The pursuit and practice of Ihsan(DW#801)
Sep 21, 2020
This year for the Muharram lectures, we focused our discussions on "The Pursuit and Practice of Ihsan". Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing some insights and wisdom from these discussions, many of which never made it to the lectures!
As always, our focus will be on commonalities, universal values and ethics which are shared by different faiths and cultures. We will also inshallah explore similar concepts in other traditions and throughout history with the aim of understanding that (conscious and enlightened) human beings throughout history have aimed towards the pursuit and practice of excellence and virtue.
The Quranic verse which we chose as our focusing theme is from Sura Nahl, chapter 16 of the Holy Quran (The Bee) where it says:
Indeed Allah enjoins justice (Adl) and kindness (Ihsan) and generosity towards relatives, and He forbids indecency, wrong, and aggression. He advises you, so that you may take admonition.[Holy Quran 16:90]
It is narrated that when this verse was revealed, it caused a deep transformation in the hearts of those who heard it when they recognized within this verse guidance for individual as well as communal wellbeing.
The first commandment in the verse is that of Adl or justice.
The Arabic word Adl literally means to put things in their right place. The translation of the word means to be fair, to be just and to give everyone their due rights.
Imam Ali (a) famously said: Justice is the foundation on which the world rests.
Makes sense right?
If everyone operates with the standard of acting justly, we would carry out our social and moral obligations to one another and grant to each what is rightfully theirs. Justice of course, does not mean that people are treated the same, but that each is treated in a deserving manner. In the Islamic faith, Justice is synonymous with righteousness, for there can be no righteousness without justice.
In a social context, justice ensures that everyone’s basic needs are met and that their life, property, and honor are sacrosanct. It facilitates earning fair wages for labor and a deserved share of the prosperity "pie." It fosters access to healthcare, provides good and effective education and enables people to earn their living through honest work or entrepreneurship. Such a society guarantees an unbiased and fair judicial system along with the benefits of good governance by honest, capable and caring leaders.
The Quran advises that working towards justice on a personal and social level is an ongoing struggle and practice.
O believers, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for God, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy of both. So, follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort or decline, then indeed God is ever, with what you do, Acquainted
[Holy Quran 4:135].
It is clear that modern society has wandered far from this ideal. Many past and present social problems are due to the failure to base society on justice. Thus, workers have to fight for fair benefits, consumers for fair prices and protection from harm, citizens for their freedom and right of participation, minorities to secure their dignity and security. People also have to fight against tyranny, as do nations to preserve their independence and identity.
In order to bring the world back to balance, each of us might consider ways in which we may practice adl in our personal, professional and social lives.
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