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Image credit: Nitish Meena

Image credit: Nitish Meena

This is a guest post by Nabeel Azeez.

A well-known hadith of the Prophet SAW is, “”Whosoever fasts and prays Ramadan with Iman and Ihtisab, will have his past sins forgiven.” This hadith is quoted every Ramadan as motivation, without fail. Many of us understand the meaning and implications of the condition of Iman while fasting and praying. However, many of us do not understand the condition of Ihtisab, myself included.

The word is usually translated as “seeking/expecting/hoping for Allah’s reward” and left at that. As someone who’s interested in practical application of these concepts, that’s not very helpful. So I asked my teacher to explain the meaning, implications and application of Ihtisab. I have paraphrased what he told me and added some of my own thoughts.

What is Ihtisab?

The root of the word is from hisab – to calculate, reckon, count. Ihtisab is to expect an outcome from something or someone. Allah the Almighty says (paraphrased),

وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَحْتَسِبُ ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بَالِغُ أَمْرِهِ ۚ قَدْ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدْرًا

“And (Allah) will provide for him from where he does not expect (min haythu la yahtasib)…” (65:3)

Ihtisab in fasting and prayers is to be sincere in your worship, hoping for Allah’s acceptance and reward.

How is Ihtisab Achieved?

Ihtisab tip #1: Having a peaceful, pleasing state of mind when performing the act

One should be hopeful of Allah’s reward, and in a peaceful and pleasing state of mind while performing the act. This is achieved by:

  • not thinking of fasting as burdensome or heavy
  • not thinking about the length of the fasting day, or seeing it as long

Ihtisab tip #2: Hoping for Allah’s reward and fearing His punishment

Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali (d. 795 H) writes that one need to have love, hope and fear when worshiping Allah without leaving out any of them:

“It is known that worship is built from only three sources: fear, hope, and love. Each one is an intrinsic duty, and gathering the three is an obligatory injunction. Because of this, the Forbears censured whoever devoted oneself to one while neglecting the other two. [After all,] the innovation of the Khawarij and those resembling them came about from emphasizing fear while avoiding love and hope; the innovation of the Murjiʿah [those who hold that belief guarantees the unrepentant safety from punishment for grave sins] came about from clinging to hope alone while avoiding fear; and the innovation of many advocates of free-thinking [ibahiyyah] and divine indwelling [hulul] who ascribe themselves to devotion, came about from singling out love while avoiding fear and hope.”

(Credit to Musa Furber for the translation.)

Ihtisab tip #3: Holding ourselves to a higher standard, one worthy of Allah’s Majesty, when performing acts of worship

Allah is Tayyib (pure, wholesome) and he accepts only that which is pure and wholesome. Are our fasts and prayers pure and wholesome in a way worthy of Allah’s acceptance?

Imagine that one of your parents is exacting and accepts nothing less than perfection from you. If he/she asked something of you, knowing that only a certain standard is acceptable, how will you perform the requested task if you want to please her/him?

Suppose that acceptance and rejection are based on the sincerity and perfection with which prayers or fasts were performed. How would yours fare? In fact in a single masjid, or even a single prayer-row, how would you feel about your prayers if you knew that only one prayer from that row is going to be accepted?

Ihtisab, then, is to strive to perform our worship with a level of sincerity and perfection worthy of the Allah and His acceptance, not just to fulfill an obligation.

Ihtisab tip #4: Getting our priorities right

These aren’t specific to worship but relate to life in general:

  • Getting to know the nature of Allah and what He deserves from us
  • Trying to always be aware of life’s purpose and optimizing our lives around that purpose

Ihtisab tip #5: Constantly evaluating and improving ourselves

Ihtisab also means to calculate or evaluate something exhaustively. We should make notes, mental or otherwise, on the shortcomings of our prayers and fasts, review them before the next occurrence and try not to repeat them.

We should also evaluate ourselves daily, checking to see if we’ve improved from the previous day. We should also evaluate our overall performance after month concludes, make a note of the good and bad, and set goals to do better next Ramadan, God willing.

Conclusion

Knowledge without action is just information.

It also works against our favor on the Day of Judgement

So, it’s up to us to implement these tips in our lives.

What is correct is from Allah and what is wrong is from myself and Satan.

Allah, exalt the mention of our Prophet Muhammad, as many times as the mindful remember him, and as many times as the heedless forget.

Nabeel Azeez is a blogger, public speaker, and founder of Becoming the Alpha Muslim. He writes and speaks on men’s issues, masculinity, and self-improvement for the modern Muslim man.

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