Ihsan, The Pursuit of Excellence


We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

- Aristotle

Ihsan (Excellence in faith)...just thinking the word in my head has a special ring to it, brings a certain unique, inspiring feeling to my heart. This word, this topic moves me. I hope it has that effect on you as well. Our religion, our way of life is composed of three parts:

  1. Iman
  2. Islam
  3. Ihsan

To discuss ihsan, we must briefly go through the first two, Iman and Islam.


Iman or faith must be mentioned as the first part of our deen because it serves as our roots. For many years of the Prophet-hood of Muhammad, Allah (God) revealed nothing except the concept of taqwa (God consciousness), ikhlas (sincerity) and Iman (faith). It was not until the hearts of the first Muslims became saturated and strong with true Iman did Allah (swt) begin introducing the next concept - Islam, to the Muslims. 

After our roots are firmly in place and take hold within the rich soil of Iman and that is watered and nourished continually, we can begin understanding and encouraging the practice of Islam or submission to the will of Allah. This Islam, or submission, is like the trunk of the tree, sturdy, reaching up to heights. Muslim children are not required to pray until they are 7. Why? Because these first seven years are to be used by parents to plant the seed of Iman and help this seed to grow strong roots by teaching their children about Allah (swt), about jannah, about the miracles and the angels and preparing them to have a strong, balanced character. The "rules" of Islam come more easily to those who have prepared their hearts with Iman.


Ihsan, which means excellence in belief is the neglected 1/3 of our deen. It is to believe in God Almighty without the slightest speck of doubt. It is similar in idea to the bodhisattva concept the Buddhists hold. And, when attained, it is like the "icing on the cake," for the believer and his or her faith. "Ihsan is the fruit that blossoms from our planted trees and shows up when the roots are strong and nourished, free from disease and harmful insects. If we fail to nourish our Iman by submitting to Allah, we will bear no fruit and our soul will die. But look into the Islamic legacy. It is rich with ihsan. All the achievements in art, science, architecture, literature, geography, politics, economics, social movement, philosophy, medicine and more came from the Muslims' desire to attain ihsan. Ihsan is our lost treasure that we must unearth and revive.

Ihsan...what does it mean? Like so many other Arabic words that I have mentioned, it has a vast array of meanings. It cannot be summed up prettily in one English word or phrase. Ihsan is excellence. It is perfection. It is beauty. It is balance, harmony, discipline, good character, softness, gentleness, improvement, drive, will power. Ihsan is a human reflection, a human attempt to achieve a high level in the areas covered by the reveled 99 beautiful names of Allah (swt).

In Surat Ar-Rahman, (Quranic chapter "The Merciful"), Allah (swt) uses one of the most powerful and difficult to use literary devices - the rhetorical question. If you have studied literature to any extent, you will know that the rhetorical question can only be used in very special, particularized situations and it can only be used when the author has much confidence and much leverage in the answer and the motivation for asking the question. The rhetorical device is amazing because, as it gives the answer to the question away, it leaves the reader to contemplate deeply on the meaning of the question, and the profound reasons behind the obvious. Allah (swt), in Surat Ar-Rahman, conquers this literary device and uses it in truly miraculous ways.  

"When a man says I cannot, he has made a suggestion to himself. He has weakened his power of accomplishing that which otherwise would have been accomplished."

Muhammad Ali

In Surat Ar-Rahman, the most frequent rhetorical question asked is, "then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?" and is asked 31 times out of a total of 78 verses in this chapter of the Quran. However, stuck in between 2 of these 31 rhetorical questions is another, more subtle, yet incredibly powerful ayah. It reads, "Is there any reward for ihsan except ihsan?"

This rhetorical question is amazing on a myriad of levels. I would like to share three levels of meaning for this rhetorical question:

(1) Those who sincerely strive in Allah's Cause and attain ihsan in both their worship and their everyday activities will be rewarded for this level of excellence by being blessed by Allah (swt) with the sweetness of faith. They will be some of the few people who have walked the face of the earth and tasted this level of faith. God-consciousness will be continuous, and everything these few do will be geared for a higher purpose. They will have attained ihsan and in return, they will feel ihsan in their hearts.

