The Power of Gratitude: Part1
In his magnificent, spacious palace, Harun al-Rasheed was sitting with Ibn al-Sammak, one of the most pious scholars of his time. Suddenly, Harun felt thirsty and asked one of his servants to bring him a cup of water which was immediately brought to Harun al-Rasheed. As Harun was about to drink, Ibn al-Sammak wanted to use this opportunity as a teaching moment.
“May I have a question for you?” Ibn al-Sammak interrupted Harun.
“Definitely, answered Harun.
“Imagine if you cannot find this water anywhere, how much money would you pay to get it?” asked Ibn al-Sammak.
“Half of my wealth,” answered Harun al-Rasheed.
“Drink it, may Allah make it healthy for you!” Ibn al-Sammak sincerely prayed.
“May I have one more question for you?” asked Ibn al-Sammak as Harun finished drinking.
“Definitely!” replied Harun.
“How much money would you pay if this water cannot be released from your body?” asked Ibn al-Sammak.
“I would pay all my wealth!” answered Harun without any hesitation.
Upon this, Ibn al-Sammak took this incident as an opportunity to advise Harun: “Do not rejoice much for your kingdom that is not worth a cup of water!”
Some of us may not even pay attention to the fact that they are blessed by Allah in many areas, and thus, they keep feeling sorry for what they missed rather than feeling grateful for what they have. This is why the Quran describes the grateful as “few.” The Quran reads:“And few among my servants are the truly thankful.” (34:13) One day, Umar hear a man praying: “My Lord, make me among the few.” “What do you mean?” asked Umar. The man replied: “O Commander of the Believers, Allah said [about Noah]: “None believed him except few.” (11:40). And Allah said: “And few among my servants are truly thankful.” (34:13). And Allah said: “Except for those who believe and do good deeds—and how few they are!” (38:24).
How does the Quran view gratitude?
Did you know that Allah grouped people into two categories: the grateful and the ungrateful?“We showed man the right Way to be either grateful or ungrateful.” (Q. 76:3). Did you know that we will be questioned about God’s blessings? Allah says: “Then you shall be questioned about the delights [you enjoyed in this life].” (Q. 102:8). Did you know that one of the reasons why Allah created day and night is to recognize Allah’s power and give thanks to Him? Allah said: “And it is He [Allah] who has made the day and night successive for whomever wants to remember [Allah’s power] and to be thankful [to Allah] ” (Q. 25: 62). Did you know that giving thanks to Allah is one of the reasons why He created us? Allah specifically highlighted the value of gratitude as a demonstrating act of worship. “O ye who believe, eat from the good that Allah provided for you, and give thanks to Him if you truly worship Him alone.” (Q. 2:172)
Imam ibn al-Qayyim adds: “Allah, the Most Exalted, mentioned that gratitude is the goal of Creation and Decree. Moreover, it is the task Allah created us for. Allah said:“And Allah has brought you forth from the bellies of your mothers [while] you knew nothing. And He made for you the [senses of] hearing, sight and heats (understanding), so that you may give thanks.” (16:78) Furthermore, Allah mentioned clearly that “giving thanks” is the goal of sending the prophets. Allah says: “As we sent for you a messenger [Muhammad] from your own selves, reciting our verses unto you, purifying you, teaching you the Book and Wisdom, and teaching you what you did not know before. So, remember me, and I shall remember you and be thankful to me and do not be ungrateful.” (2:151-152).” When Satan knew the importance of gratitude, he committed himself to turn people ungrateful. The Quran reveals Satan’s plan to spare no effort to mislead people into ungratefulness:“Then I shall come to them from before and from behind, from their right, and from their left, and you will not find the greater part of them thankful.” (Q. 7:17)
Why do we have to thank Allah regularly?
The simple answer to this question is “because without Allah we would not exist, and without Allah we would not survive.” In other words, we owe Allah both our existence and our sustenance. Even though they are countless, Allah’s blessings can be grouped under three main categories: the blessing of creation, the blessing of sustenance, and the blessing of Faith.
