Here’s what I am terrified of. Here’s what often makes me lose my sleep. Here’s what upsets me even if I’m in the brightest of moods. The very mention of it, makes me want to run away from it. Mediocrity. Mediocrity and its onset. Mediocrity and being content with it. Mediocrity and not knowing about it.

I write this for a Muslim audience. And so I was thinking, can we, as Muslims, as believers, actually afford mediocrity? And here I’m talking about being mediocre, not bad. Bad is out of the question. Bad is beyond terrible.

Before we go on any further, I have to mention that first and foremost, I write this for myself. And then for you, the reader. So, can a Muslim afford to be mediocre?

Allah says in the Quran.

“Indeed, Allah orders justice and Ihsan and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded” — Al Nahl, Verse 90.

In answer to the question that I asked myself above, I have this one word. Ihsan.

Ihsan is more than just a word in Islam. It’s a concept. One that 21st century Muslims have forgotten. We often look at our Islamic legacy and achievements of the past. We quote Al Ghazali and we proudly mention Al-Khawarizmi. But have we ever thought what drove them? One look at our past, and we see excellence on behalf of Muslims in art, science, architecture, geography, medicine, military strategy. I could keep on naming domains and you could easily give me a Muslim name associated with it. What was the drive then? A little bit of thinking tells you, it was Ihsan. Their constant desire to attain Ihsan is what drove them to achieve milestones.

I hesitate to write the exact English translation of the word Ihsan because, really, no word does it justice. It’s such an abstract and deep concept that no other language can translate it. The closest English translation for Ihsan is ‘excellence’. Hence, excellence and the desire to achieve excellence is what made the Muslims rule and influence the globe for hundreds of years.

Let us look at ourselves today. How many times have we showed up at work, class, appointment or any other commitment on the time that was agreed on? How many of us just study to pass that exam? How many of us sit in class just to be marked for attendance? How many of us just go about our 9–5 jobs just so that we can pay the bills?

Have we ever thought of excelling in the subject we are studying? Be it anything. Law, Medicine, Arts or Engineering. Have we thought of doing our jobs to excellence? Whether you’re a cleaner or a sales executive? If we have businesses, have we thought of gaining excellence in them? To make our companies examples for the world to follow?

If we be honest with ourselves, our answers to the above questions would show just how mediocre we are. And why, the 21st century Muslim is a follower, not a leader.

Rasulullah ﷺ said: “Indeed Allah has prescribed Ihsan in all things” — Muslim, 1955.

All things. Not just your daily prayers. Not just your relationships. All things. The above hadith later goes to describe how to slaughter an animal with excellence. Such is the emphasis of this concept. A Muslim, even has to kill in the best manner possible.

Next time, when we complain about the state of the Muslims today, let’s look inwards. Do we have the drive to be better individually? To not just exist, but to have an impact on our immediate surroundings and more? As students, have we strived to understand a subject completely and to its core rather than just passing the exams? As workers, have we done our jobs to the best of our ability or with shortcuts?

These are questions which should shake us from our sleep now. It is time we realize that we have to start the effort to be constantly better from now on. And sure, one should have results in mind, but remember that Allah is a judge of the effort. The results, they might or might not be achieved, but we have to show the pursuit. As for those who have set themselves already on the path of Ihsan, there is good news in the Quran.

“Is there any reward for Ihsan, other than Ihsan?” Al-Rahman, Verse 60.

Ihsan, is the lost treasure that we, the 21st century Muslims need to unearth. It will take us to our previous heights. There are no shortcuts. There are no overnight revolutions. But we need to strive, each of us, in our departments. To seek excellence and stop for nothing short. Ihsan is the answer we are looking for. Ihsan is right under our pillows as we gaze up and think of our legacy.

Make the intention with me, to try to become better in whatever pursuits that we have. And pray to Allah with me, that He may help us to lock on to the path of Ihsan.

Bilal Zia.