Ihsaan: Beyond Excellence
Dear brothers and sisters in Islam, Assalamu Alaikum.
The word I am going to discuss today is ‘Ihsaan’ احسان Actually this is Part 1 of a series I intend to write, Inshaa’Allah.
The word “excellence” comes from “excel” which means “to be exceptionally good at something”. Excellence also means “the quality of being extremely good or outstanding”. It is “the state of excelling; surpassing merit or quality” and “the activity etc. in which a person excels” (Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary and the New Oxford Dictionary of Modern English).
Coming to the Arabic, one peculiarity of this language is that majority of its words are derived from the verbal root. Therefore, the word HASUNA, which means, “to be handsome, beautiful, lovely, nice, good; to be expedient, advisable, suitable, proper, fitting” is the root word from which following different words are derived:
Husn – beauty, handsomeness, prettiness, loveliness, excellence, superiority, perfection.
Hasan – beautiful, lovely, nice, agreeable, excellent, exquisite, handsome.
Hasanan – well, splendidly, excellently, beautifully.
Ahsan – better, nicer, lovelier, more beautiful, excellent, more splendid.
Al Husna – the handsome, the best outcome, the happy conclusion, fair means, amicable manner.
Hasana – good deed, merits, advantages.
Mahsana – something nice, good; pl. Mahasin – beauties, attractions, good qualities.
Tahseen – beautification, embellishment, improvement, betterment.
Muhasana – kindliness, amicability.
Ihsaan – Excellence, beneficence, benevolence, performance of good deeds.
Tahassun – improvement, amelioration.
Istihsaan – preference for the better, acclaim, consent, approval, application of discretion in a legal decision.
Muhassin – beautifier, improver.
Muhsin – one who excels others in the performance of good deeds, beneficent, benevolent.
Mustahsan – commendable, pleasant
Words of Arabic language are very rich and eloquent. Moreover, Islamic terms are richer and more eloquent in their meaning and import.
“Ihsaan”, when translated as ‘excellence’ belittles the very import of the Islamic term. “Ihsaan” does entail “excellence” but then goes beyond it.
Khurram Murad rightly writes in one of the footnotes: It is impossible to find a word in the English language, which can express, to any fair degree, the real meaning and import of Ihsaan. It means to do a thing well, in the best possible manner, to achieve excellence; to aim at beauty and perfection; and most importantly, to do it as an inner compulsion and urge, not as a consequence of external prodding and urging – in brief, a work of love, not merely a duty. This can result from an inner sense of presence before Allah and love for Him. That is why one Hadith defines it as “that you serve Allah as if you are seeing Him, for even if you cannot see Him, He is seeing you”.
“Ihsaan” is the highest state of Islam. It implies deep attachment, profound love, genuine faithfulness and sacrifice” which transforms a Muslim into a Muhsin by making him “completely identify himself with Islam”.
A person who adopts “Ihsaan” in his thought, behaviour and action is called as a Muhsin. The plural form of Muhsin is Muhsinoon or Muhsineen. The feminine gender of Muhsin is Muhsina (singular) and Muhsinaat (plural).
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