The Sunnah of Itqan
By: Faysal Burhan
Today more than ever before, the concerned Muslim cannot afford setbacks or failure in his or her task. Today’s Muslims are in dire need of state-of-the-art work and performance. The following discussion is an attempt to bring out the Islamic view on quality work and optimal performance.
The Arabic word itqan is used to indicate the level of quality work. The best English translation of itqan is “to arrange and dispose of things in a scientific and artistic way in order to obtain the most perfect results.” An Arabic synonym for itqan is ihkam (to do something with wisdom). The word “wisdom” (hikmah) and its derivatives are mentioned in the Holy Qur’an in no less than three hundred places. This is the simplest and clearest indication of Islam’s concern for doing quality work. If we attempted to compare this Islamic definition of quality work with the common English language definition used today, we would be surprised to learn that the Islamic definition surpasses its English counterpart in several respects.
For example, the English word “precision” is used for sciences or crafts, whereas the word itqan can apply to work in all fields. Taking the English word “complete” as another example, we find that this word too is not equal to itqan. This is because things may be complete but not artistic or beautiful, which is implied in itqan. Furthermore, the words “precision” and “complete” are purely mechanical and do not have the spiritual connotations of itqan. This fact can be seen in the following verse in which Allah describes a scene in the Hereafter:
And you see the mountains and think them firmly fixed, but they shall pass away as the clouds pass away. (Such is) the artistry of Allah, who disposes of all things in perfect order, for He is well acquainted with all that you do.
This verse tells us that Allah’s work is done with itqan. In Islam, quality work has a spiritual flavor because of its association with Allah, the Almighty. This divine touch adds to and colors the word itqan with beauty, art, and perfection. Since the act of loving Allah, His qualities and attributes, is an essential part of Islam, one can appreciate the vast distance that separates today’s Muslims from Islam as it ought to be observed. Moreover, the Prophet (PBUH) said:
Allah loves to see one’s job done at the level of itqan.
Thus the state of performance at the level of itqan is required by Islam and is a sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH).Let us now look at the sunnah of itqan from another angle, that of Islamic performance. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
Verily, We created man from a drop of mingled sperm, in order to try him, so We gave him (the gifts) of hearing and sight.
It is apparent from this verse that life is not a sport or a game, but rather a race track upon which Muslims compete with one another to please Allah, build their faith, and construct the Islamic ummah. This competition inevitably raises the level of performance and quality of work higher and higher, until the highest standards are reached. The lives of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions are examples of quality work and performance. Abdullah ibn Yazid narrated:
The Prophet (PBUH) sent ‘Amr ibn al’As as the leader of an expedition. Among others in the expedition were Abu Bakr and ‘Umar ibn al Khattab. When they reached the designated place, ‘Amr ordered that no fire be lit. The order upset ‘Umar, who started walking toward ‘Amr. Abu Bakr, however, stopped ‘Umar and told him to calm down, since the Prophet (PBUH) would not have chosen ‘Amr had he not been the most knowledgeable to lead the expedition.
This example gives us a view of the Prophet (PBUH) and three of his companions. First, we see the Prophet (PBUH) had to define his task, plan it, implement the plan, and select the proper person to put it into effect. The leader he chose, ‘Amr, was known before Islam as dahiyatu al-‘Arab or the “strategist of the Arabs.” Second, we can see Abu Bakr’s understanding of the principles and his acquiescence to ‘Amr’s leadership. Third, we see ‘Umar’s resignation to what is right, irrespective of his high position and strength among the companions of the Prophet. May peace and blessings be upon them.
The second example to be discussed was related by Rashid ibn Saa’d who said: Umar ibn al Khattab, the Prince of the Faithful, came with a sum of money in order to distribute it among the people who crowded around him. Then Saa’d ibn Abi Waqqas (a companion of the Prophet) came forward, pushing people out of his way until he reached ‘Umar. ‘Umar struck Saa’d with his cane and said, “You came forward without considering the rules of Allah. This is to let you know that Allah’s Ruler (‘Umar ibn al Khattab, the Commander of the Faithful) will not allow such a disorder out of fear of you.”
Thus, order, discipline, accuracy, beautiful work, well thought out tasks and justice are all part of quality Islamic work and performance. To assist you in doing quality work, the following general flow-chart is given. Each box in this flow chart is an independent unit of function. This flow chart is designed to show the Islamic approach to problem-solving and to enable the Muslim to tackle problems in an orderly and disciplined manner.
Our flow-chart example is read from top to bottom through the center boxes. The boxes on either side of the central column contain supporting information. This information is to be used in the box indicated by the arrow leading to it. Each task must be done independently of the others, following the order established by the chain. The box with the statement “Halt Period” does not imply a mechanical stop, but rather a hasty act.
When asked about the deeds of the Prophet (PBUH), ‘A’isha said that his work was da’im (continuous and stable), and that the household of the Prophet (PBUH) did things with tathabbut (study and thorough examination before an undertaking). For reference to this hadith, please see Chapter 2, The Sunnah of al Tathabbut.
On the right side of the chart is a pictorial illustration of how to apply the sunnah of tawakkul, relying upon Allah’s help. A man coming to the Mosque to offer his prayer dismounted from his camel and asked the Prophet (PBUH): “Oh Messenger of Allah, do I tie it and rely (on Allah that the camel will be where I left it after I come out of the Mosque), or do I leave it here loose and rely (on Allah that the camel will be where I left it after I come out from the Mosque)?” The Prophet (PBUH) replied, “‘Iqil” (tie the camel) and then tawakal (rely upon Allah that the camel will be where you tie it when you come out of the Mosque).”
In the illustration, note the number of steps and stages a Muslim must thoroughly accomplish, which are encompassed under the word of the Prophet (PBUH), ‘iqil. In comparison, note the single box or function to which the word tawakal applies. All appropriate work must be completely and thoroughly done before we make tawakul. The chart is based on the sunnah of tathabbut and the hadith “No believer shall be bitten twice from one (and the same) hole,” reported by Muslim (for the exact reference see Chapter 3). Furthermore, the Prophet (PBUH) said in one of his speeches, “The best of deeds is that which is most beneficial.” May Allah make us all competitors on the race track of His pleasure and in service to His divine laws.￼