The Power of Gratitude (2)
Many of us have frequently exclaimed: “alhamdulillah!” (Praise and thanks are due to Allah) following something good that happens in our life. Is this the only way gratitude is supposed to be expressed? Do you feel grateful only for the good? If the answer is “yes,” is that a narrow meaning of gratitude? Anyone can say alhamdulillah. 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 purpose of its Arabic equivalent: Shukr. In Arabic, the word Shukr refers to three primary meanings:
- Fullness and appearance
- Satisfaction with the little
Looking at the three meanings of Shukr, we recognize three facts about Shukr:
- Gratitude must be verbally demonstrated.
- Gratitude is required for small favors, not only for big ones.
- Gratitude must continue and grow at all times.
Shukr: 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.”
“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 more straightforward order. We must thank Allah verbally, wholeheartedly, physically, lovingly, and humbly. In this section, we’ll discuss the first pillar of gratitude: verbal gratitude.
Even though saying alhamdulillah crosses people’s minds when they think about gratitude, it is so unconsciously overused that it has become a cliché that has lost its original meaning and novelty. Here are seven practices to cultivate and revive our verbal gratitude, which helps us shift our focus from what we lack to the abundance we have.
First, thank Allah by counting His blessings on you. Make a list of the good things in your life and consciously thank Allah. 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.” Suppose you cannot recognize the blessings you have in your life. In that case, the Prophet ﷺ advises us, as reported by al-Tirmithi:
“Whoever wakes up feeling safe with their household, staying healthy and having the food for their 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 of 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 showing off or being preachy! You are praising Allah and attributing everything humbly to Him. However, an arrogant person talks selfishly about themself and takes pride in themself. The Quran reads: “As for the favors of your Lord, report [them]” (Quran 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 appreciation are ritually established, such as the five mandatory daily prayers and the recommended Adhkar in the morning and the evening before sleeping, etc. Every morning the Prophet ﷺ 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 are from You alone. You have no partner. To You is all praise. To You is all gratitude”
Fourth, end your day with gratitude. Here, for example, the Prophet ﷺ 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. Many are not sufficiently sustained or have a place to live in.”
The Prophet ﷺ used to remember the favors of food and water every night before he slept, even though he had less than what the poorest of us have. Sometimes, months would pass, and he had only dates and water! Following the attitude of the Prophet ﷺ in this regard and training ourselves to recognize the blessings usually taken for granted will help us feel a sense of abundance in our lives and pull ourselves out of negativity.
Fifth, when you say alhamdulillah, you should mean it. Say it slowly and feel the words you are expressing. Many of us say alhamdulillah daily, but the question remains: do we mean what we say? We start the Fatiha in our Salah with alhamdulillah, and after finishing Salah, we say alhamdulillah 33 times. Are we conscious of thanking Allah during these times? A way to help you focus on thanking Allah is remembering 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 ﷺ 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 being ungrateful to people will be equally accustomed to being ungrateful to Allah, and (2) Allah will not accept one’s gratitude for the Divine blessings if one is ungrateful to others’ favors.”
In another Hadith, the Prophet ﷺ said more clearly:
من صنع إليكم معروفا فكافئوه، فإن لم تجدوا ما تكافئونه فادعوا له حتى تروا أنكم قد كافأتموه
“Whoever does you a favor, reward him. If you cannot find anything to give as a reward, pray for him until he sees that you really rewarded him!”
In another Hadith, the Prophet ﷺ teaches us to say the specific words of gratitude, “JazakAllahu khayran,” which mean “May Allah reward you the best.” Remember to start by rewarding them. If you cannot, ask Allah to reward them. According to the Sunnah, your “JazakAllahu khayran” should not be cliché; you have to mean it until the person feels appreciated. This is part of the beauty of our faith—a faith that cares about how others feel and makes that a religious duty.
Practically speaking, start with thanking your parents through whom you are brought to this life. The Quran reads: “And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and your parents; to Me is the [final] destination. But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you do not know, do not obey them but accompany them in [this] world with appropriate kindness and follow the way of those who turn back to Me [in repentance]. Then to Me will be your return, and I will inform you about what you used to do” (Quran 31:14-15).
Similarly, call a teacher, dear friend, or someone who did something nice to you and tell them that you are calling to thank them for being in your life. Your spouse looks out for your needs daily. Leave them a thank-you note for something good they did, no matter how small it was. Acknowledge the excellent service provided by the mailman, garbage collector, or your child’s bus driver, etc. and consider giving them a gift in appreciation of their service. A handwritten card is a heartfelt way of expressing gratitude as it illustrates your care and thoughtfulness. So, make it a 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, gratitude gives you a more robust 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 alhamdulillah with more focus and awareness. Another way is as you receive a good piece of news, say alhamdulillah, and fall in prostration to Allah. This neglected Sunnah, known as Sujud al-Shukr (Gratitude Prostration), is meant to protect us from any potential pride or arrogance. Whereas gratitude is expected daily, Sujud al-Shukr is for noticing and tracking any new blessing in our lives. Many scholars see that it is not required to be in the state of Taharah (ritual purity), facing the Qiblah, or even wearing a Hijab, 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 thankfulness every day, and train yourself to look for positivity to readily appreciate many pleasures you used to take for granted.
By Sh. Ahmed Arafat