Many of us have frequently exclaimed: “al-hamdulillah!” (Praise and thanks are due to Allah)following something good that happened in our life. Is this the only way gratitude is supposed to be expressed? Do feel grateful only for the good? If the answer is "yes," then we have a very narrow meaning of gratitude? Anyone can say al-hamdulillah. Anyone can thank Allah for the good. Authentic gratitude extends to be expressed during hard times and demonstrated in different ways.
To understand the meaning of gratitude, let us check the meaning of its Arabic equivalent: Shukr. In Arabic the word Shukr refers to three main meanings: (1) fullness and appearance, (2) satisfaction with the little and (3) growth. For example, the Arabs use: شكرت الدابة(lit. the animal thanked) to mean “it looked full and healthy,” دابة شكور(lit. thankful animal) to mean “it takes in less food and gives more like milk), اشتكرت السماء(lit. the sky thanked) to mean “it rained heavily,” اشتكرت الرياح (lit. the wind thanked) to mean “it blew hard or brought rain.” Looking at the three meanings of Shukr, we recognize three facts about Shukr: (1) gratitude must be verbally demonstrated, (2) gratitude is required for small favors, not only for big ones, and (3) gratitude must continue and grow at all times. What a powerful Arabic word!
As for the spiritual requirements of Shukr, Imam ibn al-Qayyim, in his Madarij al-Salikin, offers what he calls “the Five Pillars of Gratitude”. He writes:
“Gratitude is founded on five pillars: humility before Allah, loving Him, acknowledging His blessings, praising Him for them, and staying away from using them in ways that displease Allah. These five pillars are the foundations of Shukr. If one is missing, Shukr lacks one of its foundations.”
Let me put these five pillars in a simpler English way and in a different order. I would say: “We have to thank Allah verbally, wholeheartedly, physically, lovingly, and humbly.” In this section, we'll discuss the first pillar of gratitude; that is, verbal gratitude.
Even though saying al-Hamdulillah is what crosses people’s mind when they think about gratitude, it became so unconsciously overused that it turned into a cliché that lost its original meaning and novelty. Here are seven practices to cultivate and revive our verbal gratitude which help us shift our focus from what we lack to the abundance we have:
First, thank Allah by counting His blessings on you. Make your own list on the good things in your life and thank Allah consciously. Remember not to take anything for granted as explained in the first part of this article. Said al-Jurayri used to say: تعداد النعم من الشكر “Counting Allah’s favors is one of the ways of gratitude.” If you cannot recognize the blessings you have in your life, the prophet advises us as reported by al-Tirmizi: “Whoever wakes up feeling safe with his household, staying healthy and having the food for his day is like a person who is given life in its entirety.” To be grateful, you should learn not to get trapped by your habitual way of living.
Second, Speak Allah’s favors on you. Share with the people who love you the good things you are grateful for in your life. This is not arrogance or showing off or being preachy! You are praising Allah and attributing everything humbly to Him. But an arrogant person talks selfishly about himself and takes pride in himself. The Quran reads: “As for the favors of your Lord, report [them]” (93:11). Sharing gratitude can be a source of inspiration for others and holding ourselves more accountable. These are great intentions for sharing gratitude.
Third, wake up early and start your day with words of gratitude. One of the great things in Islam is that times for gratitude are ritually established; such as, the five mandatory daily prayers and the recommended Adhkar in the morning and the evening and before sleeping ...etc. Every morning the prophet used to say اللَّهُمَّ مَا أَصْبَحَ بِي مِنْ نِعْمَةٍ فَمِنْكَ وَحْدَكَ لَا شَرِيكَ لَكَ فَلَكَ الْحَمْدُ وَلَكَ الشُّكْرُ“My Lord, All blessings that reach me this morning is from You alone. You have no partner. To You is all praise. To You is all gratitude.”(Authentic Hadith as seen by Imam al-Nawawi)
Fourth, end your day with gratitude. Here is, for example, the prophet used to offer the following prayer before sleeping: ((الْحَمْدُ لله الَّذِي أَطْعَمَنَا وَسَقَانَا وَكَفَانَا وَآوَانَا، فَكَمْ مِمَّنْ لَا كَافِيَ لَهُ وَلَا مُؤْوِيَ))“Thanks are due to Allah who gave us food and drinks, sustained us and gave us shelter. There are many who are not sufficiently sustained or have a place to live in.” He used to remember the favors of food and drinking water every night before he sleeps, even though he had less than what the poorest of us has. Sometimes months would pass and he had only dates and water! Following the attitude of the prophet in this regard and training ourselves to recognize the blessings usually taken for granted will help us feel a sense of abundance in our life and pull ourselves out of negativity.
Fifth, when you say al-hamdulillah, you should mean it. Say it slowly and feel the words you are expressing. Many of us say al-hamdulillah everyday but the question remains: do we mean when we say it? We start the Fatihah in our Salah with al-hamdulillah and after finishing Salah, we say al-hamdulillah 33 times. Are we conscious as we are thanking Allah during these times? A way to help you focus on thanking Allah is to actually remember someone you are grateful to Allah for.
Sixth, thank people who do you a favor. Imam Ahmad, Abu Dawud and Ibn Hibban reported on the authority of Abu Hurayrah that the prophet said لا يشكر الله من لا يشكر الناس “He who does not thank people is not grateful to Allah.” Imam al-Khattabi (d. 399 AH/988) observes in his Ma’alim al-Sunan : “This Hadith can be interpreted in two ways: (1) The one who is accustomed to be ungrateful to people will be equally accustomed to be ungrateful to Allah, and (2) Allah will not accept one’s gratitude for the Divine blessings if one is ungrateful to others’ favors.”
Similarly, call an old friend, teacher, a dear friend or someone who did something nice to you and tell him or her that you are just calling to thank him or her for being in your life. Your spouse looks out for your needs a daily basis. Leave him or her a thank-you note for something good he or she did, no matter how small it was. Acknowledge the good service provided for you by the mailman, refuse collector or your child bus-driver …etc. by giving them a gift in appreciation of their work. A handwritten card is a heartfelt way of expressing gratitude as it illustrates your care and thoughtfulness. So, make it your habit to give a compliment daily. Such practices will make everyone have more positive emotions, feel more alive, become more resilient and develop better relations. Therefore, through gratitude, you can end up having a stronger immune system as you start focusing on the positives in your life!
Seventh, practice present-moment gratitude. Here is one way to apply this point. As you are doing a daily activity, as simple as drinking a cup of water, take a moment to pause, be mindful and feel grateful as you are drinking and then say al-hamdulillah with more focus and more awareness. Another way is as you receive a good piece of news say al-hamdulillah and fall down in prostration to Allah. This is a neglected Sunnah known as Sujud al-Shukr (Gratitude Prostration), and is meant to protect us from any potential pride or arrogance. Whereas gratitude is expected every day, Sujud al-Shukr is for noticing and tracking any new blessing in our life. Many scholars see that it is not required to be in the state of Taharah (ritual purity), facing the Qiblah or even wearing Hijab for a lady as this Sujud is a quick reaction to something that may happen suddenly.
To conclude, try these seven practices for a month and call that month "the No-Complaint Month." Complaining frequently could lead to depression, stress and anxiety. Instead, as you embrace gratitude, sow the seeds of gratitude every day and train yourself to look for positive things, you will easily appreciate many pleasures you used to take for granted. (To Be Continued)