Living In Gratitude

Posted on March 26, 2011


شكر (shukr-gratitude): that sublime emotion that everyone understands. Shukr is a feeling that is intense and sincere. A temporary taste of bliss that usually evokes a verbal or physical response. Your child brings you a glass of water after you come home and you smile and say, “Thank you. I have the best kids in the world.” At work you are swamped with work and a colleague takes a few projects off your hand. Relief floods your soul and you say, “I owe you one, man.” A wife is toiling away in the kitchen. The guests from out of town are miraculously going to come early. They drove faster than expected. Dinner is not ready! A friend shows up with food. You hug her and say, “Thank you. Thank You. You are a life-saver”

That is the generally understood meaning of شكر (shukr). In the light of the Quran and the Sunnah we find a far more comprehensive understanding of shukr. It does not refer to a fleeting emotion but to an entire lifestyle.  The linguistic meaning of Shukr is to acknowledge a blessing and to allow the effects of that blessing to become apparent. Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “Shukr is to display the effects of the blessings of Allaah upon the tongue by way of praise and acknowledgement; in the heart by way of witnessing and love; and upon the limbs by way of submission and obedience.” [Madaarij As-Saalikeen, 2/244]

What is more interesting is that the opposite of Shukr (gratitude) is not ingratitude but it is ‘kufr’ which is normally translated as disbelief. Kufr is to forget, deliberately neglect or hide the favors that have been given to you. So that you do not acknowledge through words or deeds that you have been blessed or the one who has given you the blessing. This is one of the linguistic meanings of Kufr. When I first read the story of the two men and the gardens in Sura Kahf I wondered why the richer companion was accused of kufr.

“And put forward to them the example of two men; unto one of them We had given two gardens of grapes, and We had surrounded both with date-palms; and had put between them green crops (cultivated fields). (32)

Each of those two gardens brought forth its produce, and failed not in the least therein, and We caused a river to gush forth in the midst of them. (33)

And he had property (or fruit) and he said to his companion, in the course of mutual talk: I am more than you in wealth and stronger in respect of men.” (34)

And he went into his garden while in a state (of pride and disbelief) unjust to himself. He said: “I think not that this will ever perish. (35)

“And I think not the Hour will ever come, and if indeed I am brought back to my Lord, (on the Day of Resurrection), I surely shall find better than this when I return to Him.” (36)

His companion said to him, during the talk with him: “Do you disbelieve (أَكَفَرۡتَ) in Him Who created you out of dust (i.e. your father Adam), then out of Nutfah (mixed semen drops of male and female discharge), then fashioned you into a man? (37) “But as for my part (I believe) that He is Allâh, my Lord and none shall I associate as partner with my Lord. (38)”

It was only when I understood the true essence of ‘shukr’ that I understood the enormity of his ‘kufr’. He did not give credit to the Creator who had given him all these blessings that he so brazenly enjoyed. He believes that he has a Lord but he does not have firm conviction in the Day of Judgment and his bloated ego tells him that he will be given more abundance if there happens to be such a Day.  His sort-of-round-about expression of “gratitude” reeks of arrogance. He does not humbly acknowledge that he has been blessed by Allah. Instead he claims the blessings of Allah as if he were entitled to them.  This example of the two men can be used to give a perspective to the state of gratitude in our lives. If his expression of gratitude was destroyed by his arrogance, ours is too often tainted by incessant complaint.

Saying alhumdolillah (all praise is due to Allah) is in vogue in the Muslim community. Our sentences are punctuated with these beautiful remembrances of Allah, but they roll too easily off our tongues and are often not felt by the heart. So you ask someone, “How’s life?” and you get a variety of responses that are interspersed with the word ‘alhumdolillah.’

“Well (deep sigh…eye roll…) good, I guess… (and almost as an afterthought) (sigh) alhumdolillah.”

“Alhumdolillah…(could have stopped there but no..) you know the economy is bad…my boss is terrible… work hours..etc.”

“My wife/ husband is wonderful, alhumdolillah but he/she (complaint)(complaint)(sigh)(more complaints) but otherwise alhumdolillah.”

In order to attain meaningful ‘shukr’ these pollutants of complaints and self-pity must be removed from it. It is as if we are taking a bite of a very sweet fruit that has a slightly bitter peel. We bite it (say alhumdolillah) but never reach the juicy insides and remove it from our mouths. In order to taste the sweetness of shukr we must take the bite and chew. So it is necessary to bite your tongue any time you get the urge to say “alhumdolillah, BUT..”

Take a deep breath and say “alhumdolillah” and do not taint it with any excuses or complaints.  Thank Him for the favors that He has blessed you with that are so numerous that you can never count them. Thank Him for the favor of life and of faith and of the ability to thank Him which in itself is a great favor from Allah (swt).  The Prophet (saws) said, “Whoever amongst you wakes up, secure in his home, healthy in his body, having the bare amount of food that he requires for the day, then it is as if the entire world has been captured for him, with all that it contains!” (Bukhari). That sincerity alone makes us deserving of Allah’s promise:

لَئِنْ شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ وَلَئِنْ كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِي لَشَدِيدٌ…

…’If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.’ (14:7)

True gratitude will make us worthy of being remembered by Allah. As He said in Sura Baqarah:

فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ وَاشْكُرُوا لِي وَلَا تَكْفُرُونِ

Therefore remember Me. I will remember you, and be grateful to Me and never be ungrateful to Me. (2:152)

That fleeting emotion which we all recognize when someone does a favor for us will become with practice and patience a permanent condition in our lives, inshallah. The sun will shine brighter, the skies will clear up and the clouds of worry and regret will fade. Through sincere gratitude alone can this world be used to attain the pleasures of the Hereafter. As the great scholar Ibn Taymiyyah said, “In this world there is a paradise, whoever does not enter it will not enter the Paradise of the Hereafter.”

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