Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Unique Heart - Courtesy Dr. Gohar Mushtaq Ph.D (Biophysical & Biochemistry)


The Unique Heart

HUMAN BEINGS ARE comprised of two components: body and soul (ruh). The Qur'an mentions that our body is made from the soil of this earth:

And among His signs is this, that He created you from dust. (Surah Ar-Rum: 20)

Then, in this material being, Allah sends an angel to blow the spirit.

So when I have fashioned him and breathed into him (his) soul created by Me. (Surah Saad: 72)

The reference to the dual nature of human beings is made in the Qur' an when Allah describes the creation of Adam:

I have created with Both My Hands. (Surah Saad: 75)

The body and the soul undergo varying degrees of connection with each other and Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziya mentions the five stages of the body-soul relationship that span both our earthly and Eternal life:

1 Shortly after conception, Allah instils a ruh in the unborn child;
2 This connection continues when the child is born until the time of death;
3 During sleep there is partial disengagement of the soul from the body;
4 After death, in barzakh, although the soul has left the body, a connection still remains between the two;  
5 On the Day of Judgment, souls and bodies will be re- united. The body-soul connection will be at its strongest then because in the Eternal Life there will be no sleep or death or any other physiological changes.42

Thus, the human body is made from earthly ingredients but the soul has heavenly origins. Therefore, there is a conflict between our material and spiritual being. The human body possesses desires similar to those of animals whereas the human soul strives for heavenly desires. This struggle ends with death, when the spirit leaves the body.

The instinct to worship is the desire of the human soul whereas instincts of hunger, thirst and sex are the desires of the body. Islam promotes a balance between the soul and the body, which is why it prohibits both monasticism as well as hedonism. All the ingredients of food for our physical body come from the soil of this earth because our physical being originated from this earth. However, since our soul was instilled by a heavenly being, its hunger is satisfied by the Divine. In fact, the food for our soul is the heavenly revelation of Allah - The Qur' an. The Qur' an is the spring of life for our soul.

In discussing the body-soul duality in the nature of human beings, Dr. Israr Ahmed, a contemporary Islamic scholar, medical doctor and commentator of the Qur' an, said the following:

"The source of human volition and also the centre of the human soul is the heart. Human beings have a spiritual being as well as a physical being. The human soul is from Allah and it will return back to Allah as mentioned in the Qur'anic ayah: 'Truly! To Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.' (Surah Al- Baqarah: 150).
On the other hand, our physical body came from this world and it will return back to this world: 'Thereof (the earth) We created you, and into it We shall return you, and from it We shall bring you out once again.' (Surah Ta-Ha: 55)

The human heart is like a mirror between the two. The example of the heart is like a glass (zujajah), which contains a lamp (misbah) which is present inside a niche (mishkat) as described in Surah an-Nur (ayah 35). Our chest or ribcage looks similar to a niche; our heart is like a glass (zl~iajah) inside which the lamp of the soul is glowing." 43

If the heart is not kept clean then the lamp of the soul is dimmed, much like a light-bulb that is covered with dust. However, if the heart is kept polished then the soul will light up the whole human being. This light or nur was most apparent in Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The Prophet (SAW) gave the following advice for polishing the heart:

There is a polish for everything that takes away rust; and the polish for the heart is the remembrance of Allah. (Bukhari)

There are three types of self or states of spiritual development that have been mentioned in the Qur'an. The lowest of these is called nafs ammarah (12:53), the self that is prone to evil. Nafs lawwamah (75 :2) is the self that feels conscious of doing evil, resists, repents and tries to amend. The highest stage of all is nafs mutma'innah (89:27) which is when the self achieves full peace and happiness. Our objective is to control nafs ammarah that urges us to fulfil our baser instincts with no thought for the consequences and ultimately achieve the inner peace that comes with nafs mutma'innah.

This can only come about when we obey Divine commands and live our lives according to Islamic teachings. There is more wisdom in these commandments than we can ever fully comprehend but our limited knowledge is slowly allowing us to understand and appreciate some of these as the following passages show.

