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.

A Righteous Woman

 

    عن عبد الله بن زيد بن أسلم، عن أبيه، عن جده أسلم قال: ( بينما أنا مع عمر بن الخطاب وهو يعس بالمدينة إذ أعيا، فاتكأ على جانب جدار في جوف الليل، فإذا امرأة تقول لابنتها: يا ابنتاه قومي إلى ذلك اللبن فامذقيه بالماء، فقالت لها: يا أمتاه، وما علمت بما كان من عزمة أمير المؤمنين اليوم؟ قالت: وما كان من عزمته يا بينه؟ قالت: إنه أمر مناديه فنادى: أن لا يشاب اللبن بالماء، فقالت لها: يابنتاه قومي إلى اللبن فامذقيه بالماء فإنك بموضع لا يراك فيه عمر ولا منادي عمر، فقالت الصبية لأمها: يا أمتاه، والله ما كنت لأطيعه في الملأ وأعصيه في الخلاء، وعمر يسمع كل ذلك، فقال: يا أسلم: عَلّم الباب واعرف الموضع، ثم مضى في عسسه، فلما أصبح قال: يا أسلم إمض إلى الموضع فانظر من القائلة؟ ومن المقول لها؟ وهل لهما من بعل؟ قال أسلم: فأتيت الموضع، فنظرت فإذا الجارية أَيّم لا بعل لها، وإذ تيك أمها، وإذ ليس لهم رجل، فأتيت عمر بن الخطاب فأخبرته، فدعى ولده فجمعهم فقال: هل فيكم من يحتاج إلى امرأة أزوجه، ولو كان بأبيكم حركة إلى النساء ما سبقه فيكم أحد إلى هذه الجارية؟ فقال عبدالله: لي زوجة، وقال عبدالرحمن: لي زوجة، وقال عاصم: يا أبتاه، لا زوجة لي فزوجني، فبعث إلى الجارية فزوجها من عاصم، فكانت جدة عمر بن عبد العزيز الخليفة رحمه الله).   قال أهل السيرة: فولدت لعاصم بنتا، وولدت البنت عمر بن عبد العزيز.

Abdullah Ibn Zaid Ibn Aslam narrated from his father, who narrated from his grandfather: “One night, I was in the company of Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab during one of his secret night visits to survey the condition of his people. Umar felt tired and leaned against a wall late at night. He overheard a woman saying to her daughter: ‘My daughter, get that milk and mix it with water.’ The daughter replied: ‘My mother, do you not know the resolution of the Leader of the Believers (Amir Al-Mu’mineen, Umar) today?’  The mother asked: ‘What was his resolution, daughter?’  She replied: ‘He ordered his caller to announce: the milk should not be diluted with water.’ The mother said: ‘My daughter, get the milk and mix it with water, for you are in a site where neither Umar nor his caller can see you.’  The girl said to her mother: ‘My mother, by Allah I would not have obeyed him in public to disobey him in private.’

Umar heard all of that, so he said: ‘O Aslam, mark the door and remember the place.’  Umar then continued with his night watch.

When it was morning, Umar said: ‘O Aslam, go to that place, and find out: Who was the speaker?  Whom did she address?  And does she have a husband?’  Aslam said: So I went to the same spot, and found out that the young woman was single with no husband, and the speaker was her mother, and they did not have any male relative.  I went back to Umar Ibn Al-Khattab and told him.

Umar called all of his sons, and asked: ‘Does anyone of you need a wife, so I would get him married?  Indeed, had your father been desirous of women (he was old then), nobody would have superseded him to this young woman.’  So Abdullah (the eldest son) said: ‘I have a wife.’  And Abdul-Rahman said: ‘I have a wife.’  But Aasim said: ‘My father, I do not have a wife, so get me married.’

Umar sent for the young woman and married her to Aasim.  So she was the grandmother of the (fifth) Caliph Umar Ibn Abd al-Aziz, may Allah have mercy on him.”

The historians said: She gave birth to a girl from Aasim, and the daughter gave birth to Umar Ibn Abd al-Aziz.

“Preserve God’s Commands, He will Preserve you!”

 

عن ابنِ عبَّاسٍ رضيَ اللَّه عنهمَا قال: كُنْتُ خَلْفَ النَّبِيِّ صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم يوْماً فَقال: « يَا غُلامُ إِنِّي أُعلِّمُكَ كَلِمَاتٍ: احْفَظِ اللَّهَ يَحْفَظْكَ، احْفَظِ اللَّهَ تَجِدْهُ تُجَاهَكَ، إِذَا سَأَلْتَ فَاسْأَلِ اللَّهَ، وَإِذَا اسْتَعَنْتَ فَاسْتَعِنْ بِاللَّهِ، واعلَمْ أَنَّ الأُمَّةَ لَوِ اجْتَمَعَتْ عَلَى أَنْ يَنْفعُوكَ بِشيْءٍ، لَمْ يَنْفعُوكَ إِلاَّ بِشَيْءٍ قَد كَتَبَهُ اللَّهُ لَكَ، وإِنِ اجْتَمَعُوا عَلَى أَنْ يَضُرُّوكَ بِشَيْءٍ، لَمْ يَضُرُّوكَ إِلاَّ بَشَيْءٍ قد كَتَبَهُ اللَّه عليْكَ، رُفِعَتِ الأقْلامُ، وجَفَّتِ الصُّحُفُ».  رواهُ التِّرْمذيُّ.

