Hardening of the hearts
A way for us to soften our hearts is by way of good deeds. Righteous deeds done sincerely for Allah will soften our hearts. In the initial stages, maybe we can’t see how it softens our hearts, but we have to stick with it and believe. As the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa sallam told us, that the slave of Allah does not come closer to Him except by doing the deeds that He has made compulsory for him. The compulsory deeds — the 5 daily prayers, the fast, etc. While praying, sometimes we wonder, "Where is the benefit? Where is the change?" The point is that if we keep working at it, there will be benefit. We may not see it immediately. It is something that becomes cumulative, like a person growing. They can hardly wait till they are going to be big and they put a mark on the wall, wondering when they are going to get up there. They cannot perceive themselves growing because it is something accumulating within them.
Similarly, righteous deeds… and the first of the righteous deeds are the one that God commands. It is a mistake to go to the things that He did not command us to do and to put all our focus on these areas and leave the primary things that He commanded us to do. If we have not established 5 times daily prayers on time, then it does not matter whatever else we do. It is useless. This is the foundation — if we cannot do what Allah has commanded us to do, has demanded of us, then how can we please Him in anything else? Then, for us, pleasing God is according to ourselves — what is pleasing to us will please God. This is not pleasing God. We have to remember that the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa sallam told us, "The Hell Fire is veiled by the things that are pleasing to us and Paradise is veiled by the things that we do not like."
"Things that we do not like" are not necessarily those things that are evil, but those that our own nafs does not like because they require work and effort. We like the easy way. So we would like not to pray and if someone were to tell us that it is not necessary to pray, we would say "Alhamdulillah!" This is our nature — we would be happy with that. However, we should be sad because we can only pray in this life and in the next, we have no chance to pray anymore. This is where prayer will benefit us, because in the next life, we will want to pray. We will beg Allah. Allah describes those who come before him for judgement: when they see their deeds and they know that they have put themselves in Hell. What will they do? Will they argue with Allah and ask why He has put them in Hell? No, they will ask Allah for another chance to go back and do what Allah has told them to do and more. [see Surah Al-A’raf 7:53]
But Allah will know that they are lying for they would do the same if sent back. For if Allah were to send us back, He will not send us back with the knowledge that we have then. He would send us back just as we were before.
Prayer is for OUR benefit. When we pray, we are not benefiting Allah. If every human being on this earth prayed, it would not increase or benefit Allah in any way, just as if nobody prayed, it would not decrease or affect Allah in any way. Prayer is for OURSELVES. That is why the Prophet used to say, "Bilal, give us ease by giving the call to prayer." Prayer was considered a time of pleasure but for us it is a burden. The sooner we finish, the better so we can get on with our lives. That is a mistake… Our hearts have become hard.
Allah describes the Jews: after all the signs that were given to them, with the passage of time, their hearts became hard. Our hearts have become hard. We have accepted Islam, we are awakened to Islam and we start to practise Islam, but time has passed and our hearts have become hardened.
[Quran, Surah Al-Hadid 57:16 : "Has not the time arrived for the Believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been revealed to them, and that they should not become like those to whom was given The Book aforetime, but long ages passed over them and their hearts grew hard? For many among them are rebellious transgressors."]
Prayer is not something that is pleasurable to us, but we have to keep striving and recognise that this is natural. Iman increases and decreases. The heart hardens and we fight against it and it softens… it is a continual struggle until we die. We just pray that we die with hearts that are soft and fearful. We have to keep struggling and it is in that struggle that ultimately we do taste iman; that we do taste what the salah was prescribed for; what the remembrance of Allah should mean in our lives. The Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa sallam describes those who receive the shade of Allah’s throne on the day when there is no shade: the one who remembers Allah and cries. His heart is soft.
[Bukhary, Volume 8, Book 76, Number 486: Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said Allah will give shade to seven (types of people) under His Shade (on the Day of Resurrection). (one of them will be) a person who remembers Allah and his eyes are then flooded with tears.]
[Bukhary, Volume 1, Book 11, Number 629: Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Allah will give shade, to seven, on the Day when there will be no shade but His. (These seven persons are) a just ruler, a youth who has been brought up in the worship of Allah (i.e. worships Allah sincerely from childhood), a man whose heart is attached to the mosques (i.e. to pray the compulsory prayers in the mosque in congregation), two persons who love each other only for Allah's sake and they meet and part in Allah's cause only, a man who refuses the call of a charming woman of noble birth for illicit intercourse with her and says: I am afraid of Allah, a man who gives charitable gifts so secretly that his left hand does not know what his right hand has given (i.e. nobody knows how much he has given in charity), and a person who remembers Allah in seclusion and his eyes are then flooded with tears."]
So we should not shy away from good deeds for they will help to soften our hearts. The Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa sallam had said that greeting our brothers or sisters with a smiling face is sadaqa. Nothing should be too small for us: no good deed is so trivial that we scorn at it. We should strive to do every good deed.
But we should begin with the things Allah has made compulsory. We should establish the salah as Allah prescribed it; we have to establish our zakah as it is supposed to be given; we have to fast as it is supposed to be done and the hajj and umrah if we are able. These fundamentals have to be established for the sake of Allah; they provide the foundation for the softening of the heart. As we continue to do these acts and voluntary versions of these acts, we come closer and closer to Allah, until Allah says He becomes the eyes with which we see, where we see only the things that Allah wants us to see. We avoid the things that Allah does not want us to see; we turn away from them; we don’t enjoy them. We only touch the things Allah wants us to touch; we only take what Allah wants us to take; we only go to places that Allah wants us to go… If we turn to Allah and we call on Him He will answer our prayer. This is the promise of the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wa sallam.
So my brothers and sisters, I ask you and myself to remember our hearts; to reflect on the state of our hearts. Whenever we have a moment, question: what state are we in? to work on our hearts until we have succeeded in softening them, by the mercy and the grace of Allah. We begin that process by turning to Allah. In our next prayer tonight, let us turn back to Allah and beg him sincerely to soften our hearts and when we do so, if we are sincere, our hearts will begin to soften. It is the promise of Rasulullah Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wa sallam. We should read the Quran and do as much as we can of righteous deeds. We should reflect on the next life by visiting the graves and by reading the verses addressing them; by reading the statements of the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa sallam about the next life. We should do these things and strive to soften our hearts. As I said before, if after doing them we cannot find softness in our hearts, then we need to make ourselves cry. We need to force ourselves to cry because until we can let go and let loose those feeling within ourselves, then the hearts cannot become soft.
So I pray and I ask Allah to give us all soft hearts, hearts that are filled with mercy for the creating of Allah, our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters in Islam … even those towards people who are not Muslims. I ask Allah to put in our hearts softness towards them in the sense that it would guide us to carry the message to them as we should. I ask Allah to give us success to turn back to the Quran, to read it regularly, seeking understanding and guidance from it and I ask Allah to give us soft hearts.