In an earlier age, truth was embedded within stories. Today truth is expected to be found in evidence-based research. While some may see these two paradigms as mutually exclusive, this is clearly not the view of Shaykh Mikaeel. The approach in With the Heart in Mind is very much that of a dialogue between traditional, classical learning and current research on intelligence, morality, and pedagogy. Shaykh Mikaeel references with ease the Sirah of the Prophet s.a.w., the teachings of al-Muhasibi and al-Ghazali, alongside the writings of Howard Gardner* and Peter Kreeft. This dialogue culminates at the end of the book in a fascinating retelling of the story of the conversion of the Companion Adi ibn Hatim at-Ta'i r.a. through the lens of change receptivity and Quy Nguyen Huy's theory of single- and double-loop learning.
That said, With the Heart in Mind is really a blueprint for the re-establishment of emotional and moral intelligences both within Muslim society and the self. Using the Prophetic ideal as a model, Shaykh Mikaeel makes plain that the harmonisation of the emotional and moral aspects of intelligence with right action is indispensable for the good of the self, the family unit, and society at large.
Our intellect (aql) is unique in creation because of its ability to know and to know that it knows. It can also witness and has the ability to witness its own witnessing. In his exploration of the intellect and intelligences, Shaykh Mikaeel reminds us early in the discussion that the most beneficial intelligence is that which recognises the blessings of Allah and helps us to show gratitude to Him.
Human interaction is extremely complex and we need to understand the emotional dimension of our relationships with others and the roles we assume (as parents, children, leaders, teachers, etc) in order to engage meaningfully and to be beneficial members of society. Modern living has made us look upon emotion as minutiae, a weakness, a liability, but we have to remind ourselves that the Prophet s.a.w., the Greatest of Men, was deeply emotionally invested in the lives of his noble Family and his Companions. Everyone in the early community of Muslims felt personally valued by the Prophet s.a.w. because he showed sincere care and concern for each and every one of them. Can we say the same about ourselves? Can we say that we have genuine care and concern for the members of our relatively small nuclear families? Leaving aside emotional intelligence, are we even emotionally present or emotionally aware?
And leaving aside emotional awareness of others (interpersonal awareness) for the moment, are we even aware of our own internal emotions (intrapersonal awareness)? If we do not pause to contemplate and identify why we are angry, frustrated, or dejected, then how do we guard against falling into sin? Without self-knowledge how do we make spiritual progress (tazkiyah al-nafs)? As Shaykh Mikaeel puts it, "there is a high price to pay for ignoring our own emotional states". Many of us are strangers to our own selves.
But hope is not lost. It is Man's intrinsic nurture to learn and to do better. So how do we work on our emotional awareness? Shaykh Mikaeel says that as a start we need to be present and be aware of our emotions, and the emotions of the people around us. In other words, we have to start with mindfulness. We need to notice things and we need to have intentionality. We have to consciously learn to listen, to feel, to touch, and to connect. Above all, we have to make a detailed study of the emotional intelligence of the Prophet s.a.w. who stands as a Mercy to All.
As we make headway in developing our emotional intelligence and become better at it, progressing from emotional awareness to emotional understanding, we will begin to see that a direction is required to lead us to right action. Those with keen emotional intelligences but are possessed of skewed moral compasses will use emotion to manipulate and bend the will of those around them to selfish or evil ends.
Moral intelligence involves the establishment of a criterion by which people recognise truth from falsehood, and by which they remain committed (to this criterion) and use it to solve (moral) problems.
Shaykh Mikaeel makes it clear that the Islamic conception of morality is different from – or maybe even at odds with – secular notions of morality. Morality in Islam is not subjective. He goes on to say that in most of contemporary society, "the lack of communal conformity regarding the appropriateness and inappropriateness of behaviours has resulted in an unstable and confused society." Other Abrahamic faiths recognise this and Shaykh Mikaeel quotes Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft:
First principle: the foundation of social order is morality.
To develop moral intelligence, Shaykh Mikaeel speaks of a five-step ladder that begins with a calibration of our moral compass to the Prophetic ideal, followed by a commitment to this moral conviction, and so on until the attainment of moral courage.
The practical steps of calibrating our moral compass comprises keeping company with righteous people; reciting and contemplating the Quran; studying the life of the Prophet s.a.w.; making du'a to Allah; learning the law and living by it; and repenting to Allah and avoiding sin. In essence, living the life of taqwa. Indeed, the Quran says: "O you who believe! If you fear Allah, He will give you discrimination [between right and wrong] and will remit from you your sins and forgive you, Allah's grace is tremendous."
There is much that remains to be said, such as the author’s comments on an interpretation of masculinity that shuns emotional expression and his elaboration of the three degrees of shame according to Islam. But I will just leave it for you, dear reader to uncover this yourself when you read the book.
With the Heart in Mind is a ground-breaking work that should be read by everyone who wants to be serious about religion and wants to be serious about building a better life. If we remain unaware of our emotional and moral intelligence, we run the very real risk of jeopardising all aspects of our lives – including the lives of those we hold most dear.
With the Heart in Mind: The Moral and Emotional Intelligence of the Prophet s.a.w.
Mikaeel Ahmed Smith
* Educators may find the name Howard Gardner familiar because he is the developmental psychologist who articulated the theory of multiple intelligences; though only the Interpersonal and the Intrapersonal intelligences are within the scope of the present book's discussion.