Question # 21: My friend told me a story which I honestly never heard of. It starts with angel Jibril met the prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and took out his heart and washed it. The caliphs witnessed it and said there’s a moral behind the story. First is the event true? If yes, then what is the moral of the story?

bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,

 Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,

All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).

Dear questioner,

First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

The taking out of the heart from his chest and its washing took place on two occasions in the life of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم). The events are narrated below from the Sahih ahadith:

  • Anas b. Malik (رضي الله عنه) reported that Gabriel came to the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) while he was playing with his playmates. He took hold of him and lay him prostrate on the ground and tore open his breast and took out the heart from it and then extracted a blood clot out of it and said: That was the part of Satan in thee. And then he washed it with the water of Zamzam in a golden basin and then it was joined together and restored to its place. The boys came running to his mother, i. e. his nurse, [Haleemah As-Sa’diyyah], and said: Verily Muhammad has been murdered. They all rushed toward him (and found him all right); his color was changed, Anas said. I myself saw the marks of the needle on his breast. (Muslim)

Lesson learnt: The incident of the splitting of the Prophet’s chest certainly deserves more than a passing mention or thought. What happened on that day was from the signs of Prophethood and was clear proof that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) chose Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) for a very important mission in life… Without a doubt, purification from Shaitaan’s influence was more than an early sign of Prophethood; it was also preparation for protecting the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) from evil and from worshipping other than Allah (سبحانه و تعالى). Only pure Islamic Monotheism was to remain in his heart. The above-mentioned incident served its purpose, for even prior to receiving revelation, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) never bowed down to an idol or perpetrated a major sin, even though polytheism and evil deeds were practiced on a widespread scale among the Quraish.

While discussing the incident during which the Prophet’s chest was split open, Dr. Al-Bootee pointed out that, “It appears that the wisdom behind it was both to announce the importance of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and to prepare him at a very early age for Al-‘Ismah (protection from major sins, from making a mistake when conveying the message of Islam, and so on) and revelation. Physical means were employed (for that preparation) to make it easier for people to have faith in him and to believe his message. Therefore, the incident involved spiritual purification but was manifested in a physical, tangible manner” The removal of the blood clot purified the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) from the immaturity, foolishness, and recklessness of youth. The incident also shows us the degree to which Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) protected the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and prevented Shaitaan from having any influence over him whatsoever. (‘The Noble Life of the Prophet peace be upon him’ by Dr. ‘Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee)

  • In a very long hadith in the Book of “The Merits of al-Ansar” referring to the incident of al-‘Isra’ wal-Mi’raj (The Night Journey), Imam al-Bukhari narrated on the authority of Anas Ibn Malik (رضي الله عنه) who reported on the authority of Malik Ibn Sa’sa’ah (رضي الله عنه) that Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) described to them his night journey saying: “While I was lying in al-Hatim or al-Hijr, suddenly someone came to me and cut my body open from here to here” and pointed to his chest. “He then took out my heart. Then a golden tray full of Belief was brought to me and my heart was washed and filled (with belief and then) returned to its original place…” The Hadith of al-Isra’ was narrated by more than 20 of the companions of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and was reported in all the books of the hadith. (‘The Miracles of the Prophet’ by Imam Ibn Kathir)

Lesson learnt: There is one thing which we can extract from these ahadith that the Providence does not leave an outstanding human being like Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) to be the target of subtle whisperings which cause confusion among other people. If there are waves of evil filling the atmosphere and if there are hearts quick to absorb them or are swayed by them, despite this, however, the hearts of the Prophets (as) by Allah’s care of them will not receive or be affected by these currents. Thus the efforts of the prophets will be directed towards constant progress and not resistance to evil; towards purifying the people from evil, not self-purification. Since Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) has already cleansed them of pollution… I believe that the narrations of the opening of the Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه و سلم) chest, the washing of his heart and its restoration are the symbols of this inevitable preparation. The story of al-‘Isra’ wal-Mi’raj is flooded with such symbols conveying special meanings, although they are imperceptible to the simple-minded. Al-‘Isra’ wal-Mi’raj happened to the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) in person at a time when his spirit had reached its peak of enlightenment, and the density of his body had decreased to the point where it had freed itself of most of the laws which controlled it. (‘Fiqh us-Seerah’ by Muhammad Al-Ghazali)

Further, the opening of the chest of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) points to a number of important meanings:

  1. Allah opened his heart to Islam as a religion and law, which is the greatest thing to which the heart may be opened. This is the interpretation of Ibn ‘Abbas, as reported by al-Bukhari in a mu’allaq report in his Saheeh (Kitaab al-Tafseer/Baab Soorat al-Sharh).
  1. Allah opened the chest of His Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) in order to fill it (his heart) with wisdom, knowledge, and faith, as it was interpreted by al-Hasan al-Basri. The scholars mentioned in their commentaries this incident of the opening of the Prophet’s chest, which happened twice during his life. The first occurred when he was small and living among Banu Sa’d.

Ibn Katheer said in Tafseer al-Qur’aan il-‘Azeem: Allah says, “Have We not opened your breast for you (O Muhammad)?” meaning, did We not open your heart for you, i.e., We illuminated it etc. This is like the verse in which Allah says: “And whomsoever Allah wills to guide, He opens his heart to Islam.” (Soorah al-An’aam, 6:125)

And it was said that what is meant by the verse “Have We not opened your breast for you (O Muhammad)?” is the opening of his chest on the night of the Isra’, but there is no contradiction because the opening of his chest includes what was done on the night of the Isra’ as well as the metaphorical meaning of opening his heart.

Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.