Heart of the Night

Heart of the Night by Naguib Mahfouz pertains to a tale that encapsulates Jaafar Ibrahim Sayyid al-Rawi’s life. The tale features a separate narrator who is listening to Jaafar’s story and asking questions occasionally. In fact, it seems Jaafar met the narrator in the quest of demanding rights to his grandfather’s estate. This means that having God’s wisdom and being godly regardless of engaging in worldly things is really important. However, worldly individuals do not have God’s wisdom even if they try acting godly. Sayyid al-Rawi is strictly religious and would not like to be associated with worldly people. 

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Jaafar always thought his grandfather was a puzzle because he could not understand how his personality conveyed anger, sweetness and compassion. For instance, when Jaafar got to an age that allowed him to participate in discussions, he decided to ask his grandfather the impetus behind the decision to reject his father just because he married a commoner. What he meant was that Jaafar’s father was not a bad man but he was worldly in the sense that he did not conform to the strict notions of religion such as memorizing the suras or praying and fasting. In fact, such a religion includes theoretical and religious aspects. However, one does not have to be ascetic to show that he or she is godly. This insinuates that Jaafar’s grandfather can tolerate someone being godly and engaging in worldly things, but one cannot be worldly and engage in godly things. After all, godly people are surrounded by God’s inspiration and they do whatever they want so long as they walk with wisdom. This is unlike a worldly person. In fact, this is why Jaafar’s grandfather implies that it doesn’t matter whether a godly person is a highway robber so long as he or she has God’s presence and inspiration. He also had a strong belief that God’s mercy can make it possible for anyone to be godly. However, God’s clemency has nothing to do with worldly people regardless of whether they are trying to act godly.

The reason Sayyid al-Rawi was giving this explanation to Jaafar is because his father married a woman that did not impress him. The act was unexpected and surprising for him given that Jaafar’s father was a very religious person and had been raised with a religious background just like other family members. However, he wanted to embrace a different lineage that cared less about al-Rawi’s origin because he became worldly and not godly. Besides, before Jaafar’s father broke the relationship he had with Sayyid al-Rawi, he used to publish articles that advocated for liberalism by reconciling religion, science, and philosophy. This was contrary to what a godly person would do and this is what annoyed his father. Needless to say, Jaafar’s father was not living in God’s presence all the time. The youth of the blessed family had come to an end. 

However, Jaafar’s grandfather had so much confidence in Jaafar that he looked forward to him reviving the youth of the blessed family. This was after making him a godly person by inculcating principles of religion in him. According to Jaafar, the rejection was a puzzle to him because he could not understand how his religious grandfather could be the perpetrator of such an act. Nevertheless, Sayyid al-Rawi was convinced that his action was right despite him being a pure soul and of noble nature. In fact, he made Jaafar understand that his interpretation was inappropriate. Jaafar’s grandfather admitted that his decision made him sad for a long time even though he was forced to do it. He lacked other alternatives at his disposal.

Jaafar seems to be a worldly man because he followed the footsteps of his father who angered Sayyid al-Rawi because of acting outside God’s spirit. In fact, Jaafar had been raised in a strictly religious surrounding where it was mandatory to attend all prayer sessions and live by the teachings of religious scholars. However, as he became an adult, he started to digress from the religious ways and his thinking changed. For instance, when his grandfather talked about looking for a girl for him to marry, he decided to leave al-Azhar as well as his grandfather’s house. This meant abandoning all the religious teachings just like his father did, which is something that a godly person would not do. Jaafar relinquished religious life because he felt that the life his grandfather had planned for him was unacceptable. He even married a woman older than him without having the reconciliation with al-Rawi. His father had also made a similar mistake. 

Jaafar also believed that charitable acts were based on evil and nothing good comes from charitably. This was when he was condemning his father’s actions of willing his real estate to charity thus showing his lack of respect for religion just like worldly men do. Jaafar even ignores Shakroun’s idea of taking his firstborn baby to his grandfather where he could receive his blessings. Therefore, Jaafar was only a worldly person because he had a strong desire for self-accomplishment and wanted to become somebody. This is unlike a godly person who only has to live expecting the time to inherit Sayyid al-Rawi’s great wealth and property. It also seems like Jaafar is full of himself even though his confidence is camouflaged as stubborn pride. It became apparent when he insisted on instigating a revolution to reverse the universe’ order. He wanted to do all this in the quest of pressing his case to get his grandfather’s estate by any means necessary. This also makes him a worldly person. 

The distinctions between a worldly and godly man are important because the two denote different people with diverse goals and ambitions. Besides, godly and worldly individuals are guided by different forces that dictate how they act. The distinction can also be important in ascertaining whether one’s activities are godly or worldly, and how their actions might affect them or influence their decision making. Nevertheless, Jaafar teaches us that one’s life path is greatly determined by the choices and decisions that one makes. For this reason, it is important to always make informed decisions and even consult elders if necessary. For instance, Jaafar’s life could have been quite different if he consulted elders to seek guidance before digressing from religious paths and doctrines. 


A godly person always acknowledges God’s presence and is guided by his wisdom. However, a worldly person does not adhere to wisdom or conform to religious notions. Jaafar’s grandfather prefers someone who is godly but acts worldly as compared to someone who is worldly but acts godly. Jaafar’s failures are not surprising because he appeared to be a worldly person that did not heed his grandfather’s advice. In fact, he was involved in a series of bad decisions which made him lose everything including his family and his fortune as well as his position within the society just like his father did. All this is important because drawing the line between the godly and the worldly dictates how one acts and interacts with others. In fact, a godly person cannot engage in most of the things that a worldly person immerses himself/herself in.

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