Ihsan (Perfect Goodness)

Ihsan (Perfect Goodness) has two literal meanings, doing something well and perfectly and doing someone a favor, and is sometimes used in the Qur’an and the Sunna with either meaning. At other times, as pointed out in the reflections on Heart while describing the Prophet Joseph’s consciousness of ihsan, to encompass both meanings.

According to truth-seeking scholars, perfect goodness is an action of the heart that involves thinking according to the standards of truth; forming the intention to do good, useful things and then doing them; and performing acts of worship in the consciousness that God sees them. To attain perfect goodness, an initiate must establish his or her thoughts, feelings, and conceptions on firm belief, and then deepen that belief by practicing the essentials of Islam and training his or her heart to receive Divine gifts and illuminate it with the light of His manifestations. Only one who has attained such a degree of perfect goodness can really do good to others just for God’s sake, with-out expecting any return.

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According to a Prophetic saying,

perfect goodness is that you worship God as if seeing Him; for even if you do not see Him, He certainly sees you.[1]

The most comprehensive and precise meaning of perfect goodness is that there is no fault in an initiate’s action, and that he or she is always conscious of God’s oversight. An initiate must concentrate on his or her actions with all of his or her will, feelings, awareness, and outer and inner senses. An initiate who has such degree of awareness of God’s supervision, and therefore strives to act in the best way possible, cannot help but do good to others. Doing good to others then becomes an essential attribute of his or her nature, and radiates as light radiates from the Sun.

Ihsan, in the sense of doing good to others, is summed up in the Prophet’s principle of desiring for one’s fellow Muslim whatever one desires for oneself.[2] Its universal dimension is defined in the Prophetic Tradition:

Surely, God has decreed that you excel in whatever you do. When you punish someone by killing, do it kindly; when you slaughter an animal, slaughter it kindly. Let him who will slaughter it sharpen his knife and avoid giving the animal much pain.[3]

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Consciousness of goodness is like a mysterious key that opens the door of a virtuous circle. An initiate who opens that door and steps into that illuminated corridor enters the “spiral” of a mysterious ascension, as if getting on an escalator. In addition to being endowed with this virtue, the correct use of one’s free will to do good and refrain from evil will result in an advance of two steps for every one step taken: Is the reward of goodness anything but goodness? (55:60). As we read in Tabari:

Once God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, one truthful and confirmed, asked his Companions about the verse: Do you know what Your Lord means by this verse? The Companions answered: God and His Messenger know better. He explained: The reward of the one upon whom I conferred belief in Divine Unity and goodness is nothing but Paradise.[4]

When the consciousness of goodness invades one’s heart like clouds of rain, Divine favors begin to descend in downpours. The possessor of such a heart, addressed by the verse:

For those who do good is the greatest good, and even more (10:26),

feels the profound pleasure of having been created as a human being.

In addition to the Divine grace coming in return for actions done with goodness, Divine gifts issue from God’s Graciousness and Kindness in return for a heart’s sincere intention. We are unable to conceive and describe such gifts.

A sound heart leads one straight to God without any deviation, and goodness is the heart’s greatest and most rewarding action. Goodness is the safest way to ascend the slopes of sincerity, the most secure means to reach the peaks of being approved by God, and the consciousness of self-possession before the Eternal Witness. Of the many people equipped with belief, as well as deep fear and reverence for Him, who have taken the wings of good action and set out toward Him, only a few succeed in reaching the peak. May those who have not yet reached it try their utmost to do so. Those who have reached the peak feel deeply the ugliness of whatever God dislikes and are closed to it, while they are ready to do whatever He likes and to adopt that as their second nature.

O God! Favor us with a good, happy end in all our affairs, and save us from humiliation in the world and punishment in the Hereafter. Assign for us from awe of You such amount that it may intervene between us and any disobedience to You. And bestow blessings and peace on Muhammad, our master and the master of those distinguished with perfect goodness, and on his Family and Companions, all of them.

By M. Fethullah Gulen

[1] Al-Bukhari, “Iman,” 37; Muslim, “Iman,” 7; Abu Dawud, Sunan, 16.
[2] Al-Bukhari, “Iman,” 7; Muslim, “Iman,” 71.
[3] Muslim, “Sayd,” 57; Al-Tirmidhi, “Diyat,” 14.
[4] See interpretation of Surat al-Rahman in Abu Ja ‘far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Jami’ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, 30 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, n.d.).

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