Book Review: The Marvels of the Heart

Ghazali Marvels of the Heart

Title: The Marvels of the Heart (Kitab Sharh Aja’ib al-Qalb): Book 21 of The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya Ulum al-din)
Publisher: Fons Vitae (2010)
Author: Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali
Introduction and Translation: Walter James Skellie
Forward: Timothy J. Winter (Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad)

There are 4 sections in the Ihya Ulum al-Din, each section compromises of 10 books, thus there are 40 books in total. The first half of the Ihya addresses knowledge and the requirements of faith, namely purity, prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage along with societal obligations and dealings. The second half, which has been the focus of recent translations, is focused on the soul, its inner states, and various diseases of the heart. This book, being the 21st book, is the start of Imam Ghazali’s explanation of inward characteristics that assist or deter one from Allah. This book is pivotal in understanding the Ihya because it covers the fundamental psychological framework that Imam Ghazali puts forth, and he frames his spiritual discussions in later books upon this foundation.

There are 15 chapters in this book, discussing the nature of human beings, the nature of the heart, its armies, its reflective capability, the soul and its calling, the Satan and his inciting to evil. He defines the soul as the nafs, the spirit as the ruh, the heart as the qalb, and intelligence as the ‘aql.

He describes the heart as being a mirror, capable of reflecting the light of the divine, but only when the heart has been cleaned of its diseases. The human’s spiritual diseases and evil, fogs the mirror, rusting it and making it difficult to reflect the light of the divine. In regards to the heart being pulled in two directions, to good or to evil, Imam Ghazali writes on page 79:

The heart, being between the demon and the angel, is attracted by each of them. The Prophet, peace be up on him, said, “The heart has two calls (lammatan). The one is from the angel and it is a promise of good and belief in the divine Reality; and whoever finds this, let him know it is from God, praise be to Him, and let him give thanks to God. The other call is from the enemy, and it is a promise of evil, a denial of divine Reality, and forbidding of good; and whoever finds this, let him take refuge in God from Satan the Accursed.

In regards to appetence and how it relates to Satan, Imam Ghazali writes on page 80:

When a man follows the dictates of anger and appetence, the domination of the demon through desire appears, and the heart becomes the nest of the demon and his seat. Desire is the pasture of the demon and his abundant provision. But when a man strives against the appetites and does not give rule over them, and imitates the moral character of the angels, upon them be peace, then his heart becomes the habitation and resting place of the angels.

Further on the same page:

In the battle of the heart there are constant attacks and counter-attacks between the forces of the angels and demons until it is conquered by one of them, which takes up its residence and abode therein.

There is much more insight, depth, detail and profound advice Imam Ghazali delivers to the reader. He takes the reader from being unaware of the details of this internal war and exposes the mechanisms, ways, methods of Satan, and ways the heart can be purified, namely by the restriction and regulating of the appetence and the remembrance of God. It is an easy translation and a swift read with short chapters. This allows the reader to revisit the book, over and over again. Reading this book is to study the lifelong enemy, thus this knowledge can begin to empower the reader to take account of him or herself, become more cognizant of the whispers of the Satan and the whims of the nafs and the methods to shine the heart to reflect the light of the divine.

Lastly, Seekers Guidance offers a course taught by Shaykh Yahya Rhodus on this book, details of which can be found here.

May Allah allow us all to learn and use this knowledge to attain his nearness, Ameen.

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