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Articles Section > Gratitude


Gratitude:
Speech Delivered on 3rd October 1999 by Imam Kalamazad Mohammed


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Therefore remember Me, I will remember you and give thanks to Me and be not ungrateful to Me (2:152).

In the verse quoted above (2:152), Imam Ghazali has pointed out that so important is thankfulness that it is mentioned together with dhikr (remembrance of God), and he makes the point that the heart of man is hard like stone, rather, harder than stone, and the hardness can be removed only through gratefulness and fear of God and in particular, the fear of being separated from Him.

Before examining further the attribute of thankfulness, it is important that a few preliminary remarks from the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith be made on the subject.

From the Holy Qur’an:

Allah has promised us in the Holy Qur’an (14:7) that if we are grateful He will give us more. "More of what?" we may ask. Imam Ghazali furnishes the answer when he says that Allah will grant us more of five things, and he quotes the Qur’anic verse in support of each blessing:

* WealthIf Allah wills He will make you free from want out of His grace.

* Acceptance of our du’a (prayer) – He can give you what you pray for if He wills.

* ProvisionHe gives provision to whom He wills without measure.

* ForgivenessHe forgives besides that to whom He pleases.

* RepentanceHe accepts repentance from whom He pleases.

These are the attributes of Allah as He says: He accepts gratefulness and is patient. (Al Ghazali, Ihya, pp. 87-88)

However, in spite of the countless favours bestowed on man, Allah laments that man is generally very ungrateful and, in fact, very few of His servants are ever grateful to Him for His boons.

In 14:34 (And He gives you all that you ask of Him. And if you count Allah’s favours, you will not be able to number them. Surely man is very unjust, very ungrateful), Allah mentions this weakness in man and the same sadness is expressed in 27:73 (And thy Lord is full of grace to men, but most of them do not give thanks), and in 40:61 (Surely Allah is Full of Grace to men, but most men give not thanks).

In order to encourage us to be grateful, Allah discloses part of His limitless love and mercy to us when He categorically states that if we are grateful He will not punish us. He first promises this in the form of a question in the verse: Why should Allah chastise you if you are grateful and believe? And Allah is ever Multiplier of rewards (Shakiron), Knowing (4:147), and plainly affirms it in 34:17: And We punish none but the ingrate.

We are also told that the reward for thankfulness is not distant but very close: And We shall soon reward the grateful (3:144).

From the Hadith:

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said: "'Praise be to Allah' is the beginning of thanksgiving, for the man who does not praise Allah has not thanked Him."

He underlines the high regard of the faithful ones when he gives the good news that: "The first to be summoned to Paradise on the Day of Resurrection will be those who praise Allah in prosperity and in adversity."

Further, he suggests that gratitude is an essential part of a true believer’s good fortune when he says: "It is remarkable that everything turns out well for a believer while that applies only to a believer. If happiness befalls him, he gives thanks and it turns out well for him, and if misfortune befalls him, he shows endurance and it turns out well for him."

But he also warns us in this hadith that gratitude is not for Allah alone, but must first be shown to our fellow human beings. He says: "Whoever is not grateful to man is not grateful to Allah."

How truly does a famous author reveal to us the sublime rank of gratitude when he says: "Gratitude is not only a great virtue; it is the mother of all virtues."

What then is gratitude and how can we express it in the proper way?

Shukr (thankfulness) comprises two categories – of man and of Allah.