The Heart and Salah (Prayer)

During our everyday life, the brain is in a physically higher position than our heart and that sometimes results in the arrogance of the brain. However, when we prostrate to Allah as in salah, our heart attains a higher position in our body than our brain and that is the state of a human being in which he/she is closest to Allah. This is emphasised both in the Qur' an and in the hadith:

Fall in prostration and draw near to Allah! (Surah Al-Alaq: 19)

The closest a slave ever is to his Lord is when he is in prostration, so make much supplication. (Muslim)

Islam places even greater emphasis on congregational worship and the reasons for this become apparent in the light of scientific evidence.

Heart cells are similar to other cells in the rest of the human body in terms of chemical composition. However, there is one thing that heart cells do differently from other body cells that makes them unique - they are the only cells in the body to pulsate or beat rhythmically.

In the laboratory, if a single heart cell is placed on a slide and observed under a microscope, it continues to beat for a short while, then loses its rhythm and dies. Similarly, if two heart cells are placed on a slide at a distance, they also die after a short time of beating without rhythm. However, if two heart cells are placed close together on a slide (they do not need to touch each other), they start beating in synchrony (with the same rhythm) and they do not die. The same phenomenon occurs on a larger scale in the case of a complete heart. All the heart cells beat in synchrony (with the same rhythm in unity), which makes the heart such a powerful organ.

What is the reason behind the synchronous beating of the two heart cells (even though they are not connected to each other), which prevents them from dying? Each tiny heart cell produces waves of electromagnetic energy as it pulsates. According to Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of 'The Biology of Transcendence' , when the electromagnetic waves produced by two heart cells on a slide match (synchronise), the two heart cells strengthen each other and start to beat in unity;44 This phenomenon can be observed on a macroscopic (larger) level as well. When people are in close proximity in a room, their hearts start to beat with the same rhythm. Even their breathing pattern synchronises in such instances.

This phenomenon, called 'entrainment', was first observed in the seventeenth century by a European scientist called Christian Huygens with pendulums. When there are many pendulums swinging close to each other, they will end up swinging in synchrony with the largest pendulum no matter how different their rate of swinging to start with.

As mentioned previously, the heart produces waves of electromagnetic energy. In fact these can be measured using magnetometers from as far as three feet away from the body. When people are in close proximity, their electromagnetic waves interact with each and this interaction can also be measured using sensitive instruments. This means that all the hearts in a given space start to be affected by the waves generated by the strongest heart (which could be the heart of the leader) and start to beat with the same rhythm (pulled into entrainment) as that of the strongest heart. 45

When the companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) were sitting in his presence, they used to remember Allah much more than when they were alone. Since the heart of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was always engaged in the remembrance of Allah (his heart was awake even when his eyes were asleep), his heart would pull the hearts of his companions in entrainment.46

When Muslims are praying behind one Imam and they straighten their rows, as a result, their hearts become synchronised. Their hearts beat in unity and, thus, are strengthened. This is the wisdom behind a hadith narrated by Nu'man bin Bashir from Prophet Muharnmad (SAW) according to which he used to tell his companions before the salah:

Straighten your rows three times. Otherwise, Allah will make your hearts turn against each other. (Abu Dawud}

The Heart and Dhikr (Remembrance of Allah)

Allah has made the heart and all the other parts of the human body for His remembrance. The heart is pacified by the remembrance of Allah (dhikr) and good deeds:

Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest. (Surah Ar-Ra'd: 28)

Commenting on the Islamic dhikr, Louisa Young, a British journalist and author, writes in The Book of the Heart:

"The simple pulse, the beating of the drum of the heart, is the repetitive rhythm which leads and propels meditation - the voyage into the heart - in all religions ....

One Muslim ritual is the recitation of the Qur' an; the flowing, hypnotic rhythm of the Arabic words has often been compared to the heartbeat. Grief caused by the separation from God is assuaged by remembering God: 'Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.' This remembrance is dhikr - remembrance, the mental and verbal repetition of a verse of the Qur'an or one of the names of God." 47

In fact, it has been scientifically shown that the human heart is responsive to dhikr. One such study, conducted at the Akbar Clinics in the US, examined the response of the body when listening to the recitation of the Qur'an, The heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension were monitored among three groups of volunteers - Muslims who understood Arabic, Muslims who did not understand Arabic and non-Muslims who did not understand Arabic.
The results of the study show very clearly that listening to the recitation of Qur'an results in the relaxation of smooth muscles, reduction of the heart rate and all the physiological changes that are indicative of release from stress and anxiety. These effects were produced both among Muslims and non-Muslims, regardless of whether they understood the Arabic language or not.

