Ihsan from Imam Nawawi’s Forty Hadith Collection
Presented by Imam Zaid Shakir
"While we were one day sitting with the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, there appeared before us a man dressed in extremely white clothes and with very black hair. No traces of journeying were visible on him, and none of us knew him.
He sat down close by the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, rested his knee against his thighs, and said, O Muhammad! Inform me about Islam." Said the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, "Islam is that you should testify that there is no deity save Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, that you should perform salah (ritual prayer), pay the zakah, fast during Ramadan, and perform Hajj (pilgrimage) to the House (the Ka'bah at Makkah), if you can find a way to it (or find the means for making the journey to it)." Said he (the man), "You have spoken truly."
We were astonished at his thus questioning him and telling him that he was right, but he went on to say, "Inform me about iman (faith)." He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, "It is that you believe in Allah and His angels and His Books and His Messengers and in the Last Day, and in fate (qadar), both in its good and in its evil aspects." He said, "You have spoken truly."
Then he (the man) said, "Inform me about Ihsan." He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, " It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you." He said, "Inform me about the Hour." He (the Messenger of Allah) said, "About that the one questioned knows no more than the questioner." So he said, "Well, inform me about the signs thereof (i.e. of its coming)." Said he, "They are that the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress, that you will see the barefooted ones, the naked, the destitute, the herdsmen of the sheep (competing with each other) in raising lofty buildings." Thereupon the man went off.
I waited a while, and then he (the Messenger of Allah) said, "O 'Umar, do you know who that questioner was?" I replied, "Allah and His Messenger know better." He said, "That was Jibril. He came to teach you your religion.""
Inform me about Ihsan
• The Prophet (saw) said that you worship Allah as if you see Him and if you fail to see Him, know that He sees you.
• This is informing us of an internal state of being.
• This is imaan: that you believe in Allah. Ihsaan is that you ARE something.
A believer is not merely someone who has assimilated a wealth of knowledge; he is a substance.
Linguistic definitions of Ihsaan:
• To do good.
• Rendering one’s actions good to the extent that we have perfect actions.
• Doing good to others.
• In divine law, there are many different meanings of ihsaan.
Ihsaan according to divine law:
• One’s awareness that Allah is watching over one. Consciousness of Allah’s watchfulness.
• It is being shy before Allah as one rightfully should. 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud relates that one day the Messenger of Allah (upon him be peace) said, 'Be shy of Allah Most High as much as is His due. We said, 'All praise to Allah, we are shy of Him.' The Messenger (upon him be peace) said, 'That is not the point. Whoever is shy of Allah as much as is His due then he should protect his head and that which it comprises [i.e. mind, mouth, ears, etc.], his stomach and that which is adjoining it [i.e. preserve it from unlawful wealth and protect the private parts from the unlawful], and he should remember death and that which is to come after it, and whoever intends the hereafter should abandon the adornments of this world. Whoever fulfills these duties has been shy of Allah as much as is His due' (Musnad Ahmad).
• Be shy before Allah as you would before a respected person.
• That same shyness should be more with Allah, as others can only see one’s outer actions, while Allah sees our inner states and can punish us.
Imam Jurjani defines Ihsaan as that which would incur praise in this world and in the next.
Imam Ragab al-Isfahani defines ihsaan as giving to others when the situation is appropriate. It is doing good in one’s religiously sanctioned actions.
Imam states that ihsaan is having good external islam that is supported by sound faith internally and completed by constant mindfulness of Allah.
Imam Kathari states ihsaan as doing good to others in a way that benefits them, who are then beautified by that act.
• Teaching religious knowledge beautifies the student when she implements and comprehends that knowledge.
• Restoring someone’s health.
Ihsaan is being good in one’s dealings with Allah.
• Being good to ourselves in carrying out those things that will help our soul attain eternal paradise.
Human rights cannot simply be limited to those things that will benefit us in this life. Human rights encompass the whole picture, which includes the hereafter.
• Oppression is one of the great injustices found in this world which we strive to end, yet we are not able to grasp the greatest form of oppression.
• The greatest forms of oppression are those "rights" that go against the commandments of Allah; this is the greatest dhulm.
• There are rights that our soul has over us and when we deny those rights to our soul, we are incurring the greatest dhulm upon ourselves.
• Our soul needs to be in worship of Allah and not chained by this dunya.
Allah commands two things upon us: justice and ihsaan.
• Justice is to give every person their due right.
• Ihsaan is to give more when it is time to give and take less than what is owed to oneself.
There are degrees of ihsaan.
1. The first degree involves the intention and to make it purely for the sake of Allah.
- some people are not muhsin because they take themselves as god. "Seest thou such a one as taketh for his god his own passion (or impulse)? Couldst thou be a disposer of affairs for him?" (025:043).
- The greatest jihad is to fight and subdue our nafs; it is to recognize before we commit an injustice, no matter how small or how large, that even if we do not get punished in this world, we will answer to Allah in the next.
