Our religion (Islam) has three significant aspects: Islam, Iman and Ihsan. To attain Iman one needs to accept Islam whole-heartedly. And when we beautify or perfect our Iman, we achieve Ihsan. When Allah talks about the believers in the Qur’an, He says,
“And that Allah is with the believers.” (Al Qur’an -8: 19)
But whenever Allah speaks about Ihsan, He says He loves those who achieve Ihsan.
And practice Ihsan. Truly, Allah loves the doers of Ihsan." (Al Qur’an -2:195)
In order to win Allah’s love we need Ihsan. Now what is Ihsan? In Arabic, Ihsan means "perfection" or "excellence." In Islam, Ihsan is the Muslim responsibility to obtain perfection, or excellence, in worship, such that Muslims try to worship God as if they see Him, and although they cannot see Him, they undoubtedly believe He is constantly watching over them.
We see this aspect of Islam defined in a hadith narrated on the authority of Omar, who said:
One day while we were sitting with the messenger of Allah there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and whose hair was exceedingly black; no signs of journeying were to be seen on him and none of us knew him. He walked up and sat down by the prophet. Resting his knees against his and placing the palms of his hands on his thighs, he said:"O Muhammad, tell me about Islam". The messenger of Allah said: "Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, to perform the prayers, to pay the zakat, to fast in Ramadan, and to make the pilgrimage to the House if you are able to do so." He said: “You have spoken rightly", and we were amazed at him asking him and saying that he had spoken rightly. He said: "Then tell me about Iman."He said: “It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and to believe in divine destiny, both the good and the evil thereof." He said: “You have spoken rightly". He said: " Then tell me about Ihsan." He said: "It is to worship Allah as though you are seeing Him, and while you see Him not yet truly He sees you". Then he said: "O Omar, do you know who the questioner was?" I said: "Allah and His messenger know best". He said: "He was Jebreel (Gabriel), who came to you to teach you your religion." [ Sahih Muslim - Book 001, Number 0001:]
The purpose of our creation is to worship Allah (swt). Allah says,
“And I (Allah) created not the jinns and humans except they should worship Me (Alone).” [Al Qur’an 51:56]
To understand Ihsan more clearly, we can use a simile.
Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty. (Muslim)
Allah gave a soul to each one of us. If a company provided raw material to someone and asked them to make a quality product, it would be obligatory for the one receiving the raw material to make the best product out of this raw material or else he would lose his recompense. If he destroys the raw material, will he be remunerated for that work? Likewise our soul is the raw material Allah has given us. So each one has to strive hard to perfect and beautify the soul. Undoubtedly, one who purifies and beautifies their soul will be victorious and those who spoil their souls are indeed losers.
Let us take another example, the mandatory worship, Salah. People pray for three different reasons:
1. Some pray for people to notice them and win their praise.
2. The second category of people pray because of the fear of Hell or desire for Paradise
3. The third sets of people are people who pray for Allah with the intention to please Him i.e. they pray with Ihsan (excellence).
This can be compared to a flower. The first group who pray for the appreciation of others or for the people is comparable to an artificial flower. The second group is like a real flower without fragrance and the third group is like a real flower with beautiful fragrance. The difference between a natural flower with a sweet fragrance and an artificial flower is like the difference between life and lifelessness. Similarly every deed of ours is like this flower. We should try to make a beautiful garland out of these flowers and adorn our souls with it.
When does Allah accept our deeds?
When someone wants to garland us, how do we accept the garland? By bending down, right? Similarly deeds done with humility would be accepted.
Aim of the Mandatory Worship
The pillars of Islam in their spirit and appearance may vary from one another but in aim and purpose, they are very close to each other. Salah, Zakah, Sawm and Hajj and other mandatory forms of worship are catalyst for real perfection. If these forms of worship do not purify the hearts of mankind, if they do not nourish the best qualities in those who observe them and if they do not improve and build the resolute relationship between Allah and the worshipper, then we should resuscitate our intention and our way of performing those acts. If we do not reform ourselves then we are left with nothing except destruction and devastation.
“ Among the desert Arabs there are some who believe in God and the Last Day and look upon their payment as pious gifts bringing them nearer to God and obtaining the prayer of the Apostle. Aye, indeed they bring them closer to Him; soon will Allah admit them into His mercy. For God is Oft Forgiving and Most Merciful.” (9:99)
With the help of these acts one must attempt to seek Allah’s mercy and love. We need to purify our soul and make it beautiful in turn to emit fresh and sweet fragrance. This fragrance will be overt in two circumstances.
When our souls are taken out – the Angels would say, “ Who is this sweet smelling soul?”
After the questioning in the grave, these deeds will come and stay with us.
Why is Ihsan Important?
A Mu’min (believer) has certain rights (Huqooq) over the people.
Allah's Messenger (SAW) said: "Verily, Allah has prescribed Ihsan towards everything.” (Muslim)
The following are certain deeds done with Ihsan –
Ihsan to: -
Parents and Relatives: Being kind to them
Orphans: Protecting their wealth and maintaining their rights.
Wayfarers: Helping them fulfil their needs.
Workers: Paying them their wages before their sweat dries.
People: Speaking to them in a good manner.
Animals: Feeding them when they are hungry.
Work: Being dedicated and professional.
Deeds without Ihsan
What will happen to deeds done without Ihsan?
For a man who commits the error of performing various forms of worship without understanding their true value and significance, worship will be nothing but a ritual or an imitation. Even a child can copy the movements of Salah and will be able to repeat what is recited during the prayer. These kinds of deeds do not benefit the faith or meet the purpose of worship. Our prayer must stop us from misdeeds.
A person asked the Prophet (peace be upon him), “Oh Messenger of Allah! A certain woman is well known for her prayers, fasting and charities but she talks rudely with her neighbours. Tell me what will be her fate?” Prophet (pbuh) said “Hell.” Then the man asked the Prophet again,” I know another woman who completes her compulsory acts and she does not do much of voluntary acts but she does not harm her neighbours. Tell me what will her fate be.” He replied, “Paradise” [Ahmad]
The deeds of the first lady did not benefit her because she did not perform her huqooqul (rights) correctly and her prayer was not reflected on her deeds. If she had fulfilled her rights correctly, it would have shown on her deeds and in turn it would reflect on people.
Another example from the saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is:
Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Do you know who is a Muflis (pauper)? They (the Companions of the Holy Prophet) said: The one who has neither dirham with him or wealth. He (the Holy Prophet) said: The poor of my Umma would be he who would come on the Day of Resurrection with prayers and fasts and Zakat but (he would find himself bankrupt on that day as he would have exhausted his funds of virtues) since he hurled abuses upon others, brought calumny against others and unlawfully consumed the wealth of others and shed the blood of others and beat others, and his virtues would be credited to the account of one (who suffered at his hand). And if his good deeds fall short to clear the account, then his sins would be entered in (his account) and he would be thrown in the Hell-Fire. [Muslim]
In the above-mentioned hadith, we saw a man who has Iman and Islam but did not have Ihsan -- he lost all his good deeds. Similarly a person with only Ihsan and no Iman will also be a loser as his Ihsan, does not have any base (Iman) to stand upon. Lack of Iman (belief in Islam) will make any good deed void. Therefore only with Iman one can strive for Ihsan (excellence)