Notes from the Lecture “Shukr in Action: Prophetic Attitude of Gratitude” by Ustadh Usama Canon
Ustadh Usama Canon addressed a full hall at Singapore Expo Max Atria on Saturday, 26 November 2016. The lecture is titled “Shukr in Action: Prophetic Attitude of Gratitude” and he covered all the bases.
He began with a story about forgetting to thank Allah for having a croissant. He says that it’s easy to thank Allah for a croissant (small blessing) but we forget to do it anyway. If we apply this forgetfulness regarding this croissant to other aspects of our life, then it becomes worrisome.
Ustadh Usama also said, “Some of you may say, ‘There’s so much difficulty in the Muslim world and critical social issues happening all around us, why are we not talking about them?’”. He says that he believes that gratitude is at the heart of healing for the Muslim community and the human family.
He began with defining gratitude as your heart being filled with witnessing the blessing of Allah. To do so, you’ll need to be present and be consciously aware about the fact that you are a recipient of blessing. He emphasized that gratitude is not a detached and passive feeling and that it’s difficult to allow your heart to be filled with witnessing when it’s filled with things that inhibit it.
An example of something that inhibits one to feel that one is a recipient of blessings is entitlement. We feel that we deserve all the good that we enjoy, example the safety and stability of the land we live in. Ustadh Usama says, “It’s insane to feel entitled because we’re not entitled to even existing. Allah didn’t have to create us.” When we take out entitlement, we can start to be grateful.
In Verse 18 of Chapter 16: “If you were to attempt to enumerate the blessings of Allah, you would not be able to do so.”
It’s often translated as ‘blessings’ but the word that Allah uses in Arabic is actually in singular form: nikmatullahi. This is important because the commentator says that if you pick any one blessing from among the blessings of Allah, you would not be able to enumerate the blessings in that one. For example, sight. The blessings that come out of sight is perception and depth, seeing colour, being able to follow a road, being able to read, see the face of your loved ones, watch a sunrise etc. If we are to count the blessings within one blessing, we wouldn’t be able to do so.
Another subtlety in this verse is that some scholars say “the blessing of Allah” refers to Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wasallam. If we tried to count number of blessings in our beloved Prophet, we would not be able to do so and that we should reflect on his blessed life.
Ustadh Usama then spoke about how showing gratitude to people is showing gratitude to Allah as He has chosen them as the means for a blessing to reach us. He says it does not matter if we like the person, if they are religious, or even a Muslim, for us to show gratitude to them.
He then went on to speak about the way to show gratitude is to use a blessing for its intended purpose. For example, using your wealth not just for your family and to live a comfortable life but to think of the community and its future. He also said that as Singaporeans, living in a safe and stable society, we have a level of privilege that many people don’t have and we should therefore use our privilege to raise awareness for those who don’t enjoy similar privileges.
He ended his talk by asking the audience to go home that night and listing down all the blessings that Allah has given them, even the ugly things in life. Ustadh asked, “Could it be that what you perceive as an affliction is actually a blessing?” At the end of this exercise, we would feel some shyness in front of Allah and feeling “I don’t deserve any of this.”
Question & Answer
The first question from the crowd was “Are all things good?” in the context of needing to be grateful for everything, the good and the bad that happens to us. Ustadh Usama said that for the believer, all things are good as the narration from Prophet Muhammad: “Wondrous is the affair of the believer as there is good for him in every matter, and this is not true for anyone but the believer. If he is pleased, then he thanks Allah and there is good for him. If he is harmed, then he shows patience and there is good for him.”
He also said that in the Qur’an, we see that the etiquette of the Prophets is that they don’t attribute anything bad to Allah. Even though Sayyidina Ayyub was afflicted with illness, he said “I am ill” and not “You gave me illness”.
One of the wisdoms of Allah giving the most beloved of the Prophets difficulties is to show that it is not indicative that Allah is mad at you or want to punish you. But that this is the realm of dunya. Our primary concern should be what is pleasing to Allah and be in accordance to the Prophet’s actions. Persevere even in difficult times. There’s a wisdom in it. Try to submit to the decree of Allah.
