The Highest Level: Ihsan

قال الله عز وجل: { هَلْ جَزَاء الْإِحْسَانِ إِلَّا الْإِحْسَانُ} سورة الرحمن 60.

God the Exalted says: {Is the reward for good (Ihsan) anything other than good?} (Surah 55, verse 60).

Narrated Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him: “Once while we were sitting with the Messenger of God ﷺ, a man appeared before us, dressed in pure white clothes, with dark black hair, without any sign of travel. None of us recognized him. He sat with the Messenger of God ﷺ, resting his knees against the knees of the Messenger of God ﷺ, and placed his palms on the thighs of the Messenger of God ﷺ, and said: ‘O Muhammad, inform me about Islam.’  Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: ‘Islam is to testify that there is no god worthy of worship but God and that Muhammad ﷺ is the messenger of God, and to establish prayer, to pay Zakah (the obligatory charity), to fast the month of Ramadan, and to perform pilgrimage to Makkah if you are capable of it.’ The man said: ‘You have said the truth.’  Omar said: We wondered at him, first asking and then confirming it as the truth!

Then the man said: ‘Inform me about faith (Iman).’  Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: ‘It is to truly believe in God, in His angels, in His Books, in His messengers, in the Hereafter, and in the Divine Decree, the good of it and the bad of it.’

The man said: ‘You have said the truth. [Now] inform me about Ihsan.’  The Messenger of God ﷺ said:

‘It is to worship God as if you are seeing Him, for though you do not see Him, He, verily, sees you.’

The man said: ‘Inform me about the Hour (of the Day of Judgment).’  Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: ‘The one asked about it knows no more than the inquirer.’ The man said: ‘Tell me some of its indications and signs.’  The Messenger of God ﷺ said: ‘That the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress and master, and that you will find barefooted, destitute goat-herders vying with one another in the construction of magnificent buildings.’  Omar said: Then the man went on his way and I stayed with Prophet Muhammad for a long while.

The Messenger of God then said to me: ‘O Omar, do you know who the inquirer was?’ I replied: God and His Messenger know best.’  He said: ‘That was Angel Gabriel who came to you in order to instruct you in matters of your religion.’ ”

(Related by Muslim, Abu Dawud, and Ahmad).

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In this beautiful and eloquent hadith, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ summarizes the main tenets of Islam and its major foundation.  The scholars said this incident occurred towards the end of the Prophet’s life, to clarify and summarize the important pillars of this deen.  Angel Gabriel and the Prophet ﷺ divided the tenets of Islam into three levels: Islam, Iman (faith), and Ihsan.  If we think of them as levels, then the basic level is Islam, the middle higher level is Iman, and the highest level is Ihsan.  Like any other structure, the highest level can be reached only after perfecting the levels before it.

The three concepts of Islam, Iman, and Ihsan are not limited to the spiritual heart; rather, they are firm beliefs of the heart but also actions by the limbs.  In other words, the belief in the heart must translate into good deeds and acts.  For example, one of the pillars of Islam is the Prayer. So the Muslim must believe in the importance and obligation of the Five Daily Prayers, but his Islam would not be perfect until he physically perfects his prayer.  Likewise, one of the pillars of Iman is the belief in Qadr (Divine Decree or pre-destiny), but Iman would not be perfect until the Muslim learns not to complain in the face of adversaries and calamities but instead to bear them patiently and seek God’s help. Finally, the Muslim has firm belief in the concept of Ihsan, and that God the Exalted is always watching him and his actions, but the Muslim’s Ihsan would not be complete until he translates that belief into action and starts fulfilling God’s commands by performing obligations (wajibat) and avoiding actions God has forbidden (sins).

 

One of the ninety-nine Honorable Names of God is: الرقيب (the Ever-Watchful).  God is also: البصير (the All-Seeing), السميع (the All-Hearing), العليم (the All-Knower), and الخبير (the All-Aware).  That is, every creature is under the constant watch and continuous surveillance of God, the Exalted.  This watch never ceases and is never interrupted, as God is the Perfect God and neither sleeps nor slumber ever affects Him.  Furthermore, God the Almighty has assigned two angels for every human, who write his good and bad deeds in a special record that will be presented to the slave on the Day of Judgment.  Thus, nothing of the slave’s actions is ever missed by God, the Lord of the Worlds.  God the Exalted says in Qur’an:

{Truly, nothing is hidden from God, in the earth or in the heavens} (Surah 3, verse 5).

