Question # 528: I have heard about the incidents of shaq e sadr (it occurred in tangible manner). In Quran, Allah SWT has mentioned HEART a lot. In addition to it, we can see the mentioning of same organ in hadiths? What is in this heart? How can we prove that the heart is far more than just the blood pumping organ?
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).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: From the biological point of view, we know that the heart is the most crucial organ, pumping blood throughout the entire human body. On the other hand, from numerous Qur’anic ayat and authentic ahadith, we understand the purpose of the heart goes far beyond its mere physiological functions. It is the spiritual center and the seat of emotions and intelligence (beyond rationality), embodying many vital elements of human nature, such as reason, knowledge, understanding, intention, belief, reflection, wisdom, comprehension, etc. Since the heart can control our emotions, we find that displaying emotional responses precedes logical ones in human behavior. Contrary to this fact, many consider the mind to be in the brain, not within our hearts.
Interestingly, a medical science study in 2000 interviewing heart transplant recipients noted that they very often replicated some of the donor’s most unique behavioral traits, as if the physical transplant of the heart led to the transfer of emotions from the donors. Moreover, this association was robust only in heart transplant cases as against transplant of other bodily organs. Later in 2020, a professor of psychiatry, from his study drew similar conclusions. Since our belief in the truth of Islam is already affirmed, this knowledge does not revolutionize our faith as Muslims.
Long Answer: From our days in school, we all have learned that the heart is the most crucial organ, pumping blood throughout the entire human body from the biological point of view. If the blood supply is cut from reaching the brain, we can suffer a stroke; likewise, if the blood fails to reach certain limbs of our body, those limbs will start decaying.
On the other hand, in numerous Qur’anic ayat and authentic ahadith, we gain an understanding of the heart, which goes far beyond its mere physiological functions. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) has used the word “heart” no less than 137 times in the Qur’an. He (سبحانه و تعالى) uses different words to describe the heart: qalb, fu’aad, and sadr.
Qalb is the general word for heart, and the root word means something that turns around and changes easily. When Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) refers to emaan and the diseases of the heart, He (سبحانه و تعالى) uses the word qalb. Anas (رضي الله عنه) reported: The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) would often say, “O Turner of the hearts, keep my heart firm upon Your religion!” (Reported by Sunan al-Tirmidhi, graded sahih by Al-Albani)
Fu’aad comes from a root that means “burning” or a flame and is used when the heart is inflamed with emotion. A beautiful example is when Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) describes the state of the heart of the mother of Musa (عليه السلام): “But there came to be a void in the heart (fu’aad) of the mother of Musa.” (Soorah Al-Qasas, 28:10). Her heart was inflamed with emotions when she put her newborn, suckling son in a river.
Sadr means “chest.” So when Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) refers to secrets or motives, He uses the word sadr, like in the following verse: “The one who whispers in the hearts of Mankind.” (Soorah an-Naas, 114:5)
In essence, we derive from both the sources of revelation that the heart is a spiritual center and the seat of emotions and intelligence (beyond rationality). It is the center for many key elements in human nature, such as reason, knowledge, intention, belief, reflection, wisdom, etc. To believe, to disbelieve, to understand, to comprehend, to have tranquility, to feel confusion, to have tawakkul, and to have khushoo’ are all functions of your heart. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: “Have they not journeyed in the land, and had minds to reason with, or ears to listen with? It is not the eyes that go blind, but it is the hearts, within the chests, that go blind.” (Soorah Al-Haj, 22:46)
Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) is reported to have said, “…there is a piece of flesh in the body if it becomes good (reformed) the whole body becomes good, but if it gets spoilt, the whole body gets spoilt – and that is the heart” (Narrated by al-Bukhari)
It is important to note that the heart is the most critical organ in our personality; it can lead to a person being morally, emotionally, and spiritually good. This is because the heart responds faster than the brain; hence we find that in human beings, the display of emotional responses precedes the logical ones. The reason for this is that the heart is able to control our emotions.
The state of our heart will decide what we do with the acquired knowledge and whether we use it to benefit from it. Sins also have an impact on our hearts; they can cause our hearts to be sealed so that the light of knowledge doesn’t reach it anymore and the ayah of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) do not affect us anymore. Shaytan always targets the heart and waits for an opportunity to attack it. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) protect us from him. We also find many diseases in our hearts, like jealousy, envy, greed, lust, and showing off. Therefore, we should strive hard to purify our hearts and turn back to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) with a sound heart. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: “In their hearts is a disease; and Allah has increased their disease: and grievous is the penalty they (incur) because they are false (to themselves). (Soorah Al-Baqarah, 2:10)
However, when we use the word ‘Think!” most of us point to our heads and none to our hearts. The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, “Taqwa is here,” and he pointed to his chest. (Sahih Muslim) Ibn Taymiyyah said that many doctors and philosophers have said that the mind is in the brain, so we think and understand with our brains and not with our hearts. He then said that the center is actually the heart. Ibn Katheer said: The arrogant philosophers say that the mind is in the brain. (Tafsir ibn Kathir)
Pondering over some of the following verses of the Qur’an, we learn that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) refers to the spiritual heart, from which all emotions erupt, not the physical heart:
- “Warn them of the Day that is (ever) drawing near, when the hearts will (come) right up to the throats to choke (them); no intimate friend nor intercessor will the wrongdoers have, who could be listened to.” (Soorah Ghafir, 40:18).
