Of all the words used to translate the Arabic word “Ihsan” into English, my preferred word is Goodness.

This may not be technically correct, but it sums up for us what we are trying to achieve in becoming better Muslims.

We are, in fact, trying to be better people, people who think of Allah and be good to others all the time.

When we reach “Ihsan”, the level of real goodness in our lives, everything we do is for Allah’s sake – and people will see it! There are some people we meet in life who have a big impact on us because they are such good people. As Muslims, we strive each day to become like those people.

How wonderful it would be if people in Britain or the USA or Australia would point to a Muslim in the street and declare him or her to be a Muslim because of the goodness of their lives.

Such a person would not only be faithful to prayer and eager to do everything the Prophet (peace be upon him) did, but would be a good husband and father. He would be a loyal and trustworthy friend, an honest and conscientious worker, a kind and generous person.

In attributing everything in his life to God, that person would have become a “Muhsin”, one who has reached the level of “Ihsan”.

There are many places in the Quran where we read about “Ihsan” and those who practice it. God tells us: 

{Indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.} (Al-Maidah 5:13)

In another place He says: 

{And spend in the way of Allah and do not throw (yourselves) with your (own) hands into destruction (by refraining). And do good; indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.} (Al-Baqarah 2:195)

And again He says: 

{Indeed, he who fears Allah and is patient, then indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good.} (Yusuf 12:90)

The question for us is how to reach a level of goodness. How do we become good persons? How do we become really good Muslims, whose goodness is obvious to everyone?

Well, obviously, such goodness isn’t given to everyone. Even the one who is most steadfast and diligent in observing the five daily prayers at the proper times is not always generous and kind. Even the one who can tell us everything about Islam and lecture on its merits to big audiences is not always a gentle and caring person.

There are some people who each day divertingly hear the birds singing in the trees, whilst other people only hear background noise. There are some whose hearts are touched by the suffering of the poor in their midst, whilst others only find beggars a nuisance.

So, as Muslims, what do we do to reach the level of “Ihsan”?

We can only give a few hints, and even then all of our efforts will depend on Allah’s grace. It is He who gifts us with goodness. A combination of all of these things will help us in our journey to be better.

1-    The one who would be a better Muslim needs, first of all, to know enough about Islam. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) urged us to: “Seek knowledge as far as China.”   To our dying die we need to be thirsty to understand more about the message of Islam, which has touched the hearts of billions of people throughout history.

2-    In order to be good we need to do good things. In fact, we become good people by the good things we do. Praying five times a day cannot but alter our lives. Helping the poor or those in need cannot but touch our own hearts.

3-    We need to think very carefully who our friends are. If we are surrounded by bad people, or by people whose lives are consumed in materialism or violence, their behaviors will affect us, too. If our friends are gentle and kind, surely some of their kindness will rub off on us?

4-    The Greek philosopher, Socrates, tells us that: “the unexamined life is not worth living.” In other words, we need to be constantly asking ourselves what our motives are, what our hopes and aspirations are, and why we want to be good Muslims. By constantly asking ourselves questions we avoid the danger of complacency and of doing things just because we have always done them.

We need, for example, to ask ourselves why we do the things we do as Muslims? Why do we perform ablution “wudu”? Why do we wear hijab? Why do we pray? Of course, we do them because God tells us to do them. But our lives as Muslims can be enriched beyond measure by seeing all of these things as gifts, not just as duties.

5-    It is important for us to take time out and to reflect. If it is important in a football game for the players to take time out and discuss their strategy to win the game, how much more important it is for us, as Muslims, to take time out and consider our strategy in life.

Apart from the formal times for prayer, we should set aside a few moments from time to time to ponder on where we are in our spiritual journey. At such times we can give thanks for all the blessings in our lives. How often we take for granted the things that are most important to us. We only cry when we have lost them. In rendering thanks to God for His kindness, we become better people.

6-    If we need a benchmark, a measure of how we are progressing as Muslims, we need only to look at the way we treat other people. Are we courteous and kind to those we meet? Do we greet others with the best of manners?

7-    Finally, even though there is an immense gap between our desire and the reality, we might ask ourselves how much we are like Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Sure, we can pray five times a day, but how alike are we to the best of men ever to have lived. If we strive to be like him, we can only become better. We might never reach our goal, but at least we will make progress day by day.

Allah tells us:

{And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.}  (29:69)

Our journey in seeking goodness will not only make us better people, better Muslims, but will guide us to heaven itself.

By Idris Tawfiq