how to balance it all

Why, as Muslim professionals, We Can’t Settle for Anything Less than Excellence!

You see the billboard that stands out from all the other billboards on the highway? That billboard is being excellent at its job of inviting people to the shop.

You buy a product and as per the norm, are expecting what was promised. Instead, you get more value than you imagined. You are also taken care of every step of the way with sincerity. You gush at the excellence of the product and the exceptional customer service.

I read an article that invigorates me, shakes me to my core, and stays on my mind for weeks. I call that an excellent piece of writing.

True excellence can be practiced by anyone but not everyone. It is bold and spectacular enough that everyone can see and appreciate it, but deeply layered that only a few truly have an eye for it.

True excellence has an artisanal touch to it. It can only be produced through concealed channels of growth that are revealed to only but a few daring enough to explore.

Excellence has a name in Islam. It’s called Ihsan.

Ihsan is a prominent quality of Allah SWT and was diligently practiced by our beloved Prophet SAW in every aspect of his life.

So what is Ihsan in its true form and why is it such a desirable quality?

What Is Ihsan? The Many Faces Of Excellence

The word Ihsan has 4 meanings.

To understand Ihsan, let’s go over this all-famous hadith:

When angel Jibril (Gabriel) came to the Prophet Muhammad SAW and asked: “O Muhammad, tell me about Islam.” The Prophet said, “Islam is to testify there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to establish prayer, to give charity, to fast the month of Ramadan, and to perform pilgrimage to the House if a way is possible.” The man said, “You have spoken truthfully.” We were surprised that he asked him and said he was truthful. He said, Tell me about faith. The Prophet said, “Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, his Books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and to believe in providence, its good and its evil.” The man said, “You have spoken truthfully. Tell me about excellence.” The Prophet said, “Excellence is to worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, He surely sees you.”

Think of it like this – Islam, Imaan, and Ihsan illustrate the three levels of spiritual success of a believer, with Ihsan sitting at the peak of the pyramid.

Ihsan is an Arabic word (Arabic Husn) that has dual meanings; goodness working in tandem with excellence. It means doing more of the good deeds that Allah SWT loves and doing them beautifully in the way that Allah SWT loves.

Let’s dig a little deeper into both meanings:

The ‘Goodness’ part of the meaning would manifest in the form of a Muslim spending more time doing good deeds with the right intentions, i.e. for the sake of Allah SWT.

‘Excellence’ would manifest in the form of a Muslim doing everything in a near-perfect way to please Allah. The KEY words being ‘everything’ and ‘near-perfect’. Excellence is prescribed by Allah SWT for every action, not just the Spiritual acts of Ibadah.

“Verily Allah has prescribed ihsan (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]

It’s fascinating how the Prophet SAW encouraged us to be excellent in everything and explained the magnanimity of ‘Ihsan’ with the least expected example of slaughtering.

When we look around at the creation of Allah S.W.T- we see Perfection. Precision. Accuracy. Efficiency. Functionality. Beauty.

Allah SWT loves to praise Himself and calls His work perfect as evident in these ayahs:
“Whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is on the earth glorifies Allah. His is the dominion, and to Him belong all the praises and thanks, and He is Able to do all things.” (64:1)

“And you see the mountains, thinking them rigid, while they will pass as the passing of clouds. (Such is) the artistry of Allah, Who disposes of all things in perfect order. Indeed, He is Acquainted with that which you do.” (27:88).

If Allah loves that He does everything with perfection, it’s no surprise He SWT loves us to be beautiful in our work too.

The word ‘Ihsan’ takes even deeper meanings.

I found four sub-parts of the term ‘Ihsan’ as ‘Excellence’ in the tafsir:

  1. Completeness (finishing what you start)
  2. Tastefulness (doing things in a pleasant manner), 
  3. Correctness (doing things the right way).
  4. Sincerity (doing things with Ikhlas and right intentions)

Starting something and leaving it midway is not as ‘excellent’ as finishing it.

Simply finishing a task is not as excellent as doing it in a beautiful way.

Finishing a task in a beautiful but incorrect way is not truly awe-worthy.

Finishing a task in a beautiful, and correct way is truly exceptional and stands out in the sea of unfinished and mediocre quality tasks. 

But if the intention behind the perfectly executed task is flawed – driven by ego, and void of the Zhikr of Allah SWT – then, while the world may gush in praise, Allah SWT and the Angels won’t.

