Gateway to Hadith
Softening a Hard Heart
Nasir Jamal Attari Madani
Advising a person who had complained of hard-heartedness, the Messenger of Allah صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said:
اِنْ اَرَدْتَ اَنْ يَلِينَ قَلْبُكَ، فَاَطْعِمِ الْمِسْكِينَ وَامْسَحْ رَاسَ الْيَتِيم
“If you want to soften your heart, feed the poor and stroke the heads of orphans.”
In this blessed hadith, the Messenger of Allah صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم specified two ways to treat a heard heart. Pondering over the beauty and wisdom of these words, we learn that having good conduct with the poor and orphans is a powerful way to invoke Allah’s mercy which softens the heart.
Commenting on this hadith, Mufti Ahmad Yar Khan Na’imi رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه adds:
What a marvellous remedy! Being kind to the poor and orphans leads to a person being blessed with the mercy of Allah Almighty, and the mercy of Allah Almighty causes the heart to become soft. Allah says:
اَوْ اِطْعٰمٌ فِیْ یَوْمٍ ذِیْ مَسْغَبَةٍۙ(۱۴) یَّتِیْمًا ذَا مَقْرَبَةٍۙ(۱۵) اَوْ مِسْكِیْنًا ذَا مَتْرَبَةٍؕ(۱۶)
Or the feeding on a day of hunger. To an orphan (who is) the next of kin. Or to a poor person lying in dust (i.e. afflicted with misery).
Having a soft heart is itself a great mercy from Allah Almighty. Usually, the cure is the opposite of the ailment. For example, arrogance is treated with humility, greed with generosity, and likewise, hard-heartedness is cured by having mercy on the poor and orphans.
What does it mean to have a hard heart?
Hardness refers to a state of stagnation of the heart whereby reminders and advice have no impact on the person, and one develops an instantiable tendency for sinning without regret and inclination to repent.
Hard-heartedness is not a minor illness
Having a hard heart is not an ailment that should be taken lightly. A person suffering from this spiritual malady is susceptible to committing major sins such as theft, robbery, murder, and oppression. A hard-hearted person will commit the gravest of sins, even blasphemy (kufr). This disease distances a person from the mercy of Allah Almighty and takes away the sweetness of worship. A hard-hearted person will commit sins audaciously.
To fully understand the gravity of this terrible disease, let us read the following quote attributed to Sayyiduna Malik bin Dinar رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه:
There are specific punishments of Allah Almighty for the body and heart. For example, a lack of sustenance or laziness in performing acts of worship, but there is no greater punishment for a servant than hardness of the heart.
Why does the heart become hard?
1. Trivial Speech: The tongue has a deep connection with the heart. The more one utilises the tongue for trivial and useless things, the more mistakes it commits, and this ultimately leads to hard-heartedness. It appears this is the reason speaking excessively was discouraged by the final Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم:
O People! Do not speak much without remembering Allah! Speaking excessively without remembering Allah leads to hard-heartedness. Indeed, the furthest of the people from Allah is the one whose heart is hard.
The beloved Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم also said, “Indecent speech is due to hard-heartedness, and hard-heartedness is in the fire.”
Mufti Ahmad Yar Khan Na’imi رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه explained:
This means that whosoever is careless in regard to his tongue and utters all forms of evil statements without hesitation, he possesses a hard heart and is void of modesty. Hard-heartedness is a tree whose roots are in the heart of a person, and its branches are in Hell. A careless person like this eventually shows disrespect towards Allah Almighty and His Messenger and becomes a disbeliever (kafir).
2. Excessive Laughter: A hadith reads: “Do not laugh excessively! Doing so causes the heart to ˹spiritually˺ die (become hard).” The final Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم further mentioned the harms of excessive laughter: “Refrain from laughing excessively, for it causes the heart to die and removes light from the face.”
3. Immoderate Eating: Eating to a full stomach can also lead to hard-heartedness. Sayyidunā Bishr ibn Ḥārith رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه explained, “Two habits harden the heart: speaking excessively and eating excessively.”
