heart and other limbs that they be healthy and secure, having no defect so that they can do that which agrees to their nature and the purpose for which they were created. The hearts’ stepping outside the bounds of steadfastness in obedience (istiqāmah) could either be due to its dryness and harshness or the absence of doing that which is desired of it [comprising the worship of its Lord]. In this respect it is like the mute tongue or the eye that cannot see due to some form of illness or defect that prevents the completion of these actions and their occurring with firmness.
This is why the hearts have been classified into three types:
1. The healthy, secure heart which contains no impediment preventing it from accepting the truth, loving it and giving it preference other than its coming to know of it. Therefore its recognition of the truth is correct and it is complete with respect to its submission and acceptance of it.
2. The dead, harsh and dry heart that does not accept the truth nor submit to it.
3. The diseased heart, when its disease predominates than it joins the ranks of the dead and harsh heart but if its soundness predominates it joins the ranks of the truthful and secure heart.
Anything that is directed to the person by Shayṭān such as his making him hear certain words, or suggests to the heart such as suspicion and doubt act as a trial for the latter two types of hearts and serve to further strengthen the living, truthful and secure heart.
This is because the living heart rejects all of this, dislikes it and hates it for it knows that the truth opposes it. Therefore it submits to the truth, is satisfied with it and submits to it. It knows the fallacy of that which Shayṭān has directed to it and therefore increases with respect to its certainty of the truth, its love of it, its rejection of falsehood and its dislike of it.
However the heart put to trial remains in doubt and dispute concerning what was directed to it by Shaytān. The healthy, secure heart, on the other hand, is not harmed by what Shaytān directs to it.
Hudhyafah b. al-Yamān (raḍiyallāḥu anhu) said that the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu `alayhi wa-sallam) said,
Trials and tribulation will be presented to the heart [one after another] in the same way that the mat is knitted together, reed by reed. Any heart that accepts them will have a black spot form on it. Any heart that rejects them will have a white spot put on it until the hearts end up being one of two types: a black heart, murky and like an overturned vessel, it does not know the good and does not reject the evil, [all it is seeks] is that which its base desires seek; and a white heart which will not be harmed by trials for as long as the heavens and the earth remain. [ Muslim [Eng. Trans. 1/ ]
Hence he likened the appearance of trails to the heart to knotting the reeds of a mat, one after the other.
He divided the hearts into two types based on how they react to these trials:
1. A heart that accepts the trials when presented to it in the same way that a sponge soaks in water. Therefore it has a black spot form on it, and it will keep on accepting these trials until it becomes totally black and inverted. This is the meaning of his saying, “like an overturned vessel” i.e. inverted. Then when it becomes black and inverted, it is subjugated to the following two dangerous diseases that thrust it to destruction:
a. Its confusion of the good and evil, hence it does not know the good or reject the evil. It is also possible that its disease lead him to believing the good to be evil and the evil to be good, Sunnah to be bid‘ah and bid‘ah to be Sunnah and truth to be falsehood and falsehood to be truth.
b. Its giving precedence to its base desires when seeking judgement rather than that which the Messenger (ṣallallāhu `alayhi wa-sallam) came with, its yielding to them and following them.
2. A white heart that has been set ablaze with the light of faith and its niche has been illuminated. When a trial is presented to it, it rejects it and represses it and hence its light, blaze and strength increase.
The trials that are presented to the hearts are the causes of its disease. They are the trials of carnal desires and doubts, the trials of aimless wandering and misguidance, the trials of sins and innovations and the trials of oppression and ignorance.
The first type [i.e. carnal desires] lead to the corruption of desire and intent and the second type [i.e. doubts] lead to the corruption of knowledge and belief.
The Companions (raḍiyallāhu anhum) divided the hearts into four categories as is authentically reported from Hudhayfah b. al-Yamān that the hearts are of four types:
1. The heart that has solely been illuminated by a blazing torch and that is the heart of the believer.
2. The heart that is encased and that is the heart of the disbeliever.
3. The heart that is inverted and that is the heart of the hypocrite – he knew and then rejected, he saw only to become blind.
4. The heart that has two urges: an urge calling it to faith and an urge calling it to hypocrisy. It belongs to the need that predominates it [Reported by Ibn Abī Shaybah, al-Īmān [p. 17] and others with a Ṣaḥīḥ isnād.]
The meaning of his saying, ‘a heart that has solely…’ means a heart that has detached itself of everything besides Allāh and His Messenger.
Therefore it has separated and secured itself from everything save the truth.
The meaning of his saying, ‘illuminated by a blazing torch’ refers to the niche of faith. Therefore he indicated by his words, ‘that has solely…’ that is secure from the false doubts and misguiding carnal desires. He indicated by his words, ‘a blazing torch’ that it was set ablaze and illuminated by the light of knowledge and faith.
The ‘encased heart’ refers to the heart of the disbeliever because it is immersed by a veil and covering and hence the light of knowledge and faith cannot reach it. This is as Allāh said, relating from the Jews that they said,
And they say: our hearts are wrapped.[2:88]
This veil is the covering that Allāh has placed on their hearts by way of punishment for their rejecting the truth and being too arrogant to accept it. Therefore it is a covering upon the hearts, a seal for the ears and a blindness for the eyes. This is the obscuring screen upon the eyes talked about in His saying,
“And when you recite the Qur’ān, We out between you and those who believe not in the Hereafter, an obscuring screen. We have put coverings over their hearts lest they should understand it and deafness in their ears.”[17:45-46]
When the people who have these types of hearts are admonished to purify their Tawhīd and following (ittibā‘), they turn on their heels and run!
The ‘inverted heart’ refers to the heart of the hypocrite as Allāh, the Exalted says,
“Then what is the matter with you that you are divided into two parties regarding the hypocrites? Allāh has cast them back [to disbelief] because of what they have earned.” [4:88]
This means that he causes them to relapse and return to the falsehood that they used to be in due to their earning their invalid and false deeds.
These are the most evil of hearts and the vilest of them for it believes falsehood to be the truth and shows love and allegiance to those who follow it. It also believes the truth to be falsehood and displays enmity to those who follow it. The aid of Allāh is sought!
The ‘heart that has two urges’ refers to the heart that has not become established upon faith and neither has its torch illuminated it because it has not devoted itself solely to the truth that Allāh sent His Messenger with. Instead it contains some faith and some of its opposite and hence it is closer to disbelief than faith sometimes and at other times it is closer to faith than disbelief. The heart follows whatever is predominating in it.