- “Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah; for, without doubt; in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.” (Soorah Ar-Ra’d, 13:28). Allah is the One Who will put peace and comfort in the heart. Therefore, engaging in His remembrance will lead to one’s heart attaining satisfaction.
- “It is He who sent down tranquility into the hearts of the believers that they may add faith to their faith; – for to Allah belong the forces of the heavens and the earth, and Allah is full of knowledge and Wisdom (Soorah Al-Fath, 48:4)
In summary, all emotions come from the heart and not the brain, contrary to some beliefs.
Modern Science Perspective
In 2000, three authors associated with American universities penned an article titled Changes in Heart Transplant Recipients That Parallel the Personalities of Their Donors for the Integrative Medicine journal.
They studied many cases and directly interviewed not only transplant recipients but also their families and friends, and also those of the donors. They claimed that the transplant recipient very often replicated some of the donor’s most unique behavioral traits – as if there was some sort of experiential or emotional transfer which had occurred.
“Two to 5 parallels per case were observed between changes following surgery and the histories of the donors. Parallels included changes in food, music, art, sexual, recreational, and career preferences, as well as specific instances of perceptions of names and sensory experiences related to the donors” (e.g., one donor was killed by a gunshot to the face; the recipient had dreams of seeing hot flashes of light in his face) (Pearsall, P., Schwartz, G.E.R. & Russek, L.G.S. Changes in Heart Transplant Recipients That Parallel the Personalities of Their Donors. Journal of Near-Death Studies 20, 191–206 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1013009425905)
The authors called this “cellular memory” and gave the example of Claire Sylvia. She wrote a whole book called A Change of Heart: A Memoir explaining how she’d basically replicated her dead donor’s experiences—for instance, adapting the donor’s eating habits, which previously repulsed her (such as consuming fast food). So, all the marked behavioral traits must have been passed on from the donor to the transplant recipient. These can’t be “coincidental” at all.
A possible counterargument could be: perhaps transplanting other organs, such as kidneys, would work too? The authors dismiss this possibility on p. 72: “They were usually transitory and could be associated with medications and other factors of transplantation. The findings for heart transplants appear more robust and were more strongly associated with the donor’s history. If this observation is verified in future research, the implications for basic physiology as attention and well as clinical medicine could be substantial.” (Sylvia, C., Novak, W. (1998). A Change of Heart: A Memoir. United States: Grand Central Publishing.)
Years later, in 2020, Dr. Mitchell Liester (a professor of psychiatry associated with the University of Colorado) released an article for the journal Medical Hypotheses, Personality Changes Following Heart Transplantation: The Role of Cellular Memory. He basically uses the same arguments as the previous authors. But he also brings his own examples and adds perspective from the growing field of epigenetics. (Mitchell B. Liester, Personality changes following heart transplantation: The role of cellular memory, Medical Hypotheses, Volume 135, 2020, 109468, ISSN 0306-9877, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2019.109468) “Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.” (https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/epigenetics.htm) So he went further than the previous authors. While discussing the matter, he also touches on things such as the DNA, the RNA, or the proteins – but without adding anything new.
The fact that in such a large span of time, nothing new has been added to the discussion reveals how it is still a relatively new field of research. This could possibly be because it’s meeting stern resistance from the wider “scientific” community due to modern science’s innate materialist bias.
Saying that the heart stores emotions, memories, and a certain form of intelligence, … the very existence of which they reject; according to them, all of these characteristics simply must be associated with the brain.
It’s quite improbable that the advocates of medical science will ever experience an enlightening change of heart on such a matter. However, it, without a doubt, upholds the Islamic perspective about the heart transcending just its materialist functions. Not that this means much to us as Muslims, though, since we already believe firmly in the superiority and truth of Islam.
(The above reply is based on various answers from online sources, more specifically from:
- An online article, ‘Islam vs. Modern Scientism: Is the Heart Merely an Organ?’ by Bheria – MuslimSkeptic.com;
- An online article, ‘Why is the Heart So Important in Islam?’ by Khawlah bint Yahya – understandquran.com; and
- An online article, ‘More than just a pumping organ’ by Dr. Waffie Mohammed – Caribbeanmuslims.com)
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.