The gift of health is only realised when we fall ill. An old proverb goes, “we cry of having no shoes until we meet a person who has no feet.” It is only when we have nothing that we appreciate the value of a little. Man does not know the value of what he has until he loses it, and it is also true that man can never be happy until he learns to be grateful.
I recently heard one of my teachers expressing his regret for not having given this topic the attention it deserves in his former years of teaching. He later realised just how transformational this quality is at every level, and the phenomenal problem-solving properties it contains. This is the quality of Al-Shukr, or gratitude. Despite the above, however, the sad reality is as Allāh has stated:
وَقَلِيلٌ مِنْ عِبَادِيَ الشَّكُورُ
“But few of my servants are grateful.”
From those few were the prophets of Allāh. Speaking about the Prophet Ibrahim, Allāh said:
إِنَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ كَانَ أُمَّةً قَانِتًا لِلَّهِ حَنِيفًا وَلَمْ يَكُ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ (120) شَاكِرًا لِأَنْعُمِهِ
“Surely Ibrahim was an exemplar, obedient to Allāh, upright, and he was not of the polytheists – (He was) grateful for His favors.”
The gratitude of Prophet Nūh is even more fascinating. Prophet Nūh was a man who spent a little under a millennium – 950 years – tirelessly urging his people to become Muslims, and in the end, “none believed in him but a few.” This was coupled with the loss of his son and wife during the Great Flood. Despite this, Allāh said about him:
إِنَّهُ كَانَ عَبْدًا شَكُورًا
“Indeed, he was a grateful servant.”
As for the greatest of them all, Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), he would stand during the night prayer for prolonged hours until his feet would swell and his skin would crack. When asked about this, he would simply respond:
أفلا أكون عبدا شكورا
“Should I not be a grateful servant?”
He would also urge his companions to remember words of gratitude upon the completion of every prayer, as he once said to Mu’ādh:
أُوصِيكَ يَا مُعَاذُ لاَ تَدَعَنَّ في دُبُرِ كُلِّ صَلاَة تَقُولُ: اللَّهُمَّ أَعِنِّي عَلَى ذِكْرِكَ، وَشُكْرِكَ، وَحُسْنِ عِبَادَتِكَ
“I advise you, O Mu’ādh, to never abandon these following words upon finishing every prayer: ‘O Allāh, help me to remember You, to thank You, and to worship You well.’”
Furthermore, there are five chapters of the Qur’ān which begin with Hamd, the praise of Allāh;
(1) Al-Fātiḥa – the very first Surah of the Qur’ān;
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
“All praise is due to Allāh, the Lord of the worlds.”
(2) Al-An’ām – the end of the first quarter of the Qur’ān;
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَجَعَلَ الظُّلُمَاتِ وَالنُّورَ
“All praise is due to Allāh, who created the heavens and the earth and made darkness and light.”
(3) Al-Kahf – the middle of the Qur’ān;
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ عَلَى عَبْدِهِ الْكِتَابَ وَلَمْ يَجْعَلْ لَهُ عِوَجًا
“All praise is due to Allāh, Who revealed the Book to His servant and did not make in it any crookedness.”
(4 and 5) The Surahs of Saba and Fātir, which are in the last quarter of the Qur’ān;
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَهُ الْحَمْدُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ
“All praise is due to Allāh, to whom belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth and to Him belongs all praise in the Hereafter.”
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ فَاطِرِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ جَاعِلِ الْمَلَائِكَةِ رُسُلًا أُولِي أَجْنِحَةٍ مَثْنَى وَثُلَاثَ وَرُبَاعَ
“All praise is due to Allāh, Creator of the heavens and the earth, [who] made the angels messengers having wings, two or three or four.”
Allāh, therefore, loves to be thanked. In fact, He has given Himself the name of Al-Shakūr (the Most Grateful), showing Divine gratitude despite Him not needing us, giving so much for so little, and offering that which is eternal for what is temporal, and that which is perfect for that which is deficient. He is the Most Grateful and loves to be thanked. He is displeased when He is not thanked, and has promised to fill the hands of the grateful ones with goodness in both worlds.
