Islamic Character Qur'an With the Divine

First Say Thanks, Then Gain Wisdom by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad

Surat Luqman, Qur’an 31Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

The next part of the ayah (verse) continues with أَنِ اشْكُرْ‌ لِلَّـهِ .  The word أن (an that/to) is called أن تفسيرية (an tafsireeyyah). That means that there is something going on that is not stated in the verse, but it is understood by someone who is strong in the language. The implied meaning is:

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا لُقْمَانَ الْحِكْمَةَ …حين جعلناه شاكرا لله

“Indeed We gave Luqman wisdom when We made him grateful to Allah.”

And the reason the word أن is called أن تفسيرية (an tafsireeyyah) is because it is talking about the inner state of Luqman, not the outer state. Some scholars said this means Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) commanded him by saying, “Be grateful to Allah.” However, most scholars said that the meaning is as we mentioned previously, since Allah (swt) knows the inner qualities of people. That is why in Islam we are not allowed to judge anyone’s intention. We are forbidden to do so because Allah (swt) is the only One who knows the intention.

The phrase أن اشكر لله also means, “We made him,” that is, Allah (swt) guided him, “to be شاكر  shaakir (grateful/thankful) to Allah.” The word شكر shukr (gratefulness/thankfulness) is only used when someone recognizes a favor. This is different than الحمد al-hamd. Al-hamd is used to describe something that is deserving of hamd (praise). This is why we say الحمد لله alhamdullilah (praise belongs to God). The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said: “الحمد رأس الشكر  Al-hamd (praise) is the head of giving thanks.” So hamd is praise and shukr is thanks. That is why when someone does something good to you, in Arabic you respond with shukran.

So here Allah (swt) says that Luqman is shaakir (grateful). The scholars explain that this shows the first stage of being a good servant of Allah (swt) is inner shukr. Being thankful to Him and feeling in your heart that thankfulness to Allah (swt).  The scholars explain this is because:

  1. Being thankful to Allah (swt) means that one recognizes that all favors come from Allah (swt). That recognition is indicative of Allah (swt)’s existence. They recognize that He is the Master of all things.
  2. Being thankful indicates that one’s belief in qadr (predestination determined by Allah) is strong.

Next, Allah (swt) says, “We gave him hikmah (wisdom).” This statement can have two meanings: the first meaning we already spoke of. The second meaning is that because he was grateful to Allah (swt), Allah (swt) gave him wisdom. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

“If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]…” (14:7).

The second meaning could be, “We bestowed upon him wisdom because he was thankful to us.” So for any student of knowledge who wants to increase knowledge, then besides studying he/she should make sure to be shaakir to Allah (swt). We ask Allah (swt) to make us from those who are grateful.

Then Allah (swt) says, “And whoever is grateful is grateful for [the benefit of] himself.” This is because Allah (swt) is not in need of our thanks. The ayah continues, “And whoever denies [His favor] – then indeed, Allah is Free of need and Praiseworthy,” (Qur’an, 14:8).

It is interesting to note that in the ayah the word يشكر  yashkur (to be grateful) is in the present-future tense, what is called المضارع  almudaariu. This present-future tense is used to show استمرار istimrar, consistency. When it is used, it brings with it the meaning of consistency. Sometimes we lose these things in translation. There is something beautiful here that we should notice. As Imam Ar-Raazi (may God have mercy on him) mentioned, when Allah (swt) talked about gratefulness He used the present-future tense. But when He talks about kufr (disbelief) He used the past tense: كفر kafara. The scholars noticed that when Allah (swt) speaks about the good qualities, He does so in the present-future tense. As if, Ar-Raazi says, Allah (swt) is telling you that you’re doing well, and you should stay this way. If you are grateful to Allah (swt) then continue being grateful.

But, on the other hand, Allah (swt) is not pleased that His servants are disbelievers. Allah (swt) uses the past tense when speaking of disbelief (although because it’s a شرط conditional statement it has to be in this form, but we don’t want to get into the grammar too much). Using the past tense is indicative of Allah (swt) saying, “If you are doing kufr stop immediately.” Once you realize that you are a disbeliever, and you realize that you believe in something other than Allah (swt), the Creator, then you should cut this away as fast as you can.  So Allah (swt) refers to it in the past tense as though you should leave it in the past.

Also, here كفر kafara is used as the opposite of شكر shukr. So instead of being grateful, one has rejected the favors of Allah (swt).

Now I have a question for you. Sometimes in the Qur’an we see similar wording, but the phrases are reversed. For example, in Surah Room, Allah (swt) says:

“Whoever disbelieves – upon him is [the consequence of] his disbelief. And whoever does righteousness – they are for themselves preparing,” (Qur’an, 30:44).

Why is it that in Surah Luqman Allah (swt) mentions thanks first, and then disbelief, but in other places of the Qur’an, Allah (swt) mentions disbelief first and then thanks?

Because here, Allah (swt) is speaking to us about the story of Luqman’s advice to his son, and Allah (swt) is praising the qualities of Luqman. Thus Allah (swt) is using this as an encouragement for the people who are grateful to Allah (swt) to continue to be thankful o Him. On the other hand, in the verse in Surah Room, Allah (swt) is commanding that we should turn towards the correct religion before a grievous day comes (i.e. the Day of Judgment), and then He mentions those who disbelieve versus those who are grateful. In Surah Room the order is reversed as a form of ترهيب tarheeb, to scare people and to wake up those people who are disbelievers.

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.

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