As regards man, shukr comes from the Arabic verb shakara that means:

* To thank or to praise God for His beneficence

* To be grateful or thankful to God and to praise, eulogise or commend Him

* To acknowledge the favours of God and to act in a manner incumbent on him in rendering obedience to Him and abstaining from acts of disobedience

Shukr (thankfulness) is of three kinds:

* With the heart or mind, which is the forming of an adequate idea of the benefit (that is, to appreciate the value of the gift)

* With the tongue, which is praising, eulogising or commending the benefactor

* With the members, or limbs, which is requiting the benefit according to its use (that is, using the gift in the correct manner and not abusing or misdirecting it)

Shukr rests on five foundations:

* Humility of him who renders it to whom it is rendered

* His love of him (that is, the giver of the gift and appreciating his rank)

* His acknowledgement of the benefit (that is, not concealing it)

* His praising of the benefactor (in all circumstances)

* His not using the benefit in a manner which displeases the giver (Lane)

As regards Allah, we must remember that two of His attributes are Ash-Shakir and Ash-Shakur which come from shakara, and they mean the One Who recognises and appreciates the efforts of man, and gives rewards in abundance even for the smallest acts of goodness or for few good works, so much so that the Hadith tells us that: "If you are content with the small provisions which Allah has given you, He will be satisfied with your few good deeds." It also means the One Who approves, rewards or forgives without measure.

How did the Prophets of Allah show their gratitude to Him? It is narrated that a prophet was afflicted with a disease. He wept bitterly at the time owing to fear. When he was cured of the disease, he wept in a like manner. When questioned about it, he replied that he was weeping out of gratefulness to Allah as he was cured by Him.

One day, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) said in his invocation: "O God! You created Adam (pbuh). How did he express gratefulness to Thee?" Allah replied: "He knew that everything came from Me."

Lady Ayesha (rta) reported that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) wept so much in prayer one night that his tears flowed down his breast. Bilal came and asked him: "O Prophet of God, why do you weep when your past and future sins have been forgiven?" The Holy Prophet replied: "Shall I not be a grateful servant?"

It was then that verse 3:190 of the Holy Qur’an was revealed: Those who remember Allah standing and sitting and (lying) on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord, Thou has not created this in vain! Glory be to Thee! Save us from the chastisement of the Fire.

And how can we give thanks to Allah? It is reported that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) once asked a man: "How are you?" The man replied: "I am well." The Holy Prophet (pbuh) repeated the question and the man answered with this addition: "I am well. I praise God and I am grateful to Him for it." The Holy Prophet (pbuh) then said: "This is why I repeated the question."

It is reported in another hadith that Allah told the Holy Prophet (pbuh): "When you understand that a gift comes from Me, I am pleased with that gratefulness." (Al Ghazali, Ihya, pp. 88-93)

However, in my opinion, the key to showing gratitude to Allah is contained in this du’a (prayer) of the Holy Prophet: "O Allah, grant me the strength to be grateful to Thee." This points to the fact that thanksgiving is incumbent on every atom of a human being. We must discover every God-given talent, every virtue in us, as the Holy Qur’an tells us: And in the earth there are signs for those who are sure, and in yourselves, do you not see? (51:20-21).

The Holy Qur’an is also called al-Zikr (the Reminder), that is, the reminder of every hidden potential and capacity within us. After discovering these abilities and aptitudes, we must then utilise them for our own self-development and self-expression (that is what is meant by falah) in the manner prescribed by Allah so that righteous action becomes natural to us, as we are directed in this verse: So set thy face for religion, being upright, the nature made by Allah in which He has created men . . . (30:30).

We must value the countless gifts bestowed on us by Allah and pray hard and work hard to develop them as we are instructed: Certainly We have given thee abundance of good, so pray to thy Lord and sacrifice (108:1-2).

However, these natural as well as acquired blessings must be used not only for ourselves and our own families, but for all mankind, for that is the recipe for success individually and collectively, as the Holy Qur’an reminds us: By the time! Surely man is in loss, except those who believe and do good, and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to patience (103:1-3).

Finally, in order to preserve, reinforce and develop this quality of gratitude to the highest degree, we are advised to keep the company of the grateful ones, as the Holy Qur’an bids us: Nay, worship Allah alone and keep the company of those who are grateful (39:66).

