Kaniz Fatma: The Hadith of Gabriel describes three levels of faith, Iman, Islam and Ihsan. This hadith is narrated by Abu Huraira that one day while the Prophet was sitting in the company of some people, (The angel) Gabriel (Jibraeel or Jibreel) came and asked, “What is Iman (faith)?” Allah’s Messenger replied, ‘Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, (the) meeting with Him, His Apostles, and to believe in Resurrection.” Then he further asked, “What is Islam?” Allah’s Messenger replied, “To worship Allah Alone and none else, to offer prayers perfectly, to pay the compulsory charity (Zakat) and to observe fasts during the month of Ramadan.” Then he further asked, “What is Ihsan (perfection or Tasawwuf)?” Allah’s Messenger replied, “To worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you cannot achieve this state of devotion then you must consider that He is looking at you” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim).
This Hadith of Angel Gabriel describes three distinct levels of Islam, (i) Iman that means to believe in heart, (ii) Islam which denotes deeds by limbs and (iii) Ihsan which refers to complete attention towards Allah.
We have known the difference among Iman, Islam and Ihsan from the hadith of Gabriel. This difference can be further understood in the following passages.
Iman is the name of believing in what God Almighty has commanded us to believe. Etymologically, Iman means verification (Tasdeeq). There is great discussion and controversy with regard to the principles of Iman in the wake of their application to the religious law. The Mutazilites opine that Iman includes all acts of devotion, theoretical as well as practice; therefore they hold that a man becomes outside the fold of Iman if he commits a sin. The Kharijites hold the same view that if a man commits sin, he will be termed infidel.
Some people say that Iman is simply an oral profession; some say that it is only the knowledge of God, while the Sunni Muslims assert that Iman is the name of mere verification. A Sufi saint said, “Faith (Iman) is the belief of the heart in that knowledge which comes from the Unseen, because faith in that which is hidden and it can be attained only through Divine strengthening of one’s certainty, which is the result of knowledge bestowed by God” (Sheikh Hujweri, Kashful Mahjoob, p.392 Islam denotes deeds by limbs, such as testifying that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him), offering compulsory prayers, paying Zakat, performing Hajj, observing fasts during Ramazan. There are several other characteristics which fall within the scope of Islam. For instances;
Restraining anger (3:134), being good to others (4:36), avoiding arrogance (7:13), forgiving others for their mistakes (7:199), speaking to people courteously (20:44), treating the parents with kindness and utmost respect (17:23), being honest in trade (2:282), avoiding bribery (2:188), fulfilling the promise (2:177), keeping the trust (2:283), judging people with justice (4:58), protecting orphans (2:220), trying for settlement between people (49:9), avoiding suspicion (49:12), feeding the poor (107:1-3), helping the needy people (2:273, staying away from corruption and abuse on the earth (2:60), treating non-Muslims kindly and justly (60:8), avoiding transgression (2:190), believing in all prophets (2:285), avoiding to force non-Muslims (2:256), deciding on affairs by consultation (42:38), keeping away from cooperation in sin (5:2)—these are some of the examples which denote the deeds of Islam by limbs.
As for Ihsan, it literally means to do beautiful things or good deeds. One who does what are beautiful things is known as Muhsin. The idea of Ihsan is primarily linked with intention. It is the duty of Muslims to attain purification of self and heart (tazkiya al-nafs wal qalb) and perfection in worship, such that they should try to worship Allah as if they see him and if they cannot do so, they must believe that He Almighty is constantly watching over them. The Sufis have attained perfection in the path of Ihsan.