Who doesn’t enjoy beholding something beautiful? So much of our time is spent in beautifying things, places and our bodies, that it must indeed be worth the extra effort to incorporate beauty into any endeavor. Whether it is a bunch of cilantro leaves adorning a dish, a long-stemmed rose in a vase accentuating a dining table, a scenic watercolor painting giving life to a bland room, or blooming flowers livening up a lush green garden during spring, a thing of beauty, as they say, is “a joy forever.” So much so that, one of the best traits of a believing Muslim wife is that when her husband beholds her, he is pleased.
This point – beauty in people – invites us to ponder on what really beautifies a human being? Apart from physical appearance and inherent qualities of character and etiquette, it is Ihsan, as our Prophet Muhammad explained in the Hadith of Jibreel:
“(Ihsan) is that you should serve God as though you see Him, for though you cannot see Him, yet He sees you.” (Sahih Muslim)
The root of the Arabic word “ihsan” comprises of the letters ‘ha-seen-noon’, which also forms the root of the word “husn”, or ‘beauty.’ God says in the Qur’an, that “He loves those who do ihsan.” (Qur’an, 2:195). Ihsan is, therefore, the epitome of good Islamic behavior and action. If a believer were to truly incorporate ihsan in himself, the first and foremost requirement of that would be, to live as though they “see” God.
The obvious question that crops up is, “But God can never be seen in this life?!” True. Since God cannot be seen by anyone in this world, a believer’s actions reach the lofty state of ihsan when he worships God at such a high level of consciousness that it is as if he sees God.
Our behavior is affected by what we witness. When a mother sees her child laughing, she is tearfully overwhelmed with joy; when someone rich sees a miskeen (poor person) sleeping on the pavement, he or she is motivated to give in charity; when we meet our relatives after a long time, we hug them. Examples are many, but the bottom-line is, seeing something has a great impact on our action.
Prophet Muhammad defined ihsan to be that behavior or action of a believer – whether in worship or in dealings with people – which he does as though he was seeing God. Such a person, without doubt, will be very careful not only in how he deals with people in public, but also in what he does in private. Ihsan is a very high level of beautified action, one that can be achieved only with a similar high level of faith (iman).
A doer of ihsan has such strong conviction that God overshadows his thoughts, his feelings, and his heart at all times. Such a person will always strive to do what God likes. That is what is mentioned in the second part of the hadith: “…for though you can not see Him, yet God sees you”.
The believer acts as if God is there before his eyes always, enraptured in the knowledge that God is seeing him. Thus, the worshipper leaves everything out of his exclusive relationship with His Lord. Every other relationship becomes subservient and a means to strengthen his bond with God. A child, who has been warned by his mother not to eat any more sweets, will abstain till the mother is physically in front of him.
As soon as she goes out of sight, he will hurriedly pop another one into his mouth and chew it hastily to swallow it before she returns. Had the mother been present, the child would have never disobeyed her.
God is never absent. He is ever-seeing, hearing and watchful of our actions. A Muslim, therefore, does not “yo-yo” between obedience and transgression, depending on whose company he is in, or which place he is at. His actions are consistently in accordance with God’s Pleasure, with any human slips wiped out by immediate repentance. You will not find a person who has reached ihsan sitting in a gathering that ridicules
God’s signs or prolonging his prayers when being seen by people or hastily donning the hijab in Islamic gatherings and throwing it off in other “social” gatherings. You will not find doers of ihsan being affected by people’s lavish praise or scathing criticism, because their actions only seek the transcendental pleasure of the One they obey.
Incorporating Ihusn to such an extent in one’s life will automatically make him serenely beautiful when beheld by others.