Learning Emotional and Moral Intelligence From the Prophet (PBUH): With Heart in Mind By Mikaeel Smith [Book Review]

Contrary to popular western belief, theism and intelligence are not two divergent entities. Rather, according to Islam and its prophetic model, they are inextricably bound.

Contrary to popular western belief, theism and intelligence are not two divergent entities. Rather, according to Islam and its prophetic model, they are inextricably bound.

“What is intelligence and what is the role of the intellect?” Shaykh Mikaeel Ahmed Smith begins his book, “With Heart in Mind”, by exploring this poignant question in order to lay the foundations for an intimate study of the aql or intellect in the Prophetic model.

The introduction takes us on a brief journey through history to unravel the fascinating paradigms that have sought to address this very question of the intellect. Beginning with the western understanding, Smith observes through various studies and ancient western philosophers that the concept of the intellect has been divorced from religiosity.

He cites a study that shows that the more intelligent people become, it is more likely their religiosity will decrease. The study concludes by stating that the premise for this is that intelligent people often believe that religious beliefs are irrational and not anchored in science, and that they “know better.” Smith tells us that this conclusion is what has ultimately led him to write this book. 

Contrary to popular western belief, theism and intelligence are not two divergent entities. Rather, according to Islam and its prophetic model, they are inextricably bound. In this timely book, Smith seeks to expound on the nature of the aql, its primary function which is to know God and lead others towards him, its place in Islamic scholarship, as well as its impact on Muslims, and how to lead towards radical change.

This is a unique work of literature that is paramount for Muslims to read and understand on a profound level. According to Smith, there are multiple types of intellects and the Prophet (PBUH) possessed them all. Having read a range of seerahs, I have always leaned towards those providing more analysis as opposed to, a mundane retelling of historical facts. I seek to not simply recite facts verbatim, but rather to build a relationship with the Prophet (PBUH).

This is precisely what “With Heart in Mind” achieves. It is not a prosaic seerah but rather a critical study of the man considered the most intelligent by Muslim scholars. In addition to belief in divine revelation, our faith hinges on love for the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH).

In order to strive towards Ihsan or perfection in our faith, we were instructed to emulate the actions of the Prophet (PBUH). Yet, how can we emulate someone we do not love? How can we love someone we do not truly and intimately know? Smith himself states that this book attempts to uncover the very core of his being, his message, and his understanding of those around him. 

The book is divided into four sections. Section one discusses the varying perspectives of the aql in both Islamic and western tradition. Sections two and three covers emotional and moral intelligence whilst section four concludes the book with understanding how to use these intellects as tools to effect deep change.

We are also introduced to theories of the intellect by Al Ghazali and Muhasibi. With these theories, and through emotive narratives of Shaykh Smith’s own personal stories sitting amongst scholars, the role of the intellect becomes unambiguous. The aql is a light that Allah has created and it is what guides us to Him. Most notably, he elucidates on the relationship between the intellect, logic, rationality, and religion. Whereas western perspectives opine that these are disparate concepts, Shakyh Smith states:

On the contrary, the immaterial soul was of divine origin and rationality was its defining attribute. Rationality is the strongest ally to belief in Allah and His Prophet.” 

However, the following sections on emotional and moral intelligence are undoubtedly the most memorable. As Smith has reiterated throughout his book, there are multiple levels and types of intelligence, and they are all meticulously interlinked.

Emotional and moral intelligence are the catalysts for change within ourselves and our communities. Knowledge alone can not guide us. The section on emotional intelligence is seamlessly presented through vignettes of the Prophet’s (PBUH) interpersonal relationships, and scientific data and studies in contemporary psychology.

The Prophet (PBUH) was perfect in all his mannerisms and his interactions with people. In a critical study of his life, you will quickly observe that he spoke with and advised people depending on the individual in question, and this allowed people to be exceptionally receptive towards him. He was able to discern the appropriate reactions and instructions required because he understood that people and communities were inherently idiosyncratic.

It was this ability to empathize that allowed him to spread Islam and build bonds of trust and compassion. Smith says about emotional intelligence:

Emotional and social intelligence are essential elements of the aql because they teach us how to help, guide, and engage with everyone around us. They make us ideal shepherds.”

He goes on to discuss the varying facets of emotional intelligence including language, body language, physical touch, listening, and its role in parenting. We are emphatically reminded that intelligence in Islam includes action. Emotional awareness without action is akin to a heart that is asleep and impotent. 

This leads us into the section on Moral intelligence. Smith says:

Within the prophetic model of intellect, emotional intelligence is only praiseworthy because it allows one to effectively communicate the message of revelation to others and facilitates one’s ability to fulfill the rights of the creation of Allah.”  

A morally intelligent person is a person who can distinguish between the morally upright and the immoral. Without this aql, emotional intelligence can be used as a tool to manipulate others for avaricious purposes. This is a philosophy dense section that draws on the works of Sa’d al-Taftazani, Ibn al-Qutlubugha, Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Ghazali, Ibn Sina, and others to present the dangers of moral blindness.

Despite this, it is outlined tangibly for the lay reader. He discusses very aspects of moral intelligence and the primary function of the aql according to Islamic tradition. He iterates the notion that without moral intelligence, society will become dangerously self-serving. He solemnly ends this section with appeals to recenter moral education within our communities by using emotional intelligence as the framework. He suggests that we, “recalibrate our collective moral compass,” as an ummah.

The final section will leave an indelible impression on the hearts of readers. It weaves together the notions put forth from the theological, philosophical, and psychological studies so that we are not left in an abyss of intangible concepts. Rather, he asks what does an understanding of the aql now mean for us?

He says the utility of Prophetic knowledge is that it should become a catalyst to reform the life of the one who possesses it. Knowledge without action is ignorance. He tells us that his purpose for this section is to present a model for passing on knowledge that inspires deep change.

As I mentioned earlier, knowing the Prophet (PBUH) can not be attained by simply reading his life story. It is imperative to study all his minute interactions that allowed masses of people to wholeheartedly accept his message. We must then take that message and allow it to illuminate our own lives and societies.

“With Heart in Mind” is a pivotal accomplishment. It will electrify your spirit to live according to the Prophetic model and it equips you with the tools to do so.