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ii) Qalb in the Qurʾān

So in my last post I basically said that science says that the heart is just a pump whilst the Islamic tradition say it is so much more. Now we delve a little deeper…Bismillāh!

The Arabic word for heart is qalb, it comes from the root word qalaba which means ‘to turn around, turn about, turn upward, upturn.’ [Hans Wehr] It appears in the Qurʾān many times.

I can’t list every verse it’s mentioned in, and the context behind it but I shall share a few that I feel stood out.

The Qurʾān clearly mentions the heart as the center of wisdom:

“…They have hearts with which they do not understand…” (7:179)

“Verily in this is a Message for any that has a heart and understanding or who gives ear and earnestly witnesses (the truth). (50:37)

These verses reveal that the heart isn’t just a pump as scientists identify it to be but a sensory organ that’s capable of understanding, intuition and even more importantly has the ability to perceive Truth. “True” hearts that can perceive this are described as ‘satisfied’ (13:28) and ‘strong’ (18:14). Ones that refuse to submit or recognize Divine Truth are described as ‘sealed’ (9:87), ‘diseased’ (8:49) or ‘hard’ (6:43).

One must remember that this is from a Book that was revealed over 1400 years ago; it is only now through research that scientists can say that the heart is more than just a pump. Neurocardiology is a new ground breaking area of science – it studies the nervous system of the heart. About 20 years ago neurons were found in the heart, the same type that are found in the human brain. A neuron is a cell that transmits an electrical signal leading to an action potential; they vary in type and function. I don’t want to delve too deeply but just think why does the heart a mere “pump” need neurons? These neurons in the heart are capable of working without any help from the brain. They assimilate information from the body and can make apt adjustments which are then conveyed to the brain. More interestingly, they also have a short term memory that allows them to work independently. Dr J Andrew Armour coined this particular part of the heart as a “little brain in the heart” he said:

“The heart possesses its own little brain, capable of complex computational analysis on its own…

…An understanding of the complex anatomy and function of the heart’s nervous system contributes an additional dimension to the newly emerging view of the heart as a sophisticated information processing centre, functioning not only in concert with the brain but also independent of it.” [Neurocardiology: Anatomical and Functional Principles]

So it’s not just a pump is it? 

Whenever the Qurʾān speaks of the heart it encompasses more than just the physical heart, the spiritual heart resides within the physical heart. The physical heart can be thought of as the point of interaction between the human body and the spiritual qalb.

The physical heart is a gateway to your very own rūḥ!

In my next post I’m going to talk about the heart as just a pump, and how that in itself is amazing, inshā’Allāh.

Allāh alone knows best. 

Further reading: 

What is the difference between the “heart” (Qalb), “kindling heart” (fu’ad), and the “pure intellect” (lubb)?

The little brain on the heart

Qur’anic Concepts of Human Psyche

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