Ihsan: The Path from Self-Purification to Societal Excellence

In the rich tapestry of Islamic faith, Ihsan represents the highest standard of excellence a believer can aspire to achieve. It is the embodiment of perfection in worship, character, and deeds, as reflected in the Quranic verse, “Do excellent deeds deserve anything except the most excellent rewards?” (55:60), This verse of Surat Al Rahman not only highlight the concept of divine reciprocity but also the profound impact of Ihsan on the believer’s life and the world around them.

The famous hadith of Jibreel, provides a foundational understanding of Ihsan, where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) defines it as “worshipping Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him, then knowing that He sees you”. This profound statement encapsulates the essence of Ihsan—consciousness of Allah in every aspect of life, driving the believer to strive for excellence.

The Islamic ethos of Ihsan represents the zenith of spiritual maturity, a state where faith is not merely professed but deeply ingrained in every action and interaction. It is the culmination of a transformative journey that begins with Tazkia (self-purification), progresses through Islah (societal reform), and culminates in Ihsan (excellence).

Tazkia: The Foundation of Spiritual Growth

Tazkia, the purification of the self, is the essential first step in a Muslim’s spiritual journey. It is a process of introspection and refinement, as highlighted in Surah Al-Jumu’ah (62:2), where the mission of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is described as to ” reciting His revelations to them, purifying them , and teaching them the Book and Wisdom; (62:02).” This purification is a proactive endeavor to cleanse one’s heart, align one’s intentions with divine will, and nurture a sincere and unwavering faith.

Islah: The Commitment to Positive Change

With the foundation of Tazkia firmly established, the believer is called upon to engage in Islah, the active pursuit of reforming and improving society. This commitment to positive change is about enacting justice, promoting ethical values, and striving for harmony within the community. It is the practical application of one’s purified faith, seeking to correct wrongs, uplift the downtrodden, and contribute to the common good of humanity, as commanded in The Qur’an: “Worship God alone; do not attribute divinity to others. Have excellent affection towards your parents, close relatives, orphans, the disabled, close and far neighbors, close friends, stranded travelers, and those whom your right hands held in trust. God does not love those who are conceited and full of pride.” (4:36)

Ihsan: The Pinnacle of Faith in Action

Ihsan is the manifestation of both Tazkia and Islah. It is achieving excellence in belief and action, as beautifully encapsulated in the Quranic verse, “Do excellent deeds deserve anything except the most excellent rewards?” (55:60). Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and though you do not see Him, He surely sees you. It is the embodiment of the divine attributes in human conduct, striving for perfection in every aspect of life, and spreading goodness and compassion in the world.

Moreover, Ihsan extends beyond the individual to society at large. It is the act of spreading benefit and goodness, akin to philanthropy, where those who support the causes of the needy are known as muhsineen—those who perfect the society around them. The legacy of Islam is rich with examples of Ihsan, with monumental achievements in art, science, architecture, literature, and more, stemming from the Muslim desire to attain this noble state.

Yet, a poignant question arises: when observers look upon Muslim societies today, do they perceive us as muhsineen? Are we known by the rest of the world as societies governed by excellence? Are we striving to create a self-critical society that defends national virtue and generates institutions and practices that provide excellent governance? Are we governed by people who are trying to govern us with the best way possible that will please Allah and is considered an application of Qur’anic principles in governance? Does the Muslim minority in various lands contribute positively to their societies, embodying the virtues of Ihsan? This introspection is crucial, for Ihsan is not just a personal endeavor but a collective responsibility that shapes the perception and impact of the Muslim Ummah.

I hope the meaning of Ihsan is becoming clearer in your mind, it is the fruit borne from the strong roots of Iman and the sturdy trunk of Islam. It is a treasure we must unearth and revive, for in the pursuit of Ihsan (Excellence) lies the reflection of the 99 beautiful names of Allah (swt), and in its practice, the promise of divine reward: for there is no recompense for Ihsan but Ihsan itself.

