Islamic Character With the Divine

Pay it Forward: God’s Goodness of Allah Series:  Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX | Part XXXI Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII | Part XXXIX | Part XL | Part XLI | Part XLII Part XLIII Part XLIV | Part XLV | Part XLVI | Part XLVII | Part XLVIII Part XLIX Part L | Part LI | Part LII | Part LIII | Part LIV | Part LV | Part LVI | Part LVII| Part LVIII | Part LIX | Part LX | Part LXI | Part LXII | Part LXIII | Part LXIV | Part LXV

Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) has three beautiful Names that relate to His Goodness, but with some nuances. Allah (swt) is al-Barr, aṭ-Ṭayyib and al-Muḥsin. We will explore these nuances here. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

“Indeed, we used to supplicate Him before. Indeed, it is He who is the Beneficent (al-Barr), the Merciful.” [52:28]

Al-Barr, according to Al-Ghazali, is the Doer of Good, the One from Whom every good deed and beneficence comes, and this Name brings together all kinds of goodness at the very highest level. Ibn al-Qayyim says that one of the signs of Allah’s birr is that He covers your mistakes from people.

The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) also told us about Allah (swt):

“O people! Allah is Ṭayyib (Good) and He only accepts what is good. He has commanded the believers as He has commanded the Messengers: ‘O Messengers, eat from the good foods and work righteousness,’ [23:51]. And He says, ‘O you who have believed, eat from the good things which We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him you worship,’ [2:172].” (Muslim)

Because Allah (swt) is good, He expects us to be good. Additionally, the Prophet ﷺ said, “Allah is Muḥsin and He loves those who exhibit excellence,” [Tabarani].

Allah (swt) tells us that He is the One “who perfected (aḥsana) everything which He created and began the creation of man from clay,” [32:7].

We can see the signs of His excellence in His creation. One only needs to step out into nature to be completely in awe of its beauty; that is from Allah’s (swt) iḥsan, because He is al-Muḥsin.

He is Good, His Actions are Good and He Accepts Only Good

Allah (swt) is essentially Good – in His essence, in His actions and in what He accepts from us. Allah (swt) tells us about the things that He wants for us in the Qur’an:

Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.” [2:185]

Allah wants to make clear to you [the lawful from the unlawful] and guide you to the [good] practices of those before you and to accept your repentance. And Allah is Knowing and Wise. Allah wants to accept your repentance, but those who follow [their] passions want you to digress [into] a great deviation. And Allah wants to lighten for you [your difficulties]; and mankind was created weak.” [4:26-28]

Allah (swt) also tells us what He does not want. He says:

“These are the verses of Allah. We recite them to you, [O Muhammad], in truth; and Allah wants no injustice to the worlds.” [3:108]

Throughout this series, we have been introduced to Allah’s (swt) love, His generosity, His mercy, and His wisdom. Allah (swt) leaves no room for doubt; He encompasses all forms of goodness at their very highest levels. This is why thinking well of Allah is considered an act of worship; you are affirming these attributes of goodness in your heart and in how you interpret events. Thinking well of Him is having hope that He will accept you when you mess up, that He will overlook your faults, that He will help you overcome, and that He teaches you through hardship. This is what all the Prophets and the righteous knew about Allah, and this is why they persevered. Jonah `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him) turned to Allah in the belly of a whale; Hajar accepted that there was good in her being left in the desert with her son; and Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him) could say with utter certainty while being chased by Pharoah and his army, “No! Indeed, with me is my Lord; He will guide me” (26:62).

Moreover, He expects us to be good. That is why Allah (swt) addresses both our inner and outer state. He tells us to purify our hearts and purify our actions. He tells us to have faith in our hearts and live that faith in what we do.

Pay it Forward

Sometimes the best way to understand Allah’s (swt) attributes is to see how beautiful they are when expressed by human beings, and then remember that whatever good we exhibit is nothing compared to Allah’s (swt) goodness. So as Muslims, we are encouraged to have birr (piety), iḥsan (excellence) and ṭeeb (goodness). Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an that He is “[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best (aḥsanu) in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving.” [67:2]

Ihsan (Excellence)

If we talk about iḥsan outside of its religious context, its basic meaning is ‘to do something to its best’. If an event organizer consistently organizes something to the highest standards, some might describe that as iḥsan. In a famous hadith (narration), the Prophet ﷺ teaches us the motivation behind doing things to their best, which is knowing that Allah (swt) sees you. When you know that Allah (swt) sees you, no deed is too small and every act can be decorated with excellence and perfection. While religiously iḥsan is an internal state, there are external signs. Moreover, Allah (swt) tells us that He loves those who show iḥsan. He speaks about those “who spend [in the cause of Allah] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good (al-Musineen),” [3:134].

