From Knowledge Comes Gratitude

Name of Questioner: Dave

Question: As-salamu `alaykum. I personally would like to know the best way to thank God in Islam for everything He provided for us, and to show Him how grateful I am. My apologies if there are any spelling or grammar mistakes.
consultant: Tarek Ghanem

Salam, Dave.

I pray this finds you in the best of states.

I believe, as many enlightened scholars assert, that Islam in essence is a knowledge-based religion that guides us to behave properly with our beloved Maker, fellow humans (Muslim and non-Muslim), and the universe. This is the story of our religion in entirety. This is directly related to the heart of the answer to your question, as you will see.

And since our religion is an experiential one — meaning it is not of knowledge only without practice — I also chose to answer your valuable question in a way that concurs with that, making sure that the answer affects me and you directly and experientially.

I have been carrying the burden of answering your question correctly, duly, and sincerely for a few days. I have read a few things on the matter and I have been brainstorming.

I just came from a lesson in which Sheikh Nuh Keller was commenting on an aphorism by the famous scholar and sage Shu`aib Abu Madyan. The talk enlightened my heart and I felt a certain inclination — or rather an urge — to start answering. I will use some of what he taught in the lesson here.

"Whoever Allah wishes good for, He will make intimate with His remembrance (dhikr) and will make successful in thanking Him," asserts Abu Madyan.

From the onset, this shows that being grateful to Allah is not a simple thing. It is no doubt a pivot of our whole religion. Why then has Allah started His glorious Book — in Surat Al-Fatihah, which, as scholars assert, contains the secret of the entire Qur'an — with thanking Him: "Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds"? Why?

Why is it that our beloved master, the Prophet (peace be upon him), always started and also ended his sermons with it?

Why is it also the last prayer after the faithful enter Paradise?

This is truly not a counsel in which I will try, as many people do, to essentialize or prioritize a certain value by putting it at the core of Islam, while in reality it is not. Gratitude (shukr) is not only an essence of religion, it is, as a matter of fact, also a secret trait which the individuals who are of the highest rank and of the closest states to Allah possess. In fact, gratitude is so essential a value in Islam that, as the Majestic Qur'an narrates to us, it is the focus of Satan to deflect us from it:

*{He [Satan] said: Now, because Thou hast sent me astray, verily I shall lurk in ambush for them on Thy Right Path. Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left: Nor wilt thou find, in most of them, gratitude}* (Al-A`raf 7:15–16)

As such, I would like to share with you something practical and experiential that I would like to establish in both of our lives, since it is established that this religion is that of applying knowledge by spiritual works to change one's very being.

As I said from the beginning, I am not interested in sheer writing or revamping an empty talk. Let's do two things.

First, I would like to ask both of us to start informing ourselves by reading the chapter on gratitude in the marvelous book of Iyha´ `Ulum al-Din (Revival of Religious Sciences) by Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him). If you do not have it, buy it, whether in English or Arabic. There are some translations online. It is worth its weight in diamonds.

Let's read the chapter on gratitude; it is in the fourth quarter. To give you a taste of what the imam mentions, here is a part in translation:

Know that shukr is among the majority of the stations of those traversing to Allah. It is also perfected by knowledge and action. Knowledge is its origin. It grants a state; the state then grants action. As for the knowledge, it is knowing the blessing from the Bestowing One. The state is the consequent rejoicing to His bestowing. …Knowledge is the knowledge of three things: the reality of the blessing, it being truly a blessing on one's own account, and the reality of the Bestowing One and the generosity of His attributes. … It is this knowledge which is behind [belief in] oneness and exaltation [of Allah]. … The first level of faith is exaltation. Then, when it is known that there is an exalted entity one would know that there is but One Who is truly exalted, which is oneness. Then, one would know that everything in the universe is from that One only; everything is His blessing. This knowledge then rises to the third level, where both exaltation and oneness are combined; the [direct belief in] perfection of omnipotence the aloneness in His actions.

Imam Al-Ghazali also superbly illuminates for us that the highest level of gratitude is truly not rejoicing in blessings per se, but rather constantly rejoicing in the very One bestowing them. His book is a must-read.

As for direct action, I am inviting you, along with myself, to carry out the following as often as you can. I will just stick to something small and also related to a small blessing (as if any of Allah's blessing are small!) from Allah.

In the lesson mentioned earlier, Sheikh Nuh mentioned that it was the Prophet's way to always invoke a thanking prayer when he concluded a meal. It is truly interesting how the behavior of a believer, even with a simple blessing of Allah like that of food and drink, could elevate him to a higher rank.

Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah said, "Truly, Allah is truly pleased with a servant eating a meal and thanking Him for it and swallowing a drink and thanking Him for it" (Muslim).

And what a rank — for Allah to be pleased by one, especially individuals with shortcomings like myself!

It was also narrated that the students of the scholar Shu`aib Abu Madyan, whose aphorism we mentioned above, in addition to praying the Night Vigil Prayer every night, took it upon themselves to pray two rak`ahs of shukr after every meal. As a direct benefit in our own life and with regard to a small blessing like that of food, let's take it upon ourselves too, as often as we can.

As for the following blessings which scholar Muhammad bin `Ali Al-Ta´i points out, it is only Allah Who can help us be duly grateful to Him: creating us out of nothing; creating us in growing form; creating us among the highest species of His creation; favoring us above animals and plants; choosing us to be monotheists; making us believers in the Prophet; making us among the Prophet's nation; making us among People of Sunnah; and finally making us concerned about being duly grateful to Him.

May this help us be among the selected few which Allah hails:

*{Few of My servants are grateful.}* (Saba' 34:13)

I hope this has answered your question. Please keep in touch.


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