Islamic Sciences and Centrality of Spirituo-Ethics - Joseph E. B. Lumbard

The Ihsani Tradition

“As is evident from Sarraj, the Sufis saw themselves as that group among the scholars who were especially devoted to the science of doing beautiful or doing good (ihsan). To understand the central thrust of the Sufi movement, we must therefore examine the Qur'anic roots of ihsan. The verb "to make beautiful" (ahsana) and its derivatives occur over fifty times in the text and it is often found in the hadith. According to these sources, the first to make beautiful is God Himself, "Who made beautiful everything which He created" (32:6). It is God who "formed you, made your forms beautiful, and provided you with pleasant things" (40:64). "He created the heavens and the earth through truth, formed you and made your forms beautiful, and to Him is the homecoming" (64:3). God is thus the first to make beautiful (muhsin), and to do beautiful is to imitate the Creator as best a human can. This is fundamentally important for understanding the place of ihsan, for while Islam and iman are important Quranic concepts, neither pertains to nor can pertain directly to God. God cannot submit, He can only be submitted to, and God does not believe or have faith, He knows. Ihsan is thus the dimension of the religion wherein one draws closest to God by being as God-like as one can be: "Do what is beautiful as God has done what is beautiful to you" (28:77). In this vein, the Prophet Muhammad would pray, "Oh God, You have made beautiful my creation (khalq), make beautiful my character (khuluq)."46 From this perspective, doing beautiful is not only a way of performing specific actions, it is a way of being. Only when God has beautified one's character is the human servant then able to do beautiful, for only the like comes from the like. This in turn leads to the continued beautification of one's self”.

To read further, 2) Chapter 2: The Decline of Knowledge and the Rise of Ideology in the Muslim World, pps. 53-54

This post is part of our series of lecture reading excerpts from Sanad Foundation's 2018 course 'Islamic Scholarly Tradition' taught by Sidi Mohamed Acharki in Melbourne.