Even though as human beings we acknowledge the innumerable gifts of God, both tangible and intangible, yet we sometimes deviate from the path of gratitude. This transgression comes about from a variety of reasons, some of which are as follows:

Man is created weak (4:26), the Holy Qur’an tells us, and sometimes we do not truly appreciate the value of the gifts God has conferred on us. Sometimes through laziness we do not develop our talents. We may forget our purpose on earth or may lack adequate education, or we may fall into evil ways through the temptations of Satan and his human friends. Some unfortunate ones even deny the existence of the Almighty and refuse the guidance of divine revelation, as the Holy Qur’an says: And Allah sets forth a parable: A town safe and secure, to which its means of subsistence came in abundance from every quarter; but it disbelieved in Allah’s favours, so Allah made it taste a pall of hunger and fear because of what they wrought (16:112).

The Holy Qur’an also points out another weakness of human beings when it says: Surely man is kanud (ungrateful) to his Lord (100:6). We all know that if you give a child something he likes every day for a hundred days he will show happiness and gratitude each time. But if one day you are unable to fulfil his need you know the response; something like: "You are bad. I don’t like you." It seems as if this behaviour is not confined to children alone.

(Kanud means: an ungrateful man or woman; a blamer of his Lord, one who remembers misfortunes and forgets favours, rebellious, niggardly, avaricious. Ardh kanud means: land that produces nothing. (Lane))

Another weakness in human nature is to want more and more and more, never being content and thankful, but always feeling that a little bit more will make us happy. We fall into the "if only" trap. That is, "If only we have such and such, we will experience heaven on earth, all our problems will be solved and we will inhabit cloud nine forever." An example of this kind of insatiable greed and the consequences of it are given in the Holy Qur’an when it mentions the fate of the people of Saba: Certainly there was a sign for Saba’ in their abode – two gardens on the right and the left. Eat of the sustenance of your Lord and give thanks to Him. A good land and a Forgiving Lord! But they turned aside, so We sent upon them a violent torrent, and in place of their two gardens We gave them two gardens yielding bitter fruit and (growing) tamarisk and a few lote-trees. With this We requited them because they were ungrateful; and We punish none but the ingrate. And We made between them and the towns which We had blessed, (other) towns easy to be seen, and We apportioned the journey therein: Travel through them nights and days, secure. But they said: Our Lord, make longer stages between our journeys. And they wronged themselves; so We made them stories and scattered them a total scattering. Surely there are signs in this for every patient, grateful one (34:15-19). They had a good land and a forgiving Lord, two flourishing gardens (self-sufficiency in food), safe trading in distant towns (economic prosperity), yet they said to the Almighty: Our Lord, make longer stages between our journeys. Eat of the sustenance of your Lord and give thanks, they were told, but they wanted more. Destruction, therefore, was their retribution.

The Russian short story, entitled 'How Much Land Does a Man Need?', tells of a peasant who was never satisfied with the amount of land that he had. He was always grumbling, criticising, carping and even quarrelling with his family and neighbours. A real kanud.

He always went in search of more land wherever he heard he could get it cheaply. One day a stranger passed through his village and gave the good news that rich, productive land was being given away free in a certain region. "Free!" he said to himself. So he packed up his belongings and made for the place post haste.

The ruler and his people welcomed him warmly and informed him of the conditions: He could have as much land as the area he covered by walking from sunrise to sunset but there was a stern warning: he must return to the starting point before the sun went down. He walked and ran, walked and ran the whole day, but every time he thought of returning, he saw another piece of fertile land that he could not resist. At last, when he saw the sun going down, he started to hurry back to the place where the ruler and his group were encamped on a hill. The sun dipped just a few seconds before he could reach the tent and he fell dead.

The ruler smiled sadly and knowingly and told his people: "Bury him." One of them said to the others: "It happens thus to all of them."

How much land does a man need? How much of anything does a man need?

Brothers and sisters, in conclusion, let us all recall the example of Prophet Abraham as given to us in the Holy Qur’an. Surely Abraham was a model of virtue, obedient to Allah, upright, and he was not of the polytheists. Grateful for his favours. He chose him and guided him on the right path. And We give him good in this world; and in the Hereafter he is surely among the righteous (16:120-122).

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