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IHSAN: Beautifying one’s character

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Hafidh bin Saif Al-Rawahy -
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“Those who spend (freely) in prosperity or in adversity; who restrain anger and pardon
(all) persons – for Allah loves those who do good deeds.”
(Qur’an 3:134)

Ihsan in Islam is the quality in human beings that beautifies their character

. The word ihsan is derived from Arabic word hasan which has broad meanings such as benevolence, good acts, politeness, sympathy, generosity, tolerance and consideration. Ihsan is referenced extensively in the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as a desirable quality of believers. In a nutshell, ihsan is to do an act or treat others in the best possible way.


Whereas adl (justice) requires that we deal with others fairly, ihsan requires that we should deal with people generously. We should not try to extract our rights from others, but instead perhaps forego them (whenever feasible) so as to create better relations. Similarly, we should try to give others more than their due so as to enjoy harmonious relations in society. Such an attitude of generosity, politeness and benevolence perhaps will win the hearts of others.


The Qur’an has identified several qualities of muhsinin (benevolent people). The first and foremost is infaq (spending in charity). This means that they are not miserly and attached to their wealth, but rather give generously to others and help in alleviating poverty and looking after the oppressed, destitute and less fortunate. Whereas it is relatively easy to give away in charity when one is affluent and has plenty, the quality of muhsinin is that they are equally generous when they themselves face adversity and lacking. The other character of muhsinin is that of a gentle temperament, which helps them in restraining anger and ferocity. They control their temper and do not become aggressive, violent and abusive to others in a fit of anger. The third important character of muhsinin is their forgiving nature. They are ready to pardon the shortcomings of others rather than embark upon taking vengeance. Their other two qualities are that of patience and Allah-consciousness.


Thus, ihsan is a very comprehensive term that encompasses all types of good behaviour and concern for other fellow human beings. It really means that a benevolent person is the one who uses his or her wealth and capabilities for the good and welfare of others in the society he or she lives and beyond. The best explanation of ihsan was given by the Prophet (pbuh) in a very important hadith: Once Archangel Gabriel (pbuh) came in human form to the Prophet (pbuh) in the presence of some of his Companions. Gabriel asked the Prophet (pbuh) several questions about the tenets of Islam. One of his questions to the Prophet (pbuh) was: “Tell me about al-ihsan.” The Prophet (pbuh) answered: “It is that you worship Allah as if you see Him, and while you see Him not yet truly He sees you.” (Sahih Bukhari & Muslim)


Interesting thing in the above hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) did not give a dictionary-type meaning of ihsan. Instead, he explained the real motivation behind the performance of one’s duty. One should always be conscious that Allah is watching over all one’s action, speech and thoughts. One’s real motive or intention should be to attain Allah’s pleasure and avoid His disapproval. This is what brings purity of the heart and ensures that a person is concerned with the quality of his or her deeds and not mere performance of his obligations. Ihsan is not confined to acts of worshipping only but it requires that in everything we do, should be done to the best of our abilities. Attaining the status of ihsan requires excellence in the performance of all our deeds.
To acquire this status of ihsan, a person should always exhibit his or her humility, helplessness and utter dependence to Allah, and Allah’s approval and pleasure should always be in his or her consciousness. One should try to control one’s carnal self and should not make this world as the aim in life, but rather should consider it as a means of achieving the higher status of ihsan. The blessed month of Ramadhan gives us opportunity to reflect and contemplate Allah’s qualities and attributes: His Bounties, His Mercy, His Wisdom, and His Creation. Remember, “And He is with you wherever you are.” (Qur’an 57:4) “And We are nearer to him (mankind) than his jugular vein.” (Qur’an 50:16) “Indeed Allah has power over all things.” (Qur’an 2:20)
Let us pray to Allah in His Infinite Mercy the He gives us ability to make sincere efforts to follow the path of ihsan and attain this coveted status among muhsinin and thereby achieve His pleasure.

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