“Al Ihsan” is supreme spiritual aspiration “to worship Allah as if you see Him“, as defined in the very famous hadith of Jibril, The Angel of Allah who communicated Qur’an to Holy Prophet peace be upon him from the Almighty Allah (God).
‘ Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) companion Umar, may Allah be pleased with him said, “While we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, one day a man came up to us whose clothes were extremely white, whose hair was extremely black, upon whom traces of travelling could not be seen, and whom none of us knew, until he sat down close to the Holy Prophet peace be upon him, so that he rested his knees upon his knees and placed his two hands upon his thighs and said, ‘Muhammad, tell me about Islam.’ The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless with him and grant him peace, said, ‘Islam is that you witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and you establish the prayer, and you give the Zakat, and you fast Ramadan, and you perform the hajj of the House if you are able to take a way to it.’ He said, ‘You have told the truth,’ and we were amazed at him asking him and [then] telling him that he told the truth. He said, ‘Tell me about iman.’ He said, ‘That you affirm Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and that you affirm the Decree, the good of it and the bad of it.’ He said, ‘You have told the truth.’ He said, ‘Tell me about ihsan.’ He said, ‘That you worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you don’t see Him then truly He sees you.’ He said, ‘Tell me about the Hour.’ He said, ‘The one asked about it knows no more than the one asking.’ He said, ‘Then tell me about its tokens.’ He said, ‘That the female slave should give birth to her mistress, and you see poor, naked, barefoot shepherds of sheep and goats competing in making tall buildings.’ He went away, and I remained some time. Then he asked, ‘Umar, do you know who the questioner was?’ I said, ‘Allah and His Messenger know best.’ He said, ‘He was Jibril who came to you to teach you your deen’.”
The Holy Qur’an refers to Ihsan in more than two hundred verses. Often interpreted as beauty or goodness or excellence, Ihsan implies striving for such qualities both within human beings and in the environment around them; thus individuals with Ihsan, are recognised by their ethical behaviour as well as by their sense of aesthetic appreciation. Allahu Jamal WA Yuhibbul Jamil states a Hadith (Allah Is Beautiful and He Loves Beauty). Jamal is a unique attribute of Allah. Humans can never reach to that category but Ihsan is eminently attainable by all human beings.
Ihsan or doing something good, with excellence, with a certain care for its execution, aware of one’s attitude in its performance suggests a degree of refinement, of a higher standard of performance or setting a new benchmark. This can apply to worship, or to any mundane activity. It applies not only towards the vertical relationship with Allah Almighty (Ibadat) but also in one’s horizontal relationship with human beings (muamalat)
Thus to be a Muhsin is to be an embodiment of perfection, of sincerity in worship, of good ethical conduct.
Each human being on this earth is a traveler, from birth till she or he meets Allah. Our life’s journey is marked by many a significant event. For some it can be a profound loss; yet for others it can be a moment of overwhelming Divine Generosity. Some can experience the finest of human kindness whilst others experience hatred, jealousy, and deliberate misunderstanding. Some can remain in their spiritual doldrums whilst for others there are moments of profound insight. Ihsan caters for all categories of human contingency. It shows the way out of any situation toward success (falah).
Fatabarakallahu ahsanul khaliqin (So blessed is Allah, the best of creators) Qur’an – (23:14) is an example of Allah Almighty using a derivative of the term Ihsan to describe the creation of human beings. Man is fashioned out of clay and his entire embryogenesis is described in remarkable detail. One is filled with a deep sense of awe and reverence when we reflect that despite our small and insignificant origin, with what latent capacity we have been blessed with. Allah invites us to ponder on the Ihsan with which He Lovingly created us all. “Blessed are those who when they ponder on the creation of Allah and their hearts are filled with a khashya (loving, reverential fear of Allah) in their Hearts. (35:28).”
Wa hasuna ulaika rafiqa (And excellent are those as companions) Qur’an – (4:69) is an affirmation of the rich rewards which await those who pay heed to Allah and his Messenger (SAW). They will be rewarded with the companionship of the Prophets (nabiyyin), those who never deviate from the truthful (siddiqin), those who bear witness to the truth with their lives (shuhada) and those who live righteous (salihin) lives. These are best role models for humanity. Their lives are a manifestation of Ihsan in practice.
