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3 Ways the Heart Becomes Hardened

A child whose heart has become hardened has more trouble learning, more behavioral and relationship problems, and their development slows down. So how does a child’s heart become “hardened?”

To review from last weeks blog, vulnerability — the ability to be touched and moved by life — is a pivotal factor in the development of ones personality, the ability to learn, and in self-regulation and behavior. More to the point, when a child loses the ability to stay with vulnerable feelings — when their heart becomes chronically hardened — all kinds of learning, behavioral, and relational problems appear. Lets look at the 3 factors that cause the heart  to harden, and what we parents can do about it.

[Note 1: “Hardened heart” is a metaphor for when the brain, extended nervous system, and body stiffen into rigid patterns of self-protection. We will detail these defenses in the next blog.]

[Note 2: Most of what I have learned here is from the work of Dr. Gordon Neufeld – thanks Gordon!]

3 Factors that Increase a Sense of Vulnerability (and can lead to a hardened heart)

  1. Sensitivity — Some children are simply born much more sensitive to stimuli (external or internal) than others. The more intense the experience — of noise, touch, light, or the feelings evoked — the more likely the child’s brain will evoke the defenses designed to protect him. This “sensitivity set-point” is likely a combination of genetics and very early experiences (last trimester of pregnancy, birth, and early infancy).
  2. Stress — The circumstances of a child’s life will further affect the degree of safety or overwhelm they experience. When a child experiences chronic or particularly intensely stressful events, the brain moves to protect the child from overwhelming vulnerability so that the child can continue to function (although in a more limited way). In this way, chronic stress or traumatic experiences can contribute to a hardening of the heart.
  3. Spoiling — Some children become hardened because they have not developed the resilience needed to handle stressful experiences. “Spoiling” — contrary to popular belief — is not a problem of making our children happy, but rather in our ability to say “no” when something isn’t good for the child and to adequately “hold” him in his feelings of futility.

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Zakat eligibility of The FYI

The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.

It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah, and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah, And Allah, is Knowing and Wise.”
(Al-Tawbah 9:60)

According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.

Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD

About Shaikh Ali

Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina.  He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Sh. Ali serves on the Advisory Council of The Family & Youth Institute. He is the Senior Imam and Director of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton, Michigan. Additionally, he serves as the Director of Muslim Family Services in Detroit and is a council member of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). He is also a member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).