Someone else asked, “How do we affirm and inspire faith in this nihilistic age?”
Ustadh Usama replied that in a study done, more than 30% of college students in the US think that life is just an existential hell. For a believer, the world of faith is a world of meaning. We should attempt to see meaning in everything. “What does this mean?” – we should ask this question in every situation. Concerning the election of Donald Trump, yes we may worry and do the necessary as Muslims in America to protect ourselves but there’s a meaning to it too. Allah raises and debases who He wishes. Affirm meaning in things and you’ll increase in faith. Corporate boardroom, the mosque, the ocean are all places for you to increase in faith. The world is meaning set up in imagery.
Digital Director, SimplyIslam
Urwah bin Zubayr (Rahimahullah) said after losing his eldest son when a horse trampled him to death and thereafter losing his leg due to gangrene,
"Allah has bestowed upon me four sons and He has taken back one and allowed me to remain with three, so for Him is the Praise. Allah has given me four limbs and has taken one and allowed me to remain with three, so for Him is the praise. I swear to you by Allah, that if he has taken from me a little, then he has caused to remain with me much, and if he has tried me once then he has forgiven me many times."
Having spent a large part of my adolescence in the Arab Gulf, I can say that I was brought up in a consumer driven and materialistic society where the principal concerns of the majority of the population were the shopping centers with their designer shops, the latest and most expensive cars, and the pampered lifestyle. Being from a modest and religious family, my parents disapproved greatly of the lifestyle led by most who lived in the Gulf and put in much effort to bring up their children with the idea that true wealth was not measured by the amount of money and possessions one owned but rather by leading a lifestyle that was dedicated to the devotion of Allah سبحانه وتعالى and His message.
However, despite being brought up by pious parents, there is no doubt that the materialistic environment I was surrounded by took its toll on my way of thinking. Being a teenager, it was only natural to become influenced by the materialistic world that I lived in, and I slowly found myself sinking into a society where the pursuit of possessions and the materialistic things of the world mattered most; where the most significant of matters such as virtues, good deeds, and contributions to societies were forgotten. In fact, during my adolescent years, it wasn’t very often that I found myself counting or appreciating my blessings. I seemed to focus more on what I lacked than on the blessings that Allah سبحانه وتعالى had already given me.
After I graduated from university, I was offered a teaching job in Libya. Although I wasn’t very familiar with Libya at that time as I had only visited it for the first time the previous year, I thought it was an ideal opportunity to make a contribution to my country and become better acquainted with my relatives. Having lived abroad my entire life, I was aware that life in Libya was going to be difficult, so my initial plan was to stay there from a few months to one year. Surprisingly, I ended up living and working there for five years. Subhan’Allah, Allah سبحانه وتعالى is the most merciful and always knows what is best for His creation. When He feels we are beginning to go astray, He makes sure we go through a certain experience that will guide us to the right path. The five years I spent in Libya were one of those experiences, as they transformed my perspective on life entirely.
Being surrounded and working with Libyans who have been under the oppression of Gaddaffi’s brutal regime for decades opened my eyes to what really mattered in life and made me realize how superficial I had been. All the problems I thought I had suddenly seemed so insignificant compared to the problems the Libyan people were facing and had faced for decades. Hearing heartbreaking stories from my relatives and students about the injustice and corruption of the entire regime in Libya – and experiencing some of it myself – made me look at life from a completely different angle.
In a country with the worst possible infrastructure, I saw how the Libyan people were deprived of a proper education, good health care, and safe roads. I met families of ten or more who had to live off a salary of less than 150 dollars. I saw people who had to live with disabilities their entire life due to a small problem at birth that could have easily been treated by a simple medical procedure which was never performed, either because the doctors weren’t qualified enough, the equipment and medication weren’t available, or people just couldn’t afford it. I heard of businesses that were shut down by the government simply because they became too successful (a result of Gadaffi’s obsessive fear of anyone with the minutest amount of wealth or power). And of course, I cannot forget the psychological and emotional trauma most Libyans had gone through at one time or another in the past. Almost every single family in Libya has had at least a father, a brother, a husband, an uncle, or a cousin who was imprisoned, tortured, or brutally murdered by Gaddafi and his followers simply because they spoke the truth. The least harmful and most sincere of actions, such as performing Fajr (dawn) prayer in the mosque, was considered a threat to the regime and resulted in the imprisonment of many. The amount of suffering that the Libyan people have endured in the past (and are enduring even now) is beyond imaginable.
