Recently my city got hit by a blizzard. In the middle of the storm, I had to make a trip outside in the whiteout conditions. Walking in the blizzard was pretty amazing; the storm almost knocked me down with powerful wind gusts, visibility was low, and the snow was still coming down hard. It got me thinking about how easy it is for Allah to cripple a society by just altering the weather slightly. The same precipitation that falls from the sky, giving life to Earth, can also be used by the Creator to take it all away. It’s pretty amazing – the fact that this doesn’t happen often is a Mercy from Allah, and one of the blessings we ought to be deeply thankful for.
The Concept of Thankfulness
In the Qur’an, Allah says about being thankful,
“And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe’.” (14:7)
In this ayah (verse), Allah tells us that if a slave is grateful, He has promised that He will increase the blessings that have already been given to them. But if the slave denies the blessings that they have been given, the punishment from his Lord is severe. Let’s take a deeper look at this verse.
The concept being communicated in the ayah is emphasized greatly through the language. In Arabic, emphasis can be placed, not with separate words or additional adjectives, but with just an added letter and/or a shaddah1 to intensify the meaning of what is being said. The purpose of this emphasis technique is to remove any doubt from the mind of the reader to the truth of what is being read. Because of this, with translation we lose aspects of the meaning; English lacks the same use of emphasis, which means we can remain unaware of specific points that we should be focusing on.
In this verse from Surah Ibrahim, there are eight points of emphasis. The complete meaning being conveyed in English is, ”if you are truly thankful, then certainly, most definitely I shall increase many times for you [in favor]’, and ‘if you were to actually deny my favors, then certainly, most definitely My Punishment is extremely severe.”
This subtle depth of meaning is lost when we translate the ayah. Once we understand this emphasis, we can begin to appreciate the true depth of what Allah says.
Allah has given a promise that, if we are thankful to Him for His blessings, He will certainly give us more. Yet, if we were to be ungrateful, Allah does not say outright that He will give us a punishment; rather He leaves it open as if to remind us that, ‘look, My Punishment is severe – that is all you need to know so start becoming thankful for your own benefit.’
The Opposite of Thankfulness
Another important point to make is that Allah uses disbelief (كفر) as the opposite of thankfulness (شكر). A kafir (كافر) is one that “covers something up” and this is why a farmer is linguistically known as a kafir because he covers up seeds with soil – this word ‘kuffara’ is also in Surah Hadeed (Qur’an, 57:20). Allah pairs up shukr and kufr to teach us that they are opposites of each other. This is why in the verse the word ‘kafar’ is used, which comes from the root (كفر), to say that one who is ungrateful “covers up” or rejects the blessings of Allah thereby belittling them and showing ingratitude. This relationship between the two opposing concepts is highlighted elsewhere in the Qur’an where Allah pairs these two words together:
“So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me.” (2:152)
Iblees (satan) also said that his ultimate goal was to make us disbelieve Allah through his method of making us ungrateful to Allah:
“Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You].” (Qur’an, 7:17)
Allah ties iman (faith) to being thankful:
“What would Allah do with your punishment if you are grateful and believe?” (Qur’an, 4:147)
And the pleasure of Allah is tied to being thankful to Him:
“…And if you are grateful, He approves it for you…” (Qur’an, 39:7)
Lastly, being thankful is showing humility towards Allah. When we take a look at the Qur’anic story of Qarun who was blessed with great wealth, we see that despite all of his blessings, he was someone who failed to be grateful. What did he say?
“He said, ‘I was only given it because of knowledge I have’…” (28:78)
Qarun was ungrateful, he was arrogant and he rejected Allah’s blessings. Because of this Allah caused the Earth to swallow him up as a punishment for his arrogance. This teaches us that if we are not consciously being grateful towards Allah, we can build within ourselves a type of arrogance that deludes us into believing that whatever blessings we have is due to ourselves instead of Allah. We need to understand and practice gratefulness consciously, but how?
Thankfulness in Our Lives
Once the importance of being grateful has been established, the question is: How can we become grateful to Allah? A key rule to remember is that true thankfulness towards Allah is to use the blessings He gave us in a manner that will earn His Pleasure. We have countless blessings in our lives and cannot ever truly be thankful for them. We have warm homes, plentiful food, family, friends, cars, money in our wallets and bank accounts, quality education – and the greatest blessing of all: we have been blessed with imaan. Can we truly be thankful to Allah in the manner which He deserves? Perhaps not, but we can definitely make a conscious effort to start acknowledging these blessings in our life and increasing in good deeds to show gratitude.
We can thank Allah for the warm bed by getting up for Fajr salah. We can thank Him for the money in our wallets by giving to charity. We can thank Him for the great food we eat by feeding others. We can start by setting the bar high for ourselves in doing good deeds and make our intentions of doing them only to show gratitude to Allah. We can start by being better servants to Him and doing what He has commanded us to do (in patience and forbearance) and staying away from what He has forbidden.
Going back to the snow storm, it was truly a reminder for me when I walked into my home – the fact that I had shelter with a roof over my head, warmth, food, a warm bed and comfort from the storm outside. It was a reminder to me that Allah has truly blessed me and there is much that I need to be thankful for, which perhaps I was overlooking by taking it for granted.
Let’s start by being more conscious of the blessings we have and increasing in our ‘ibaadah (worship) to show shukr – thankfulness. After all, the best of Allah’s creation would spend his entire nights in worship just to show gratitude to His Lord, didn’t he ﷺ (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him)?
It was reported in al-Bukhârî and Muslim by our mother ‘Aishah (ra) that the Prophet ﷺ stayed up all night in prayer, standing until his feet became swollen. When he was asked, “Why are you doing this, when Allah has forgiven all your past and future wrong actions?” he replied, “Should I not be a grateful slave?”
So the question is, should we not follow in his ﷺ blessed footsteps and try our best to be grateful slaves as well? After all:
“…And whoever is grateful is grateful for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever denies [His favor] – then indeed, Allah is Free of need and Praiseworthy.” (Qur’an, 31:12)
- The ‘ّ’; double Arabic consonant. ↩