Pedal to the Metal

Most people who drive a manual transmission car say that their favorite part of driving it is being so connected with the car that it feels personal. It feels alive. You know every sound, movement, and vibration of it. If something’s going wrong, you’ll know immediately because of how in tune you are with your vehicle. Not only that, but you’re more aware of your own actions, as well.

Some time ago, I was driving an automatic rental car for a few days, and something took me by surprise: I kept losing track of the speed I was driving at, and had to put a conscious effort into not going over the limit. You’d think it would be easier to drive safely in a car that does all the work for you, but if you’re used to being really connected to your car, in total control of it, letting the car control you is too easy once you don’t have to think about that anymore. There are no gears to shift, no clutch to press or release, no RPMs to watch. You’re passively driving in mental “autopilot” mode. All of those things may have been second nature before, but letting them go is almost too easy.

And this didn’t even get better with time. Every day that I drove the car, the problem persisted, to the point that I was seriously relieved when I was finally able to hand back the keys to the rental company without having gotten a speeding ticket- or worse.

Our hearts work in a similar way: the more connected you are to your heart, the more control you have over it, and the more laid back you are about the state of your heart, the more control it has over you. It’s like standard and automatic transmissions, both rolled into one complex entity.

The Prophet (saws) said, “When something weighs on your conscience, give it up” [Tirmidhi]. How can a person know if something’s weighing on their conscience? By listening to their (spiritual) heart. Sometimes you’ll be put in situations where it’s not black and white whether it’s right or wrong- you’ll have to make a judgment call by listening to your heart. It’ll tell you when something’s going wrong, or when you’re approaching dangerous territory. It’s easy to silence those thoughts, and to ignore the tugging that you’re feeling inside of you, telling you to pull back from the path you’re approaching. You’re the one who’s ultimately in control, though, if you choose to stay connected.

The more connected you are to your heart, the more control you have over it, and the more laid back you are about the state of your heart, the more control it has over you.

What about the other side? What happens when you don’t listen to your heart? The human being’s “standard transmission” is the fitrah. It’s the way things naturally are. But the more a person ignores that fitrah and goes against what they know inside of them to be the right path, the weaker it becomes. Sometimes we become desensitized to the wrong actions going on around us because they’re norms in society, and as we blindly follow the people who have ignored their own hearts, ours switches from manual to automatic transmission- we lose control. It takes over, and lands us in trouble. Worse than a speeding ticket or a traffic accident; it corrupts our very nature, until we have left nothing to present before Allah except the sad remnants of what once was pure. Allah describes the Day of Judgment as “The Day when nothing will be of benefit- (neither) wealth, nor children. Except the one who comes before Allah with a sound heart” (26:88-89).

Sometimes we become desensitized to the wrong actions going on around us because they’re norms in society

The Messenger of Allah (saws) told us, “There’s a piece of flesh in the body which, if  it’s good, the whole body becomes good, but if it’s bad, the whole body goes bad- and that’s the heart” [Bukhari]. So how do you make sure it doesn’t go bad and turn on you? The Prophet (saws) left us with one of the du’as he recited most often: “Ya muqallib al-quloob, thabbit qalbi ‘alaa deenik” (O Turner of hearts, affirm my heart on Your deen) [Muslim].

May Allah (swt) help us switch our hearts into “manual transmission” for good, and keep them firm on His path. Ameen.

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