This forced me to reflect on my life and contemplate that which surrounds me. I looked back at my life and thought of the endless opportunities I was offered in life that most Libyans in Libya could not even dream of. How could I have wanted more? How could I have not been content? Although I used to say AlhamdulilLah (Praise be to God) for my blessings in the past, I never really meant it from the depths of my heart. I would say it, but at the back of my head there was always this nagging worldly desire of something that I needed or wanted. I soon found myself for the first time thanking Allah سبحانه وتعالى from the bottom of my heart for all my blessings every time I raised my hands in du`a‘ (supplication) instead of asking Him for some worldly matter.
This brought me to the realization that striving for this dunya (world) will never make one happy. I marveled at the difficult life the Libyans had experienced and how little they had in comparison to many who lived in other Arab or western countries—yet they were happy. Some of my most cherished moments in Libya were with family members gathered around a large round tray, called a sufrah, opening a can of tuna to make traditional Libyan sandwiches called nufs, and dipping homemade bread (khubzat tanoor) in olive oil; or sitting in the front yard with the neighbors, sipping tea and chatting away while the older women picked olives from the nearby trees and the children played around us. My most cherished classes were with my Libyan students, who despite everything they had gone through and were going through, were the liveliest, most cheerful, and most appreciative students I have ever encountered throughout my entire career as a teacher.
At those moments, the life I was surrounded by in the Gulf seemed so meaningless. I remembered the expensive high-class restaurants I used to eat at with friends where a tiny portion would cost a ridiculous amount, and the fancy shopping centers where I would spend hours (something Libya has never seen); and realized that I was so much more content when I was sitting on the moist grass with family members or neighbors sipping away shahee akhdar (green tea) and eating fresh almonds picked straight from a tree.
This opened my eyes to the fact that the key to a happy life is to be thankful for the simple pleasures and blessings of this world. And that chasing after this dunya will only lead to the weakening of one’s heart by making one greedy and always wanting more. I began to think about all my possessions that at one time I thought I had desperately needed. How many of them did I really use on a regular basis? How many of them had an impact on my life or made me happy beyond the first few minutes of purchasing them? Suddenly, many of the possessions I owned seemed extra and I began to give away a lot of what I had to people I thought needed them more than I did. Not only did I begin to feel that I didn’t need so many things anymore, but I began to make a conscious effort to thank God for everything he had given me. I had finally experienced true gratitude– or at least I thought I had.
Gratitude at a Deeper Level
Thinking that I had finally mastered the skill of gratitude and feeling quite good about myself, something happened that made me realize that true gratefulness is really at a much deeper level and that no matter how thankful we think we have become, we can never be thankful enough for all the blessings in the world that Allah سبحانه وتعالى has bestowed upon us.
During my stay in Libya, my uncle’s wife fell ill with colon cancer. Her condition was beyond curable. She went to many different doctors, travelled to the UK for treatment, underwent chemotherapy and surgery, but at the end, the doctors told her that the cancer had spread and that there was nothing more that they could do for her. Due to hospitals in Libya not being the most safe or comfortable of places, she spent the very little time she had left to live in the comfort of her home.
