Until they Change Themselves
"And (you all) Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good (ihsan), and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands posses. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful" (Qur’an 4:36).
is one of the many words that cannot be translated into just one English word but rather has a broad and deep meaning. Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (the Exalted and Glorified) says in the Qur’an, “Allah loves al-muhsineen (those who do good)” (3:148). A muhsin is one who performs good deeds and ihsan is goodness itself. Ihsan also means to perfect, to excel or to show proficiency and excellence. Therefore it could be considered that the Arabic word ihsan has a dual meaning, goodness and excellence. Muslims need to strive to achieve excellence, proficiency, and perfection in all good actions.
A civilization cannot rise if its people do not try their best to achieve the best results in all that they do. A student should not focus his efforts on barely passing exams. He should aspire to actually increase his knowledge throughout the academic year and at the end prove that he has learned by achieving the best results. A teacher should not just stand in front of her class and recite a lesson. She should try her very best to have a positive impact on her students and to add to their knowledge. The same applies if one works in a factory or produces any type of product. One should not simply make something that looks good on the outside but will only function for only half of its intended life.
This may seem like a general behavior that everyone should apply regardless of his or her belief, but in reality, it is a fundamental principle in Islamic behavior. The Messenger of Allah, salla Allahu `alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Verily, Allah loves that when anyone of you does a job he should perfect it” (Al-Bayhaqi). Unfortunately, some Muslims have forgotten this concept and have abandoned it. On the other hand, the West has realized the importance of quality and perfection; by applying these characteristics, its civilization has grown and become more powerful. This is a Divine Law and it applies to Muslims and non-Muslims: If you perfect what you do, you improve your condition and the condition of your surroundings. It applies to people regardless of their belief, the same way that the law of gravity applies to us all.
A study was designed to estimate the number of hours worked by employees each day in different countries all over the world—not the number of hours they spend in their workplace, but the “net hours” spent actually working (i.e. after subtracting lunch breaks, going to the bathroom, chatting, etc.). While some Western countries and Japan reached high numbers like eight hours, some Muslim countries reached as low as twelve or five minutes! Five minutes of pure work! Can you believe that? And we want Allah (swt) to give us victory! How can one expect Allah (swt) to give Muslims victory and let them lead the world if some Muslim countries work less than an hour a day? We are not applying the Divine Rule, and therefore, our situation will stay as it is. We need more ihsan in our lives, with both of its meanings, goodness and perfection: “Allah commands justice, the doing of good (ihsan), and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, that you may receive admonition” (Qur’an 16:90).
Maintaining ihsan is something Allah (swt) commands us to do; why is it then that we Muslims are sometimes the laziest or the sloppiest? Of course not all Muslims are like that, but it seems to be the current theme in our Ummah (global Muslim community). Some countries are famous for certain products because they perfect them and have the highest quality—Japanese electronics, Italian shoes and Swiss watches, army knives and cheese. What about Muslim countries; how many products have Muslims perfected to the extent that a customer buys them with full confidence that they are the best in the market? Advancing and achieving such a reputation is not a “modern world” concept— it is Islamic; it is in our religion.
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Someone once told me, “Thank God the non-Muslims in the West are so advanced and are discovering all these new things every day so that we may benefit from them directly without effort, and at the same time have more time to worship Allah!” At first I thought he was joking but unfortunately he was not. He forgot that working is a form of worshiping Allah (swt) if the intentions are correct. Did not Allah instruct in the Qur’an, “And say: ‘Work: For soon will Allah observe your work, and His Messenger, and the Believers: Soon will you be brought back to the Knower of what is hidden and what is open: then will He show you the truth of all that you did’” (9:105).
Muslims should participate in making this world a better place and we must have our contribution. Worshiping Allah (swt) isn’t only by performing rituals. For example, going to school or work every day could be a form of worship if one’s intentions are to obey Allah (swt), acquire knowledge for the betterment of Muslims and humanity, and set a good example as a Muslim. If Muslims are not successful and at the forefront, how will non-Muslims be attracted to Islam?
One meaning of ihsan is doing good actions, but when doing good one should also try to perfect it. For example, greeting another Muslim by saying “as-Salamu `Alaykum (Peace be upon you)” is a good act, but saying “as-Salamu `Alaykum wa RahmatulLahi wa Barakatuhu (May the Peace, the Mercy, and the Blessings of Allah be upon you)” is even better. There is even a step higher—by saying the greeting and shaking hands, and by also smiling. See how one should try to achieve perfection and excellence in all of our acts! It should be a constant attempt in all aspects of life: with rituals, working, relationships, etc. We need to try to implement ihsan in everything we do.
