Ihsan and Striving for Goodness
Ihsan is an Arabic word that means beauty, perfection or excellence. One who acts beautifully or with excellence would be called Muhsin in Arabic, and this is a fairly popular Muslim name. Islamic teachings around Ihsan, that is, around beauty, perfection and excellence are so central that some Islamic scholars have described Ihsan as representing the inner spirit of faith.
So, for actions to be “Islamic”, they need to represent some beauty, or they must embody most high standards. And if they don’t represent beauty or high standards, they are not a representation of “Islamic”. This is one strong reason (of many) why Islamic scholars argue strongly that using ugly violence to get political messages across can never be “Islamic”!
In a well-known teaching that we receive from the Prophet Muhammad, “Ihsan” was defined as one offering their salah (ritual prayer) “as if God sees you”. Much has been written and learned about this definition. At the heart of it, Muslims are encouraged to live their lives not by just “believing” in God, but also to strive and aim for excellence in all matters of faith. Standards of behaviour and action are important. Islam is seeking us to be our better selves as well as in what we do. This can apply to all areas of life, and each person has to bring Ihsan into their lives in their own personal way.
Ihsan can also explain some of the beautiful works of art, poetry and architecture found across the world, which gain many admirers from far and wide. Today, given how much ugliness is been the consequence of humanity’s greed, selfishness, thoughtlessness or cruelty – all of which go against Islamic teachings – any actions, projects or engagements with changing the ugly to the beautiful would be to embody the Islamic spirit if Ihsan.