As the months passed, she became more and more ill. A couple of months before she passed away – May Allah سبحانه وتعالى have mercy on her soul and grant her firdaws – she developed a condition called Bowel incontinence, which is the loss of the voluntary control of bowel movements. As a result she had to use a fecal collection device, which consists of a drainable pouch attached to a tube that is inserted into the rectum. This allowed the feces to be taken straight out of her rectum to be poured into the pouch which was taped to her waist under her clothing. Of course the pouch needed changing once or twice a day. As she was extremely ill at that time, was in a lot of pain, and spent most of her time in bed, her daughters had to ensure that the soiled pouch was removed when needed and replaced with a clean one. Upon hearing this news, I found myself feeling very bad for my uncle’s wife. On top of all the pain she was already experiencing, I thought about how difficult and how much discomfort it must cause her to not have any control over her bowels. For the first time in my life I found myself thanking Allah سبحانه وتعالى with every molecule in my body for granting me the ability to control my bowels. What an amazing blessing it is! How come I had never thanked Allah سبحانه وتعالى for it before?
I soon found myself thanking Allah سبحانه وتعالى every time I entered the bathroom for granting me such an incredible blessing. We all use the bathroom several times a day, but how often do we thank Allah سبحانه وتعالى for this blessing? How often do we think about how difficult our lives would have become had we lost the ability to control our bowels? I’m sure if that had happened, all our worldly desires wouldn’t seem so important, would they? In fact, I’m sure we would give up everything we had in order to regain control of our bowels. But unfortunately, this is one of the most important blessings Allah سبحانه وتعالى has bestowed upon us that we tend to take for granted.
I began to look back at how I thought I had become more grateful and realized that I had left out a large number of blessings that I hadn’t learnt to appreciate. Before knowing about my uncle’s wife’s illness, I was mainly thankful for the visible and obvious blessings – for having a car, a roof to live under, food to eat, a good job, a good education, a good family etc. While there is no doubt that these are amazing blessings and one should always be grateful for them, one must also keep in mind the more subtle blessings, the ones we don’t really think about but wouldn’t be able to function without: the ability to breathe, sneeze, cough, blink, our nerve cells, our organs our senses, etc. The list is endless! When we take a breath, how often do we stop and think alhamdulilLah I am able to breathe on my own? AlhamdulilLah, I’m not bedridden with a tube inserted down my windpipe knowing that if the machine suddenly stopped working I won’t be able to breathe anymore?
When we sneeze, we say alhamdulilLah, but how often do we stop and think why we are saying alhamdulilLah. Or do we just say it because that’s what our parents taught us to say after we sneeze? Or perhaps because it has become a habit? We sneeze; we say alhamdulilLah – almost always on an unconscious level. But let’s ponder this for a moment, it is said that when we sneeze, our body lets out unwanted microorganisms and substances that have entered our bodies and that may cause us a serious illness. Perhaps this is the wisdom behind saying alhamdulilLah after one sneezes – alhamdulilLah, my body rid me of those substances. But how often do we actually stop and think about that? How often do we take that moment to think ‘alhamdulilLah, I was just saved from possibly becoming very ill’? And really mean that alhamdulilLah with a wakeful heart and all sincerity? How often do we say it and mean it from our hearts and not from our mouths?
The means of purifying the heart and freeing it from greed, envy, jealousy and the attachment to this dunya is by expressing true and sincere thankfulness to Allah سبحانه وتعالى. By continuously being thankful, we become consciously aware of Allah and remember Him at all times. In fact, it is at the moments of true and sincere gratitude that the faith in our hearts strengthens, our love for Allah سبحانه وتعالى increases, and our attachment to worldly pleasures weakens.
It was when I experienced my uncle’s wife’s illness that I truly understood the meaning of this verse: “And if you should count the favor of Allah , you could not enumerate them.” (Qur’an, 14:34). The visible and subtle blessings of Allah سبحانه وتعالى are with us in every second of our life and surround us from all directions. No matter how bad a situation may be, a true believer will always find a blessing to be grateful for. In fact, even hardships and calamities are blessings in disguise as there is always a valuable lesson that one learns from them. But we must make that conscious effort to remind ourselves of these blessings, reflect on them, and be truly grateful for what we have and mean it from the depths of our hearts and with all sincerity.
