[Hadeeth Commentary] Prescription of Ihsan (Excellence)

Adapted for Hiba Magazine by Tasneem Vali

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On the authority of Abu Yala Shaddad bin Aws (ra), the Messenger of Allah (sa) said:

“Verily Allah (swt) has prescribed Ihsan (proficiency and perfection) in all things. So, if you kill, then kill well; if you slaughter, then slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.” (Muslim)

Ihsan is an Arabic word and is a derivative of Ahsana, which means, ‘doing things better’. The literal meaning of Ihsan is achieving the best. Ihsan is normally translated as excellence but because it has a broader concept, it cannot be translated into English accurately. There is no word in the English language that portrays its meaning fully. Ihsan has four aspects.

As with any Islamic injunction, this Hadeeth contains a principle and provides an example in compliance with that principle. The Prophet (sa) used this method extensively to train Muslims to use logic and apply one principle to other similar situations. Due to our commitments, we understand the example, but fail to implement the principle. Sometimes, we do not give a 100% to the tasks we perform for Allah (swt). Ihsan means that we must not be satisfied unless we do something to the best of our ability. We should be motivated by the sole reason that Allah (swt) has prescribed this for us. The Hadeeth mentioned above can be applied in any situation. It may help reform the society if practiced correctly. Whoever tries to be proficient (practice Ihsan), can do so in two situations:

  • To benefit others.
  • To complete and refine worship.

Ibadah or worship includes the prescribed acts of worship, as well as the routine habits. Everyday actions and mundane chores can become worship if performed with the correct intention. Hence, they must be completed to perfection. A believer must practice Ihsan in everything. The best people are those whose actions and dealings are the best. For example the companions of the Prophet (sa).

“If you do good, you do good for your own selves, and if you do evil (you do it) against yourselves.” (Al-Isra 17:7)

The golden rule of behaviour as told by the Messenger of Allah (sa) is: “Whoever wishes to be delivered from the fire and enter the garden should die with faith in Allah (swt) and the Last Day. And should treat the people as he wishes to be treated by them.” (Bukhari)

What are some of the things we should aim for perfection in?

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The principles of Ihsan should be our lodestone, the test we do to determine the amount of effort we exert to live up according to its suggestions. Our appearance, the way we eat or sleep, the way we conduct our professional lives, our Dawah – Ihsan should be observed in all these actions, which are Ibadah. Some other principles to implement in life are:

  • To respect the scholars and not to compare them with each other;
  • To obey your rulers. Follow the rules that they have set as long as they do not contradict the rules of Allah (swt);
  • To be kind to animals, and not to torture them. Feed them regularly and not to abuse them by overloading them etc.

Even in killing, Muslims must apply Ihsan. Rules of combat/war are:

  • Not to kill old people, children, women, and those who are not fighting.
  • When killing the aggressive enemy/criminal, Ihsan must be applied and observed. They must be killed without torture. We should not cause any harm or suffering to anyone we kill.
  • Captives should be treated with Ihsan as well.
  • Harmful animals such as snakes, scorpions etc. must be killed quickly, no torture is permitted. Animals must be slaughtered with a sharp knife, causing minimum pain. Their necks must be cut with a single, clean stroke and must not be slaughtered in view of other animals.

Thus, if you think logically, using weapons of mass destruction contradicts the concept of Ihsan.

Living in accordance with the concept of Ihsan and applying it to all that you do, entitles you to acquire Allah’s (swt) Mercy and Forgiveness. Insha’Allah you will be amongst the Muhsineen.

Reward for the Muhsineen- in the light of Quran

“Truly, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (the good-doers).” (Al-Baqarah 2:195)

“And verily Allah is with the good doers.” (Al- Ankabut 29:69)

“For those who have done good is the best (reward, i.e. Paradise) and even more (i.e. having the honour of glancing at the Countenance of Allah (swt).” ( Yunus 10:26)

“Is there any reward for good other than good?” (Ar-Rahman 55:60)

The Art of Paper-Making

Jan 11 - The Art of paper-making

By Saulat Pervez

Muslims transformed the Chinese art of papermaking into a major industry as early as the eighth century!

Muslims learned the secret of papermaking from Chinese prisoners captured during the battle of Talas in 751 A.D. Before long, paper began to be manufactured in Samarkand, the very first Muslim hub of papermaking. By 793 A.D., there were many paper mills in Baghdad; as with all other major developments in the Muslim world, paper production soon spread to Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily and Spain. From a Chinese art, paper was thus transformed into a major industry by the Muslims.

This was a revolutionary development, because the existing alternatives to paper were papyrus, which was fragile, and parchment, which was expensive; paper, on the other hand, was relatively cheap because it was made out of cotton – and Muslims made its manufacturing more efficient through the use of water-powered mills. This mass availability of paper enabled Muslims to commit vast amounts of translations and original research to paper; as a result, libraries and bookstores thrived and became a common sight in Baghdad and other Muslim cities.

For example, by the thirteenth century, Baghdad had thirty-six libraries and a 100 book dealers, some of whom were also publishers. The concept of a library catalog dates back to this period – books in these libraries were organized under specific genres and categories. Besides these, many nobles and merchants had private collections of books.

“We hear of a private library in Baghdad, as early as the ninth century, which required a hundred and twenty camels to move it from one place to another. Another scholar of Baghdad refused to accept a position elsewhere, because it would take four hundred camels to transport his books; the catalogue of this private library filled ten volumes. This is the more astonishing, when it is realized that the library of the king of France in 1300 had only about four hundred titles,” writes Frederick Artz in his book “The Mind of the Middle Ages”.

Furthermore, James Burke notes of Cordoba in Muslim Spain: “Paper, a material still unknown to the west, was everywhere. There were bookshops and more than seventy libraries.”

In fact, this was the case because the very first paper mill in medieval Europe was established as late as 1268 A.D. in Italy and appeared in other major countries, such as Germany and France, centuries later.