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The inner dimension of Islam

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Islam places much emphasis on expressing love of God through kind treatment towards others, most importantly family relations. Below are several examples that demonstrate the importance and sanctity of family relations in Islam.

Ihsaan can be called the inwardness of Islam. Islam consists of certain beliefs and the outward expression of these beliefs in forms of worship, such as prayer and fasting, all of which concern man’s relationship with God; and secondly, a system of morality, which concerns man’s relationship with man, and has its outward expression in certain social institutions and laws. But the basis of this faith, the spirit that gives it life, is man’s relationship with God. Forms of worship are the physical vehicles of this relationship. This relationship is the origin, and the ultimate sanction of the principles of morality and their formulation into a specific social and legal system.

If the interior awareness of the Supreme Being and inspiration from Him are present, then they are comparable to the soul within the body of the exterior religion; if they die, or in proportion to the extent that they wither, the outward form of the faith becomes like a soulless body, which quickly succumbs to corruption. It is therefore man’s direct relationship with his Maker which is the breath and life of religion, and it is the study and cultivation of this relationship that the word Ihsaan connotes.

The outward formulations of Islam are enlivened by the spiritual and moral force behind them, they are therefore the manifestations of this force. At the same time, they are the means of attaining these spiritual and moral qualities; this can be said to constitute their main purpose. Thus, these two aspects of Islam are mutually generative, each one producing the other.

It can be seen from the Qur’an that wherever something concerning man’s outward actions is decreed, its inward content and purpose is also stressed.

Take Prayer for instance; Allah says,

“Observe Prayer for My remembrance”
Quran (20:14)
“The believers have attained success; who are humble in their prayers,”
Quran (32:1)

emphasising that the object of Prayer is not the mere outward performance, but to remember Him with a humble heart. In the case of fasting, Allah says,

“Fasting has been decreed for you, as it was decreed for those who came before you, that you may be God-fearing.”
Quran (2:183)

Regarding sacrifice on the occasion of Pilgrimage, He says:

“It is not their blood or their flesh which reaches Him, but the devotion from you.”
Quran (22:37)

On the subject of marriage,

“It is one of His signs that He has made for you mates of your own kind that you may find peace in them, and He has created affection and kindness between you.”
Quran (30:24)

On spending for the poor,

“They (the righteous) give food to the needy, the orphan and the prisoner, for the love of Him; they say, ‘We feed for the sake of Allah only and desire no reward or thanks from you.’”
Quran (76:8-9)

These, and other similar indications in the Qur’an, lead to the conclusion that if it is necessary to observe the outward practices of our faith, it is equally necessary to develop within ourselves those qualities which are their soul; that these two are complementary and one cannot exist in a sound state without the other.

That it is man’s inner relationship with Allah which gives meaning and value to his outward expression of belief and the performance of his religious duties is asserted most pointedly in one of the most famous sayings of the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him).

The following incident is reported by Omar Ibn Al-Khattab:

“We were sitting with the Messenger of Allah one day when a man appeared with very white clothes and very black hair, with no signs of travel upon him. None of us recognised him. He came and sat before the Prophet (peace be upon him) with his knees touching his knees, and his hands placed on his thighs. He then said, “O Muhammad, tell me, what is Islam?” The Prophet replied, “Islam is that you testify that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and that you establish prayer, and Zakat, fast the month of Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the House of Allah if you are able.” The man said, “You are right,” and we wondered that he both asked and confirmed the answer. Then he said, “What is Iman?” The Prophet replied, “Iman is that you believe in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers and the Last Day, and that you believe in the predestination of good and evil.” The man said, “You are right. Now tell me what is Ihsan (good performance)?” The Prophet replied, “That you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him and if you do not see Him, He surely sees you.’’

Then after asking about the Last Day, the man left, and the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him) informed his companions that this was the Angel Gabriel who came to teach them their religion.”

Here the word Ihsan, which means to perform something in the best manner, is explained as ‘the worship of Allah as if you are seeing Him, and if you do not see Him, He surely sees you.’ This means that the consciousness of the presence of Allah, and the feeling of love and awe which accompany it, must permeate both our faith and practice (Iman and Islam) and it is in proportion to this consciousness that our excellence in religion can be judged. Clearly this sense of presence is not to be confined only to worship, but to all our actions. It is precisely this awareness of the nearness and presence of Allah that the seekers of Ihsan have as their ultimate goal in all their activities.


From the Qur’an and the teachings of the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him) we learn that the inner state of the aspirant of Ihsaan should be inspired by love, hope, fear, gratitude, patience, trust, self-sacrifice and complete devotion; and that God should be felt to be constantly near. This is the inwardness of belief. As for man’s attitude to his fellow men, Allah and his Prophet (peace be upon him) have taught us that this should be inspired by sympathy, justice, kindness, unselfishness, generosity, sternness on matters of principle, leniency wherever possible, and that we must avoid pride, jealousy, malice, greed, selfishness, miserliness and ill-nature.