The Three Levels of Religion: Islam, Iman, and Ihsan
The three levels of religion, with the highest level closely tied to human ethics and morality.
Islam: The Professed Faith
According to Muhammad Husain Mahasnah’s book, “Introduction to the Study of Islamic Civilization,” the lowest level of religion is Islam. Here, individuals openly profess themselves as Muslims. Simply uttering the two testimonies of faith publicly is enough to identify someone as a Muslim. However, it doesn’t necessarily signify genuine faith, as only the individual and Allah truly know the depths of one’s heart.
Iman: Faith Within the Heart
Beyond Islam, the next level is iman, which resides within one’s heart. As Prophet Muhammad stated, “Islam is apparent, while iman resides within the heart.” This distinction implies that professing Islam doesn’t automatically equate to having faith. Only Allah and the individual truly comprehend the sincerity of one’s beliefs.
Ihsan: The Pinnacle of Religion
The highest level of religion, as explained in the book “Tangisan Malammu Dapat Mengubah Takdir” by Muhammad Khatib, is ihsan. Those who embody ihsan are referred to as “muhsinin.” They are devout servants of Allah who lead righteous lives.
The Interplay of Islam, Iman, and Ihsan
Scholars emphasize that once ihsan is attained, it signifies that both iman and Islam have also been realized within an individual. It’s essential to understand that not all Muslims are true believers, and not every believer embodies ihsan. To underscore the significance of this, Allah mentions the righteous in Surah An-Nahl, verse 128, stating, “Indeed, Allah is with those who fear Him and those who are doers of good.”
The Essence of Ihsan
Ihsan is a unique level of noble character. It means continually bringing Allah into every aspect of one’s life, feeling perpetually observed by Allah, and striving to perform virtuous deeds to earn His favor.
This term originates from the Arabic word “ahsana,” which implies exceeding or excelling in goodness. The opposite of ihsan is “bakhil” or stinginess.
Ihsan in Action
Allah outlines acts of ihsan in Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 83, instructing kindness and good treatment towards parents, relatives, orphans, the poor, and speaking with kindness to people. It also involves performing prayers and giving alms. Yet, despite these directives, many often turn away.
The Divisions of Ihsan
Ihsan in human interactions is divided into two categories: wajib (obligatory) and sunnah (recommended). Wajib ihsan pertains to dutifulness toward parents and fair trading practices, while sunnah ihsan involves assisting others beyond one’s capacity.
When asked about ihsan, Prophet Muhammad provided a profound answer, stating, “You worship Allah as if you see Him, for though you do not see Him, He sees you.”
Divine Love and Blessings
As the highest level of religion, Allah undoubtedly favors those who embody ihsan. When Allah loves and favors someone, His mercy and blessings are bound to accompany them.
In summary, the three levels of religion—Islam, iman, and ihsan—encompass outward profession, inward faith, and the pinnacle of righteous character. While anyone can declare themselves a Muslim, true faith resides within the heart. Ihsan, the highest level, embodies the essence of goodness and devotion in every aspect of life, earning Allah’s favor and blessings.