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Gratitude in Islam.

Gratitude in Islam

Gratitude in Islam is one of the most fundamental aspects of this religion. A Muslim is not merely one cognisant of the fact that the creator of the universe is one and is responsible for everything he has in this life i.e. his consciousness, his health, his family, his sanity and his wealth but also realizes that it is his obligation to express gratitude to his lord.

The Arabic word for gratitude is “shukr” and the opposite of gratitude is “kufr”, which also happens to be the word for disbelief. So rejection of Allah and his religion is intimately connected to ungratefulness.

Why is life so difficult?

Many of us focus on our problems and difficulties and say in despair “why is life so difficult?”. This is natural, but it is not something a Muslim should do as he should be stronger in character. There are different reasons why people say “why is life so difficult?”.

Someone may have all the basic necessities of life but want something else. This may be caused by different reasons. It may just be caused by pure greed, a desire for sensual fulfillment or by the sort of people they mix with. A rich kid may want a ferrari for his 18th birthday and fails to get it, and is then filled with frustration and anger. The question then we have to ask ourselves, the thing which we desire and cannot attain, do we really need it? If we do really need it can’t we wait for longer? If we can’t wait and we are impatient this highlights the fact that we are impatient. Patience is something key to the Muslim character and is something developed upon during the month of Ramadan when we fast from dawn to dusk.

Many of us today are compared to the people of the past or of poorer countries, greedier, more impatient and more frivilous. I will try to illustrate this by giving an extreme example.

The Menendez brothers were two brothers in the United states from a wealthy family who murdered their parents in cold blood born in 1968 and 1971 In 1988 the two brothers who had grown up in wealth and apparently stole $100,000. They were saved from going to jail by their father paying heavy amounts of money to a top lawyer. The following year the Menendez brothers repaid their father by murdering him.

Lyle Menendez, who murdered his mother and father.

After murdering both of their parents and using a lawyer to try to somehow claim that they had been deprived and abused by their parents, a false claim belied by the fact that the two went on a spending spree including expensive watches, travel abroad, fancy cars and so forth. The rules of life, which some call “karma”, which Islamically is something we have in our own religious texts to, eventually led to these two to being imprisoned where they still are to this very day.

This is a very extreme example, however though none of us are as bad as these two murderers, we in our own way have a Menendez brothers streak in us, in our own impatience, lack of gratitude and complaining. Whilst these two were eager and impatient to live a materialistic and hedonistic lifestyle even if it meant murdering their parents, our eagerness and impatience to get what we want can often lead to us complaining about how “unfair” life is.

In comparison to us, the Menendez brothers lived in luxury, how could they be so ungrateful we ask? However in comparison to others we ourselves with our comfortable homes, computers, relatively free and peaceful societies live in great wealth. The relationship between us and people in some poorer countries is in some ways like the relationship between us and the Menendez brothers.

Two boys in Argentina, far poorer than the Menendez brothers.

Examples of poverty from Argentina.

Just as the Menendez brothers, Kyle and Erik, who obviously knew many people were far worse off than them, we also know many others are worse off us. However that does not give us the mental strength, resilience or gratefulness to desist from complaining.

Life is beautiful.

Life is beautiful. Every breath we take is a gift. If one of our beloved ones is close to death it is then we start to appreciate life more. The thought of them not surviving brings to the fore how precious life is. Let us look at what Islam says about gratitude:

And He subjected for you the sun and the moon, continuous [in orbit], and subjected for you the night and the day. And He gave you from all you asked of Him. And if you should count the favor [i.e., blessings] of Allaah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful.” (Quran, 14th Surah, verse 32.34)

Allah also said in the Quran:

‘If you are grateful, I will surely give you more and more” (14th Surah, verse 7)

It is this which is the most important message which I am saying here.

Modern studies have shown that if we look at the glass as half full rather than half empty, and if we always focus on what we have, make light of our difficulties – which in no way means not trying to resolve them or accepting injustice – then that positivity attracts positivity. Statements are like du’a (supplication). We have to be careful what we say, because words have power, words are not “just words” but something far greater. If a man were to say every day of his life for one year “I’m going to break my leg, I’m going to break my leg, I’m going to break it”, then there is a good chance that this will happen. For words can be self-fulfilling prophecies. Islam tells us to be careful with what we say, and to try to speak good. Islam also tells us to be optimistic in what we hope for the future, but realistic in our assessment of the present.

