The Divine Gift of Gratitude: The Secret of Happiness in the Modern World
The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God… No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.10
The origin of gratitude and the challenge to humanity
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “When Allah created Adam, He breathed the soul into him, then he sneezed and said: ‘All praise [and gratitude] is due to Allah.’ So he praised Allah by His permission. Then His Lord said to him: ‘May Allah have mercy upon you, O Adam…’”13
We already showed them the Way, whether they choose to be grateful or ungrateful.22
O humanity! Eat from what is lawful and good on the earth and do not follow Satan’s footsteps. He is truly your sworn enemy. He only incites you to commit evil and indecency, and to claim against Allah what you do not know.24
Shukr as a way of life
And Allah brought you out of the wombs of your mothers while you knew nothing, and gave you hearing, sight, and intellect so perhaps you would be thankful.30
And He is the One Who causes the day and the night to alternate, [as a sign] for whoever desires to be mindful or to be grateful.39
The station of gratitude gathers within it all of the stations of faith, which is why it is the highest and loftiest of them; it is above contentment, and it contains patience within it but not vice versa, and also contains reliance, oft-returning, love, meekness, humility, fear, and hope; all of these stations are within its ambit, and one cannot be labeled with it except when all of these come together in that person. This is why faith is two halves; one half is patience, the other, gratitude. And since patience is contained in gratitude, all of faith is included in gratitude, and the grateful are the fewest among the servants, as the Exalted said, ‘And few of My servants are truly grateful.’54
Gifts of gratitude
And Allah will reward those who are grateful.56
And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, “If you are grateful, I will certainly give you more. But if you are ungrateful, surely My punishment is severe.”59
…Be grateful to Allah, for whoever is grateful, it is only for their own good. And whoever is ungrateful, then surely Allah is Self-Sufficient, Praiseworthy.64
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Purity is half of iman (faith). Alḥamdulillāh (all praise and gratitude belong to Allah) fills the scales, and subḥānAllāh (how far is Allah from every imperfection) and alḥamdulillāh (all praise and gratitude belong to Allah) fill that which is between heaven and earth.”69
A closer look at modernity and its impact on gratitude
And Allah sets forth the example of a society which was safe and at ease, receiving its provision in abundance from all directions. But its people met Allah’s favors with ingratitude, so Allah made them taste the clutches of hunger and fear for their misdeeds.70
They have taken other gods, instead of Allah, seeking strength [and protection] through them, but these gods will reject their worship and will even turn against them.81
Know that this worldly life is no more than play, amusement, luxury, mutual boasting, and competition in wealth and children. This is like rain that causes plants to grow, to the delight of the planters. But later the plants dry up and you see them wither, then they are reduced to chaff. And in the Hereafter, there will be either severe punishment or forgiveness and pleasure of Allah, whereas the life of this world is no more than the delusion of enjoyment. [So] compete with one another for forgiveness from your Lord and a Paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who believe in Allah and His messengers. This is the favor of Allah. He grants it to whoever He wills. And Allah is the Lord of infinite bounty. No calamity occurs on earth or in yourselves without being [written] in a Record before We bring it into being. This is certainly easy for Allah. [We let you know this] so that you neither grieve over what you have missed nor boast over what He has granted you. For Allah does not like whoever is arrogant, boastful.83
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The likeness of this world in comparison to the Hereafter is that of anyone of you dipping his finger into the sea: let him see what he brings forth.”88
As for those who only pay lip-service to gratitude, and do not give thanks with the rest of their faculties, are concerned, they are like a man who has a garment and all he does with it is touch it, but he does not put it on: it will never protect him from heat, cold, snow or rain.89
- Knowing, remembering, and calling upon Allah by His names and attributes, particularly those of His boundless divine mercy as al-Raḥmān, wisdom as al-Ḥakīm, generosity as al-Karīm, love as al-Wadūd, and appreciation as ash-Shakūr.
- Reminding oneself that Allah’s power and wisdom are far beyond our capacity. Circumstances we encounter of hardship and evil contain good we may not perceive which will overtake any harm when we turn to Allah in faith, obedience, patience, and gratitude.