Narrated Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him and his father: “I was riding behind the Prophet ﷺ once when he said: ‘O boy!  I will teach you some words (so learn them).  Be mindful of Allah; He will protect you. Safeguard His obligations; Allah will be on your side. If you ask for assistance, ask Allah, and if you seek help, seek it from Allah. Know that if all people gather their strength to benefit you, they will never benefit you with anything except that which Allah has foreordained for you.  And if all of them gather their strength to harm you, they will never be able to harm you with anything except that which Allah had pre-destined against you.  The pens had been raised, and the ink had dried up.’” (Related by Al-Tirmidhi).

The Prophet ﷺ gave his young cousin Abdullah Ibn Abbas–who went on to become the learned scholar of this nation–advice that should be written with ink of gold and engraved on stone so it can be remembered forever. This hadith is one of the Jawami’ al-Kalim: ‘Concise and Comprehensive words’ of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, full of the eloquence that indicates the true message of the Prophet ﷺ.

Indeed, every word of this hadith deserves a volume by itself, but here we briefly focus on the statement:

(احْفَظِ اللَّهَ يَحْفَظْكَ، احْفَظِ اللَّهَ تَجِدْهُ تُجَاهَكَ)

 Preserve (the Commands of) Allah, He will preserve you. And keep the rules of Allah, He will be there for you.

 

If we ponder upon this statement, we will find that it contains the path to success in both this life and the Hereafter. This worldly life has been created with troubles and tribulations as a test for the son of Adam, and he then chooses to believe and show patience and gratitude or to disbelieve and display ingratitude and impatience.  As Allah the Exalted states in Qur’an: {He (God) is the One Who has created death and life, that He may test you which of you is best in deed. And He is the All-Mighty, the Oft- Forgiving} (Surah 67, verse 2).  Thus, every person experiences some troubles and difficulties in his daily life, some minor and some major.

But Islam also teaches us how to deal with these problems and troubles. In the above hadith, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ explains that the first step to overcome problems is to obey the commands of Allah and observe His rules in everything. Consequently, just as we try our best to preserve the commands of Allah, Allah will preserve us and be there for us when we need Him.

Indeed, when the Muslim is afflicted with a calamity or trouble, the first thing he does is raise his hands to Allah and seek His help. And as the Prophet ﷺ explained in the above statement, the pious Muslim’s call for help is answered faster, and his need is fulfilled sooner–as a result of his safeguarding of Allah’s obligations. Despite how severe his calamity may be, sooner or later a solution or a way out of his trouble is found for him.  As Allah the Exalted states: {And whoever fears Allah, He will make for him a way out (of difficulty).  And He will provide for him from where he does not expect} (Surah 65, verses 2-3).  Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him and his father, said concerning this verse: “Allah will deliver him from every difficulty of this world and the Hereafter.”

Consider the other situation, when a man is busy with sins and following self-desires; when calamity or trouble befalls him, he is left with no support and no real help. Naturally, he too turns to his Creator and seeks His help.  But the help may or may not come, and it may come at a much later point, leaving him anxious, worried, and depressed. More significantly, this anxiety may raise self-doubts and ungrounded assumptions in the weak person’s heart. Thus, his initial lack of obedience becomes a cause of the weakening of his faith. This is in contrast to the pious person who is firm in his belief and has full trust in his deliverance and aid from his Lord.

But it is never late to return to Allah, the Most Merciful.  Indeed, troubles sometimes act as a reminder to the slave to get back to his Lord. And when the Muslim repents of his sins and observes Allah’s commands, the limitless mercy of Allah encompasses him, and it is hoped that he will find a way out of his trouble despite his sinful past. As Allah the Exalted states in Qur’an: {Say: “O My slaves who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins), do not despair of the Mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” And turn in repentance to your Lord and submit to Him, before the punishment comes upon you, then you will not be helped} (Surah 39, verses 53-54).

Thus, we see the effects of the statement: “Preserve (the Commands of) Allah, He will preserve you.  And Keep the rules of Allah, He will be there for you,” both in this life and the Hereafter. In this life, the pious Muslim experiences the blessings of steadfastness and firmness in religion and full trust in Allah in the face of difficulties and troubles, as well as a forthcoming solution for his troubles that soon materializes by the Will of the Almighty (though the Muslim is asked to take every effort to consult the people of knowledge and find a solution). And in the Hereafter, the pious Muslim wins the Pleasure of Allah, along with Paradise and the Eternal Bliss. To paraphrase Ibn Abbas, through this piety a person thus gains the happiness of this world and the next. We ask Allah to grant us this gift.  And Allah knows best.