Wednesday, November 08, 2006

“Purification of the Heart” by Hamza Yusuf

Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.
Let me try and help you understand why I feel this is one of the most important books I’ve read all year.

In this, basically a simple book about what makes human beings unhappy and how they might find a way out, I found many of my hunches confirmed.

For example, about five years ago, I was in India to teach physically challenged children at the Association of People with Disabilities (APD) in Bangalore.

While there, I found these students to be surprisingly happy and affectionate, even the ones with extremely twisted limbs and faces.

I was very sorry to leave when I had to. In fact, I was more sorry for me than I was for them, because it was there I discovered that the best way to fill an empty heart is by giving love.

Yes, giving more than taking. For it is a curious thing, love. The more you give, the more you have.

As I boarded the airplane to leave India, I picked up a Malaysian newspaper, to keep abreast of what’s current at home. But the bit of news that struck deep for me was that of a Malaysian teenager who had committed suicide for no apparent reason.

There was a photograph of him, a beautiful 15-year old lad, an excellent student, an accomplished sportsman, and a pretty girlfriend who got along just fine with his reasonably well-to-do parents.

It was a mystery. No one, neither friend nor family, could figure out why, someone so well loved by all, would want to take his own life like that.

Comparing this Malaysian boy with my students at APD Bangalore, I couldn’t help but conclude. If the body is able, the mind agile, and the stomach full, but the heart is empty, your whole world can crumble.

But if the heart is full from giving love, but everything else is wanting, there is a chance of survival.

Now back to the book. “Purification of the Heart” by Hamza Yusuf more or less sealed my personal hunches about the human heart. But it does it one better because it leads you to heartwarming quotes from the Holy Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

“On the Day of Judgment, no one is safe, save the one who returns to God with a pure heart.” – Holy Quran

“Surely in the breasts of humanity is a lump of flesh, if sound then the whole body is sound, and if corrupt then the whole body is corrupt. Is it not the heart? – Prophet Muhammad

How then should we go about cleansing our hearts of corruption? In his book, Hamza Yusuf quotes Imam Mawlud in saying that it is impossible to rid oneself of these diseases completely, implying that purification is a life-long process, not something to be applied once and then forgotten.

And so we are taken on a simple, comprehensive journey through this book. Each chapter begins with the ‘disease’, followed by a suggested treatment for that disease.

For example, on page 22, Miserliness is identified as a disease. And to define it further, two quotes from the Quran:

“O you who believe, spend from the good things you have earned and from what We brought out for you from the earth. And do not seek what is inferior in order to spend from it, though you yourselves would not take it unless your eyes were closed to it.” – 2:267

“You will not attain to righteousness until you spend of what you love.” – 3:92

And at the end of the chapter on Miserliness, lies a suggestion of treatment.

“The treatment for miserliness is realizing that those who achieve wealth usually do so only after exhausting themselves over long periods of time, working day and night. Meanwhile, life passes on and time runs out. The culture of wanting more simply for more’s sake can occupy a person for an entire lifetime. And in the end, life is over. It terminates for the beggar and the affluent just the same…”

In this manner, we are introduced to one disease after another - Miserliness, Wantonness, Hatred, Iniquity, Love of The World, Envy, Fear of Poverty, Ostentation, Relying on Other Than God, Displeasure with the Divine Decree, Vanity, Anger, Obliviousness, the list goes on – with treatment happily at hand.

The chapter on Hatred was particularly poignant for this reader. For in it, lies this quote:

The Prophet once said to his companions, “Do you want to see a man of Paradise?” A man then passed by and the Prophet said, “That man is one of the people of Paradise.” So a companion of the Prophet decided to learn what it was about this man that earned him such a commendation from the Messenger of God. He spent time with this man and observed him closely. He noticed that he did not perform the Night Prayer vigil (Tahajjud) or anything extraordinary. He appeared to be an average man of Madinah. The companion finally told the man what the Prophet had said about him and asked if he did anything special. And the man replied, “The only thing I can think of, other than what everybody else does is that I make sure that I never sleep with any rancour in my heart towards another.” That was his secret.

I was inspired. Inshaallah, you will be too.