As adults, we lose much of the simplicity we once knew as children. Islam is very simple; but as adults we make it seem so very complicated. The message of Islam has existed since the beginning of time, and its message is for all people.

The message of Islam can be summed up as follows: There is one God; and that God speaks to His Creation. All the rest is amplifying that message.

Such a simple message speaks to the hearts of all. Imagine those miners in Chile who were trapped underground for many weeks. Whether they were religious men or not, they would each one of them have prayed to be saved.

Whether or not people accept the fact that God exists, troubles and tragedies often mean He is the first one they should turn to.

In a simple way, Islam answers that need of men and women. Without popes or priests interceding on their behalf, Islam teaches that we can all bow down to our Creator and speak to Him directly. As Muslims, we should never forget this simplicity of Islam.

It is when we do forget it in talking to others, that we can make it sound like any other organized religion. And modern men and women are not too fond of organized religion. There comes a point, though, when we need to deepen our faith. Those new to Islam want to grow in their faith. They want to become better and better all the time.

It is relatively easy to declare the words of “Shahadah” (testimony of faith: that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is His Messenger), but it takes the rest of one’s life to live up to those words. If we don’t progress from that first day when we accepted Islam, then we have not made much progress in becoming better Muslims, have we? This deepening comes both in terms of knowledge and in the way we behave.

Think about our studying French. If our knowledge of French stayed at the same level as it was when we were seven years old, then we would have a childish knowledge of French. It is the same with Islam. If our knowledge of Islam stays the same as the very first day we learned about it, then our knowledge hasn’t deepened at all. If, as adults, we relate to others in the same way as a child of seven, our understanding of behavior and relationships hasn’t grown.

To become better Muslims, then, we need to make progress. This applies either to those who accepted Islam when they were seventy years old or to those who were born Muslims. New Muslims can often feel overwhelmed with all the details they have to learn about Islam. The danger here is that all these details can turn into facts to be learned, rather than ways of helping us to become better.

It isn’t always helpful to use Arabic words in explaining things to those who have newly embraced Islam, but there is one Arabic word which is very important here, which we need to understand. This word is “Ihsan”.

From the beginning of time He planned that we would be Muslim, the person He wanted us to be. And when we are laid in the grave we will finally have become that person. So, how do we grow as Muslims? How do we become better? How can we possibly ever be like Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)?

Acquiring facts is very useful, but it won’t lead us to heaven! I once received an email from a Muslim in the UK, saying: “I am a born Muslim and I want to become one!” In other words, this man recognized that it is a lifetime’s achievement to become the kind of Muslim Allah wants us to be.

Translating it into an English word, though, is very difficult. Enough to say, that when we have reached the level of “Ihsan” as Muslims, we have reached the level Allah wants us to be. When we understand what “Ihsan” is, we will have understood what it is to be a Muslim. The word “Ihsan” comes from an Arabic root word that means a number of things.

This root word can mean: to do right; to improve; to be in a desirable condition or in a proper state; to decorate or embellish; and to treat with kindliness. The word also means perfection / excellence while doing anything. In Arabic, one who practices “Ihsan” is called a “Muhsin”. The plural of “Muhsin” is “Muhsineen”. We know that Allah loves “Muhsineen”, because he tells us so in the Quran:

{Whoever submits himself to God and is a Muhsin (one who is good) then his reward is with his Lord, on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.} (2:112)

What a remarkable progress we will have made in life if we no longer fear or grieve. Isn’t that something the whole world is looking for? In the two parts of this article, then, we will try and see how Muslims can grow and grow in their faith until they reach that level that is truly loved by Allah. There have been many academic articles written about “Ihsan” and its meanings, but that is not our purpose.

Our purpose is to show that by doing this and this we can become better. We might even choose to abandon the word “Ihsan” altogether, preferring instead to talk about “good Muslims” or “real Muslims.” Sometimes, those who have embraced Islam reach the stage where they think it is all done and that they have achieved everything necessary for them to be real Muslims.

Being Muslim, though, means more than knowing the correct way to perform ablution or the correct postures to use in prayers. New Muslims need to be aware of the progress they can continue to make in their spiritual journey within Islam.

This is very exciting, knowing that they can continue to experience what they first felt when they declared “Shahadah”. They will come to know that this is a path which takes time and therefore needs patience, knowledge and practice, one day at a time, as faith grows from one stage to the next. They will learn that it is possible for us all, every day, to be better Muslims.

“Ihsan” includes sincerity during prayers and being grateful to parents, family, and to Allah. In part two we will try to learn some of the qualities associated with “Ihsan” in the Quran, and even learn some of the rewards promised for those who are “Muhsins”.

By Idris Tawfiq