Al-‘Ihsaan – Good Citizenship
A topic we have addressed in the past is one that touches every one of us, and that is the construct of ‘ihsaan, seeking excellence, as defined to us by our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in the following Hadeeth related by Abu Ya’la Shaddad bin Aws:
“Verily Allah has prescribed ‘ihsaan (perfection) in all things. Thus if you kill, kill well, and if you slaughter, slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters” (Muslim).According to Islam, the Hadeeth appears to contain a simple instruction about the etiquette of slaughtering for the beginning learner. However, scholars categorize this Hadeeth as part of those touching upon Islamic aspects such as the Hadeeth on actions judged by intentions. This particular Hadeeth addresses all the doors of Islamic knowledge and practice.
So what is it that the Prophet ﷺ is informing us in these few lines? First, Allah ﷻ both farada and qadara made obligatory and predetermined, ‘ihsaan in all matters. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ explains the obligation in the lines that follow, illustrating how a Muslim is obligated to slaughter minimizing the pain of the animal.
This literal depiction demonstrates the many meanings in the word ‘ihsaan, which incorporates perfection, mercy, compassion, promoting good, and avoiding harm. Allah predestined that ‘ihsaan exists in everything, and He obligated us to emulate His attribute of ‘ihsan in all of our actions.
Muslims mistakenly presume that ‘ihsaan refers only to worship matters such as perfecting salat, siyam, zakat, and Hajj. But the Hadeeth mentioned above dispels this assumption by clarifying that ‘ihsaan must be adopted in every action Muslims take on even when it comes to slaughtering an animal or cutting a tree. Imam Ahmad narrates that we were obligated to hide the blade from an animal we planned to slaughter to prevent it from panicking. Islam obligates Muslims to be merciful and compassionate to the feelings of an animal that will be slaughtered. Allahu Akbar! How beautiful is our religion! Islamically, even killing harmful animals such as snakes or rodents must also be done mercifully, just as a woman entered hellfire as Prophet Muhammad ﷺ informed us, for torturing a cat.
Therefore, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ reminds us to practice ‘ihsaan in the biggest and smallest of matters. This is because ‘ihsaan is a foundational element of our Islam. This ties into the belief that as Muslims, living in this country, practicing ‘ihsaan means being a good citizen and abiding by the laws of the land. This includes being honest, compassionate, respectful, and responsible.
The laws of this country do not ask us to go against Islam’s teachings, and the majority of its rules go hand-in-hand with Islam. Unfortunately, it is often the case that when Muslims are not obeying laws, they are, in reality, not being good Muslims. A good Muslim is a good citizen, and Islam does not ask us to break the law.
As Muslims, we should strive to be honest in all our affairs, including legal transactions and public duties. A Muslim should be recognizable as a muhsin when he or she is a professional, a neighbor, a college student, a visitor at the library, a customer in the store, a driver on the street, an attendee of a celebration at a hall, etc. A Muslim should not be recognized by their lack of ‘ihsaan. For example, sometimes Muslims are labeled as those who bend the rules or are irresponsible and careless.
Practicing good citizenship is especially important considering the challenges of Islamophobia we face as an American Muslim community. Therefore, brothers and sisters, I remind you and remind myself to practice ‘ihsaan in all of our matters and affairs no matter how insignificant the matter might seem.
Allah ﷻ states, “Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and ‘ihsaan and giving help to relatives, and He forbids immoral sins, evil and tyranny. He admonishes you, so that perhaps you may take heed” (Quran 16:90).
By Sh. Jamal Said