Practical Applications of Ihsan

1. Intention: Every action should begin with a sincere intention for Allah’s sake, turning daily routines into acts of worship. 2:284

2. Mindfulness in Worship: Prayers and other acts of worship should be performed with full concentration, embodying the state of devotion as if seeing Allah. The Qur’an teaches:” Which is better, one who has founded his building on God-consciousness and a desire for His acceptance, or he who has founded his building on the edge of a crumbling cliff that will tumble down with him into Hellfire? God does not guide people who are [deliberately] unjust.” (9:109)  

3. Excellence in Work: Approach all tasks with diligence and integrity, aiming for perfection as prescribed by the Prophet (peace be upon him), who said, “Indeed, Allah has prescribed Ihsan in all things”.

4. Kindness and Charity: Extend kindness and charity to all, as Allah commands justice and doing good (Ihsan) to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, and neighbors (4:36).

5. Environmental Stewardship: Respect the environment, avoiding waste and harm, in line with the principle of not causing corruption on earth (7:55-56).

6. Continuous Improvement: Commit to lifelong learning and self-improvement, nurturing the soul and intellect as in Surat Taha 114, Az Zumar 9, Al Mujadila 11, Al Umran 18, Fatir 28.

Reviving Intellectual Vigor

The commitment to Ihsan has the potential to address the intellectual stagnation experienced in parts of the Muslim world. By applying the principles of Ihsan, individuals and communities can foster an environment that values knowledge, innovation, and progress. The Quran encourages this pursuit, stating, ” God orders justice, beautiful excellence, and generosity to relatives, and He forbids vice, evil, and oppression. He warns you so that you will keep all this in mind.” (16:90), and “Allah loves those who do good” (2:195).

The historical Golden Age of Islam was marked by a spirit of excellence (Ihsan), leading to remarkable achievements across various fields. Today, by embracing Ihsan, the Muslim Ummah can inspire a new era of intellectual and spiritual growth, contributing positively to global civilization and embodying the virtues that define muhsineen—those who perfect society through their excellence.

A Guide for the Journey

The journey from Tazkia to Ihsan is a path of continuous growth and development. It begins with the individual’s commitment to self-improvement and extends to a collective responsibility towards societal welfare. By nurturing the seed of faith through knowledge and righteous action, and then using that refined character to enact social reform, the believer can aspire to reach the state of excellence (Ihsan). This journey is not just a personal endeavor but a communal one, where each step taken by an individual contributes to the upliftment of the entire Ummah, and consequently to benefit humanity.

In embracing this journey, Muslims can transition from a state of average faith to one of excellence, embodying the transformative power of Islamic teachings. The path from Tazkia to Ihsan offers a clear roadmap for personal and communal development, inspiring believers to leave a lasting impact on the world and fulfill the Quranic vision of a just and compassionate society.

Ihsan, which means excellence in belief is the neglected one third of our deen. Ihsan is the fruit that blossoms from our planted trees and shows up when the roots are strong and nourished, free from disease and harmful insects. If we fail to nourish our Iman by submitting to Allah, we will bear no fruit and our soul will die. This is why we are experiencing a state of stagnation at this time. But look into the Islamic legacy. It is rich with commitment to excellence. All the achievements in art, science, architecture, literature, geography, politics, economics, social movement, philosophy, medicine and more came from the Muslims’ desire to attain Ihsan. Ihsan is our lost treasure that we must unearth and revive. This is how we intend to revive the Ummah and start talking about the promising future instead of the glorious past.

In conclusion, Ihsan is not just a lofty ideal but a practical guide for living a life of purpose and impact. It is the conscious effort to reflect the divine attributes in human actions, nurturing a legacy of excellence that transcends time and space. For indeed, in the pursuit of Ihsan lies the promise of divine favor, for there is no reward for Ihsan but Ihsan itself.

by Safi Kaskas

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