Friday, June 13, 2014

Ehsan

The below definition is taken from Wikipedia (which I know is not always accurate, but in this case I can say I read through it and can agree it is).

Ihsan (Arabicإحسان‎), also spelled ehsan, is an Arabic term meaning "perfection" or "excellence" (Ara. husn). It is a matter of taking one's inner faith (iman) and showing it in both deed and action, a sense of social responsibility borne from religious convictions.[1] In Islam, ihsan is the Muslim responsibility to obtain perfection, or excellence, in worship, such that Muslims try to worship God (Arabic Allah) as if they see Him, and although they cannot see Him (due to the belief that Allah is not made of matter), they undoubtedly believe that He is constantly watching over them. That definition comes from the Hadith of Gabriel in which Muhammad states, "[Ihsan is] to worship God as though you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, then indeed He sees you". (Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim).[2]

At a recent gathering I attended this word was mentioned and it really stuck with me. Something along the lines of 'God wants us to constantly strive to be perfect. All of his creation is perfect. Man he created perfect also, but we err and make mistakes so we must continuously work to return back to perfection. That's what He wants from us.' I really love this ideology. Probably because I'm a major perfectionist myself. But it just makes sense! As parents, don't we want our kids to be perfect? We know and accept that they won't always be. In fact we are well aware they will make mistakes and we will love them regardless. Their mistakes will never change the immensity of our love, no matter how badly your child wrongs you if he sincerely turns to you and asks for forgiveness you know you will grant it. So while we know they will inevitably do wrong, don't we strongly believe they're capable of doing better and wish to see them doing that? No parent thinks their child is just mediocre or tells them to be average. Yes, we do say its okay if you don't always succeed, but try try again right? We push them to work past tasks that they struggle with because more than themselves we have faith that they can do it.

Now, anything can be taken in a negative light, even perfection. If you become too harsh with enforcing perfection it can be overbearing. But I find that encouragement is key. This week I enrolled Ali into a summer camp program which has a heavy focus on literacy. He's only 3.5 and the rest of the children in his class are already 4 or older plus many have been attending the school all year long while Ali was home so I knew they had an edge over him. It's cute seeing my shorty among all the other kids, he may be small but he's got a ton of personality. I was aware he might struggle in some areas but in others he would be fine (verbal skills, this kid can talk your ear off!) but if I didn't push him towards excelling higher then we would never know what he's capable of. Week One was a great success. Not only did he cry because he didn't want to leave school (please let this continue forever), he's already recognizing sight words 'see' and 'the' and letter tracing has also been less of a struggle. I'm so proud of you Ali, I know you aren't perfect. Some people may tell me I'm biased as your mama but to me you always will be. This week, like always, to see that when I push you to achieve higher you always surpass my expectations fills my heart with so much joy that words cannot describe!

Ali, as you grow older you will realize quickly that your Ammi will constantly push you to be better, to be excellent. I will not stop telling you to think about your actions and words before you execute them. I will repetitively remind you to think of others, to share your things (toys and time being just a few of them) selflessly and to reflect on where you did something wrong and how it can be done better. I will appreciate you and cheer you on when you do succeed. I will also hug and console you when you don't. But I will not stop encouraging you to do everything you do with Ehsan. Be it reading and writing today, but over time you'll see you will want to do it in every aspect of your life.

We speak a lot about good vs bad in our house, you are well aware of Prophet Muhammad and often ask about how he dealt with people who were not nice. How he used prayers, 'talking to Allah' to be a good boy and to win over the bad guys. In life, there are lots of 'bad guys', I hope I can arm you with the right tools to overcome them. One aspect I want you to focus on is prayer. Perform your prayer with Ehsan. This is something that perpetually throughout life you will have to work towards, everyone struggles with it. Everyone has some basic staple prayers we say as we rush to complete our daily 5 prayers among the other million tasks we have to do in the day. 'Please keep my family safe and healthy. Forgive us for our mistakes and help guide us on the right path away from harm and evil." Sometimes we say them so mechanically we lose the essence of what we're saying. Try, try and try again to not let your prayers become mechanical, focus on each word you are saying and truly mean it. I realize now as an adult, God is well aware that we will lose the essence when we're doing this 5 times a day, we may even stop doing the obligatory five times because we let life's demands (or laziness) get in the way. He will love us and be merciful regardless of it. But it's our job to keep striving for Ehsan, nothing will bring Him more joy than to see that.

**Alert: this may get long**
Before I end, I want to take something off my chest that really irks me. I hope one day Ali, that it irks you too. Because if it does that means I did something right in my life. There is this word 'bidah' I kind of like hate it and I know I encourage you not to hate anything but in this case it gets really hard. Bidah means innovation/change, and there's this whole group who says you shouldn't do anything that may be a change from what the Prophet did himself. (there's good change and bad change, but for fear of deviating from the right path people want to avoid bidah overall. Yeah its complicated and there's a lot more to it, but that's it in a nutshell) While I understand their fear of our posterity veering off away from the fundamentals of our religion if we add in all these supplementals I feel they're driving a lot of us crazy with all their 'bidah police-ing'. And in fact, this 'bidah' calling has stopped a lot of people from going further in their devotion, it's like no one wants to get extra credit anymore.

For instance, today is the 15th of Shaban (Islamic month, also called 'Shab e Baraat') and my family for as long as I can remember has a tradition where we stay up late and do supplementary prayers on this night. We ask for forgiveness for our year of sins and for guidance for the year to come. My mom would make special food and after dinner we performed our individual prayers or read Quran but we sat together as a family in one room. It's a wonderful experience and there are only a handful of nights in the entire year where we did this. Our parents let us know that this was a supplemental special night and while it was not a requirement if we did this it would make Allah happy to see us doing more than what is required of us. Now I just can't for the life of me see why this 'innovation' is wrong! Why would God ever not want us to go above and beyond the basic requirements? What is so wrong with supplemental; in school doing extra credit assignments was always a good thing! I'm not going to argue whether the Prophet did or didn't do it or if there is evidence in the Quran regarding it. I'm just asking you to use logic to think about it deeper, instead of letting fear misconstrue your thoughts on it.

Ali, I will not be around forever and I know after I'm gone you will forget many things I've taught you or stop doing them the way I did. I will always tell you to look in your heart and ask yourself if what you are doing is something that would please Allah. Whether it's honoring Prophet Muhammad's birthday or certain days of the year like 15th Shaban and 10th of Ashura by staying up all night to do extra prayers or cooking up a special meal that day or holding a Quran khani (event where sections of Quran are read in a group setting often done at funerals or auspicious occasions). Yes, this is all supplemental, not required and I will always encourage you to perfect obligatory practices before you focus on the extra credit, but my point is that I don't want you to discount the extra as not being worth attempting at all. I hope I have taught you well enough so you are capable to know better. In fact, if I had to choose I would rather you do this than anything else this world is full of that keeps you away from praying. Prayer is just a form to remember Allah, to truly love Him as He should be. So perfect your prayers, do them with ehsan and soon you will find that your heart will seek all ways to stay in constant remembrance of Him.

(Yes, that last bit is the Rumi loving, Sufi soul side of your mama!)
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