(2) Those who sincerely strive in Allah's Cause and attain ihsan in both their worship and their everyday activities will be rewarded for this excellence by being blessed by Allah (swt) with success in this dunya (life of the world). This can be seen in our history, in our Golden Age. The Muslims of that time attained ihsan in their rituals and in their other activities. Allah rewarded this ihsan with ihsan - the excellence in this dunya that we read about - the amazing art, architecture, philosophy, medical advances, etc.

(3) Those who sincerely strive in Allah's Cause and attain ihsan in both their worship and their everyday activities will be rewarded for this excellence by being blessed by Allah (swt) with the ultimate success, the ultimate ihsan - that of jannah (heaven) in al-akhira ( hear-after).

So in summary, that one little rhetorical device in 55:60 is hidden, but it packs a huge punch. Those who realize the value of ihsan, who reach and strive and work for ihsan, who nourish their roots and groom their trunk in order to bear plentiful, amazing fruit will be rewarded with Allah's form of ihsan - the sweetness of faith, success in the dunya, and the ultimate success in al-akhira.

So how does this relate to us right here, right now? Whether your in high school, college, or grad students. We're young people in the workforce. We're newly married, engaged, or waiting our turn. We're brothers and sisters and aunts, uncles, cousins, and children. We're youth group leaders or mentors or committee heads in MSA/MSU. What does ihsan mean in our lives?

It means that every day, when you're in a boring class and get handed an assignment for a 15 page paper or you learn about a comprehensive final exam, or you get a huge project from your boss, or your mom asks you to make dinner or clean your room or your brother or sister asks for help with homework or to play with you outside - that you stop...that you stop the immediate negative reaction that we've been trained to play over and over again when it comes to these sorts of things and do the right thing, which is to remain positive.

We stop, and we realize that this is our opportunity for ihsan. That this is another opportunity for us to make our intentions for Allah (swt), to please Him. That this is a chance for us to add something to our Life's Book that Allah (swt) will open on the Day of Judgment and look upon us with joy and be proud of us. For, as Professor Yusuf al-Qaradawi has mentioned,

Allah loves when one of you is given a task, that he or she does it in the most excellent manner.

Sheikh al-Qaradawi didn't say that Allah "likes" when you do things with ihsan. He didn't say that Allah thinks it's "ok" or "cool" or "alright." One of the greatest scholars of Islam says that Allah "LOVES" when we do things with ihsan. Allah LOVES. Think about that for just a second and let it sink in. Think about the last time someone you respected/admired told you that they loved something you did. How did that make you feel? You were beaming for days, most likely. You remembered what they said and how they reacted and you kept replaying it in your head again and again. Imagine then, how amazing it would feel to do something that Allah (swt) LOVES.

Imagine standing in front of Allah (swt) on the Day of Judgment and having Him tell you all the things that you did that He LOVED. Imagine how you would feel.

So when you have a test or a paper or you have to mow the law or you are going to the gym or playing football or doing an MSA event, do it with ihsan! Don't just "be," don't just get by, don't just pass. Be EXCELLENT, strive for PERFECTION, be the BEST in your class, show the world how Islam inspires you to attain ihsan!

We are given just a few moments in this dunya. Each breath is a priceless jewel and when it passes it never returns...make this moment, this breath, this heart beat one that resounds with ihsan (Excellence)!


 The article was written by uclahalaqa.wordpress.com staff members

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Older Comments:
The order should have been Islam first then Iman and after that
Ihsan.As Allah said in Suratul Hujurah Qalatul Aarabu amanna Qul
Lam tuminu walakin Qulu Aslamna. Remember not every Muslim is a
Mumin but every Mumin is a Muslim.We can achieve the stage of Ihsan
only after one makes real effort from Muslim he/she becomes Mumin
or Mumina then after that a person becomes Muhsin one who does
Ihsan.We should not forget also in Surah Ahzab Allah started Innal
Muslimina Wal Muslimati wal Mumina Wal Muminati. Allahu A'alam I
rest my case. But Alhamdu Lillahi the Sister tried her best to
educate the public shukran.

this is amazing article. works for me!!!

Mashallah...Beautiful commentary here...we just
need to make sure that our Ihsan, when it comes to working hard in school and work, does not change into arrogance and pride. This is a huge
problem afflicting our Ummah.