This sense of being under the constant watch of God the Most High, and the resulting attention to one’s actions, is called Ihsan.  Ihsan has two parts: First is the belief that we are being watched by God the Exalted all the time. And second is the sense of shyness and the effort to follow God’s commands and avoid sins that results from realizing God is watching at all times.

 

Once the Muslim realizes he or she is under the constant watch of God, the Muslim tries his best to show respect and reverence to the One Who is watching. The Muslim feels shy of disobeying the Mighty One who is watching. Moreover, the Muslim tries her best to be in the best form and shape before the Only Lord and true God. So the Muslim tries to do as many good deeds as possible and do them only to please God Who is watching him during the day and night, during the morning and evening, in public and in private and on all occasions. This then develops into him a deep and heightened sense of Divine awareness that brings with it a higher level of piety (taqwa), righteousness (salah), and Iman (faith) such that he feels close to God all the time and spends most of his time trying to please his Lord by doing good deeds and avoiding sins. This condition then is called Ihsan, and it is as mentioned above the highest level of the religion.

This elevated level of Ihsan requires struggle and fending off the desires of the Evil tempting Self and the temptations of Satan and the devils.  Ihsan requires perfecting the stages of Islam and Iman (faith) first, then gradually building one’s Ihsan. Ihsan requires constant reminder of this continued watch by making Dhikr and glorifying God all the time, as well as daily repentance and frequent istighfar (seeking forgiveness from God) and asking God for the favor of this special state.

It is not an easy task, but God’s rewards are not cheap, either. In return for this struggle, God provides blessings both in this world, represented by a peaceful contented life, and in the Hereafter through the highest levels in Jannah or Paradise.  We pray God to guide us to the Right Path and grant us from His Favor.  And God knows best.

True Shyness: Haya’

 

In today’s world, the term ‘shyness’ sounds almost strange and invokes negative connotations for many people.  A shy person is seen as socially deficient and is encouraged to shed that shyness away. But in Islam, moral shyness is a commendable trait and a sought after characteristic. This is shown in the following hadith:

عن ابن عمر رضي الله عنهما أن رسولَ الله صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم مَرَّ عَلَى رَجُلٍ مِنَ الأَنْصَارِ وَهُوَ يَعِظُ أَخَاهُ في الحَيَاءِ، فَقَالَ رسُولُ اللَّه صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم: « دَعْهُ فإِنَّ الحَيَاءَ مِنَ الإِيمانِ».  رواه البخاري ومسلم.

Narrated Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with him and his father: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ passed by a man of the Ansar who was admonishing his brother regarding shyness (haya’) [discouraging him from being excessively shy].  So the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

‘Leave him, for shyness (haya’) is part of Faith.’ ”

(Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Let us consider this moral shyness (as opposed to social shyness) and the reasons for its high regard in Islam.

The celebrated hadith scholar Ibn Hajr Al-‘Asqalani mentioned in his book Fath al-Bari (Grant of the Creator: A Commentary on Sahih Al-Bukhari):

“Shyness in linguistic terms is a change and embarrassment that comes over the person for fear of being criticized or exposed.

In religious terms, shyness is a characteristic that prompts one to avoid bad deeds and prevents him from neglecting the rights of others.  Shyness is part of faith because it induces righteous deeds and prevents misdeeds.”

Thus, Allama Ibn Hajr explained the reasons that Islam places such emphasis on this trait. Moral shyness is a trait that prompts one to stay away from shameful acts by him or herself, let alone in front of others.  And committing such acts before others leads to an even greater level of shamefulness.  Such a trait only leads to increased Iman, because moral shyness in this case prevents the Muslim from committing shameful acts and encourages him or her to avoid sins and misdeeds. Therefore, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ described shyness as being part of Faith.