- Acts of worship such as ritual prayer, fasting, charity, and supplication inculcate shukr when one is mindful of their purpose and the affirmations, praise, and gratitude they embody.
- The daily prescribed remembrance of Allah recited at specific times as taught by the Prophet ﷺ as well as frequent recitation of Qur’an, particularly with time and effort to reflect on the meaning of the verses and supplications that contain reminders of Allah’s mercy and kindness, statements of praise and gratitude, and supplications for forgiveness, guidance, protection, and provision. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The best remembrance is: there is none worthy of worship except Allah (lā ilāha illa Allāh) and the best supplication is: All praise and thanks are due to Allah (alḥamdulillāh).”90
- Additional acts of worship the Prophet ﷺ was known to incorporate into daily life and which are mentioned specifically in regard to gratitude are the supererogatory acts of the prostration of shukr91 and the night prayer.92
- The tendency to compare oneself and one’s circumstances to others is overcome by looking instead toward those who appear to have less, as the Prophet ﷺ advised us to. He ﷺ once asked his Companions, “Who amongst you is fasting today?” Abū Bakr said, “I am.” He then asked, “Who amongst you followed a funeral procession today?” Abū Bakr said, “I did.” He ﷺ again asked, “Who amongst you served food to the needy?” Abū Bakr said, “I did.” He ﷺ then asked, “Who amongst you has visited the sick today?” Abū Bakr said, “I did.” Thereupon Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “Anyone in whom these good deeds are combined will certainly enter paradise.”93 Such acts of service enable one to experience the fulfillment of gratitude.
- Using all that Allah has blessed you with in ways to do good and to seek His pleasure is the ultimate expression of gratitude. This includes, but is not limited to, your intellect and faculties such as your eyes, ears, speech, and physical capability. Gratitude to Allah is expressed in spending your time, talents, and resources in worship of Him and service to His creation.
- Reciprocating acts of kindness is an expression of gratitude and key to nurturing relationships. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ instructed us, “Whoever is given something should reciprocate that act if possible. If not, he should compliment the giver. The one who compliments has expressed gratitude, while he who refrains from doing so has committed kufr (i.e., is ungrateful).”94 This hadith is another example of the importance placed on showing gratitude to those around us, particularly to our parents, spouses, and children, but also to those within our social and professional circles. The Prophet ﷺ said: “He who does not thank the people is not thankful to Allah.”95 People in positions of service to us such as in the workplace, at school, in public, and those employed, for example, to maintain the landscape, repair, or clean are often taken for granted and neglected and are all deserving of our gratitude.
- Keep a daily journal in which to itemize things to be grateful for. As cliché as it sounds, picturing the glass half full by recalling one’s blessings does have a positive impact on gratitude. How often do we stop to think about our every working limb, joint, and faculty? Every breath we effortlessly take is the result of phenomenal machinery and the perfection of Allah and His mercy toward us—something to appreciate even more having witnessed the pandemic’s ravaging of our respiratory systems. Think about the blessings of waking up a believer, in the safety of your home, and being able to practice your religion freely. This is sadly not a situation to take for granted for so many of our brothers and sisters witnessing calamities such as illness, death, persecution, and genocide. It is our faith that equips us with the commitment, fortitude, and perspective to handle all of life’s challenges and losses, even those as devastating as these. Each new dawn brings with it the opportunity to worship Allah better and to perform that one act of sincerity which could secure our place in Paradise.
- Allah instructs His Messenger, the Prophet ﷺ and in turn, all of us to “talk about the blessings of your Lord.”96 Allah is pleased with the believer who expresses their gratitude to Him by mentioning their blessings, as He is pleased with the effects of those blessings on His servant. A noteworthy point here is the distinction between boasting about something one has achieved or acquired and attributing that same blessing to the generosity of Allah. Gratitude lies in the sincerity and humility with which it is mentioned and used.
O Allah! I seek refuge with You not to exchange Your favor with ingratitude, not to be ungrateful for it after I have known it [to be from You] and not to forget it or neglect praising it. -ʿUmar ibn ʿAbdul ʿAzīz97
And whoever does good willingly, Allah is truly Appreciative, All-Knowing.100