- The greatest jihad is to make a conscious effort to deny our souls. We must have a standard to measure up to, so that once we grab it; we try persistently to pull ourselves up.
- If we lose consciousness of Allah, there is no check on our actions and intentions.
Our submission to our inclinations veils our hearts from Allah. Our soul veils us from Allah. When we give up these desires for Allah, He opens up realms of understanding.
• "But if they hearken not to thee, know that they only follow their own lusts: and who is more astray than one who follow his own lusts, devoid of guidance from Allah? for Allah guides not people given to wrong-doing" (028:050).
We are here to worship Allah. Worship has wider meanings, but there is a basis that supports all the other forms of worship (the five pillars).
The Prophet (saw) said no one of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.
An element of a person’s piety is their obedience to the law. It is not, however, the only element. Obedience of the law is necessary, but it is not sufficient to attain ihsaan.
• Islam is a legal and moral based religion, while Christianity is mainly a moral based religion and Judaism a legal based religion.
• There must be an inner state of purity and intention for Allah in order for piety to be complete. The moral basis, likewise, is necessary, but not sufficient.
Another degree of ihsaan is overlooking the faults of others.
• We strive to take on the characteristics of Allah. Allah loves to forgive, and he will love to forgive those who are Merciful. The most frequent dua we make in Ramadan is "O Allah, You are the Forgiver, You love to forgive, so forgive us."
• Holding a grudge against something is burdensome. It requires much negative thought and energy constantly, which becomes heavy upon the soul. You can see that every time a person forgives someone, their heart feels light. To hold a grudge against someone is to be chained by hatred, which is contrary to our spiritual freedom. Freedom comes through letting go of our inclinations for Allah.
Ibn al-Qayyim defines ihsaan as on three levels:
1. The intention and to rectify it with knowledge. One must then implement that intention with conviction. After one has the conviction to take on a certain act, one must strive to purify his state of intention.
2. Ihsaan involves internal states. It requires that one take care of her internal state of piety with jealousy; to always be on guard for your peaceful state. Ihsaan involves gracefully shielding it from corrupting elements. The ears, for example, are the quickest conveyers to the heart, so guard them. Every fitna adds a black spot to one’s heart, until gradually, it is devoid of noor. Ihsaan involves working to rectify the soul, attempting to realize its potential. Every one of us has a potential, but few are those who realize that potential.
3. We must have ihsaan with our time. Like we guard our senses, we must guard our time so that not a moment passes without remembering Allah and understanding that He is observing us. Ihsaan involves that in everything the ultimate aspiration be to please Allah.
A great deal of "reform movements" have sprung forth from grievances groups of individuals have of Islam claiming to be progressives, feminists, apologetics, secularists and the like. What they do not realize is that Islam does not need reform. We do not need to reform Islam; we need to implement Islam.
The Muhsin is the person who meets tribulation with patience and perseverance. The reward for patience is never lost and the reward of the Muhsin is never lost.
Ihsaan is struggling for the cause of God, which gives meaning to our life.
• "And those who strive in Our (cause),- We will certainly guide them to our Paths: For verily Allah is with those who do right" (029:069).
• Know that Allah is with you and do not worry about anything else. What is there to fear when Allah is our Protector? So do not be afraid of implementing this deen and speaking the truth, for Allah is always on the side of those of truth.
• Be one of those who remember and spend in the cause of Allah during easy moments and moments of difficulty. Remember Allah during the good moments, and Allah will remember you during your hardships.
Suppressing one’s anger is a form of ihsaan.
Showing respect and reverence for people of the scripture who have not done injustice to you is part of ihsaan.
Guarding the orphan’s money is a form of ihsaan.
Ihsaan is to greet people with a better greeting than they give you.
• If one says "salaam", you say "wa alaikum as salaam wa rahmatullah."
• Greetings do not have to apply to just Muslims. Greet non-muslims with better greetings as well.
Being generous with one’s wealth is a form of ihsaan. Be good to others as Allah has been good to you. Share your talents, wealth, etc.
Ibn Jawziyya Qalbi comments on verse 1 in surah Nisaa’:
"… Surely Allah is observing you."
• He asks, how can we grow to that consciousness?
• The muraqqabah of worshipping Allah as if you see Him is the higher state of ihsaan which is mentioned first. This is what we should strive for.
• However, realizing that most people will not be able to attain to this state, we should be mindful that He is observing you. How can we grow in our spiritual life to realize this?
There are 4 steps, according to Ibn Jawziyya:
1. Place a condition on oneself.—I will do this or I will avoid this.
2. Enter into a covenant with Allah – O Allah, I will not do this and this or I will do this and that.
3. Taking oneself into account by regularly checking one’s actions and deeds and thoughts.
4. Punishing onself where one has fallen short in fulfilling a covenant.
This will bring about the fruits of consciousness.