The Prophet ﷺ further explained the meaning of shyness in this Hadith:

عن عبد الله بن مسعود رضي الله عنه قال: قال رسولُ الله صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم: « اسْتَحْيُوا مِنَ اللَّهِ حَقَّ الْحَيَاءِ»، قال قلنا: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّا ‏نَسْتَحْيِي وَالحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ، قال: « لَيْسَ ذَاكَ، وَلَكِنَّ الإِسْتِحْيَاءَ مِنَ اللَّهِ حَقَّ الحَيَاءِ أَنْ تَحْفَظَ الرَّأْسَ وَمَا وَعَى، وَالبَطْنَ وَمَا حَوَى، ‏وَلْتَذْكُرِ المَوْتَ وَالبِلَى وَمَنْ أَرَادَ الآخِرَةَ تَرَكَ زِينَةَ الدُّنْيَا فَمَنْ فَعَلَ ذَلِكَ فَقَدِ اسْتَحْيَا مِنَ اللَّهِ حَقَّ الحَيَاءِ» .  رواه الترمذي وأحمد والحاكم والبيهقي.

Narrated Abdullah bin Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with him: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘Feel shy of Allah as is His due.’  We replied: ‘O Messenger of Allah, Praise be to Allah, we do feel shy.’  He said: ‘Not that, but it is to guard the head and what it holds and the belly and what it contains, and to remember the graves and the decay.  Whoever seeks the Hereafter, then he should leave the adornment of the worldly life.  Whoever does all of that, then he has fulfilled the shyness that is due to Allah.’ ”  (Related by Al-Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Al-Hakim, and Al-Bayhaqi)

Thus, the concept of shyness in Islam is deep and involves other aspects as well.  Shyness is not only a trait that makes the Muslim loathe shameful acts and stay away from them, but it also involves observing Allah’s obligations and limits in everything and feeling conscious and guilty when any of them are violated or broken.

The Muslim should have a sense of shyness before his Lord who is observing him at all times. Just like a child who acts in the best terms under the supervision of a disciplinary father, the Muslim should have this sense of being watched by Allah all the time and should feel shy of breaking His rules or violating His rights. This sense of shyness then leads the Muslim to the obedience of his Lord and to an increase in piety and faith.  Therefore, the Prophet  described shyness as being part of faith.

Finally, we can see great examples of true shyness in the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and his companions. Among his companions, Uthman Ibn Affan was especially well-known for his shyness, to the extent that even the angels felt shy of him!

Uthman Ibn Affan’s moral shyness contributed to his level of Iman and high status in this nation, as shown in the following hadith:

عن عائشة رضي اللَّه عنها ‏قالت: كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم مُضْطَجِعًا في بيتي كاشِفًا عن فَخِذَيْهِ ‏أو ساقَيْهِ، فاستأذنَ أبو بكرٍ ‏فَأَذِنَ له وهو على تلك الحالِ فَتَحَدَّثَ، ثم اسْتَأْذنَ عمرُ ‏فَأَذِنَ لَهُ وهو كذلكَ فَتَحَدَّثَ، ثم استأذنَ عثمانُ فَجَلَسَ رسولُ اللَّهِ ‏صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم ‏وسَوَّى ثِيَابَهُ -‏ قَال ‏محمَّد: ولا أقولُ ذلكَ في يومٍ واحدٍ- ‏فدخلَ فَتَحَدَّثَ، فلمَّا خَرَجَ قالتْ ‏عائشةُ: ‏دخلَ أبو بكرٍ ‏فلمْ ‏تَهْتَشَّ ‏لهُ ولم تُبَالِهِ، ‏ثم دخلَ عمرُ فلم ‏تَهْتَشَّ ‏له ولم تُبَالِهِ، ‏ثم دخلَ ‏عثمانُ ‏فَجَلَسْتَ وسَوَّيْتَ ثِيَابَكَ؟ فقالَ: ‏« ‏أَلَا أَسْتَحِي مِنْ رَجُلٍ تَسْتَحِي مِنْهُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ». رواه مسلم.

