Ihsan two literal meanings, doing something well and perfectly and doing someone a favor; it is sometimes used in the Qur'an and the Sunna with either meaning. At other times, as pointed out in the reflections on Heart while describing Prophet Joseph's consciousness of ihsan, it is used to encompass both meanings.
According to truth-seeking scholars, ihsan (perfect goodness) is an action of the heart that involves thinking according to the standards of truth; forming the intention to do good, useful things and then doing them; and performing acts of worship as best as possible and in the consciousness that God sees them. To attain perfect goodness, an initiate must establish his or her thoughts, feelings, and concepts on a firm belief, and then deepen that belief by practicing the essentials of the religion and training his or her heart to receive Divine gifts and be illuminated by the light of His manifestations. Only one who has attained such a degree of perfect goodness can really do good to others just for the sake of God, without expecting anything in return.
According to a Prophetic saying, perfect goodness is that you worship God as if you were seeing Him; for even if you do not see Him, He certainly sees you. The most comprehensive and precise meaning of perfect goodness is that there is no fault in an initiate's action, and that he or she is always conscious that God is always watching. An initiate must concentrate on his or her actions with all of his or her will, feelings, awareness, and outer and inner senses. An initiate who is aware of God's supervision to this degree, and who therefore strives to act in the best way possible, cannot help but do good to others. Doing good to others then becomes an essential attribute of his or her nature, and radiates as light radiates from the sun.
Ihsan, in the sense of doing good to others, is summed up in the Prophet's principle of desiring for one's fellow believer whatever one desires for oneself. Its universal dimension is defined in the following Prophetic Tradition:
Surely, God has decreed that you excel in whatever you do. When you lawfully punish someone by killing, do it kindly; when you slaughter an animal, slaughter it kindly. Let him who will slaughter it sharpen his knife and avoid giving the animal much pain.
Consciousness of goodness is like a mysterious key that opens the door of a virtuous circle. An initiate who opens that door and steps into that illuminated corridor enters the "spiral" of a mysterious ascension, as if stepping onto an escalator. In addition to being endowed with this virtue, the correct use of one's free will to do good and refrain from evil will result in an advance of two steps for each step taken: Is the reward of excellence other than excellence? (55:60). As we read in commentaries on the Qur'an or books of the Prophetic Traditions:
Once God's Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, he who was truthful and confirmed, asked his Companions about the verse: Do you know what Your Lord means by this verse? The Companions answered: God and His Messenger know better. He explained: The reward of the one upon whom I conferred belief in Divine Unity is nothing but Paradise.
When the consciousness of goodness invades one's heart like clouds of rain, Divine favors begin to pour down. The possessor of such a heart, addressed by the verse: For those who do good is the greatest good, and even more (10:26), feels the profound pleasure of having been created as a human being.
In addition to the blessings of Divine grace in return for good actions, Divine gifts issue from God's Graciousness and Kindness in return for a heart's sincere intention. We are unable to conceive of or describe such gifts.
A sound heart leads one straight to God without any deviation, and goodness is the heart's greatest and most rewarding action. Goodness is the safest way to ascend the slopes of sincerity, the most secure means to reach the peaks of being approved by God, and the consciousness of self-possession before the Eternal Witness. Of the many people equipped with belief, as well as deep fear and reverence for Him, who have taken the wings of good action and set out toward Him, only a few succeed in reaching the peak. May those who have not yet reached it try their utmost to do so. Those who have reached the peak feel deeply the ugliness of whatever God dislikes and are immune to it, while they are ready to do whatever He likes and to adopt such as their second nature.
O God! Favor us with a good, happy end in all our affairs, and save us from humiliation in the world and punishment in the Hereafter. Assign for us from awe of You such amount that it may intervene between us and any disobedience to You. And bestow blessings and peace on Muhammad, our master and the master of those distinguished with perfect goodness, and on his Family and Companions, all of them.