Even if we feel that our efforts are in vain, Allah (swt) assures us that they are not. Prophet Joseph `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him) spent years in hardship, but never compromised his integrity. Allah (swt) says of him:

“And thus We established Joseph in the land to settle therein wherever he willed. We touch with Our mercy whom We will, and We do not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good (al-musineen).” [Qur’an 12:56]

Birr (Piety)

Allah (swt) also tells us:

“O you who have believed, when you converse privately, do not converse about sin and aggression and disobedience to the Messenger but converse about righteousness (al-birr) and piety. And fear Allah, to whom you will be gathered.” [Qur’an 58:9]

Birr is a type of goodness that is accompanied by gentleness. Allah (swt) tells us to have birr towards our parents. He shows us that birr is not easily attained unless you give from what you love. He says:

“Never will you attain the good [reward] (al-birr) until you spend [in the way of Allah] from that which you love. And whatever you spend – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it.” [Qur’an 3:92]

Thus, in our relationship with our parents, having birr is not simply a case of ‘obedience versus disobedience’. It is much more nuanced than that. Birr with our parents is about being good to them and having some sort of companionship, as Allah (swt) tells us to “accompany them in [this] world with appropriate kindness,” [31:15].

Teeb (Kindness)

Finally, Allah (swt) tells us:

“O you who have believed, spend from the good things (ṭayyibat) which you have earned…” [2:267]

Ṭeeb in regular parlance is also used for ‘kindness’ or purity of heart, and what is ṭayyib is also something good or pure. Before the Prophet ﷺ received revelation, Quraysh had rebuilt the Ka’ba. They were adamant to only use money from good or pure sources – e.g not from usury or gambling – and so the Ka’ba was built in the cube shape we know today because they did not have enough money from pure sources. Originally, it also encompassed an area called “Hijr Ismail”, which today is a small area outside the Ka’ba. The point is, the Ka’ba was so sacred to them that they knew they could only give for Allah (swt) what was good and pure.

In the Qur’anic context, it is frequently used in relation to the food we consume. As we mentioned above, Allah (swt) is good in His essence and in His actions, and He commands that from us as well. When we think of ‘halal’ (permissible) meat, we often only measure it by how the animal is slaughtered. But as Dr. Tariq Ramadan shows us, the way in which the animal is treated in its life is important as well. We may be missing the point when we focus on the technicalities of the law to the exclusion of its spirit.

Allah (swt) loves for us to try to emulate His characteristics of mercy and beauty. Elsewhere in this series, we have mentioned that if we want Allah’s (swt) infinite mercy, then we need to have mercy towards people. If we want Allah’s (swt) vast forgiveness, then we must forgive others. If we want to be a recipient of Allah’s (swt) good, then we should do good to others.

Connecting to the One who encompasses all forms of goodness

1- Reflect on Allah’s (swt) goodness in His creation and His actions.

2- Pay it forward: Give from the good that you have been given.

3- Do things with iḥsan by seeing whatever you do as a transaction with God. How do you want your deeds to be presented to Him?

4- Beautify your relationships with goodness. Be good to people, good to animals and good to the environment.

About the author

Jinan Yousef

Jinan Yousef

Jinan's main interests within the field of Islamic Studies are the Names of Allah, the life and character of the Prophet ﷺ, tazkiya and Muslim personalities.


  • Jazak’Allahu Khairan once again, as always Sr. Jinan, for a thorough explanation of the beautiful qualities of Our Creator, as you have throughout the series.

    As far as how you relate birr and the relationship with our parents – that’s one aspect of life that I sorely need to improve by many degrees. I only have my mother left and we still live together though I’m far into my adulthood 🙂 – so will surely take this point into deeper consideration and insha’allah, practice.

  • “…that if we want Allah’s (swt) infinite mercy, then we need to have mercy towards people. If we want Allah’s (swt) vast forgiveness, then we must forgive others. If we want to be a recipient of Allah’s (swt) good, then we should do good to others.”

    🙂 I remember when Allah taught me this. Never mind how. It irked me at the time, before I understood. Because I was asking Him from His Name, and then it felt at once that something happens to require me to do myself that very thing I just asked for. It irked me because ‘obviously’ I don’t ‘have it’ to give and hence that’s why I asked for it in the first place for myself! But fortunately I obeyed anyway, in whatever capacity I could think of, and then… after some time, I got it. 🙂

    It just occurred to me that the Prophet s.a.w. began that way too. After all, the first revelation story famously relates how he was commanded to ‘Read!’ and he kept replying, but I can’t! I think maybe it’s when he eventually simply repeated “Iqra’ “, which really was the best he could do to comply, that’s when/how the rest of it flowed through. It’s quite elegant how, in order to elevate a human being to recite the revelation, the first command was to have him begin to ‘before’ receiving it. After all, if you want to have water flow through a dam, you must open the channel and let some existing water out first. It’s so obvious but somehow so hard to understand until afterwards. Weird, huh?

Leave a Comment