14 ديسمبر, 2017 - 25 Rabi' al-Awwal 1439

Giving Thanks for the Gift of Thanks

Giving Thanks for the Gift of Thanks

Thanksgiving (Yawm al-Shukr) is a holiday that is celebrated in several countries around the world, including the United States, Canada, and others. Aside from the Fiqhi (legal) discussion about whether or not Muslims can, or should, “celebrate” Thanksgiving, we wanted to take a moment to look at Thankfulness from an Islamic perspective.

It is worth mentioning at the start that although many Muslims know that Belief (Iman) and Disbelief (Kufr) are opposites, they are often unaware that kufr is also used as an opposite of Thankfulness in the Quran. Linguistically, kufr can refer to covering or concealing something, which includes intentionally covering or concealing (thus denying) the favors and blessings that Allah has given us. Allah reminds us about this in the Quran when He says, “So remember Me; I will remember you. Be thankful to Me and do not be ungrateful” (2:152). In another verse He says, “We bestowed wisdom on Luqman, saying, "Be grateful to God: he who is grateful, is grateful only for the good of his own soul. But if anyone is ungrateful, then surely God is self-sufficient and praiseworthy" (31:12). In both of these verses the verb kafara is used to refer to ungratefulness, i.e. denying Allah’s blessings upon us.

This point is critically important for the believer, because kufr, in any form, should be avoided at all costs, since it only leads to pain and suffering in this life and the next, as Allah says, “But whoever disregards My remembrance, his shall be a wretched life, and We shall raise him blind on the Day of Resurrection” (20:124). From this we can understand that disbelief and ungratefulness are connected, as are faith and thankfulness, as Allah says in the Quran, “Why should Allah punish you if you are thankful and believe? Allah is ever Appreciative, All-Knowing” (4:147).

We see then, that the believer should always be in a state of thankfulness to Allah, the Almighty. This leads us to our main topic, “What is the Islamic concept of thankfulness?” Scholars have discussed the various meanings of thankfulness and written at length on this topic, especially those scholars who focused on the inner dimensions of faith and worship and how to purify the heart from its spiritual diseases.

Imam Al-Muhasibi (d.243/781) described thankfulness as Allah’s increase (of blessing) to those who are thankful, meaning when a person is thankful, Allah gives them success, and thus they become even more thankful (again increasing their success). This is a beautiful reminder rooted in the Quranic message, as Allah says, “If you are grateful, I will surely bestow more favors on you; but if you are ungrateful, then know that My punishment is severe indeed” (14:7).

Imam Ibn Qayyim (d.751/1350), May Allah have mercy on him, described thankfulness saying, “The root of thankfulness (al-Shukr) is acknowledging the gift of the giver with submission, humility, and love. So, whoever does not know of a gift, being ignorant of it, cannot appreciate it. And whoever knows it, yet does not know the giver of it, also cannot (truly) appreciate it. And whoever knows the giver and the gift, yet rejects it, has denied it (kafara biha). Yet, whoever knows both the gift and the giver, and accepts it and does not reject it, yet does not do so humbly, loving him (the giver) and being pleased by him and with him, also has not appreciated it (lam yashkurha). Yet whoever knows it, and its giver, and accepts it with humility and love, being pleased by and with the giver, using it in a way the giver loves, in obedience to him, has truly shown thankfulness. Thus, thankfulness requires understanding of the heart; and good deeds, which are inclining toward the giver and his love, follow this understanding. This is as Imam Al-Bukhari reports through Shaddad bin Aws, May Allah be pleased with him, that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said, ‘The most superior way of asking for forgiveness from Allah is: O Allah, You are my Lord, there is no god but You. You have created me and I am Your slave, and I am keeping my promise and covenant to You as much as I can. I seek refuge with You from the evil of what I do. I acknowledge Your blessings and I acknowledge my sin, so forgive me, for there is none who can forgive sin except You. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, added, ‘If somebody recites it during the day with firm faith in it, and dies the same day before the evening, he will be from the people of Paradise; and if somebody recites it at night with firm faith in it, and dies before the morning, he will be from the people of Paradise.’”

From this beautiful saying, we can understand that thanking Allah is not merely something we do with our tongues. It is not enough for us to say “alhamdulillah” or “al-shukr lillah” or other such phrases to show our gratitude. Rather, we must understand the depth of the blessing by remembering that it is from Allah directly. Even blessings that we think are from our own actions, such as the money we earn from our jobs, are from Allah, who blessed us with the ability to work hard, and gave us success in our efforts.

Furthermore, it is vital for us to utilize those blessings in a way that is pleasing to Allah, in keeping with sacred Law, since one of the worst things a person can do (May Allah protect us from such deeds) is to use the blessings of Allah to disobey him, which is the complete opposite of thankfulness. In fact, true thankfulness should manifest in the believer’s acts of worship as well. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was asked why he used to stand hours in prayer until his feet would swell up from standing so long, despite the fact that he was forgiven by Allah (and thus not in need of good deeds to remove sins) and he replied, “Shouldn’t I be a thankful servant?”

This is the Islamic perspective on Thankfulness, which leads us to appreciate our blessings, our Creator who gave them to us, and allows us to grow closer to Him through acts of obedience and worship, which in turn further strengthens our relationship with Him. This is as the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The most beloved things with which My slave draws nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him, so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks. If he asks Me, I will give him, and if he asks My protection, I will protect him; and I do not pause to do anything as I pause to take the soul of the believer, for he hates death, and I hate to disappoint him."

"O Allah, help us in remembering You, in giving You (proper) thanks, and worshipping You well."