We will have difficulties, we will have problems. We may lose loved ones. We may ask “Why? Why me? Why is this happening to me?” However this indicates a lack of understanding. For though we cry and lament and it is only human we should accept that this is part of life. Let us take a look at the life of the prophet peace be upon him.

– He was essentially an orphan and never saw his parents.

– He was beaten and physically assaulted whilst giving his message. He is the beloved of Allah and the best of creation, yet he was stoned by young children with blood dripping so much till his sandals were stuck to his feet. This was in Taif.

– He and his followers were boycotted by nearly all of his tribe, ostracized with them having to live in a relatively isolated valley.

– His beloved wife Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) died during this period of boycott.

– The prophet’s only son, Ibrahim, died when he was 18 months old.

As Egyptian writer Hakal says:

“His (the prophet peace be upon him) heart was torn apart by the new tragedy, and his face mirrored his inner pain. Choking with sorrow, he said to his son, “O Ibrahim, against the judgement of God, we cannot avail you a thing,” and then fell silent. Tears flowed from his eyes. The child lapsed gradually, and his mother and aunt watched and cried loudly and incessantly, but the Prophet never ordered them to stop. As Ibrahim surrendered to death, Muhammad’s hope which had consoled him for a brief while completely crumbled. With tears in his eyes he talked once more to the dead child: “O Ibrahim, were the truth not certain that the last of us will join the first, .we would have mourned you even more than we do now.” A moment later he said: “The eyes send their tears and the heart is saddened, but we do not say anything except that which pleases our Lord. Indeed, O Ibrahim, we are bereaved by your departure from us.”

– The prophet did not lead a wealthy life. In the last ten years of his life he never ate wheat three days in a row. He used to sleep on a mate made out of date palm leaves.

So this is the beloved of Allah, the best human ever and the messenger of God and this is how he lived and what he had to experience, and yet we find people today complaining about things far smaller or questioning.

In Islam we are told that we should always look at those who are far worse off than us, and not those who who are better off than us. It is highly important that we cultivate patience, because lack of patience can turn us into animals, can make us aggressive, eager for material pleasure. Patience however humanizes us and makes us better people. Complaining too can also be evil and it is said “Complaining is from the Shaytan”. If we have problems, instead of speaking to our friend for 1 hour, we should at least make du’a to Allah for 1/3 an hour. For he is the one who has power of all things, whilst our friends do not. He is always there, whilst friendship comes and goes. He understands fully, even better than we do, whereas our friends may not truly understand what we are going through.

If we are sad and despondent we should try to read Surah Yusuf, a Surah which gives happiness and which was revealed to the prophet peace be upon him during “The year of sadness”, the year when his beloved wife Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) and his uncle, Abu Talib both died. I myself personally whilst living in Syria was going through difficult times, living in a foreign land and having lost my job. I was advised to read this Surah and after doing so I changed and inexplicably started to feel much happier.

When we are experiencing difficult times, we need to think of those around us who are worse off than us, or those before us or elsewhere who have suffered extraordinary pain or trials, and we need to focus on those things which we have. When we start to focus on what we have and are grateful for them, we shall see that they will start to multiply. When you are grateful, Allah will give you more. When you give to others, Allah will give even more to you.

So here is a recommendation. Everyday after Fajr (the morning prayer) please take 3 minutes or more out and mentally say to yourself all the good things you have in your life. Make them twenty, even if it is just that you have eyes whilst others are blind, or that you have limbs, or that all of your children are there, or that in your life you were fortunate enough to travel to Paris, or some city. I want you to thank Allah for all he has given you.

Do the same before you go to bed, make it twenty things, and then maybe if you wish to increase them with time. You will see that you become a more positive person, and that when you thank Allah he will give you more.

“‘If you are grateful, I will surely give you more and more” (Quran, 14:7)

Positivity brings positive outcomes, gratitude and abundance bring more abundance.

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