The Spirit of Thanksgiving

Being Thankful to Allah. Photo Courtesy: iStock by Getty Images

It seems giving thanks for God’s bounty has been practiced since the earliest times. From the ancient Greek Thesmophoria to the Roman Cerealia to the more modern practice of Thanksgiving, people have been offering ritual thanks to their various gods in one form or another. All the Biblical Prophets taught their people to be thankful to God for His bounties and blessings. Then, the Quran came and made a universal declaration:

كُلًّا نُّمِدُّ هَـٰؤُلَاءِ وَهَـٰؤُلَاءِ مِنْ عَطَاءِ رَبِّكَ ۚ وَمَا كَانَ عَطَاءُ رَبِّكَ مَحْظُورًا

(17:20) – Of the bounties of thy Lord We bestow freely on all – These as well as those: The bounties of thy Lord are not closed (to anyone). [Yusuf Ali]

Therefore, the bounties of God are meant for entire humankind and must not be restricted to a particular nation or a people:

وَالْأَرْضَ وَضَعَهَا لِلْأَنَامِ ﴿﴾ فِيهَا فَاكِهَةٌ وَالنَّخْلُ ذَاتُ الْأَكْمَامِ ﴿﴾ وَالْحَبُّ ذُو الْعَصْفِ وَالرَّيْحَانُ ﴿﴾ فَبِأَيِّ آلَاءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ

(55:10-13) – And the earth has He spread out for all living beings, with fruit thereon, and palm trees with sheathed clusters [of dates], and grain growing tall on its stalks, and sweet-smelling plants. Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow? [Asad]

The Quran further says that Allah’s bounties are limitless:

وَإِن تَعُدُّوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّـهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَا  

(16:18) – For, should you try to count God's blessings, you could never compute them! [Asad]

فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ وَاشْكُرُوا لِي وَلَا تَكْفُرُونِ

(2:152) – So remember Me, and I shall remember you; and be grateful unto Me, and deny Me not. [Asad]

According to the Qur’an, the entire Earth and its resources are a gift from God (16:5-16:16) and therefore must be treated as sacred. The very opening verse of the Qur’an says that Allah is the Sustainer of all the worlds (1:1). Therefore, we all must be thankful for this sustenance – always.

وَهُوَ الَّذِي سَخَّرَ الْبَحْرَ لِتَأْكُلُوا مِنْهُ لَحْمًا طَرِيًّا وَتَسْتَخْرِجُوا مِنْهُ حِلْيَةً تَلْبَسُونَهَا وَتَرَى الْفُلْكَ مَوَاخِرَ فِيهِ وَلِتَبْتَغُوا مِن فَضْلِهِ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

(16:14) – And He it is who has made the sea subservient [to His laws], so that you might eat fresh meat from it, and take from it gems which you may wear. And on that [very sea] one sees ships plowing through the waves, so that you might [be able to] go forth in quest of some of His bounty, and thus have cause to be grateful [to Him]. [Asad]

وَآيَةٌ لَّهُمُ الْأَرْضُ الْمَيْتَةُ أَحْيَيْنَاهَا وَأَخْرَجْنَا مِنْهَا حَبًّا فَمِنْهُ يَأْكُلُونَ ﴿﴾ وَجَعَلْنَا فِيهَا جَنَّاتٍ مِّن نَّخِيلٍ وَأَعْنَابٍ وَفَجَّرْنَا فِيهَا مِنَ الْعُيُونِ ﴿﴾ لِيَأْكُلُوا مِن ثَمَرِهِ وَمَا عَمِلَتْهُ أَيْدِيهِمْ ۖ أَفَلَا يَشْكُرُونَ

(36:33-35) – And [yet,] they have a sign [of Our power to create and to resurrect] in the lifeless earth which We make alive, and out of which We bring forth grain, whereof they may eat; and [how] We make gardens of date-palms and vines [grow] thereon, and cause springs to gush [forth] within it, so that they may eat of the fruit thereof, though it was not their hands that made it. Will they not, then, be grateful? [Asad]

Normally شکر (Shukr) is translated as: being “grateful” or “thankful”. The root meaning of شکر (ر -  ک- ش) is for something to become full and complete and to become available to others. شَكِرَةٌ (Shakiratun) means a she-camel, ewe, or she-goat having her udder full [Lane’s Lexicon page 1585, Book I].

In the verse (2:152) the word شکر (Shukr) has been used in opposition to کفر (Kufr) which in its root means to hide. شکر (Shukr) of Allah therefore is to keep His bounties نعمه (Ni’ma) open in such a way that everyone is able to derive one’s due benefit from them, and that no one hides them from (and thus denies them to) other human beings because that would be کفر (Kufr). Allah says that His bounties are given to see who does شکر (Shukr) and who does کفر (Kufr):

هَـٰذَا مِن فَضْلِ رَبِّي لِيَبْلُوَنِي أَأَشْكُرُ أَمْ أَكْفُرُ

(27:40) – This is [an outcome] of my Sustainer’s bounty, to test me as to whether I am grateful or ungrateful! [Asad]

How to do شکر (Shukr) and what benefits accrue from it? Obviously شکر (Shukr) of Allah cannot be done simply by reciting its words on fingers or on the beads of a rosary. It requires human effort. In light of the above root meaning doing شکر (Shukr) of Allah is to work hard ceaselessly and to keep the fruits of that labor open to others. The Qur’an also says that the act of doing (and not reciting the word) شکر (Shukr) develops the self of the person doing the شکر (Shukr) (27:40, 31:12). In other words, it leads to his/her spiritual growth and development.

وَمَن شَكَرَ فَإِنَّمَا يَشْكُرُ لِنَفْسِهِ

(27:40) – he who is grateful [to God] is but grateful for his own good. [Asad]

وَمَن يَشْكُرْ فَإِنَّمَا يَشْكُرُ لِنَفْسِهِ

(31:12) – for he who is grateful [unto Him] is but grateful for the good of his own self. [Asad]

Since this is not an easy thing to do, a definite course must be laid out for this purpose. As we know, developing our physical abilities requires constant effort and discipline. So it is with developing our human abilities, albeit harder. And so it is with developing our self, only more difficult. Yet developing the self (or soul) is the most important thing for our success in the Hereafter which is what truly counts in the long run. The Qur’an says that those who develop and nourish their souls will succeed (87:14, 91:9) while those who don’t will fail (91:10) on the Day of Judgment.

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا ﴿﴾ وَقَدْ خَابَ مَن دَسَّاهَا

(91:9-91:10) – To a happy state shall indeed attain he who causes this [self] to grow in purity, and truly lost is he who buries it [in darkness]. [Asad]

Good habits facilitate good actions. And good actions reinforce good habits. In this way what seems difficult at first becomes relatively easy to practice in daily life on a regular basis. The best thanksgiving that we can render unto Allah is to keep His bounties and the fruits of one’s labor open to all – without any discrimination whatsoever based on religion, race, ethnicity, etc.

May Allah give us the fortitude to do that!

The clouds, the rain, the moon, the sun, and the sky are constantly working for you;

When you have your bread, don’t be oblivious of the work the Universe did for you!

[Saadi Shirazi]


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