“What’s in it for me?”
Allāh has summarised the answer to this question in a way that excites the imagination:
“And We shall reward the grateful.”
This ‘reward’ was not specified with respect to health, wealth, mental wellbeing, career, or anything in this world or the next, in order for it to encompass every possible thing:
(1) In the way of Allāh’s acceptance
وَإِنْ تَشْكُرُوا يَرْضَهُ لَكُمْ
“If you are grateful, He is pleased with you.”
(2) In the way of safety from punishment
مَا يَفْعَلُ اللَّهُ بِعَذَابِكُمْ إِنْ شَكَرْتُمْ وَآمَنْتُمْ
“Why should Allāh punish you if you are grateful and believe?”
(3) In the way of an increase in what you possess and what you do not
With incredible emphasis and in the strongest forms of assurance, Allāh said:
وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِنْ شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ
“And when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you.’”
This is the easiest and most secure way of preserving what you have and attaining what you do not. If you wish for Allāh to improve your health, thank Him for what health you have and it will increase. The same can be said about your marriage, wealth, religiosity of your children, state of Iman, and so on. Thank Him sincerely for what you have, and Allāh’s promise is that more has already been dispatched.
This is a perfectly rational concept. Saying thank you to your employee will make him want to offer more, and doing the same for your spouse will make them want to give more. Allāh is the Most Generous and can never be an exception to this rule. Thank Allāh and He will give you more to be grateful for. Alternatively, keep complaining and He will give you a lot more to complain about.
(4) In the way of marital harmony
I single this one out due to its importance. A marital relationship can never endure without gratitude. Yes, you may have the capacity to list many negative traits in your spouse, but how many admirable qualities can you list? By Allāh, you cannot count them. Indeed, in my experience, an overwhelming number of marital discords can be traced back to ingratitude and negativity. If a different person with a positive outlook to life came to know of your blessing, they would fall to their knees before Allāh begging Him for what you have, but this is Shaytan’s deception to us. The grass always seems greener on the other side. In the case of the ungrateful one, that will never be the case.
(5) In the way of true happiness in every walk of life
We know so many who have every reason to be happy but lead miserable lives due to their ingratitude. Similarly, we know many who have every reason to be miserable but radiate happiness due to their gratitude. It is therefore evident that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but instead gratefulness that makes us happy. Say “Alhamdulillāhi” in a consciously sincere way and watch what happens next. Consider the happiness of the following two people compared:
The ungrateful one says: “Look at how damp my house is.”
The happily grateful one says: “But most of it is ok.”
The ungrateful one says: “My house is so small. It’s suffocating.”
The happily grateful one says: “It’s a roof over your head, privacy with your loved one and a space to prostrate to Allāh.”
The ungrateful one says: “I am poor. What do I have?”
The happily grateful one says: “Give me a price for your eyes, kidneys, liver, sight, hearing, digestive and immune system, your enzymes that work in harmony with each other, your ability to bat your eyelids, your involuntary breathing, your ability to articulate yourself, to purify yourself in the bathroom in an independent and dignified way, or even your Islam. Put on a price on them and then I will tell you of your net worth. You’re more than a multi-billionaire.”
How do I show gratitude?
I have an interest in this topic, particularly in the non-Muslim approach to expressing gratitude, and have found highly useful suggestions. I also found, however, that much of what theorists, psychologists, life coaches and motivational speakers suggest had already been fully covered by the prophetic example set by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). For example:
(a) They suggest that when you wake up in the morning, write down a short list of things that you are grateful for.
People have documented life-changing outcomes from this one exercise. The idea is to allow gratitude to be the very first thought that comes to mind the moment you open your eyes, as it will inform your attitude for the rest of that day. Interestingly, the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) did just this every morning. His very first words when waking up were:
الحَمْدُ لله الذِي عَافَانِي في جَسَدِي ورَدَّ عَلَيَّ رُوحِي، وأَذِنَ لي بِذِكْرهِ
“All praise is due to Allāh, Who gave me wellbeing in my body, returned to me my soul, and gave me permission to remember Him.”
