On The Banks of Giving Thanks 101

Every November, a yearly reminder comes through the form of Thanksgiving. People sit around tables saying their thanks for everything and anything. As usual, someone must come in and interrupt to say that they should be thankful not just this one day but everyday of the year. Mostly, we roll our eyes and take their remark with the same passivity as if one’s mom told him or her to clean his or her room. In Surah Al-Baqarah, Allah (SWT) says, “So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). But in those moments we forget that it is one of our duties and purposes to be thankful.  We should always remind ourselves that Allah (SWT) blessed us with all the barakah in our lives. Even through hardships we are able to enjoy having things that others can not even dream of knowing. For every small thing , we need to be grateful that Allah (SWT) bestowed it upon us. It is crucial for us to work on giving thanks with sincerity and piety. So inshallah I ask you to take out a mental pencil and paper while learning from this Sparknotes on giving thanks.

Etymology

Let’s start off by looking at the Arabic word for thanks or gratitude. The origin of root words in Arabic is always a fascinating subject. The root shukr (شكر) can be understood by looking at a camel. Camels typically populate desert areas which can be barren of food and drink. Even so, if one tests the milk produced by camels, it is of high nutritional value. The milk is rich in proteins and vitamins and can sustain a person throughout the day. (Did you know you can survive a month just drinking camel’s milk?) Camels can go for long times without eating or drinking in desolate areas, yet can produce such rich and nutritious milk. A camel full of milk is known as shakira. By appreciating the barakah of the camel’s milk, one can understand how shukr comes about. The food a camel finds to eat may seem scarce to our well-fed eyes, but it is a feast nonetheless. Acknowledging everything given to it, this animal is able to produce something of high value and share it with others. With this, one can understand the origin of the word shukr.

Levels

Shukr is comprised of two manifestations: being grateful (internal) and showing gratitude (external). Internal shukr is the most vital component and resides above external shukr. They are truly appreciating what has been provided and using what is given in a manner that extends the prosperity towards others. Internal shukr should be an establishment of the heart, full and wholehearted in praise and gratitude. If a person does not establish this internal shukr, acts of external shukr are somewhat fruitless and hollow. Therefore we should work on the internal as much as we can.

The external component to shukr is further divided into two components, that of the tongue and limbs. Through the tongue, we pronounce and express our thankfulness verbally. Our limbs should be used to act in benevolence, and spreading our gratitude to others. With a brand-new understanding of internal shukr, we should begin to look for ways to to strengthen our gratitude game.  

The Paragon  

As always, Allah (SWT) puts many examples on this earth to explain how to practice what is preached. The most perfect example of internal and external shukr is the Prophet (ﷺ). He is the one who is guaranteed paradise over any other individual we have ever heard of. Therefore one may wonder, if he is set for the afterlife, then why did he not sit back and relax? He is the Messenger of Islam, applying the Quran and ways of Allah (SWT) through his daily practices. Yet in Sahih Bukhari it is narrated, “The Prophet (ﷺ) used to stand (in the prayer) or pray till both his feet or legs swelled. He was asked why (he offered such an unbearable prayer) and he said, ‘should I not be a thankful slave.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari 1130)   

حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو نُعَيْمٍ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا مِسْعَرٌ، عَنْ زِيَادٍ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ الْمُغِيرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ يَقُولُ إِنْ كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم لَيَقُومُ لِيُصَلِّيَ حَتَّى تَرِمُ قَدَمَاهُ أَوْ سَاقَاهُ، فَيُقَالُ لَهُ فَيَقُولُ ‏ “‏ أَفَلاَ أَكُونُ عَبْدًا شَكُورًا ‏”‏‏.

Rasulallah (ﷺ) regularly dedicated large potential large portions at his time to private worship and giving thanks. Yet, he also undertook the monumental talk at demonstrating his thanks through public worship. He maintained a leadership role and presented his companions with an ideal template for living in a constant state of shukr. Every action of the Prophet’s (ﷺ) was an act of sincere gratitude: he only spoke kind words and acted considerately, always keeping Allah’s (SWT) name on his tongue. He strove to put forth the right example, spending long nights in emotional prayers, and worrying himself sick over the state of his ummah, despite Allah’s (SWT) guarantee that he would go to Jannah, his sins and mistakes would be forgiven, and his ummah would be successful. Rasulullah (ﷺ) did all he could for his ummah out of the sheer appreciation of what Allah (SWT) had given to him. He was extremely grateful, despite the fact that he had very few worldly possessions and often did not have enough food to eat. His spirituality and levels of gratitude for even the smallest blessings gave him a light and spiritual soul which makes him a pristine example for us to follow.

Application  

Our expedition of fully being thankful begins with the 5 pillars of Islam. We stop to remember and thank Allah (SWT) by declaring our belief in the oneness of Allah and his messenger, praying five times a day, fasting Ramadan, giving zakat, and inshallah going for Hajj. Allah makes everything easier on us because as a result of having these pillars,  without conscious awareness, we are practicing shukr.

While we strive to perfect our practice of this religion, we may stumble and fall along the way. This is the best opportunity for us to proceed in expressing our gratitude. Sincere tawbah (repentance) brings with it a state of thankfulness that we should all pay attention to. When doing tawbah, we ask Allah to forgive our sins and help us towards the right path. Allah (SWT) has given you the opportunity to understand what is sinful for you.  And there is a conscious effort to stay away from that sin. First you are accepting what Allah has decreed as haram for you and then, through extension, accepting what is halal. Appreciation and gratitude for what is halal for us shows Allah (SWT) that we are thankful towards Allah for providing for us. We also are appreciative of the ability to do more good in order to correct any sin we have committed. So try to incorporate more tawbah with gratitude in it throughout your daily routine.

A simple and final way to integrate thankfulness is by smiling. It was narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “When you smile to your brother’s face, it is charity” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1956). This pertains to the external manifestation of shukr. When you smile, you are confirming that even if you are weighed down by the trials and tribulations of the day, you are able to keep a positive attitude. This indicates that you are grateful for what you have. Having a smile on your face affects others around you to being slightly more elevated in spirits. This charity towards others reflects the levels of shukr that are established within an individual. This small act is the one I encourage us all to try and practice. It requires less effort than frowning, so try to get your face in the constant state of smiling so it does not become a task, but rather a habit.  

It is important for us to remember Allah (SWT) through our daily struggles, He is the Giver of All and the Most Merciful. I hope this brief look into this life season of giving thanks is enlightening and captivating. I apologize for any mistakes or incorrect information. May Allah (SWT) make the path towards Jannah easy for all of us. Ameen ya rab.

Fiha Abdulrahman

P.S. Why On the Banks? Because of the Old Raritan. Ten points to those who got that.
(For an in-depth look on the etymology: Imam Afroz Ali’s Knowing Your Purpose and The Camel’s Gratitude )

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