Yes, it is true. i love this article..just to share few points with all sisters and brothers..
to get to the level of ihsan, we must first
1)takhalli- get rid off any bad characteristic
2)tahalli- beautifying ourselves with extra ibadah and worship
3) tajalli- we will reach the level of ihsan in which we fear Allah as if we see HIM and HE sees us...mashaAllah..may Allah gives us strength and guide us to HIS path....may we all meet in JANNAH..ameen

Very excellent article. Strive for perfection in every thing which we do.. be it iman or everyday life. Perfection gives you a satisfaction which is beyonf happiness.

Salaamu alaikum Antonio,

Check this out and your iman will increase a great deal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAx7g2DOEu0&feature=related

Prophet Muhammed is the greatest man ever!!!

Assalam Aleykum,
Thanks for a nice presentation.ALLAH is with all who make others who does not know to know.May ALLAH bless you so that you can make more of these Articles for Ummat Muhammad S.A.W(PEACE BE UPON HIM)Inshaalah
Juma Mfanga,

Assalamu Alaikum,
May Allah Continue to guide and assist you for your good work of educating us.I really appreciate your effort.AlhamdullillAh.

what a article you wrote i pray to allah for u to give you and to me and to all of us the darjah of ihsan ameen ya rabulalameen

It is a beautiful article."Worship Allah as if you see Him for if you see Him not surely He sees you".
jazaakaAllahu Khairan.

Asalam Alakum,
What a wonderful article. I am not Muslim by profession but would like to now. Alhamduliallah!! Thank you for the inspiring article.

Salaamu alaikum,

Arabic: "Al-ihsanu an ta'buda Allaha ka'anaka taraahu fa in lam takun taraahu fa inahu yaraaka" Hadith Sahih
English translation: Ihsan (excellence..) is to worship Allah as if you see Him but since you can't see Him (remember) that He sees you.


Shukran for this article. JazakAllah Khayran

May God bless you abundantly amin. please try as much as possible to see that your site is truely islamic, that means you should try to avoid bringing non-muslim names and their qoutations, since we have the same from quran, prohet saying and other important muslim personels.

I found this article very enlightening with just one (major)flaw. I don't think anything we do in our faith Islam should be compared to Buddhists pratices or any other as these practices are shirk.

Thank you, Sister Halaqa, for this truly inspiring article. You are a good teacher.

I would prefer using the quotation from the Quran to open the theme of the discussion rather than quoting Aristotle.Anyhow it was a quite an interesting writeup except the order of merit should have been Islam first then comes Iman and followed by Ihsan.Allah mentions in His Holy Book "Qalatul Aarab amanna,qul lam tuminu walakin qulu aslamna walamma yadukuulu imanu fi kulubikum...ila akhiri aya" the near meaning the Villagers said we believe (meaning we have Iman) But Allah said NO dont say you believe but say you submit means you have embraced Islam( but IMan has not entered your hearts...up to the last. Therefore the order should have been Islam then Iman and Ihsan.Nonetheless it was a good atempt.The Prophet was the best model in terms of practical Islam Iman and Ihsan.He lived simple life like other Prophets such as Moses and Jesus with no greed for any materialism.He depended on Allah entirely having no hope or dependence on any of Allah's creation neither could they benefit him nor harm him.That was the highest stage of Ihsan.He never kept wealth for tomorrow purely depending on Allah to provide and sustain him like Jesus the Ascetic or Moses the Law Giver.However Prophet Muhammad was a model for all from Kings to paupers, Law givers Generals to privates,husbands to fathers uncles to nephews brothers to sons neighbours to good companion teachers and students,generous and sample of generosity like wind especially in Ramadan the Month of Taqwa.He was more pious than the most pious you can think of,more forebearing than the most patient,forgiving and tolerent than you can think of.Good Character as Allah has praised him with Innaka laala Khulqin Azeem.Humble although he is one of the most respected human beings created by Allah and loved by Him yet he remains a common servant of Allah who doesnt make himself superior or a kind of superhuman though he had every right to do so.That was the height of sincere Ihsan which can never be attained by anybody in the world.

Oh. Alhamdullah!!! that was beautiful!!!!
wow!!! do it with excellence!!! I do want to please Allah swt and have him love me and my deeds on the day of judgement. May Allah truly reward you and keep writing such articles.