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Zaynab, April 18 2024

Perfectionism vs Ihsan

Have you ever found yourself feeling deeply upset because you were 2 marks off an A* grade, or didn’t cook biryani the exact same way your mum or grandma do? Maybe you got mad at yourself for missing the gym one day. 
Sometimes the emotions we experience as a result of not meeting the expectations set upon ourselves derive from our need to do things ‘perfectly’. 

We pride ourselves on doing things smoothly with no mistakes on the way and reprimand ourselves when we find something challenging. I want to explore how the Islamic concept of Ihsan liberates us from the need to be perfect but also encourages us to strive to be our best.


Ihsan in Arabic means ‘excellence’. Muslims are encouraged to have Ihsan in activities ranging from our jobs, our relationships in the family and our worship. When we strive for excellence we ensure that we put in our utmost effort for the sake of Allah to ultimately please Allah. Ihsan is part of the good manners or ‘akhlaq’ that make us Muslims who benefit those around us. Ihsan at work might mean asking colleagues if they need an extra hand with a task they’re struggling with. Ihsan in family is providing an attentive ear to a family member even when we feel too tired to listen. Ihsan in worship is starting salah with a sincere intention and allowing our minds to be present in that prayer, for the Prophet ﷺ said, “Excellence is to worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, He surely sees you.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim]


Reflecting on the ‘why’ of our actions can help us feel motivated and encouraged to do it with excellence. In the examples previously mentioned like not making biryani perfectly, the examples are such that they can lead us to lose morale. Perhaps, part of the reasons why we are so deeply attached to the expectations we set is because we need to feel validated, praised or acknowledged? But, trying to please others often makes us feel disappointed and dissatisfied. Instead, when we perform an action with the intention to please Allah, then we can expect that Allah will put barakah in that and the journey will be easier.

Striving for perfectionism leads us to a road of disappointment and low self-esteem because we aim towards an often impossible hypothetical concept. We can feel free once we accept that only Allah is perfect. Ihsan instead allows us to put in our best effort, placing utmost importance on our relationship with Allah, for the benefit is in the striving for excellence, not in the attainment of perfection. Once realised - it can be the best imaan and confidence boost we need.

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