Ma'rifa invites Shi'i students in North America to submit responses for this year's competition. We welcome submissions in all formats, so be creative! For more details: bit.ly/responses-2022.

“Have they not traveled through the land so that they may have hearts by which they may understand or ears by which they may hear? Indeed, it is not the eyes that turn blind, but what turns blind is the hearts contained in the chests.”

Quran 22:46

Islam presents the heart as the seat of the intellect, the locus of spiritual vision, and the gateway to the divine, unlike the popular misconception of the heart as the center of individualism, emotion, or irrationality. The verse above illustrates how the heart is a spiritual organ that connects us to God and allows us to clearly discern between truth and falsehood. But along with the capacity to witness and truly “see'' God, the heart can also fall to hardness and blindness.

Hardness of the heart is rooted in neglecting and forgetting God. It causes us to act unjustly towards ourselves and others, because we lose the ability to feel God’s presence in our core. Instead, we idolize hollow institutions such as status, wealth, education, career, or power, viewing them as end goals rather than as means to serve God and help others. The opposite happens when we take actions to soften the heart, by yearning and remembering God in everything that we do. A soft heart is reflected in righteous and just actions.

In your response, please reflect on the hardening and softening of our hearts as Shi’i students living in North America. From an Islamic perspective, what are some obstacles—personal, societal, systemic—that blind our hearts and prevent us from living God-centric lives? What are some approaches, objectives, or interventions that may lead us, individually and communally, towards softening our hearts to God? In essence, how can we reimagine the cultivation of our hearts to truly see and understand God?