Wa bil walidayni Ihsana (And be Excellent to your parents) Qur’an – (17:23) is an explicit command from Allah Almighty for the kind and compassionate treatment of parents. They are the first significant others we encounter on our journey in life. They nurture us and care for us with love and compassion. Caring for them is a deeper expression of the Ihsan we carry in our hearts as we struggle to express our gratitude for their endless sacrifices when we were young and weak.
Id fa’billati hiya ahsan (Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better) Qur’an – (41:34) is a call by the Qur’an to repel evil with good. It uses the term ahsan which is the superlative form of Ihsan. It guides in our relationship with those who not only differ with us but use whatever material advantage they may have to sow seeds of enmity and tyranny. This capacity to turn enemies into friends is a capacity one has to earn and acquire.
Wallahu yuhibbul muhsinin (and Allah loves the doers of good) Qur’an – (3:134) The Qur’an uses the term muhsinun (doers of good) in several places to indicate characteristics of human behaviour which find Divine Pleasure. This is thus an open invitation for the reader to transform his or her life in accordance with what promotes peace, stability, honesty, truthfulness and integrity in society. In short acquisition of Ihsan leads to good ethical practices.
Qalb (Heart) – the seat of Ihsan
Any thinking, reflecting being is forever confronting questions such as “why am I here?”, “what’s the purpose of my creation?”, “how do I find an element of peace and contentment within myself?” The Qur’anic concept of Ihsan in relationship to man’s origins and his subsequent journey throughout life emphasizes the need for a moral and ethical anchor in one’s life.
Worship in Islam is not simply the moving of the tongue and the limbs. They are only witnesses to what is contained within the heart. Similarly Ihsan which finds its abode within the Qalb or heart is at the seat of all our deepest emotions, feelings and aspirations. A heart filled with Ihsan is at once Allah conscious, sensitive, responsive, caring, compassionate; a true example of beauty from within (an ethical being) and simultaneously conscious of beauty which surrounds itself (having a strong appreciation of the aesthetic.)
Let’s examine the following saying of Prophet (pbuh) closely: “Allah has prescribed “Al Ihsan” in every matter.” (Muslim)
Here we are clearly invited to seek “excellence” in everything. Excellence in one’s spiritual observances, excellence in one’s relationships with others (whether this other is Muslim or not, human or not, animate or not) as well as excellence in one’s relationship with oneself.
When one decides to appropriate for oneself this notion of Ihsan by incorporating it into one’s value system, it becomes easy to understand that it is a way of life that can take different forms, in other words, the quest for excellence has a single purpose that is applicable to all areas of life.
By going through the noble Quran and the noble tradition of the Holy Prophet peace be upon him, we can see that the word “Al Ihsan” refers to three different meanings:
- Al Ihsan as supreme spiritual aspiration “to worship Allah as if you see Him“, as defined in the very famous saying of Prophet Muhammed with Angel Jibril (pbuh).
- Al Ihsan as good behaviour, i.e. a social behaviour of kindness, “kindness to parents, relatives, neighbours, orphans, the poorest etc.”
- Al Ihsan as an act of excellence; “Allah loves that when one of you accomplishes a work, that he accomplish it with excellence“.
To summarize Ihsan may be understood as follows:
- The highest stage of man’s spiritual growth is characterised as Ihsan (state of spiritual excellence), a term which occurs in a well known tradition of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him),
- Represents man’s most profound attachment to God and his messenger and the religion that He has prescribed for man.
- It denotes that deep love, that sincere allegiance and that spirit of self sacrifice, which make one, put oneself entirely in one’s devotion to God.
- The essence of Ihsan as distinguished from Imaan whose propelling force is a fear of God “is the love of God which impels man to win God’s favour.” Ihsan means that man’s will becomes one with God’s. Whatever pleases God, please his servant as well; whatever displeases God, also displeases his servant.
- This, however, is not just a passive state of the heart, like Iman and Islam; Ihsan also has an activist state. It leads one to strive for the promotion of good and the obliteration of evil with a strong sense of allegiance to and love for God, making one fearless of everything else.
- Those evils whose existence God does not desire on His earth, His servant not only avoids, but also strives to extirpate from the world with all his Power and resources.
- He also does his utmost, even at the risk of his life; to foster the virtues with which God desires to beautify his world. When a man reaches this stage, he enjoys the closest possible proximity with God and this is, therefore, the highest stage of his spiritual growth.