Ghazali on shukr (gratitude)
Ghazali lived in 5th century Hijri and his book, Kitaab Al-Arba’in Fi Usul ad-Din, ‘The Forty Principles of the Religion,’ which he wrote before his death, is a summary of Ihya Ulumuddin (Revival of the Sciences of the Religion), and his life’s works and thoughts.
In the last ten principles of the forty, he looks at good traits that we should adopt and nurture within ourselves. The first is tawbah (repentance); the second is khawf (fear) and the third is zuhd (asceticism), the fourth quality is sabr (patience). The fifth quality is shukr.
Ghazali mentions shukr after sabr. There are plenty of books on the combination of shukr and sabr. The great scholar, Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyya (may Allah be pleased with him) has a book called ‘Patience and Gratitude’, which is very good and comprehensive.
Ibn Masood said very famously:
Imaan is of two halves; half is patience (sabr) and half is being thankful (shukr).
Ghazali begins his exploration of gratitude by first looking at the verses of the Quran and then the narrations in the Sunnah, as is the usual practice of scholars. Shukr is mentioned in over 150 verses of the Quran.
In the Quran, Allah Almighty says that very few of His servants (qalil ibadi) are grateful (shakur).
وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِىَ ٱلشَّكُورُ
˹Only˺ a few of My servants are ˹truly˺ grateful. (34:13)
The reality is that the majority of people are ungrateful – oblivious to the vast amount of favours they are enjoying. Though there are people who express gratitude, but deep down most are unappreciative of what they have, and though their lives are overflowing with blessings, they are too busy moaning and complaining to notice.
If you are grateful your blessings increase
Allah Almighty said:
وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ ۖ وَلَئِن كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِى لَشَدِيدٌ
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.’” (14:7)
The more grateful you are the more you receive and inversely, the more you moan the more favours you lose, or at least you don’t enjoy them or feel their benefit. For example, some people have a great deal of wealth, but they feel lonely and depressed and even want to commit suicide. They don’t enjoy what they have.
Allah rewards the thankful.
People of gratitude are rewarded. Allah Almighty said:
فَٱذْكُرُونِىٓ أَذْكُرْكُمْ وَٱشْكُرُوا۟ لِى وَلَا تَكْفُرُونِ
Remember Me; I will remember you. And thank Me, and never be ungrateful. (2:152)
وَسَيَجْزِى ٱللَّهُ ٱلشَّـٰكِرِينَ
And Allah will reward those who are grateful. (3:144)
مَّا يَفْعَلُ ٱللَّهُ بِعَذَابِكُمْ إِن شَكَرْتُمْ وَءَامَنتُمْ ۚ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ شَاكِرًا عَلِيمًا
Why should Allah punish you if you are grateful and faithful? Allah is ever Appreciative, All-Knowing. (4:147)
بَلِ ٱللَّهَ فَٱعْبُدْ وَكُن مِّنَ ٱلشَّـٰكِرِينَ
Rather, worship Allah ˹alone˺ and be one of the grateful. (39:66)
Gratitude in Surat al Fatihah
ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ ٱلْعَـٰلَمِينَ
All praise is for Allah—Lord of all worlds (1:1)
The opening verse of the Quran is one of optimism and Allah is teaching us to be grateful. We repeat it a minimum of 17 times during the day if you count the fard salah, and more if you add the sunnah and nawafal and it reminds us to be optimistic. It is an antidote to depression, and a lesson to look at the full half of the cup. We have tendency to put our problems under the microscope and allow them blot out thousands of favours. Yet we don’t even know how to count all the favours.
وَإِن تَعُدُّوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَا ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
And if you should count the favours of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (16:18)
There are two kinds of favours and blessings – the hidden and the obvious. Of the obvious ones, the first is life itself, which we can lose at any time. And then we have our faculties and senses – sight, hearing, thought, speech and mobility. In addition we have an abundance of hidden favours which we do not even recognise, let alone thank Allah for, so we need to be grateful. Gratitude is a state of the heart.
Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ عَنْ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ الطَّاعِمُ الشَّاكِرُ بِمَنْزِلَةِ الصَّائِمِ الصَّابِرِ
“The one who eats gratefully has the status of one who fasts patiently.” (Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Imam Ahmed)
Al-Mughirah ibn Shu’bah reported:
عَنْ الْمُغِيرَةِ بْنِ شُعْبَةَ أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ صَلَّى حَتَّى انْتَفَخَتْ قَدَمَاهُ فَقِيلَ لَهُ أَتَكَلَّفُ هَذَا وَقَدْ غَفَرَ اللَّهُ لَكَ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبِكَ وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ فَقَالَ أَفَلَا أَكُونُ عَبْدًا شَكُورًا
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, would pray until his feet were swollen. It was said to him, “Why do you do this when Allah has forgiven your past and future sins?” The Prophet said, “Shall I not be a grateful servant?” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) reported:
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ فَقَدْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم لَيْلَةً مِنَ الْفِرَاشِ فَالْتَمَسْتُهُ فَوَقَعَتْ يَدِي عَلَى بَطْنِ قَدَمَيْهِ وَهُوَ فِي الْمَسْجِدِ وَهُمَا مَنْصُوبَتَانِ وَهُوَ يَقُولُ اللَّهُمَّ أَعُوذُ بِرِضَاكَ مِنْ سَخَطِكَ وَبِمُعَافَاتِكَ مِنْ عُقُوبَتِكَ وَأَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْكَ لاَ أُحْصِي ثَنَاءً عَلَيْكَ أَنْتَ كَمَا أَثْنَيْتَ عَلَى نَفْسِكَ
One night in bed, I missed the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him, so I looked for him and my hand touched his feet while he was in prostration. They were raised and the Prophet was saying, “O Allah, I seek refuge in Your pleasure from Your anger and in Your forgiveness from Your punishment, and I seek refuge in You from You. I cannot fully praise You, for You are as You have praised Yourself.” (Muslim)
We see from this that the Prophet (peace be on him) though he would be forgiven, stood for hours on end in prayer and bowed down in sujood because he deeply wanted to express his gratitude towards Allah Almighty.
One of the components of shukr is having knowledge. The more you know about Allah the more you appreciate His majesty and might and favours upon us. We do not have comprehensive knowledge, even prophets do not have comprehensive knowledge. All the knowledge we have is but a drop in the ocean.
Gratitude is a high station
Gratitude is from a high station – meaning a rank or level. Imaan has different levels. Among these levels are sabr (patience), zuhd (asceticism) and fear (khawf). Shukr is a high station – higher than patience, ascetism and fear. Why? Because all these stations, are not acquired for themselves but a means to an end, a bridge to something else. Whereas gratitude is a destination in itself.
Gratitude continues in Jannah
To explain this more, Ghazali says that patience overcomes whim, fear is a whip that drives the fearful to do the right thing and asceticism disconnects you from the relationships that preoccupy us and distance us from Allah. But shukr is a goal in itself and of itself. This is why shukr continues forever in paradise, whereas sabr, khawf and zuhd will end in paradise. This is why Allah said in the Quran, that the people of paradise will express their gratitude:
وَلَوْ يُعَجِّلُ ٱللَّهُ لِلنَّاسِ ٱلشَّرَّ ٱسْتِعْجَالَهُم بِٱلْخَيْرِ لَقُضِىَ إِلَيْهِمْ أَجَلُهُمْ ۖ فَنَذَرُ ٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَرْجُونَ لِقَآءَنَا فِى طُغْيَـٰنِهِمْ يَعْمَهُونَ
Their prayer therein will be: Glory be to Thee, O Allah! and their greeting therein will be: Peace. And the conclusion of their prayer will be: Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds! (10:10)
Gratitude = knowledge + state + action
The reality of shukr comprises knowledge (ilm), state (haal) and actions (amr).