Prophet Muhammad (saws) instructed the Ummah in several ways and situations to seek perfection. One of the Prophetic sayings dealing with ihsan is particularly interesting. The Messenger of Allah (saws) said, “Verily Allah has enjoined goodness (ihsan) on everything; so when you kill, kill in a good way and when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way. So every one of you should sharpen his knife, and let the slaughtered animal die comfortably” (Sahih Muslim 21:4810).
One might wonder why the Messenger of Allah (saws) did not say, “If you pray, pray well, and if you fast, fast well.” Why would Prophet Muhammad (saws) refer to killing and slaughtering in this hadith (prophetic saying)? It is not because Muslims are blood thirsty—absolutely not—but because slaughtering an animal means that one is ending its life. What difference does it make if I kill it well or not, it is going to die anyway, it won’t have any “bad memories” about it, so what is the big deal? On the contrary, that is not how a Muslim acts or thinks. A Muslim should implement excellence in every aspect of life, even when it comes to an animal’s final moments in life. If one treats an animal well and with perfection when killing it, he will certainly treat it even better while it is alive; he will shelter it with excellence and mercy, and he will feed it in such a manner as well.
Not only did the Prophet (saws) teach us this with just words, he demonstrated to us how to achieve this proficiency in a practical sense as well (sharpening the blade and sparing suffering). This shows that proficiency is not just an idea, but one must also seek the means to apply it.
Another example is Divorce. Usually one correlates divorce with arguments, fights and going to court. But look what Allah (swt) says: “A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, (a woman) must be retained in honor or released in kindness (ihsan)” (2:229).
Even during divorce a person is supposed to maintain ihsan, because if one could do so during divorce he or she will certainly be able to do so during a happy marriage. Do you see how the Qur’an and the hadith give examples of certain extremes in life? If one could achieve ihsan during these extremes he or she could certainly achieve it in normal situations as well.
Prophet Yusuf, `alayhi salam (peace be upon him) was imprisoned unjustly. He was falsely accused of trying to rape the wife of the minister. It was a disgraceful accusation, but he was patient. Many years later while still in prison, he was told that the king of Egypt had a dream: “The king (of Egypt) said: ‘I do see (in a vision) seven fat cows, whom seven lean ones devour, and seven green ears of corn, and seven (others) withered. O you chiefs! Expound to me my vision if it be that you can interpret visions’” (12:43).
Yusuf (as) knew what it meant—a devastating starvation that would last for seven years. What did he do? Did he request that they free him first? Did he decide to not tell them what it meant so all the Disbelievers would starve to death? No, instead he demonstrated ihsan. Without putting any conditions he interpreted the dream for them: seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of devastating drought and starvation. Additionally, even though he was not asked, he gave them the solution to these coming crises. Yusuf (as) provided them a solution for the following fifteen years. He told them to increase their productivity as much as possible in the first seven years while minimizing their consumption so that they would have enough food to survive the seven years of drought.
Furthermore, when Yusuf (as) was freed from prison and became the Minister of Agriculture and Economy, he organized the process of storing the food and then distributing it during the second seven years. Since the drought affected the entire Middle East, he introduced a system where foreign countries could exchange food from Egypt with any of their homemade products. He did this in order to encourage them to be productive and so they would look at the food they received from Egypt as trade and not charity. He was persistent in his organization even though the foreign countries were all Disbelievers. This is a message to all our brothers and sisters that are living in non-Muslim countries. Wherever you are, you must have a positive impact—you have to make a contribution—because you are a Muslim.
The best type of ihsan, however, is ihsan in your relationship with Allah (swt), your Creator—to worship Allah (swt) as if you see Him, and even though you cannot really see Him, always keep in mind that He sees you.
Excellence leads to perfection, and perfection is our ultimate goal. We strive to perfect our characters so that we may reach the highest attainable status in the sight of Allah (swt), and also to perfect our surroundings and our work so that we won’t feel ashamed when we present them in front of Allah (swt), the Messenger and the Believers.
Those who achieve excellence and perfection in this world will lead because the Divine Rule says so, and if anyone else leads the Muslims, the Muslims will always be lagging behind. We must change our current condition, and when we do that, certainly, Allah (swt) will change the condition
of our entire Ummah. ̹