The idiomatic meaning of Ihsan changes according to the context in which it is mentioned. If Ihsan is linked with faith and Islam then, it refers to Muraqabah (1) and obedience. This is reflected in the reply of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him) to Angel Jibril (Gabriel, Peace Be upon Him) when He asked the Prophet (PBUH) about Ihsan. He (PBUH) said: “It is to worship Allah as though you see Him, and though you do not see Him, you know that He sees you.” (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim).
If Ihsan is mentioned without being linked to Islam or faith, then it means doing what is good or excellent in general. As it was explained before, the word "Ihsan" in Arabic is a derivative of the verb "ahsana," which means doing things better or in an excellent manner. The noun of “ahsana” is “Husn” which idiomatically means as defined by al-Jurjani (2): “the action that is praised at once and rewarded later.”
Al-Tahanawi and other scholars (3) said that the idiomatic meaning of “Husn” can be:
First Meaning:to be appropriate to nature, the opposite is inappropriate or repulsive. If the thing agrees or suits your nature then it is “hasan” or good.
Second Meaning: to be complete and the opposite is incomplete, imperfect or deficient. Like knowledge and ignorance, knowledge is “hasan” or good quality, while ignorance is a bad one.
Third Meaning: to be praised and the opposite is dispraised.
Al-Minawi said: “Ihsan is an apparent state of Islam based on inner faith and both are completed with witnessed Ihsan”. This means, Allah is your witness of your worship to Him, in every and each moment of your life. Indeed, Ihsan contains and expands to all the religion.
Al-Raghib al-Asfahani said (4): “Ihsan is doing what is good in two ways:
The First Way: To grant, endow and be good to others (If you do this to someone, then you did an act of Ihsan towards him)
The Second Way:To perfect or do an action the best way, namely to do a perfect act, in other words to be a perfectionist in what you do. This reminds us of the saying by Imam Ali (RA): “People are the sons of their good deeds.” (5) This means that people are attributed to what they do or say, namely they are linked to the good deeds they do and sayings they utter. Ihsan has many ranks, they all belong to the comprehensive explanation mentioned above. The highest rank of Ihsan is Ihsan towards Almighty Allah, which the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him) amazingly put it in one sentence: “It is to worship Allah as though you see Him”. The other ranks of Ihsan come after Ihsan towards Almighty Allah, whether these ranks are related to Ihsan in intention or deed.
(1) Muraqabah is the endurance of the servant's knowledge and his conviction and certainty that Allah is watching over his internal and external affairs. To have this knowledge and certainty at all times is called muraqabah. It is the fruit of the servant's knowledge that Allah is his Watcher, Over-seeing him, Hearing his utterances and Observing all of his deeds at all times.
(2) Kitab al-Tarifat by al-Jurjani (40)
(3) Kitab al-Tarifat by al-Jurjani (117), Al-Tawqif 'ala Muhimmat al-Ta'arif by al-Manawi (279) Dar Al Fikr Edition.
(4) Al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Quran by al-Raghib al-Asfahani (119), date of release: 502 Hijri calendar, Fayd al-Qadir (1/124) by al-Manawi
(5) Jame'a Bayan al-Elm by Ibn Abdul Barr (608), no mention of the chain of transmission.