1. Knowledge (ilm) – the first pillar of gratitude
Gratitude includes taqdis and tawheed. Sanctification (taqdis) is when you know that there is no other sanctified thing except Allah. When you know that everything exists due to Allah and He alone is worthy of worship that is monotheism (tawheed). When you realise that He subjugated the world to us that He is the source of all our blessings, that leads to His praise. Everything in this universe is from Allah so by default all blessings are from Allah. Therefore, even when people give you something, you know that what you received was from Allah.
Tahmeed is greater than tasbih and tahlil
Whoever says ‘Glory be to Allah’ (subhanallah) has ten good deeds. Whoever says ‘There is no god but Allah’ (la illaha illa’llah) has twenty good deeds. Whoever says ‘Allah praise is for Allah’ (alhamdulillah) has thirty good deeds. (Al Hakim, Ahmed)
This means that in the reward and deletion of sins alhamdulillah is weightier than tabih (glorification) and tahlil (saying la illah illa’llah).
The real source of blessings
When a blessing reaches you, you have to be aware that it came from Allah, just as a king receiving a gift, should not confuse the one who delivered the gift with the one who despatched it. The one who delivered it, merely carried it to him. He did not make it or buy it or send it. Similarly, if you receive a blessing, such as a promotion, know that it was not your manager who gave it, though you may thank him, but deep down in your heart you should know that it came from Allah. Indeed, hearts are in Allah’s hands, and it was Allah who softened the manager’s heart to give you a promotion. Sometimes we forget where the blessings are coming from.
It is clear that you should thank the one who gave you a favour. Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ لاَ يَشْكُرُ اللَّهَ مَنْ لاَ يَشْكُرُ النَّاسَ
“Whoever does not thank people has not thanked Allah.” (Abu Dawood)
Hears are the treasures of Allah to which He holds the keys, as the controller of everything is Allah. He softens people’s hearts towards us and puts acceptance in their hearts for us.
2. State (haal) – the 2nd pillar of gratitude
When you have acquired knowledge, you can progress to level two, which is the state of being joyful and reverent and subservient. You feel delighted with the One who gave you the naima (blessings) and you are pleased with what Allah has given you.
Three states of gratitude
If a king sent you a gift such as a car. Your reaction would be happiness because it is useful for you, secondly you would be pleased that the king thought of you, and is looking out for you and after you, and finally you would want to use your car to serve the king.
The first state is not really gratitude because it is joy at the gift. The second state is awareness of the sender of the gift, which is more than that first state but incomplete. The best state is the third state because you are joyful that you can use the favours and blessings you have received to serve Allah, and you have an opening to do more. Therefore you do not use the car for racing but giving a lift to poor people. The sign of reaching that level is that you are not joyful about every blessing you receive if it distracts you from the remembrance of Allah.
An example of this is a hafiz who turned down a prestigious promotion and higher salary, because he did not want it to distract him from the remembrance of Allah and being present. He said if he was to be distracted, it would suck the joy of his connection to Allah and make him sad. I admire him.
3. Actions (amr) – the third pillar of gratitude
The last pillar is action. It is use what Allah gave you to please Him.
Do not use the blessings Allah gave you to sin. For instance, use your eyes for worship, reflect on the creation of the universe and to read. Use your ears to hear the Quran, not backbiting. Use your tongue to do dhikr, recite the Quran and speak good words, not to slander or backbite or swear.
Of course one of the greatest gifts of Allah is that He gave us access to Him – to call upon Him anytime, and to connect with Him in the salah, in sujud and in our hearts. To be able to worship Him and by giving us His words and guidance and the etiquettes with which to speak to Him. Not least the beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) and if that was not enough, the promise of Paradise for doing what is in our best interests in our lifetime.
May we be among those who are truly grateful and with whom Allah is pleased. Ameen
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