Allah سبحانه وتعالى’s blessings are here for us to enjoy, but we shouldn’t just enjoy what Allah سبحانه وتعالى has created for us but should also remember Allah سبحانه وتعالى every time we see, feel or touch these things. Allah سبحانه وتعالى said in the Qur’an “And few of My servants are grateful.” (Qur’an, 34:13). Allah سبحانه وتعالى knew when he created humans that only very few would appreciate His blessings. Therefore, let us strive to be from those few.
May Allah سبحانه وتعالى make us from His grateful slaves, strengthen the faith in our hearts, and keep us away from the attachment to this dunya. Ameen
Being grateful is something that we all know is a virtuous quality. Lecture after lecture has been delivered on the subject of “showing thanks to God for His favors.” Articles have been written to encourage us to “recognize His blessings,” and “be grateful for what God has given us.” We are continuously reminded of how little appreciation we show for the fact that many of us have food on our table, a roof over our heads and relative peace and security in our lives. This discussion almost always takes place in the context of experiencing trials and tribulations, and I couldn’t agree more. There is a lot of room for improvement for many of us when it comes to gratitude. When the going gets tough, we should strive to avoid going towards ingratitude.
Yet, part of me always has always wondered—is gratitude an emotion to be experienced exclusively during times of hardship? And what are many of us actually grateful for? The gifts or the Giver? These may seem like easy questions to answer, but the next time you come across “gratitude,” be it as a topic of a discussion or an emotion you experience, I want you to pay close attention to the circumstances in which it arises and where exactly your heart lies. Does your heart only show thanks when it is pushed against the wall? And even then, does it only find happiness and peace intrinsically in the gifts of this world (albeit with some acknowledgement that God is the Giver), like a child who loses their favorite Buzz Lightyear toy, only to be consoled by the fact that he still has his awesome Optimus Prime helmet that his dad gave him for ‘Eid last year? Or does your heart delight in the fact that it can use those very gifts to draw nearer to Him and that the gifts, themselves, are meaningless?
In his Ihya `Ulum Al-Din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences), Imam Al-Ghazali draws a beautiful analogy in trying to show the different form of gratitude that people express:
“Let us give an example. We say that a king who desires to make a journey grants a man in his entourage a favor in the form of a horse. He imagines that the man to whom it is granted will be delighted with the horse for three reasons. Firstly, he will be delighted because it is a horse and because it has monetary value which can be of benefit to him; because he can use it for riding and that suits his purpose; and because it is a valuable racer as well. This kind of joy is for one who has no interest in the king, his interest is only in the horse. Had he found the horse in a desert, he would have taken it and his joy would have been similar to this joy.
“The second kind of joy is when he delights in it, not because it is a horse, but because he infers the care of the king expressed in it, and his [the king’s] compassion for him. Had he found the horse in the desert, or someone other than the king had given it to him, he would not really be happy with it because, in principle, he has no need of the horse and it is of no significance to him compared to his desire to have a place in the heart of the king.
“The third kind of joy is when the servant delights in the horse in order to ride it, to go out in the service of the king and bear the toil of the journey in his service and to obtain the rank of nearness to the king. Perhaps he will be promoted to the position of a minister, because he is not content that his position in the heart of the king should be limited to his [the king’s] giving him a horse and caring for him only to this degree. Rather he does not want the king to convey the [favors] from his wealth on anyone. Except through him. Yet, he does not want the ministry for the sake of the ministry, rather he wants to see the king and be near him. If he had to choose between this proximity to him without the ministry and the ministry without proximity, he would choose proximity.
“These are the three levels [of joy]. In the first, there is no thankfulness at all because the vision of the one possessing it [this level of joy] is confined to the horse and his joy lies in the horse, not in the one who gave it. This is the state of all those who are made happy by a blessing because of the pleasure of it and because it is agreeable to their purpose. This is far from the meaning of thankfulness. The second [kind] enters the definition of thankfulness in that the person delights in the giver but not exactly because of him [the giver], rather, because of the knowledge of his care; this incites [the person] to seek favor in the future. This is the state of the righteous, who worship God and are thankful to Him for fear of His punishment and hope for His reward.
