Abu Musa Al Ash`ary (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "The heart is like a feather which the wind flips in a desert." (1)
Explanation of the Hadith:
Al Munawy reported from At-Tayby that the meaning is changing the conditions of the heart is like the feather which moves with the wind. The heart is rapidly affected by inflictions; some time it turns to the truth and once to falsehood, once to goodness and another time to evil.
As for his saying: (which the wind flips in a desert), it means: The barren land because the wind is more effective in the desert or in barren lands more that urban areas. The word "the wind" indicates that the wind flips it upside down because if the wind continues to come from one side, it will not flip as it comes from all sides.
Al Ghazaly said: The heart is rapidly affected because of inspirations, thoughts, and obsessions which always affect it. Moreover, the heart is between two sides: Desires and the reason. So, it is always between their contradiction and fight. Thoughts are like arrows that hit it from all sides like rain which comes down day and night. It is not like the eyes which lie between two eyelids when a person wants to enjoy comfort, he just closes them, and not like the tongue which lies between teeth and lips and you can control it. The heart is like the throne of thoughts which do not leave it day and night, so the damage will be faster than any other organ, so it is more changing. Therefore, pious people feared for their hearts, wept for them, and paid more attention to them. The meaning of the Hadith is: A person should be firm when his heart changes and should look at his concerns by the light of knowledge, so when he sees something good, he should make his heart firm on it and when he sees bad things, he should refrain from them. (2)
Lessons gained from the Hadith:
1- Judge Abu Bakr ibn Al `Araby said: The heart is a part of the body which Allah created to be the place of knowledge and belief and made the other parts of the body the place for actual and verbal behaviors and assigned for them an angel to direct a person to goodness and a devil which directs a person to evil. So, the light of the mind guides a person but desires lead him astray and fate is in control over all, whereas the heart changes between good and bad thoughts of the angel or the devil, however the successful is the one who is protected by Allah (may He be Exalted). (3)
2- Being firm on the religion of Allah (may He be Glorified and Exalted) is one of the blessings which Allah grants to whomever He wants of His Servants. Allah (may He be Exalted) says: "Allâh will keep firm those who believe, with the word that stands firm in this world (i.e. they will keep on worshipping Allâh Alone and none else), and in the Hereafter. And Allâh will cause to go astray those who are Zâlimûn (polytheists and wrong-doers), and Allâh does what He wills." [Surat Ibrahim: 27].
3- A Muslim should seek refuge with Allah (may He be Exalted) and keep asking Him for guidance and pure religion because there is no other way for the safety of the heart against changing except through the help of Allah (may He be Exalted). The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to invoke Allah frequently saying: "O Controller of the hearts make my heart steadfast in Your Religion.'' and when he was asked about that, he said: "Verily, the hearts of all the sons of Adam are between the two fingers out of the fingers of the Compassionate Lord as one heart. So, He provides firmness to whom He will and leads astray whomever He wills." (4)
(1) Sunan Ibn Majah, No. (88) and Al Jami` As-Saghir and its addition, 1/ 1078, No. (10772).
The Hadith was graded as authentic by Sheikh Al Albany. See Sahih Al Jami`, No. (5833).
(2) See: Faydul-Qadir of Al Munawy, 5/ 508 - 509.
(3) Ibn Hajar, Fathul-Bary 11/ 527.
(4) Reported by At-Tirmidhy from the Hadith of Um Salamah. Sheikh Al Albany said: (authentic). See Hadith No.: 4801 in Sahih Al Jami`.