Morning Reflections on Ihsaan (Excellence)

By Sakinah AlHabshi

A typical Monday morning. Crawling through traffic; I swear there were more vehicles on the road than usual. It’s like somehow 20% more people go to work on Monday compared to other days. Or does everyone just go out earlier as the motivation is still high this time of the week?
I can’t complain though. I’ve learned to appreciate the long drive to and from work. It’s “me” time. I usually have some lecture or the Qur’an playing on my phone – undisturbed for an hour or so – my personal “study time” as the rest of the day seems to be filled with God knows what else! When traffic is smooth, I get to enjoy the adrenaline rush of zipping through the highways; and when it’s slow, I inch along observing and reflecting on the daily sights around me.

Most evenings, it’s the sky that catches my eye – the shades of red, purple, orange all smeared together over a beautiful canvas of blue. Or the clouds – white cotton candy in puffs, sometimes streaked across the horizon. So alive! One day, some day, I will feel what it’s like to lie down on them. How is it that you can get bored walking by the same painting every day; yet when you look at the same sun, the same sky – it keeps striking you with awe over and over again?

 

 

“Do they not look at the sky above them? How We have made it and adorned it, and there are no flaws in it?”

[Surah Qaf, 50:6]

Some mornings, I notice the really old lady sitting at the bus stand. Her face weathered by the years; she wears the same blue uniform and a smile on her face, as she chats with her friend. I wonder what her story is. I hope her kids spend time with her. I hope she’s working because she wants to, and not because she has to. She just looks so frail.

I slow down at the school – cars and yellow mini-vans double-parked along the street as they drop kids off. There’s a grandfather – he holds the little girl’s hand and crosses the street with her, carrying her bag – she hugs him. I wonder what his story is. I like watching them. I pray my unborn children will someday get to hug their grandfather like that.

Then last week, there was a couple in the car behind me. Traffic was not moving for a while; maybe there was an accident up ahead. Or maybe it was just one of those days. They were arguing – I could see the tension on their faces from my rear view mirror. I tried not to look – it felt like I was prying into their lives, overstepping some private boundary. But I couldn’t help it. Through the mirror I could almost feel them screaming at each other – the anger, the hurt, and worst of all, the contempt. Then finally they were silent. No more words. She looked out the window – she didn’t care anymore, or pretended not to. He gripped the wheel, lips tense. And traffic started moving. I wonder what their story is. No actually, I don’t want to know. I will just pray for them. For peace.
Today, there was Mr. Sweeper. He had a red shirt on; a broom in his hands – sweep sweep sweep – as he walked along the pavement. He maneuvered his broom to the step between the curb and the road where there was a small drain-hole. I watched him struggle to sweep up the rubbish stuck in the drain-hole; plastic bags, cigarette packets, which senseless, careless individuals had chucked aside. Mr. Sweeper kept digging at it with his broom, still no luck. Then he used his foot. By this point I figured that most people would have given up. You couldn’t really see the rubbish anyway – it was wedged pretty deep in. No one would have called him out on it.

Traffic inched forward but I was too absorbed watching him that I didn’t notice. Now Mr. Sweeper was on his knees, using his bare hands. First his left, then his right hand. I could just about see the beads of sweat glistening on his forehead, trickling down to his beard. Success! It was out! The rubbish was swept up, the car behind me honked, and Mr. Sweeper walked on. I choked back my tears and shifted into first gear.

 

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When was the last time I did something I was entrusted with with such determination, such perseverance, such perfection, such ihsaan (excellence)? I couldn’t remember. We studied the concept of ihsaan and know that Allah s.w.t. had prescribed it even to the extent of treatment of animals. Abu Ya’la Shaddad ibn Aus r.a. reported that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Verily, Allah has enjoined ihsaan (excellence) with regard to everything. So, when you kill (an animal to be eaten), kill in a good way; when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way; so everyone of you should sharpen his knife, and let the slaughtered animal die comfortably.”  [Muslim]

We also learn it in part of the core hadith on the fundamentals of Islam, Iman and Ihsaan, narrated by Abu Hurairah r.a. (and there are other chains as well):
… Then he further asked, “What is Ihsan (perfection)?” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ replied, “To worship/serve Allah as if you see Him, and if you cannot achieve this state then you must know that He sees you.”… [Bukhari & Muslim]
Today, Mr. Sweeper defined my ihsaan.

And some day, when he stands in front of the Almighty on Judgment Day, I know with all my heart that every little scrap of rubbish in that drain-hole will be on his Right scale, and those rough wrinkled fingers will be on his Right scale, all testifying to his ihsaan. What will be on mine?

 

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