Interestingly, different ayat of the Qur'an produced different effects among all the subjects of the study. For example, the recitation of those verses promising reward (verses of targheeb) had a greater stress-reducing effect on the listeners whereas listening to the recitation of the verses promising punishment (verses of tarheeb) had less of a stress-reducing effect on the listeners. 48

A similar scientific study, conducted at the University of Khartoum in Sudan, looked at the effect of Qur'anic recitation on patients with hypertension (high blood pressure). The results of this study also showed that listening to the recitation of the Quran contributed significantly to a lowering of blood pressure among the patients.49

In the light of this research, it is therefore not surprising that the companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used Qur'anic dhiker to heal medical conditions. Listening to the Qur'an recited beautifully can have a healing effect which is why the Prophet (SAW) emphasised:

Beautify the Qur'an with your voices. (An-Nasa'i and Abu Dawud}

The Heart and Tawaf (Circumambulation of the Ka'bah)

Performing the tawaf is one of the most spiritually uplifting times in the life of a Muslim. It is done in an anti-clockwise manner with the left side of the body facing the Ka'bah. The same anti-clockwise motion can also be observed in nature from the largest scale to the smallest scale. For example, all the planets in our solar system revolve around the sun in an anti-clockwise manner, while electrons also rotate around the nucleus of an atom in the same way.

Some Islamic scholars have said that tawaf is performed In an anti-clockwise manner because in this position the heart (which is towards the left side of the body) is inclining towards the Ka'bah.50 The human soul, because of its heavenly origins, yearns to meet Allah and so the heart, as the seat of the human soul, inclines towards the Ka'bah symbolising that desire. The Ka'bah also symbolises the Islamic concept of Monotheism. During tawaf , Muslims testify that Allah is the centre of existence and He is the focus of our hearts.

The Heart and the Acceptance of Islam

The heart plays a central role in the acceptance of Islam, whether it is a non-Muslim who embraces Islam or a born-Muslim who endeavours to better understand his faith. Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth century French scientist and religious philosopher, once said about the human heart:

"The heart has its reasons the mind will never know. Those on whom God has imparted religion by intuition are very fortunate and justly convinced." 51

In this oft-quoted statement, Pascal was referring to intuition of our heart. According to Pascal, religious truth is often known through intuition. We have seen evidence, in the previous chapter, to show that females are more heart-inclined and that intuition in females relies more on the response from the heart. It may be for this reason that eighty percent of those who accept Islam are women. It should be clarified that the decision to accept Islam is not based on mere emotion because almost all of these women stay steadfast on their decision to accept Islam until their death.
One of these many women converts is Jeanette Hablullah, a doctor of neuropathy from America, who chose Islam after many years as a Catholic. In her book about the heart, 'The Magnificent Organ', she describes the human heart not only as a vital organ and a physical entity but also as the source of judgement and wisdom.52 She also explains that a pious and God-fearing heart heals our bodies and souls.

Allah took a pledge from all souls before their birth regarding His Existence and Authority as the Qur'an states:

And (remember) when your Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their seed (or from Adam's loin his offspring) and made them testify as to themselves (saying): ((Am I not your Lord?" They said:""Yes! We testify," lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: "Verily, we have been unaware of this." (Surah Al-A'raf 172)

Almost immediately afterwards is the following ayah:

And surely, We have created many of the jinns and mankind for Hell. They have hearts wherewith they understand not, they have eyes wherewith they see not, and they have ears wherewith they hear not (the truth). They are like cattle, nay even more astray; those! They are the heedless ones. (Surah AI-A'raf 179)

It is not mere coincidence that the Qur'an speaks of the heart as an organ of intellect after mentioning the covenant taken by all human souls. This implies that our hearts carry the primordial memory of our covenant with Allah taken from our souls. In other words, every child is born with a natural belief in Allah and an inclination to worship Him alone, which is called fitrah. However, the environment in which a person is brought up then affects that natural state as the Qur'an asks of the non-believers:

Do they not then think deeply in the Qur' an, or are their hearts locked up (from understanding it)? (Surah Muhammad: 24)

Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, famous Islamic philosopher and poet, raised the very pertinent point that regardless of the strength of logical evidence provided, in the matter of accepting Islam, it is the heart that must be touched. He said to one of his students:

"According to my understanding, the human heart and brain process information in different ways. The brain may sometimes reject many strong proofs and does not care about them. But the heart on the other hand may be impressed by a small incident and, all of a sudden, the whole life pattern may change. The matter of acceptance of Islam is related to the heart much more than the brain. The actual thing, which an Islamic preacher (da'ee) should know, is what are the things that touch the heart of non-believers. We have many mental proofs to testify the truth of Islam but we have very few 'hearty proofs' .... In the acceptance of Islam, the heart is the actual thing. When the heart agrees on a change and it is convinced about a matter, then the whole body has no choice except to obey the heart. "53

So the matter of accepting or rejecting Divine Guidance depends upon the heart more than the brain. When the heart opens to the truth, the whole body follows it. As Allah says in the Qur'an:

And whomsoever Allah wills to guide, He opens his breast to Islam, and whomsoever He wills to send astray, He makes his breast closed and constricted, as if he is climbing up to the sky. (Surah Al-An'am: 125)

This point is well illustrated by an incident (one of many) that took place at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) it as narrated by Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyah in his book Zad al-Ma'd:

"After the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet was circumambulating the house when Fudala ibn 'Umayr decided to kill him. He drew near to him. The Prophet said, "Fudala?" He replied, "Yes! Fudala, O Messenger of Allah!" He said, "What were you saying to yourself?" "Nothing!" He said, "I was invoking Allah!" The Prophet laughed then said, "Ask Allah for forgiveness!" Then he placed his hand on his chest and there was peace in his heart. Fudala used to say later on, "By Allah! By the time he took his hand off my chest, none of Allah's creation was dearer to me than him! As I was returning to my family I passed by a woman I used to converse with, she said, "Come over!" I said, "No, Allah will not allow it, nor will Islam!"" 54

Not only does the individual heart play a vital role in embracing Islam, but Muslims as a whole need strong hearts to be united as an ummah, as a hadith states:

12,000 Muslims united (as one heart) cannot be defeated. (Abu Dawud)

Commenting on the underlying wisdom of this hadith, Jeanette Hablullah, writes:

"We have gatherings greater than this in some cities here in the United States at least twice a year but where is our effect? Our hearts have not yet reached the necessary level. The heart must first purify and right the individual in which it resides, then it will join with other purified and righteous hearts. When this happens, there is nothing in this universe that can have a sufficient opposing force."55

Maulana Mahmood-ul-Hasan, who was imprisoned on the Island of Malta by the British government in India, said that during his years in prison, he contemplated over the cause of the decline of the Muslim nation and he reached the following conclusion:

"There appear to be two reasons for the decline of the Muslim ummah today:
i)              Muslims have forsaken the Qur'an; and
ii)              Muslims are disunited." 56,

Today the defence system (immune system) of the Muslim ummah has become very weak. One of the features of a healthy body with a good defence system is that the antibodies (defence army of the body) learn from the past. When they encounter a virus or any other harmful intruder in the body, they remember it and so if it enters the body again, these antibodies unite to defend the body from the onslaught. If a virus is present in four persons and only one person falls ill, it is not the virus that is to blame but the immune system of the ill person. Similarly, the Muslim ummah should work to build up its own strength before placing the blame for our illness elsewhere.

Imam Shafi has rightly said in one of his poetic verses:

"We blame time and the fault is in us,
There is no fault in time except us." 
(Diwan ash-Shafi)

The companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had very strong immunity and a good defence system and their hearts were united because they had vaccinated themselves with the Qur' an. The remedy for the current situation that the Muslim ummah finds itself in is quite simply a daily dose of the Qur' an and Sunnah.

And holdfast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Qur'an) and be not divided among yourselves. (Surah Al-Imran: 103)

If you differ in anything; amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger (i.e. Qur'an and Sunnah} (Surah An-Nisa: 59)

I am leaving with you two things. If you hold them tight, you will never go astray. They are the Book of Allah (Qur'an) and my Sunnah (Hadith). (Muslim)

When we stop competing with each other with wealth and material possessions; when we sacrifice our egos and learn to tolerate differences of opinions within the boundaries of the Qur'an and Sunnah, then our hearts will unite, and with that unity will come an unparalleled strength. As the old saying goes - 'United we stand and divided we fall'.

