Excellence (Ihsan) in Worship

Dear brothers and sisters, our religion, our life is composed of three parts. In order to understand the meaning of the word ihsan, it is important to understand this concept first.

The first of the three parts of our religion is Imaan. When our Prophet SAWS first began conveying the message, it was about becoming conscious of Allah SWT and sincerity in faith.

After the roots of Imaan are firmly in place, the next stage is the stage called Islam and this is when we can begin practicising the various tenets of our faith. Things like salah, fasting and other acts of worship as we now have passed the stage of believing or Imaan.

This leads us onto the topic for today and it is the final third and often the neglected third which is Ihsan. Like so many Arabic words, the translation to English does not do it justice. Ihsan is excellence. It is perfection. It is beauty. It is balance, harmony, discipline, good character, softness, gentleness, improvement, drive, will power. Ihsan is a human reflection, a human attempt to achieve a high level in the areas covered by the revealed 99 beautiful names of Allah (swt).

This concept is mentioned in a rhetorical question by Allah SWT in the Glorious Quran. In ayat 60 of Sura Rahman, Allah SWT asks the rhetorical question:

Is the reward for good anything other than good?

As you can see, the direct translation does not provide the reader with the richness of understanding it’s original form. When you understand that the word good is translated to ihsan, and recall the earlier meaning of this word, you can begin to appreciate the message being conveyed here by Allah SWT.

There are many interpretations of this ayat in the Quran and each has more lessons than a reminder like this can give, but just to touch upon this a little, there follows three examples of lessons from this ayat.

Firstly, those who sincerely strive in Allah’s Cause and attain ihsan in both their worship and their everyday activities will be rewarded for this level of excellence by being blessed by Allah (swt) with the sweetness of faith.

They will be some of the few people who have walked the face of the earth and tasted this level of faith. God-consciousness will be continuous, and everything these few do will be geared for a higher purpose. They will have attained ihsan and in return, they will feel ihsan in their hearts.

Secondly, those who sincerely strive in Allah’s Cause and attain ihsan in both their worship and their everyday activities will be rewarded for this excellence by being blessed by Allah (swt) with success in this dunya (life of the world).

This can be seen in our history, in our Golden Age. The Muslims of that time attained ihsan in their rituals and in their other activities. Allah rewarded this ihsan with ihsan – the excellence in this dunya that we read about – the amazing art, architecture, philosophy, medical advances, etc.

And thirdly, those who sincerely strive in Allah’s Cause and attain ihsan in both their worship and their everyday activities will be rewarded for this excellence by being blessed by Allah (swt) with the ultimate success, the ultimate ihsan – that of jannah (heaven) in al-akhira ( hear-after).

The imam mentioned the 78th ayat of Sura Al-Haj in todays’ reminder. It’s translated to say:

And strive for Allah with the striving due to Him. He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty. [It is] the religion of your father, Abraham. Allah named you “Muslims” before [in former scriptures] and in this [revelation] that the Messenger may be a witness over you and you may be witnesses over the people. So establish prayer and give zakah and hold fast to Allah . He is your protector; and excellent is the protector, and excellent is the helper.

Dear brothers and sisters, by this we can see that we ought to strive to this third level Ihsan and thus it is not befitting our purpose in life to make do with what we have achieved. Life is geared in such a way that it takes over our consciousness and distracts us from what is truly it’s purpose. After all, if it wasn’t this way then it wouldn’t be a test.

However we run a risk here because we are in danger of going backwards in our attaining Ihsan because we are constantly looking for shortcuts which results in slipping of standards in the way we perform our acts of worship or our remembrance of Allah SWT.

So how does this relate to us right here, right now? Whether it’s in study, work, amongst family or somewhere else, it means that every day, when you are presented with the next actrivity be it work, responsibilities, study, etc – that you stop…that you stop the immediate negative reaction that we’ve been trained to play over and over again when it comes to these sorts of things and do the right thing, which is to remain positive and do it to the best of our ability and to strive to improve how we do it.

We do this by realizing that this is our opportunity for ihsan. That this is another opportunity for us to make our intentions for Allah SWT and to please Him. That this is a chance for us to add something to our Life’s Book that Allah SWT will open on the Day of Judgment and look upon us with joy and be proud of us.

A practical example of this is the prayer we are all going to perform at the end of this reminder. We all know the steps to salah but how many of us strive to improve our salah? To know that to be at that level of Ihsan it is to perfect the prayer, it is to improve both internal concentration and intention, it is to perfect the external action of each step of prayer, to remain still in each stage of prayer, to focus the eyes on one spot in prayer, to recite each ayat, each word with clarity and understanding in prayer.

This one action in our day has so many areas where we can improve and so it goes to show that Ihsan isn’t restricted to one thing but can be applied to all facets of life. It’s a point on attitude and sincerity.

Dear brothers and sisters, we have been blessed with the religion of Islam. So when you are going by your day, aim to do it with ihsan! Don’t just “be,” don’t just get by, don’t just pass. Be EXCELLENT, strive for PERFECTION, be the BEST you can be and show the world how Islam inspires you to attain Ihsan!

We are given just a few moments in this dunya. Each breath is a priceless jewel and when it passes it never returns…make this moment, this breath, this heart beat one that resounds with ihsan (Excellence)!

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