That’s what differentiates the works of God-fearing Muslims from the works of the secular. A non-Muslim striving for excellence in his work will only see a dim reward in Dunya and will have nothing for Akhirah. Truly his efforts will be wasted as Allah SWT tells us in this ayah:

Allah Says in the Holy Quran: “Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they thought that they were acquiring yuhseno (excellence) by their works?” [18:104]

“Whoever desires the harvest of the Hereafter – We increase for him in his harvest. And whoever desires the harvest of this world – We give him thereof, but there is not for him in the Hereafter any share.” [42: 20]

To sum it up – embodying Ihsan would mean you are spending more of your time doing good, doing everything important in an excellent way, and doing it to please Allah Swt!

Why We Can’t Settle For Anything Less Than Ihsan

One big reason behind why any Muslim would put an effort in anything is when Allah SWT loves it. And in the case of embodying Ihsan in everything you do, Allah SWT expresses His love for it in many Ayahs:

“Verily, Allah loves Al­Muhsinun (good­doers)” (05:13)

In another verse, Almighty Allah defines the Muhsin: “Yes, but whoever submits his face (himself) to Allah (i.e. follows Allah’s Religion of Islamic Monotheism) and he is a Muhsin (good-doer i.e. performs good deeds totally for Allah’s sake only without any show off or to gain praise or fame, etc., and in accordance with the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger Muhammad SAW) then his reward is with his Lord (Allah), on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (02:112)

“…And do good, for Allah certainly loves the good-doers the muhsineen – those who do their deeds with Ihsan or excellence.).” (02:195)

But for hard-working professionals, there are even more pressing reasons for practicing excellence across all spheres of life.

As professionals, we have grown up dedicating a big portion of our time, energy, and resources to succeed in our career and Dunya goals.

We have honed our skills to excel in our jobs.

We work overtime to deliver a work project before the deadline.

We sacrifice our health to clear exams and other milestones in our career.

How can we overuse our skills, talents, and energy for our career goals but underuse them for excelling in our Deen goals? We can’t. It’s dangerous to live that way gambling on our Akhirah.

Since we can’t (or don’t want) to leave our Dunya goals, we’re left with no other choice than to use our abilities and resources to excel in both Deen and Dunya goals.

Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum – we have the Muslims striving for excellence in spiritual acts of Ibadah but neglecting other areas of their life, or at the best – doing a very mediocre job in them. They don’t put an effort to do an excellent job in their work or personal goals. They don’t deem anything ‘dunya-related’ as worthy of extra effort and as a result – their relationships suffer, their character becomes unattractive to other people, or their health gets ignored.

We know and acknowledge that Dunya is a part of Deen. So excellence is not just to be reserved for the spiritual acts of Ibadah. Excellence should be weaved into a Muslim’s character so that everything he touches shines and stands out.

Now, if you’re thinking about how cumbersome it is to do all things in an excellent manner, you’re thinking about this all wrong, friend. There is nothing more fulfilling than tasting the rewards of hard work topped with excellence.

It’s not all work, work, work. You get to live life at peak energy levels. You feel a kind of fulfillment that others DREAM of and never even taste in their entire lifetime.

There are fewer people who will dare to brush their work with the paint of excellence than the ones who will choose to leave things midway or do them in a mediocre way.

For the few souls who choose to go beyond just ‘getting done with the task’ and put in that extra 10% of effort to do that important piece of work in an excellent way, Allah Swt reveals these secret passageways to another realm of wisdom and growth — meaning, you will explore things about yourself and your work that you could never explore otherwise.

That’s how the best get better.

That’s how you stand out from the crowd.

It takes hard work, a sharp focus, and a burning inner drive.

If it were easy, everyone would stand out from the crowd and there won’t be a crowd left to stand out from anymore.

Truth is – Competition for goodness is considered healthy in our Deen. Allah SWT encourages us to compete with each other in goodness by setting massive rewards – barakah, worldly achievements, success in Akhirah, and a deep sense of fulfillment – that tango with those who choose the path of excellence.

It is these rewards in Dunya and Akhirah that Allah SWT has placed at the top of the Iman, Islam, and Ihsan pyramid that drive Muslims out of their comfort zone. 

Allah Says in the Quran: “And Allah gave them a reward in this world and the excellent reward of the Hereafter. For Allah loves the muhsineen (the good-doers)” (3:148)

I truly believe that winning big in Dunya and Akhirah stems from practicing excellence driven by Faith.

