The Prophet salAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallaam explained ihsān as being:
“That you worship Allāh as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, He sees you.” (1)
Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, may Allāh have mercy upon him, said as a part of his commentary to the above Prophetic words:
It indicates that the servant (‘abd) should worship Allāh in this manner; namely, evoking the feeling of His nearness and of His being with him as though he sees Him. This in turn necessitates reverence, fear, awe and glorification [of Allāh]; as occurs in the narration of Abu Hurayrah: “That you revere Allāh as if you see Him.” It also necessitates sincerity in worship, as well as exerting all one’s efforts in improving, completing and perfecting it. (2)
Ibn Rajab further said: “It has been said that it [the second part of the sentence] is the cause for the first part. This is because when the servant is ordered to have vigilance (murāqabah) of Allāh whilst worshipping Him and to feel His closeness, to the point that it is as if he was seeing Him, then this may be difficult. So he seeks aid to attain this through his faith that Allāh sees him, is fully aware of his secret and public [acts], his inner and outer [states], and that nothing of his affairs is ever hidden from Him. When he actualizes this station (maqām), it becomes easier for him to move to the second station, which is where there is a continual realization, upon spiritual perception (basīrah), of Allāh’s closeness to His servant and of His being with him; to the extent that it is as if he actually sees Him.
It has further been said: Rather, it refers to the fact that whosoever finds it difficult to worship Allāh as if seeing Him, then he should worship Allāh upon the realization that Allāh sees him and is fully aware of what he is doing. So let him feel shy of Allāh due to the Divine gaze over him; as one of the gnostics (‘ārifūn) said: Fear Allāh, lest He becomes [to you] the most despised of those watching you.’ Another said” ‘Fear Allāh in proportion to His power over you, and feel shy of Allāh in proportion to His closeness to you.’ A female gnostic from the Predecessors (salaf) said: ‘Whoever acts for Allāh, due to witnessing Allāh (mushāhadah), is a gnostic (‘ārif); whoever acts for Allāh, due to knowing that Allāh sees him, is sincere (mukhlis).’ So this indicates the two stations that were previously mentioned:
The First: the station of sincerity (ikhlās), which is where the servant acts whilst bringing to mind that Allāh observes him, that Allāh is fully conversant with whatever he is doing, and that Allāh is close to him. So when the servant brings this to mind in his actions – this being the root of his actions – then he is sincere to Allāh. This is because evoking this feeling during his actions prevents him from turning to other than Allāh, or from desiring other than Him in his actions.
The Second: the station of mushāhadah. This is where the servant acts whilst witnessing Allāh with his heart; which is when the heart is so illuminated by faith, and the spiritual perception is so heightened, it is as if the unseen is beheld with one’s eyes. (3)
Whenever a person draws closer to Allāh, Exalted is He, by [performing] the obligatory deeds, then the optional ones, Allāh draws him closer to Himself and raises him from the degree of faith to that of ihsān. Here he begins to worship Allāh, witnessing His presence and having vigilance, as if he sees Him. His heart fills with gnosis of Allāh, and with love, reverence, fear, grandeur, awe, intimacy and yearning of Him – to the extent that the heart is so filled with gnosis of Him, that it sees Him with the eye of spiritual perception. (4)
(1) Recorded by al-Bukhāri(no.5) and Muslim (no.9)
(2) Jami’ al-Ulūm wa’l-Hikam (1/126)
(3) Jami’ al-Ulūm wa’l-Hikam (1/128-129)
(4) Jami’ al-Ulūm wa’l-Hikam (2/345-346)
- Source: Jami’ al-Ulūm wa’l-Hikam | Ibn Rajab
- Transcribed from: Translator’s Introduction to ‘The Exquisite Peal – The Journey to Allāh & The Home of the Hereafter’ | Shaykh ‘Abd Al-Rahmān Al-Sa’di