(b) They also suggest that throughout the day, slow down and take a moment to savour each and every experience of your day. If, for example, you are driving to work or walking through a park, resist the urge to glare at your phone. Instead, engage every one of your senses with the world around you as you ponder over a creation that Allāh has beautified for your comfort. In those moments, think about how much you have to be grateful for.
Again, this was precisely the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, having linked a statement of gratitude to every possible daily situation, even in things that we may classify as mundane. Consider the following:
When we wake up in the morning, he taught us to say words of gratitude:
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي أَحْيَانَا بَعْدَ مَا أَمَاتَنَا وَإِلَيْهِ النُّشُورُ
When we get dressed, he taught us to say words of gratitude:
اللهم لك الحمد أنت كسوتنيه، أسألك خيره وخير ما صنع له، وأعوذ بك من شره وشر ما صنع له
“O Allāh, all the praise is for You that You have given it [clothes] to me to put on. I ask You its goodness and the goodness of the purpose for which it was made, and I seek Your Protection from its evil and the evil of the purpose for which it was made.”,
When we finish eating, he taught us to say words of gratitude:
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي كَفَانَا وَأَرْوَانَا، غَيْرَ مَكْفِيٍّ، وَلاَ مَكْفُورٍ
When we leave the bathroom, he taught us to say words of gratitude:
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي أَذْهَبَ عَنِّي الأَذَى وَعَافَانِي
When we see a disabled person, he taught us to say words of gratitude:
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي عَافَانِي مِمَّا ابْتَلاَكَ بِهِ وَفَضَّلَنِي عَلَى كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقَ تَفْضِيلاً
When we go to bed, he taught us to say words of gratitude:
الحمد لله الذي أطعمنا وسقانا، وكفانا وآوانا، فكم ممن لا كافي له ولا مئوي
When we accomplish a matter, he taught us to say words of gratitude:
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي بِنِعْمَتِهِ تَتِمُّ الصَّالِحَاتُ
“Praise is to Allāh by Who, by His favour, good matters are accomplished.”
Even when we fail to accomplish something, he taught us to say words of gratitude:
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ عَلَى كُلِّ حَالٍ
Hence, gratitude is fixed before the eyes of the believer, alternating from one form of praise to another, regardless of the situation at hand.
(c) One element that was consistently absent in the suggestions list for how gratitude is to be practically expressed was the avoidance of sins. This is arguably the most important suggestion. Islam offers an essential contribution in this discussion, namely, that gratitude is actively pulled apart when Allāh’s limits are crossed.
What is the worth of one’s statement “Alhamdulillāh (praise be to Allāh) for the gift of eye sight” if the eyes are then used to glare at what Allāh has prohibited? Similarly, what use is a statement of gratitude for wealth if that wealth is then sourced from the prohibited? How beneficial is one’s verbalisation of gratitude for health and splendid appearances if the correct presentation of oneself is then undermined?
اعْمَلُوا آلَ دَاوُدَ شُكْراً
“Work, O family of David, in gratitude.”
And Allāh said:
فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
“So be cautious of Allāh so that you may be grateful.”
Explaining this Ayah, Ibn Ishāq said:
أي: فاتقوني؛ فإنه شكر نعمتي
“This verse implies that being cautious of Allāh is how His favours are to be thanked.”
Allāh also teaches us the story of a community that lost all what it had due to exactly this – not showing practical gratitude:
وَضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا قَرْيَةً كَانَتْ آمِنَةً مُطْمَئِنَّةً يَأْتِيهَا رِزْقُهَا رَغَدًا مِنْ كُلِّ مَكَانٍ فَكَفَرَتْ بِأَنْعُمِ اللَّهِ فَأَذَاقَهَا اللَّهُ لِبَاسَ الْجُوعِ وَالْخَوْفِ بِمَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ
“Allāh presents an example: a city which was safe and secure, its provision coming to it in abundance from every location, but it was ungrateful for the favors of Allāh. So Allāh made it taste the extremes of hunger and fear because of what they used to do.”