But, as a really busy hard-working professional, you might think that what if you don’t have the luxury of time, energy, or other resources to practice excellence?

I feel your pain. Exams. Tough work hours. Children. Family responsibilities. Emotional trauma. Loss.
What’s excellence?! You ain’t got no time for excellence!! You’re barely surviving here, frantically holding on to your sanity while the stormy winds of life try hard to blow you away. I get it. I’ve been there too.

In fact, I bet each of us has been in ‘survival mode’ at least at one point in our life, if not more.

Truth is – when life gets tough, your excellence shows up in how you react and act in the time of emotional distress and how you handle the problems.

We’ve all seen the kind of people who lose themselves, run away, rebel, or break down when faced with a threatening problem.

And we’ve also seen the spiritual Muslims who face problems head-on using Faith as their shield, control their emotions gracefully in loss, and stay grateful and optimistic even in the toughest of situations. That’s the beauty of excellence – it’s MESMERIZING.

Another reason why we can’t settle for anything less than excellence is the fact that Allah SWT has put inside each of us a unique potential. This potential is, much like treasure, buried within layers of self-growth. This potential can only be extracted by digging deep into those layers, and once extracted – it has the power to destroy or build our Dunya and Akhirah, depending on whether we use it to inflate our egos, or use it to please Allah SWT.

Check out this Ayah:
“Blessed be He in Whose Hands is Dominion: and He over all things has Power. He Who created death and life that He may try which of you is ahsan-o (best or excellent) in deed: and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.” (67:1-2)

How can we dream of being excellent in anything if we are not living up to our full potential? And how can we live up to our full potential without embodying excellence?

A life well-lived is a life lived unlocking and channeling this hidden potential Allah Swt has locked within us. When a disbeliever spends his life in this way, he is rewarded by Allah Swt in just Dunya. When a believer spends his life in this way, he is rewarded by Allah in Dunya and Akhirah.

Bottom line is – if we’re not tapping into our true potential for Dunya and Akhirah, then we are seriously depriving ourselves of living a life that we can look back and be proud of. A life lived with no regrets because you did your best in everything. A life where you availed and appreciated every opportunity Allah SWT sent your way.

And the other side of the ‘career Muslim potential’ coin that we can’t afford to ignore is the change in the Muslim society a career Muslim can make with their influence.

I truly believe Allah SWT has an elite job for each of us career Muslims. There is a reason why we were born in this century of science. Of fitnah. Of shamelessness.

There are too many ways to help the Muslim community and not enough Muslims that are stepping up into the role that Allah Swt chose for them. 

But whether you choose to actively serve the Muslim community or not, simply being a career Muslim means being a person of influence (in your family, workspace, and social networks) and that requires a certain level of excellence to show up in all areas of your life.

That’s because when you are wearing the badge of influence (no matter how small it is), you have to work hard to set an example because you directly/ indirectly become responsible for guiding/ misleading the people around you.

But instead of thinking it a burden, it’s truly a blessing to be born a career Muslim with so many opportunities to serve our Deen.

Instead of focusing on each of the many responsibilities of being a Muslim, the shortcut is to embrace excellence in all areas of your life by making it your norm and you’ll automatically be staying on track and setting an example for people left and right.

What Happens When You Embody Ihsan

 “Is there any reward for ihsan except ihsan?” (55:60)

In my limited capacity, I’ve come to understand that there are many meanings encapsulated in this verse, all of which are so dreamy and inviting. The reward Allah SWT has set aside for the Muhsineen is multifold:

1. You get to see real results in terms of success in this Dunya. When we take a stroll down history lane… we see the time of our Prophet SAW when Islam became the Super-power, we see our Golden Age when the Muslim world became the equator of scientific discoveries, economic growth, and cultural impact. What was that if not an outcome in Dunya of the brilliant works of the Faith-driven high achievers at the time?

2. You get to enjoy the sweetness of faith. Meaning, your Emaan increases and you feel a fullness in your heart that others in the empty pursuit of happiness can’t seem to find or hold onto for longer than a fleeting moment.

3. Your self-confidence soars, and your self-worth increases because you know you have Allah SWT on your side. You know you’re living the mission Allah chose for you, you’re doing something valuable in Dunya while securing an Akhirah.

4. And the mightiest of all rewards – Allah (swt) promises the Muhsineen with the ultimate ihsan – Jannah.

In a nutshell – For the Faith-driven high achievers (Muhsineen) who operate from the ethos of excellence, there’s nothing but reward in Dunya and Akhirah. Who doesn’t want that?

