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ON THE LITERAL MEANING OF THE WORD IHSAN

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IHSAN

According to Abu Manur al-Azhari and Ibn Manzur, a beautiful green tree is called al-Hasan, because it provides
coolness and pleasant shade to people. Even the mere sight of it pleases hearts. Due to its trait of benevolence, it is named al-Hasan. According to Abu Nasr al-Faraba al-Jawhari in al-sihah, the moon is also known as al-hasin because its light shows the path to travellers, and the moonlit nights are a great source of soothing for those who are stricken with anxiety and concern. Moreover, the moon is a metaphor of light and light eliminates darkness. Ihsan is, therefore, light, guidance, calm and comfort. This is why Ihsan has been given the third and the highest level in the religion. The zenith of Islam culminates in Iman and the apex of Iman is identified as Ihsan. The hadith of Gabriel verifies this hierarchy. Islam relates to verbal and physical obedience, while Iman is its internal aspect, comprising the verification of the inner self and its commitment and conviction; and Ihsan points to their spiritual fruition and inner states of divine love and beauty. Ihsan bestows upon us authenticity and sincerity which ensure protection from disaster and extinction. It is for this reason that the Quran regards Ihsan as a way out of disaster. God says,

‘And spend in the cause of God and do not cast yourselves into destruction with your own hands—and adopt spiritual excellence [Ihsan]. Verily, God loves the spiritually excellent [muhsinin]’.

Ihsan is obligatory for everyone and in every matter, so much so that killing someone by torture, or even teasing an animal at the time of slaughter, are forbidden acts—as evidenced by the many prophetic traditions on this subject. Shaddad b. Aws (RA)  reported that the Messenger of God ﷺ said,

‘God has prescribed spiritual excellence in everything, so if you kill, do so with excellence, and if you sacrifice an animal, do so with excellence, and let one of you sharpen his blade, in order to set his sacrificial animal at rest [causing it the least discomfort]’.

Abu Shurayh al-Khuza’i (RA) reported that the Messenger of God said,

‘Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let him behave with excellence towards his neighbour’.

Abu Dharr (RA) reported that the Messenger of God said,

‘Fear God wherever you may be, follow up a bad deed with a good deed and it will efface it, and deal with people with good character’.

Abd Allah b. Masud (RA) reported, ‘A man said, “O Messenger of God ﷺ! When shall I become spiritually excellent?” The Prophet replied,

“If your neighbours say, ‘You are spiritually excellent’, you are spiritually excellent, and if they say, ‘You are an evildoer’, then you are an evildoer”!’

Anas b. Malik (RA) reported that the Messenger of God said,

‘When God assembles the first and the last, a herald will call out from a plain under the pedestals of the Heavenly Throne: “Where are the people of spiritual excellence [muhsinin]?” . . . A group of people will say, “We are the spiritually excellent!” God will say, “You have told the truth! I said to My Prophet: ‘The people of Ihsan are not to be blamed’. So there is no cause of reproach against you. Enter the Garden of Paradise with My Mercy”!’

Anas (RA) added, ‘Then, the Messenger of God smiled and said,

“Indeed, God will deliver them from the miseries and calamities of the Resurrection!”.

Jabir (RA) reported that the Messenger of God said,

‘Indeed, amongst the dearest of you to me, and those of you seated closest to me on the Day of Resurrection, are the finest of you in moral character’.

Aisha (RA) reported that the Messenger of God said,

‘The believer will surely attain, by the excellence of his moral character, the degree of the one steadfast in prayers and fasting’.

Ibn Masud (RA) reported that the Messenger of God said,

‘The Hellfire is forbidden for every mild-mannered and even-tempered person who is close to people’.

Aisha (RA) reported that the Messenger of God said,

‘O Aisha, God is Gentle and Kind and He loves gentleness in everything’.

In another narration, she reported that He said,

‘O Aisha, God is Gentle and He loves gentleness. He bestows for the sake of gentleness what He does not
bestow due to harshness’.

Abu Hurayra (RA) reported that the Messenger of God said,

There was a merchant who used to give people credit. When he saw someone in difficulty, he would say to his employees: “Make allowances for him, so that perhaps God will make allowances for us”. So as a result, God made allowances for him’.

Abu Hurayra (RA) also reported that the Messenger of God said,

‘There was a man who was extremely lax in performing good deeds and he used to loan money to people. [When he would loan money out] he would say to his secretary, “Take [in repayment of a loan] that which is easy and leave that which is difficult and overlook it, for perhaps God Most High will overlook us [our faults]”. When that man perished, God Most High said to him, “Did you ever do any good deeds?” The man replied, “No, but I did have a young servant and I used to loan money to people, so when I would send him to collect the money owed, I would say to him, ‘Take that which is easy and leave that which is difficult and overlook it, for perhaps God Most High will overlook us’.” God then said to him, “I have overlooked your faults”.

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