Hence, gratitude is not merely a value which Allāh loves and rewards, but one which Allāh punishes for when it is neglected.
From the above, we learn that the pillars of gratitude are three:
(1) Inner gratitude – An inward recognition that all favours are from Him.
(2) Verbal gratitude – A verbal recognition by saying “Alhamdulillāh” and frequently talking about Allāh’s limitless favours.
(3) Practical gratitude– A practical recognition of His favours, by revisiting one’s glances, secret relationships, how wealth is sourced and invested, dress code, and so on.
Do not divorce them from one another because they are inseparable and demand the companionship of each other should gratitude be true.
Put these steps into practice. Although it may feel forced at first, this mental state will grow stronger with use until gratitude flows through your veins and off the tip of your tongue, becoming part and parcel of your being. It will change your life.
At times, we may spend years on end searching for a matter, not knowing that the answer was not only simple but had always been within reach. But at times, Allāh allows this to happen so that when you do eventually find it, you value it. Say “Alhamdulillāh” inwardly, verbally, and practically, and realise the treasure that you have discovered.
Force yourself to be a positive person. When you are on the verge of criticising a matter, stop yourself in your tracks and restructure your sentence to serve a positive meaning – “The food today was horri- was wonderful, Alhamdulillāh. How many millions do not have milk in their fridges? In fact, thinking about it, how many do not even have fridges?”
Misery is not because we did not get what we want, but because we are ungrateful for what we have. Indeed, the gift of health is only realised when we fall ill. We cry of having no shoes until we meet a person who has no feet. Only when we have nothing that we appreciate do we truly know the value of a little. Man does not know the value of what he has until he loses it. It is also true that man can never be happy until he learns to be grateful.
 Al-Qur’ān, 34:13
 Al-Qur’ān, 16:120-121
 Al-Qur’ān, 11:40
 Al-Qur’ān, 17:3
 Al-Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Al-Mughīra
 Abu Dāwūd, on the authority of Mu’ādh
 Al-Qur’ān, 1:2
 Al-Qur’ān, 6:1
 Al-Qur’ān, 18:1
 Al-Qur’ān, 34:1
 Al-Qur’ān, 35:1
 Al-Qur’ān, 3:145
 Al-Qur’ān, 39:7
 Al-Qur’ān, 4:147
 Al-Qur’ān, 14:7
 Al-Tirmidhi, on the authority of Abu Huraira
 Al-Bukhari, on the authority of Hudhaifa
 Transliteration: “Alḥamdulillāhi alladhī aḥyāna ba’da mā amātanā wa ilayhi annushūr.”
 Abu Dāwūd, on the authority of Abu Sa’īd Al-Khudri
 Transliteration: “Allāhumma laka alḥamdu, anta kasautanihi, as`aluka khairahu wa khaira mā suni`a lahu, wa a`udhu bika min sharrihi wa sharri mā suni`a lahu”
 Al-Bukhari, on the authority of Abu Umāma
 Transliteration: “Alhamdulillāhi alladhi at’amanā wa arwāna, ghayra makfiyyin wa lā makfūr”
 Ibn Mājah, on the authority of Anas
 Transliteration: “Alhamdulillāhi alladhi adhhaba ‘anni al-adha wa ‘āfāni”
 Al-Tirmidhi, on the authority of Abu Huraira
 Transliteration: “Alhamdulillāhi alladhī `āfānī mimma btalāka bihī wa faḍḍalanī `alā kathīrin mimman khalaqa tafḍīla”
 Muslim, on the authority of Anas
 Transliteration: “Alhamdulillāhi alladhī at’amanā wa saqānā, wa kafānā wa awānā, fakam mimman lā kāfiya lahū wa la mu’wiya”
 Transliteration: “Alhamdulillāhi alladhī bi ni’matihi tatimm al-sālihat”
 Ibn Mājah, on the authority of ‘Aisha
 Transliteration: “Alhamdulillāhi ‘ala kulli hāl”
 Al-Qur’ān, 34:13
 Al-Qur’ān, 3:123
 Al-Qur’ān, 16:112