Narrated Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ was lying in bed in my house with his thigh or his legs uncovered.  Abu Bakr sought permission to come in. The Prophet ﷺ gave him permission to enter, and conversed with him while he was in the same state (the Prophet’s thigh or leg uncovered). Then Umar sought permission to come in and it was given to him and he conversed in the same state. Then Uthman sought permission to come in; the Messenger of Allah ﷺ sat down and set right his clothes.  [Muhammad (one of the narrators) said: I do not say that it happened only once]. Uthman then entered and conversed.  After Uthman left, Aisha inquired from the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Abu Bakr entered and you did not stir and did not observe much care (in arranging your clothes), then Umar entered and you did not stir and did not arrange your clothes, then Uthman entered and you sat down and set your clothes right?’  Thereupon the Prophet ﷺ said:

‘Indeed, should I not feel shy of a person of whom even the angels feel shy.’ ”

(Related by Muslim)

In our day and age, we face serious challenges in preserving our Din and the Din of our children. Knowing the strong link between haya’ and Iman should instill in us the importance of actively preserving our haya’: keeping our haya’ is among the most important keys to maintaining our Faith.

The Foundations of Islam

‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated: “Once while we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, a man dressed in pure white clothes, with very black hair, without any sign of travel, and whom none of us recognized, appeared before us.  He sat with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. He rested his knees against the knees of the Messenger of Allah  ﷺ, placed his palms on the thighs of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, and said:

‘O Muhammad, inform me about Islam.’  The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

‘Islam is to testify that there is no god worthy of worship but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, to establish the prayer, to pay Zakah (the obligatory charity), to fast the month of Ramadan, and to perform pilgrimage to Makkah if you are capable of it.’

The man said: ‘You have said the truth.’  ‘Umar said: We wondered at him, asking him and then confirming it as the truth!

Then the man said: ‘Then inform me about faith (Iman).’  The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

‘It [Iman] is to believe truly in Allah, in His angels, in His Books, in His messengers, in the Hereafter, and to believe truly in the Divine Decree, the good of it and the bad of it.’

The man said: ‘You have said the truth.  Then inform me about Ihsan.’  The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

‘It [Ihsan] is to worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, for though you do not see Him, He, verily, sees you.’

The man said: ‘Then Inform me about the Hour (of the Day of Judgment).’  The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘The one questioned knows no more than the questioner.’   The man said: ‘Tell me some of its indications and signs.’  The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘They are that the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress and master, and that you will find barefooted, destitute goat-herders vying with one another in the construction of lofty buildings.’

‘Umar said: Then the man went on his way and I stayed with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ for a long while.  The Messenger of Allah ﷺ then said to me: ‘O ‘Umar, do you know who the questioner was?’ I replied: Allah and His Messenger know best.’  He said: ‘That was the Angel Gabriel, who came to you in order to instruct you in matters of your religion.’ ”  (Muslim, Abu Dawud,Tirmidhi, Al-Nisa’i, Ibn Majah, and Ahmad).

 

THE scholar Al-Baghawi said: “The Prophet ﷺ defined Islam as a term that describes outer good deeds, and he defined Iman as a term that describes inner beliefs.”

Imam al-Nawawi said: “The scholar Abu ‘Amr Ibn As-Salah said: ‘This hadith states the origin of Iman, and that is inner affirmation and belief; and it states the origin of Islam, and that is outer surrender and submission to Allah. Islam is determined and judged by the outer testimony that there is no god worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger.  But the Prophet ﷺ added into the [basic] definition of Islam the five daily prayers, Zakah, Hajj, and fasting of Ramadan because these are the most apparent and greatest rituals of Islam.  Thus, complete surrender is achieved by their performance, while leaving them makes submission incomplete or deficient.’”

Al-Mubarakpuri said in his book Mir’at al-Mafatih (a commentary on Mishkat al-Masabih): “The coming of this man happened at the end of the Prophet’s life ﷺ, as indicated by the narration of Ibn Mandah in the Book of Faith.  So this event took place after the revelation of all the rulings of Islam that had been conveyed at different times, to state and summarize the essential points of Islam in one setting to ensure they are preserved and retained.”

Qadi ‘Iyad said: “This hadith contains all the kinds of outer and inner forms of worship, including the conditions of Faith (Iman), outer good deeds performed by the limbs, sincerity of the inner self, and the avoidance of major sins; therefore, all religious knowledge is based on this hadith and branches out from it.”