Regarding the first category, the Quran reminds us: “Has there not been for man a long period of time, when he was nothing – (not even) mentioned?” (Q. 76:1). As we remember the beginning of our life through the biological process we know, one has to demonstrate humility before God. The Quran records one’s rebellion against God as something unexpected, especially when one considers the creation process: “He [God] created man from a sperm-drop; then suddenly, he is a clear adversary” (Q. 16:4). Instead of surrendering to God and worshipping Him humbly, some rebel and others go further to deny Him! Thinking about the first moments and years of life is enough to motivate us to recognize our essential need and weakness. When Allah perfects our senses as we age, we should be more grateful as a deeply felt inner truth, not be ungrateful as a result of unjustified arrogance or heedlessness.
Reflecting on how God supports our survival leads us to the second category of the divine blessings on us. Try to rethink the following examples of basic divine blessings. Did you know that the average adult at rest inhales and exhales 11,000 liters of air a day which makes 550 liters of pure oxygen per day? What about the eyes? Bakr ibn Abdullah said: “If you want to know how much Allah blessed you, close your eyes.” Now I am not asking you to close your eyes for a day or an hour. Just do it for one minute, and you will realize how great this blessing is. Have you ever considered the water you drink? Have you ever considered the blessing of the day and night? These are actually Quranic questions.
Have you considered the water which you drink?
Is it you that send it down from the clouds, or are We the senders?
If We pleased, We would have made it salty; why do you not then give thanks? (Q. 56-68:70)
Say, “Have you considered: if Allah should make for you the night continuous until the Day of Resurrection, what deity other than Allah could bring you light? Then will you Say, “Have you considered: if Allah should make for you the day continuous until the Day of Resurrection, what deity other than Allah could bring you a night in which you may rest? Then will you not see?”And out of His mercy He made for you the night and the day that you may rest therein and [by day] seek from His bounty and [that] perhaps you will be grateful. (Q. 28:71-73)
Considering these very basic blessings, why would many people turn ungrateful or forget to thank God regularly even though they will not trade God’s blessings, such as sight, for anything? One of the reasons Imam al-Ghazali provides is that people think that such divine blessings are enjoyed by countless people and thereby they do not feel special! To counter this sign of heedlessness, we need to recognize that every blessing we enjoy is something special for each one of us. Do not wait till you lose the blessing and then wish to gain it back and feel grateful.
The blessings of Allah reach their climax with the blessing of faith and guidance. This is the only way of making sense of life itself. Humans are not machines as atheists argue. Since we have the ability to think and recognize immaterial values like love, beauty, truth, good—we must have something beyond material. To think that we are only a material product is self-contradictory, simply because if we can think, then we must have something immaterial as thinking is an immaterial activity.
Through faith, believers lead a balanced, meaningful life as they meet the needs of their souls by communicating with God and receive answers to the essential questions on life: from where, why and to where? How would any person lead a stable life without knowing the answers to these questions? To us, the Quran answers the three questions in one short verse: “And why should I not worship He who created me and to whom you will be returned?(Q. 36:22).
The Quran counts Islam as a divine favor: “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion” (Q. 5:3). Imam Ibn al-Qayyim notes: “Lay-people thank God for the blessings of food, drinks and health; yet, the special people extend their gratitude to focus on the blessings of monotheism, faith and food of the heart!”
Such were few examples of blessings without which our life would be impossible, hard and/or meaningless. Imagine if you helped someone to survive for a month or two; yet, instead of giving you the credit for his survival, he or she turns to be completely ungrateful. Would that be normal or expected? Accordingly, it is human to thank anyone for whatever good they do for us. God is beyond all comparison, but since we owe Him our existence and our survival, we express our gratitude to Him in the form of worship.
|Imagine there was no afterlife taught by the prophets,
And that the burning coals were not inflamed,
Would it not be a solemn duty
For the servants to praise the Bestower?
هب البعث لم تأتنا رسله … وجاحمة النار لم تضرم
أليس من الواجب المستحق … ثناء العباد على المنعم
In the next part of this article, more light will be shed on how to express our gratitude. We ask Allah to make our hearts full of gratitude, wholeness and hope. Ameen.