That alone should be incentive enough for the lazy-loos who just want to live on the recliner sofa — in their PJs — eating Cheetos all life long.

If you want to join the Faith-driven high achievers’ INNER CIRCLE, there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news is – you have to give up the lazy lifestyle where you succumb to the temptations of your comfort zone.

The good news is – you don’t have to give up your comfort zone completely! Yes, you get to enjoy the recliner sofa, and Cheetos (hey, I like them!) regularly even as a Faith-driven high achiever… just maybe not ALL the time. 

The other good news is – once you give up the lazy lifestyle and embrace excellence across all your roles, you will kick yourself for not doing it sooner! That’s how fulfilling it will be. 🙂

You will realize you only just started truly living!

And I know for the busy Muslim professional, the biggest challenge is managing your time and energy between all your roles and responsibilities.

So if you’re thinking, “I’m already exhausting all my energy and time just trying to get things DONE. I have no time or energy to do things with excellence”, here are a few things that work in your favor: 

As a busy professional, you have an edge over others. I’ve come to observe that Muslim Professionals are some of the most hard-working and driven people out there:

  1. That’s because whenever they get immersed in Dunya, the guilt and the fear of Allah swing them back towards doing more Ibadah.
  2. And whenever they are spiritually strong, their faith pushes them to do well in their day-to-day Dunya activities.

They are always trying to do their best for Deen and Dunya.

So as a busy professional, you are most qualified to embody excellence, my friend. You already have the elements of hard work, inner drive, and discipline to work towards your goals. You just need to manage your time, and energy and channel your best efforts towards doing the most important things in an excellent manner.

Embodying excellence definitely doesn’t mean that you have to exhaust all your resources practicing excellence in every tiny thing you do. You can give yourself an order of priority to be clear on the things that deserve that ‘extra sprinkle of excellence’.

So where do you start? By setting personal standards of excellence.

Let’s wrap it up with this Ayah in which Allah Swt describes a few standards of excellence to adapt in order to join the inner circle of Muhsineen:

Allah Says in the Quran 3:134:Those (owners of piety) who spend (for the sake of Allah) in abundance and in tightness and those who repress their anger and pardon others; and Allah loves Al-Muhsinûn (those who have submitted their physical bodies to Allah).” 

There are plenty of other personal standards of excellence that you can set from the Quran and Sunnah. But more on setting personal standards of excellence in another article! 

For now, tell me your biggest takeaway from this article in the comments below! I can’t wait to read it. 🙂

4 Comments

  1. Liana

    I had just recently touched on this topic with a graduate trainee of mine to help him understand how to approach his work better. Your article couldn’t come at a better time and I have shared this with my team. Jazakallah khair for the article.

    Reply
  2. Durowoju fatai

    Practicing ihsan is the best way to live your life now so as not regret your life later

    Reply
  3. Ferhana Raban

    Asalaamu Alykum

    The timing of this article in my life was spot on. I am not surprised because Allah Swt always sends you an answer to your prayer if you are in a state of awareness to recieve it. I felt like I was in a surving mode this year due to work and covid. In June my whole family got covid including myself and it was tough being ill and still having to see to my family’s needs. However, Allah SWT gave me the strength.

    Your article has put so much into perspective for me. I struggle to find a balance between Dunya and striving for excellence in my Deen. Your article has really helped me to see that striving for excellence in Deen and working hard in Dunya does not need to be seperated. I am at a point in my life that I would like a career change. More in line with my purpose to help Muslim and non Muslim youth be equipped with skills to lead themselves. I want to teach this in a way that is not seperate from Deen. And I want to do this work in a place where I can grow closer to Allah SWT. If this is good for me may Allah SWT grant this career change with ease for me for the start of the academic year of 2022 Ameen.

    May Allah SWT continue to bless you to be able to write such wonderful articles that inspire us to grow closer to Allah SWT.

    Reply
    • Aimen

      Walaikumassalam Ferhana! Thank you for sharing that here. 🙂 Hope your family is all well now! Your comment is inspiring for others struggling in survival mode to hang in there and rely on Allah’s help. I personally think your goals are amazing and I hope the youth gets to benefit from your work soon InshaAllah. We need more hard working Muslims like you to dedicate their time to Akhirah-aligned goals. May Allah SWT help you make the best decision for yourself and your family and make the change easy for you, Ameen! 🙂

      Reply

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