“Perfect thankfulness is found only in the third kind of joy. It is when the joy of the servant in the blessing of God (exalted is He) is because it enables him to reach a place of proximity to Him (exalted is He), to reside in His companionship, and enjoy the vision of His countenance continually! This is the highest level [of attainment]. Its characteristic is joy in this world only for what it is, a field under cultivation for the Hereafter and the means to assist him to it. He grieves at every blessing that diverts him from the remembrance of God (exalted is He) and turns him away from His path. He does not desire the blessing because it is pleasurable, just as the possessor of the horse does not desire the horse because it is a racer or an ambler, but because it carries him in company with the king, that he may continue to see the king and be near him.
“Thus Shibli (may God grant him mercy) said, ‘Thankfulness is the vision of the Bestower, not the vision of the blessing.'”1
May God enable us to show continuous gratitude towards Him, as best as we can, so that He will give us even more (Quran, 14:7), and so that we can use that more to draw nearer to Him. May He enable us to be amongst the “few” who are “thankful” (Qur’an, 34:13) and may He protect us from being amongst “most human beings” who “do not give thanks” (Qur’an, 2:243) and the terrible punishment that they face (Quran, 14:7).
When recognizing His gifts, may He empower us to say, as Sulaiman (`alayhi assalam, peace be upon him) said, “…This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful – his gratitude is only for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever is ungrateful – then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous,”(Qur’an, 27:40).
Littlejohn HT. Al-Ghazali on Patience and Thankfulness. 1st ed. Cambridge, UK: Islamic Texts Society
The Story of Saba and the Importance of Being Thankful
By Muhammed Nafih Wafy
Let us be thankful for what we have and stop fretting and ranting about what we don’t.
They lived in a lush green plain, skirted by two verdant gardens on both sides which were constantly irrigated by water from an adjacent dam. Fruits and vegetables grew in abundance. Their town was strategically located between Yemen and Syria, connected to the historical Silk Route. Nature was bountiful, trade was thriving and life was at ease. They were full of joys of the spring, blessed with a ‘beautiful country and a forgiving Lord’. “Delight in the bounties of your Lord and be grateful to Him,” they were told. Gratitude was the only thing they were asked in return to sustain this life of plenty and prosperity. They not only declined to be thankful to God but failed to understand the value of the good things in their life. They took all their blessings for granted, grew more arrogant, more jealous and greedier. They pursued a policy of reckless aggrandizement and tried to monopolize the trade around them. Instead of being content with what they had, they wanted to have more and more; instead of recognizing the value of what they were given, they lamented over what they were denied. This ungrateful and boorish manner led to their tragic fall from prosperity to poverty, from affluence to penury.
An enormous dam, later estimated to be two-mile long and 120-feet high, which used to irrigate their farms burst under the weight of water, causing a massive flood inundating the entire cultivable area. Their two gardens were destroyed and the whole area rendered uncultivable. Instead of crops, fruits and vegetables, it started producing some wild fruits of bitter taste, tamarisks and a few lote-trees which were good neither for fruit nor for shade. The arable fields were turned into a wasteland growing nothing worthwhile for the local community. It took only a while for the farm of luscious fruit trees to be converted into an arid land of plants bearing bitter fruits.
This was how the people of Saba’ (Sheba) grew thankless and arrogant and met their nemesis.
In a chapter named after them, the Quran portrays succinctly in a few verses the circumstances leading to the fall of the Ma’arib dam and what happened to the people of Sheba downstream, who once led a happy and prosperous life. The Quran begins the narration saying, “There was indeed a sign for Sheba in their dwelling places: Two gardens on the right hand and the left…”, and the following verses cite ingratitude, a flagrant disregard for the blessings of God, monopolistic greed, aggrandizements etc. as the cause of their destruction: “This we awarded them because of their ingratitude. Punish we ever any except for the ingrates?”
