The most praiseworthy station in the sight of Allah, the highest quality that was manifested in the Prophet (peace be upon him) was the quality of ihsan the quality of excellence. Taqwa is the stepping stone to ihsan. God-consciousness is the stepping stone towards excellence.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) described ihsan as “worshipping Allah as if you can see Him, and if you can’t see Him, then know that He sees you”. If we remember the statement of ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz in the first chapter, he defined taqwa as a person abandoning sins, and everything beyond
That—like fasting long into the day or praying long into the night—are forms of excellence or ihsan.
So how do these qualities work together? Taqwa is remembering that Allah sees everything so that we are deterred from doing anything that could compromise His love. Ihsan is honouring the sight of Allah upon us in a way that would encourage us to earn extra love from Allah. It beautifies our obligatory deeds and then it leads us to do deeds that aren’t expected of us, to hold ourselves to higher standards because we don’t want to be just another average person. We don’t want to just love Allah: we want to be “in love” with Allah. We don’t just want to get by with obligatory good deeds, but want to do more and more till we distinguish ourselves and become among those who are especially loved by Allah.
Allah mentions throughout the Qur’an, and Allah loves those who do good (al-muhsinin), almost in exact proportion to the mention of Allah’s love of taqwa. Ihsan is described in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) both as how we interact with Allah and also how we interact with people. With regards to Allah, we go beyond the obligatory and do that which is voluntary. We don’t look at people around us, or whether other people are looking at us or not. We are always focused on only the sight of Allah upon us, and that shows itself in the way that we rise above social approval and the way that we beautify our deeds.
To explain the way that it manifests itself in our relationship with people, Allah talks about ihsan in a variety of situations that we actually find ourselves in, those who spend both in times of ease and in times of hardship. When a person is at ease, they give more than the required amount of zakat, beyond that which is obligatory. They open their hands and hearts and keep on giving charity. And when they are in hardship—just like they wouldn’t want Allah to stop providing for them, even if they were distant or even if they were doing things that should disqualify them from sustenance—they too continue to give even when no one expects it of them, even when they are in hardship, because they understand that Allah is the Provider and the One worth spending for and no person goes into poverty for giving towards Allah.
They measure themselves by different standards: they spend in ease, and they spend in hardship, and they swallow their anger even when their anger is justified. They don’t just avoid doing the things that are haram in anger, but they also make sure that they swallow their anger so that it is used only for good. They don’t use their anger for things that are petty. They don’t use their anger for things that are displeasing to Allah. They control their anger even when it may be justified because they want Allah to withhold His anger from them. And they pardon people even when they are in the right.
Islam establishes the right of a person to take back what’s been wrongly taken from them, to fulfil their sense of justice. Justice is the societal standard but when it comes to achieving personal excellence, once justice has been afforded, they opt to forgive and to show mercy and to pardon, because that’s what they seek from Allah, which is ihsan.
Allah says: Don’t you want Allah to pardon you and to forgive you? Even when you find yourself undeserving? The way to describe ihsan is that you see the love of Allah through all your interactions and you aim for a higher degree of the love of Allah through your interactions. You hold yourself to a higher standard, whether it’s in your worship, your relationships, your work ethics—and you are doing this because the degree of Allah’s love that you seek is that much higher.
Allah describes three types of selves in the Qur’an: the first the soul that commands itself with evil that indulges in evil. The second, the soul that is accountable, that’s the self of taqwa, of holding yourself accountable, of trying not to do anything that disqualifies you from the love of Allah. And the third: the soul that is at peace with Allah, that is the self of ihsan, that’s the person of excellence, because they are at peace with the favour of their Lord, and they always pursue their Lord’s favour even in the most unfavourable situations in life.
We ask Allah to make us from the muhsinin, who are at peace with the favour of their lord, who will always find His excellent favour on the Day of Judgment, and to be amongst those motivated by His love before anything else. Amin.
This excerpt is from Allah Loves by Imam Omar Suleiman
9781847741356 - Published by Kube Publishing in partnership with Yaqeen Institute