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  • Raya Shokatfard


Updated: Jun 26, 2020

By: Raya Shokatfard

Islam consists of three main layers.

Unfortunately, many Muslims focus on, or adhere to, only one or two of these layers.

Some think that Islam consists in believing in God and his Prophet, five daily prayers, fasting the month of Ramadan, paying poor due, and Pilgrimage if one can afford it.

These are the five Pillars of Islam, without which there is no Islam. Yet this is only the first layer! The Pillars go hand in hand with the six Articles of Faith – or the second layer.

What many may not be conscious of is the third layer which is called Ihsan. It is through this layer that a believer would truly experience the essence of Islam.

This level cannot be achieved without the first two levels. Yet, when we neglect this layer, one may feel lost or disoriented about the true purpose of life and their relationship with Allah. In such state, the true essence of “love” also gets distorted.

So, What is Ihsan?

Here is a very interesting story from the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

Umar ibn al-Khattab said:

“One day when we were with God’s messenger, a man with very white clothing and very black hair came up to us. No mark of travel was visible on him, and none of us recognized him. Sitting down before the Prophet, leaning his knees against his, and placing his hands on his thighs, he said, “Tell me, Muhammad, about submission.”

He replied, ‘Submission means that you should bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is God’s messenger, that you should perform the ritual prayer, pay the alms tax, fast during Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the House if you are able to go there.”

The man said, “You have spoken the truth.” We were surprised at his questioning him and then declaring that he had spoken the truth. He said “Now tell me about faith.” He replied,

“Faith means that you have faith in God, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last

Day, and that you have faith in the measuring out, both its good and its evil.”

Remarking that he had spoken the truth, he then said, “Now tell me about doing what is Ihsan.” He replied, “Ihsan means that you should worship God as if you see Him, for even if you do not see Him, He sees you.” Then the man said, “Tell me about the Hour” The Prophet replied, “About that he who is questioned knows no more than the questioner.”

The man said, “Then tell me about its marks.” He said, “The slave girl will give birth to her mistress, and you will see the barefoot, the naked, the destitute, and the shepherds vying with each other in building.” Then the man went away. After I had waited for a long time, the

Prophet said to me:

“Do you know who the questioner was, ‘Umar?”

I replied, “God and His messenger know best.”

He said, “He was Gabriel. He came to teach you your religion.” (Al-Bukhari, 300)

From this narration, many scholars have concluded that Ihsan is the inner most spiritual part of Islam.

We find in Prophetic narrations and the Quran to often refer to those embodying these three stages as Muslim, Mu’min and Muhsin.

Love is Islam’s Inner Dimension

Love in a worldly sense is the product of the mind. Yet love in a spiritual sense is the product of the soul.

Is it possible for anyone to achieve true love for others and the self before loving the Creator first?

You may say yes, and go on to say that even atheists can feel a deep love for others and even themselves.

That is true, but worldly love is at the mercy of a person’s emotions, state of mind and circumstances. But when one loves the Creator above all else, and reaches the level of Ihsan, all other surface love melt into this eternal love which is manifestation of Divine presence in the soul of the believer.

Love in a worldly sense is the product of the mind. Yet love in a spiritual sense is the product of the soul.

Here comes the role of religion which fills a purpose beyond its apparent form, with creeds, rituals and physical acts. But one with a deep inner wisdom will see religion as a house with inner dimension which is its soul.

Love – Western Style

Searching for Western interpretation of “love,” I came across a few interesting quotes:

“Love knows no reason, no boundaries, no distance. It has a sole intention of bringing people together to a time called forever.”

“When you have a good heart: You help too much. You trust too much. You give too much. You love too much. And it always seems you hurt the most.”

“Love is true when nothing needs to be said, and when nothing needs to be done.”

“True love is like a ghost, always talked about but rarely seen.”

“True love knows no boundaries even though it crosses many.”

Love – Islamic Style

The state of Ihsan is a state of immense awareness of the divine presence of Allah

In Islam, true love has to penetrate the soul. The only way to get there is through reaching the inner dimension of Islam. It is in this state that a deep manifestation of love radiates from the entire being by which all others are blessed. This was the state of the Prophets and those near to God.

Can we achieve such state?

The answer is a definite yes, but with some deeper reflections and practices.

Body without a soul is dead. Yet, a soul without deep love and awareness of the Creator serves only as a conduit between this world and the next for its owner but without purpose.

So, a believer strives for the state of Ihsan.

The state of Ihsan is a state of immense awareness of the divine presence of Allah Almighty.

It is the state of consciousness. It’s an awakened state and this is the actual goal of Islam.

But one cannot attain this without knowledge and adherence to the first two states. The best time to practice reaching this state is during the daily prayers as well as during dhikr (remembrance of Allah).

With time, practice and steadfastness, we move from the state of being a Muslim (accepting and practicing Islam), to a Mu’min (a believer) and lastly to a Muhsin (the ever aware of Allah’s presence).

The Prophet Muhammad said that there’s a piece of flesh within the body. If it’s good, the entire system will be good, and that is the heart.

We can thus see that the heart, which most people consider to be the abode of love and compassion, is the seat of the religion of Islam. Purification of the heart is very closely related to purification of the soul. The heart we are speaking of here is the spiritual heart which is closely connected to the spiritual soul.

The spiritual heart and soul are nourished through the remembrance of Allah.

{Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.} (13:28)

what makes us special is our sincerity in pursuit of truth, love for others and…

We strive to reach this deeper stage first with the body, then mind and ultimately with the heart/soul. This is really the essence of Islam. The mind is transcended from a lower base to a much higher state of being where it is in harmony with the soul. This is the transcended mind.

It is important we realize that labeling ourselves as Muslims and followers of Muhammad, merely gives us an outer identity. Yet what makes us special is our sincerity in pursuit of truth, love for others and eagerness to be bearer of Divine love and light.

A Re-Awakening Story

A Muslim sister once told me that before she embraced Islam, she looked for an identity and a safe community to belong to. She liked what she saw with the Muslim community. “I got what I wanted,” she said.

Soon she realized that she needed deeper experience of Islam over and above her new identity. Allah guided her to all three dimensions of Islam due to her zest to go beyond the surface of Islam. She went for the depth of Islam. “I wished to go beyond form,” she said.

Today, she is a great manifestation of love, light and guidance for those around her. She has gained knowledge of Islam while she reached out to the more spiritual inner core.

“I feel like a winner. I looked for knowledge and practice that pointed toward Allah and I got immersed with love in return!”


Published on:  Monday, 26 January 2015

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