Be thankful The story of Sheba conveys a universal message relevant to all times and climes. Sheba had their signs in their own dwelling place, they didn’t require to seek it elsewhere in order to be thankful. Like Sheba, each individual, as well as each society or nation as a whole, has within itself a lot to reflect on and be thankful for. They don’t need to look out elsewhere in order to be thankful.
Gratitude, or being appreciative of what we were getting, is one of the defining characteristics of a believer, while non-belief (Kufr) is marked by ingratitude, arrogance and forgetfulness of all freebies we enjoy in our daily life like air, health, security etc. Gratitude is simply sending an acknowledgement to Allah for what He has bestowed upon us, while ingratitude is akin to forgetting or denying His role in what He has given to us.
Gratitude is an attitude or way of life that we need to discipline ourselves to. Gratitude can be achieved by training ourselves to look at what we have, however small or trifling they might be, appreciate it and think about its importance in our daily life, instead of complaining of what we don’t have or being jealous of what others have but we lack. Shukr (gratitude) is constantly being alert to what we have and being thankful for that. The wise believers build on what they have, while non-believers fail to recognize or value what they have, and spend their life craving for and lamenting over what they don’t have.
Focus on what you have
Focusing on what one wants instead of what one has is one of the most pervasive and destructive mental tendencies leading to stress or hypertension in today’s world. When you forget to think about what you have, you will keep expanding your list of desires. As your wish list continues to get expanded, your desires will never be fulfilled and you always remain dissatisfied. It will make you unable to understand the value of what you have and utilize it all to the maximum. Happiness will delude you as long as you remain a prisoner of your desires – the more you think about what life denied to you, the more dissatisfied and disgruntled you grow, whereas the more you think about what you have, identify its potential and work to develop it to a new level, the happier and more optimistic you will become. If you feel more grateful for what you have been given, you will grow more confident, become more focused and concentrated on what you are doing and be more productive in that, and your life will become more fruitful and rewarding.
Believers are told to consider their obstacles as blessings in disguise. They consider everything as an opportunity from God and constantly live a life of gratitude and appreciation for what they have. They are not supposed to complain about the challenges but accept them as an opportunity to prove their patience and endurance and get rewarded for that. There is no point in complaining about life, but brace yourself to embrace it head-on and try to prove yourself. The Messenger of Allah marvelled at the state of a believer saying,
“If something good happens to him, he is grateful and that is good for him; and if something bad befalls him, he is patient and that is also good for him.”
So let us be thankful for what we have, stop fretting and ranting about what we don’t have and fantasizing about the different tacks our life would have taken – had we lived a different life, in a different place and time, born to a different set of parents, being educated in a different way, doing a different job, married to a different spouse and so on and so forth. Let us stop blaming the destiny for not achieving what we wanted. Let us not wait for the right moment to come for our actual life to begin, and let us not wait for all obstacles to be cleared before we act because our life will never be cleared off obstacles.
When Allah ta’ala grants a person any Ni’mah and the person says, “Alhamdulillah,” then the Tawfeeq to do Hamd of Allah ta’ala is better than the Ni’mat one received. The Ni’mat, no matter how great or small, will one day end i.e. chocolates will be eaten, jewellery will get old or broken etc. but the reward for the Hamd which was done upon receiving the Ni’mat will never end. Anything one connects to Allah ta’ala becomes Baaqee (Eternal). Therefore when we get the Tawfeeq to say Alhamdulillah then say Alhamdulillah for that Tawfeeq as it is Allah ta’ala Who is putting in our hearts to say Alhamdulillah! We should say Alhamdulillah with deep sincere feelings and not be desensitized.
Imam adh-Dhahabi mentions a story of one of the righteous men of the past- Abdullah ibn Muhammad. He got lost during one of his travels and ended up on a hillock. On the hillock he came across a tent. The tent was really battered, and torn all over, and there was a lot of wind blowing into the tent. So, the righteous man, Abdullah, peered in and saw a very old man. The man had no hands and was blind. On top of that, he was paralyzed. All he was saying as he sat there was:
الحمد لله الذي فضلني على كثير من عباده تفضيلا
“All Praise is due to Allah who has preferred me (in blessings) to so many of His slaves.”