Umar bin al-Khattab (RA) , the second rightly guided caliph, said:

There is no Islam without a congregation and there is no congregation without a leadership.57

Allah reminds us in the Qur' an that we can only be brothers in faith when our hearts are united:

And remember Allah's favour upon you, for you were enemies and He joined your hearts together, so that by His Grace, you became brethren (in Islamic faith). (Surah Al-Imran: 103)

The Heart and the Mother-Child Bond

By the time an unborn child is four and half weeks old in the womb of the mother, its sense of hearing (auditory system) is complete and it can hear sounds produced in the body of the mother. Of all the sounds that the child hears in the womb, the most predominant one is the continuous rhythmic sound of its mother's heartbeat. As long as the mother's heartbeat is normal and regular, the unborn child feels safe. However, if the mother is in a prolonged heightened state of anxiety then this will have adverse effects on the unborn child. In the 1940's, Lester Sontag, M.D. first discovered that the mother's heartbeat affects the heartbeat of her unborn child.58 This is why it is so important for the mother and those around her to take care of her emotional well-being as well as her physical health.

The unconscious memory of the mother's heartbeat in the womb remains with the child after birth and throughout his/ her life. Thomas Verny, M.D., in his book 'The Secret Life of the Unborn Child', has mentioned that it is because of the unconscious memory of the mother's heartbeat that a baby can be comforted by being held close to someone's chest in much the same way that many adults can fall asleep to the steady sound of the ticking of a clock.59

It is known that when our heart waves and our brain waves match (synchronise), our body functions at "optimum capacity". 60 Similarly, when the wave-frequencies of the hearts of mother and baby are synchronised, as Joseph Chilton Pearce puts it, "the mother's developed heart furnishes the model frequencies that the infant's heart must have for its own development in the critical first months after birth." 61 One of the times that this synchronisation of the mother-child heart waves occurs is when the mother is breast-feeding her child.

During breast-feeding, the child is close to the mother's heart and listens to her heartbeat. As Joseph Chilton Pearce writes, "On holding her infant in the left-breast position with its corresponding heart contact, a major block of dormant intelligences is activated in the mother, causing precise shifts of brain function and permanent behaviour changes."62 Perhaps this could be why most mothers instinctively place their babies to their left breast, keeping those hearts in proximity. The importance of close body contact, or better yet, close heart-to-heart contact of the mother and her newborn is stressed by James W. Prescott, Ph.D. of the Institute of Humanistic Science:

"Only in the human mammal do we find the newborn separated from its mother at birth and the mother not breast feeding her newborn and infant. We have discovered that such aberrant behaviours which violate millions of years of evolutionary biology and psychobiology have exacted a terrible price upon the physical, emotional and social health of the newborn and infant and as a child, adolescent and adult - depression, impulse dyscontrol, violence and substance abuse." 63

Mother's milk contains just the right amount of fatty acids, lactose, water and amino acids for digestion, brain development and growth. It also contains many types of immunities a baby needs in early life while his/her own immune system is maturing. In addition, human milk contains the lowest concentration of fats and proteins compared to the milk of other mammals. This makes feeding of the newborn necessary after about every twenty minutes. In contrast, rabbit milk has such a high concentration of fat and protein that the mother need only feed the baby rabbit once a day. Such low frequency feeds are found in all other mammals. The fact that human milk is poor in nutrients and is digested quickly makes it necessary for the mother to breast-feed her baby several times day and thus make frequent contacts which are beneficial for both mother and baby.

It is precisely for these reasons that in the Qur'an, Allah has emphasised the importance of breast-feeding and has set the time period for breast-feeding at two years:

And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship (during pregnancy), and his weaning (stopping of breast- feeding) is in two years - Give thanks to Me and to your parents - unto Me is the final destination. (Surah Luqman: 14)

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 58. Bernard, J. &: Sontag, L. (1947). Fetal Reactions to Sound. Journal of Genetic Psychology 70,  209-210.
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Important information on Position of Music status in Quran and Hadith and Scientific reasoning

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