4. Excessive Sinning: A hadith states: “Whenever a believer sins, a black spot appears on his heart. If he repents, leaves the sin, and seeks forgiveness, his heart is cleaned. If he instead increases in sins, ˹and does not repent˺, the black spot grows.” Sayyidunā Imam ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه adds, “This black spot envelops the entire heart, and this is the rust Allah Almighty has mentioned in His book:
كَلَّا بَلْٚ- رَانَ عَلٰى قُلُوْبِهِمْ مَّا كَانُوْا یَكْسِبُوْنَ(۱۴)
Not at all! Rather, their earnings (i.e. their sins) have caused rust upon their hearts”
Some cures for hard-heartedness
Some of the cures for hard-heartedness given to us by the final Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم are listed here:
1. Reciting the Quran and remembering death - these are effective ways of softening the heart. The final Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said, “Hearts become rusty in the same way iron becomes rusty when coming into contact with water.” When asked what will remove this rust, he صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم replied, “Remembering death abundantly and reciting the Quran.”
2. Sayyidunā Shaykh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه narrates from some pious individuals, “All of goodness is summed up in these two actions: obeying the commands of Allah Almighty and showing kindness towards His creation. Whosoever does not respect the commands of Allah or show kindness to His creation is far removed from His mercy.”
There are many ways to be kind and compassionate towards the creation of Allah Almighty, such as feeding the poor. This is a great means of earning divine mercy. The Messenger of Allah صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said, “Feeding poor Muslims is from the actions that necessitate the mercy of Allah.”
3. Another way of displaying kindness towards the creation of Allah is to maintain good conduct with orphans. The Messenger of Allah صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم declared good conduct with orphans to be a sign of an excellent home, and evil conduct with them to be a sign of the worst home. It is stated in a hadith, “The best home from among the Muslims is that in which an orphan is found and treated well. The worst home from among the Muslims is that in which an orphan is found but treated badly.”
The Messenger of Allah صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم also explained the importance of treating orphans well by informing us that stroking the head of an orphan with kindness is an act which can even cure the insufferable ailment of hard-heartedness. He also beautifully mentioned the immense reward a person will receive for his kindness towards them. Hence, the beloved Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said, “Whosoever stroked the head of an orphan solely for the pleasure of Allah, he will be rewarded for every hair his hand passed over.”
May Allah Almighty grant our hearts softness.
اٰمِیْن بِجَاہِ النَّبِیِّ الْاَمِیْن صلَّی اللہ علیہ واٰلہٖ وسلَّم
 Musnad Ahmad, vol. 13, p. 21, Hadith 7576
 [Kanz-ul-Irfan (translation of Quran)] (Part 30, Surah Al-Balad, verses 14 - 16)
 Mirat ul Manajeeh, vol. 6, p. 583
 Sirat ul Jinaan, vol. 4, p. 370
 Hilya tul Awliya, vol. 6, p. 313, Raqm 8747
 Tirmizi, vol. 4, p. 184, Hadith 2419
 Tirmizi, vol. 3, p. 406, Hadith 2016
 Mirat ul Manajeeh, vol. 6, p. 641
 Ibn Majah, vol. 4, p. 465, Hadith 4193
 Attargheeb Wattarheeb, vol. 3, p. 340, Hadith 27
 Hilya tul Awliya, vol. 8, p. 392, Raqm 12637
 Ibn Majah, vol. 4, p. 488, Hadith 4244
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 30, Surah Al-Mutaffifeen, verses 14, Al-Zawajir, vol. 1, p. 26)
 Shu’ab al-Iman lil-Bayhaqi, vol. 2, p. 352, Hadith 2014
 Al-Fath Al-Rabbani, p. 89
 Attargheeb Wattarheeb, vol. 2, p. 35, Hadith 9
 Ibn Majah, vol. 4, p. 193, Hadith 3679
 Musnad Ahmad, vol. 8, p. 272, Hadith 22215