A topic we have addressed in our past few khutbas is one that touches each and every one of us and that is the construct of ‘ihsaan, seeking excellence, as defined to us by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (S) in the following Hadeeth related by Abu Ya’la Shaddad bin Aws (R),
“Verily Allah has prescribed ‘ihsaan (perfection) in all things. Thus if you kill, kill well; and if you slaughter, slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.” [Muslim]
For the beginning learner the Hadeeth appears to contain a simple instruction about the etiquette of slaughtering according to Islam. However, scholars categorize this Hadeeth as being among the Ahadeeth that touch upon all Islamic aspects such as the Hadeeth on actions being judged by intentions. In fact, this particular Hadeeth addresses all the doors of Islamic knowledge and practice.
So what is it that the Prophet (S) is informing us in these few lines? First, that Allah (SWT) both farada and qadara, both made obligatory and predetermined ‘ihsaan in all matters. Prophet Muhammad (S) explains the obligation in the lines that follow illustrating the manner in which a Muslim is obligated to slaughter minimizing the pain of the animal.
This very literal depiction demonstrates the many meanings contained in the word ‘ihsaan which incorporates perfection, mercy, compassion, promoting good, and avoiding harm. Allah predestined that ‘ihsaan exists in everything and He obligated us to emulate His attribute of ‘ihsaan in all of our actions.
Muslims mistakenly presume that ‘ihsaan refers only to matters of worship such as perfecting salat, siyam, zakat, and Hajj. But the aforementioned Hadeeth dispels this assumption by clarifying that ‘ihsaan must be adopted in every action the Muslim takes on even when it comes to slaughtering an animal or cutting a tree. Imam Ahmad narrates that we were obligated to hide the blade from the animal we planned to slaughter in order to prevent it from panicking. Islam obligates the Muslim to be merciful and compassionate to the feelings of an animal that will be killed in a few moments. Allahu Akbar! How beautiful is our religion! Islamically, even killing harmful animals such as snakes or rodents must also be done in a merciful way just as a woman entered hellfire as Prophet Muhammad (S) informed us for torturing a cat.
Therefore, Prophet Muhammad (S) reminds us to practice ‘ihsaan in biggest and smallest of matters. This is because ‘ihsaan is a foundational element of our Islam. This ties into the belief that as Muslims living in this country, practicing ‘ihsaan means being a good citizen and abiding by the laws of the land. This includes being honest, compassionate, respectful, and responsible.
The laws of this country do not ask us to go against the teachings of Islam and the majority of its laws go hand-in-hand with Islam. Unfortunately, it is often the case that when Muslims are not obeying laws they are in reality not being good Muslims. A good Muslim is a good citizen and Islam does not ask us to break the law.
As Muslims we should strive to be honest in all our affairs including legal transactions and public duties. A Muslim should be recognizable as a muhsin when he or she is a professional, a neighbor, a college student, a visitor at the library, a customer in the store, a driver on the street, an attendee of a celebration at a hall, etc. etc. A Muslim should not be recognized by their lack of ‘ihsaan, for example, sometimes Muslims are labeled as those who bend the rules or are irresponsible and careless.
Practicing good citizenship is especially important considering the challenges of Islamophobia we face as an American Muslim community. Therefore, brothers and sisters, I remind you and remind myself to practice ‘ihsaan in all of our matters and affairs no matter how insignificant the matter might seem as Prophet Muhammad (S) admonishes us.
Allah (SWT) states, “Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and ‘ihsaan and giving help to relatives, and He forbids immoral sins, evil and tyranny. He admonishes you, so that perhaps you may take heed.” [An-Nahl:90]