The righteous man, Abdullah ibn Muhammad came closer and put his head inside the tent. The man kept repeating the same dua over and over again.
Abdullah said, “Assalamu alaykum.”
The old man asked, “Who is that?”
Abdullah: “I am a traveller who got lost, but I have a question for you.”
Old man: “I will respond to your question, but you must do a favour for me.”
Abdullah agreed, and then asked, “Why is it that I see you in this situation that you are in, that you are not able to walk, you do not have hands and you are blind. You do not have any wealth whatsoever, and you are thanking Allah for preferring you over so many of His slaves.”
Old man: “Do you not see that I am of sane mind?”
Old man: “How many of the slaves of Allah are insane?”
Old man: “Then Alhamdulillah, (All Praise is due to Allah) who has preferred me over so many of His insane slaves. Do you not see that I am able to hear?”
Old man: “How many of the slaves of Allah are deaf?”
Old man: “Then Alhamdulillah who has preferred me over so many of His deaf slaves.”
The man goes on and mentions about how he can still speak while so many of the slaves of Allah are mute. He goes on to mention of how he has been blessed with Islam while other people are worshipping idols, trees, humans, etc. Then Abdullah ibn Muhammad said, “You have spoken the truth. So what is the request that you have?”
Old man: “All my family members have died. And the only one person I have is a small boy who brings food and helps me with everything as I cannot bring food or even feed myself. Yesterday the boy went out, and he hasn’t come back until now. So please go out and find him for me.”
So Abdullah ibn Muhammad went out in search of the boy. After a period of time, he came on top of a hill. In the horizon he noticed vultures circling. Abdullah knew that vultures only circle around a dead body.
Abdullah went to that area, and found the dead body of the small boy. A wolf had attacked him, killed him and eaten most of his body. Abdullah looked at the corpse and wondered, “How do I go back and tell this old man who has nothing in this world, that the only person he did have has been eaten by a wolf?”
Abdullah thought of not going back to the old man, However, he couldn’t bring himself to do that. So, he started making his way back to the old man and on the way, Abdullah remembered about the Prophet of Allah, Ayyub, alayhi salam. He entered the tent.
Abdullah greeted him.
Old man: “Where did you find him?” (He was very sure that the boy had been found.)
Abdullah: “I will ask you a question first. Who is more beloved to Allah, you or His Prophet Ayyub?”
Old man: “No doubt it is Prophet Ayyub.”
Abdullah: “Then who has had a more difficult test, you or His prophet Ayyub?”
Old man: “No doubt His prophet Ayyub
Abdullah: “Seek the reward then from Allah. I have found your boy on the top of the hill; the wolf had found him, attacked him, and eaten him.”
Old man: “La hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raajioon. Ash-shadu alla ilaha illa Allah.” (There is no power or might except with Allah. Indeed to Allah we belong and to Him is our return. I testify that none is worthy of worship but Allah.)
And the man kept repeating these phrases over and over again. He kept remembering Allah and then starting taking deep breaths. Abdullah felt as though the man would die. He picked up the man’s head and kept giving him water.
The man kept repeating Ash-shadu alla ilaha illa Allah, Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raajioon (I testify that none is worthy of worship but Allah. Indeed to Allah we belong and to Him is our return) until he finally died.
Abdullah ibn Muhammad waited until he found a group of travellers along that valley. He asked their help in washing the body, wrapping it in the burial shroud and to dig a grave for that man. They buried the man and prayed Janazah over him.
Abdullah thereafter went on in his journey. That night Abdullah ibn Muhammad saw the old man in a vision. The old man was looking good, seemingly in excellent health and condition. In the dream Abdullah conversed with the man.
Abdullah: “How did you get to here? How did you become better? How did you change so much?”
Old man: “My Lord entered me into paradise and it was said to me, ‘Peace be unto you for what you have been patient upon, and what a good end you got.’
That is the story of an old man. Someone whose name we do not know, who was hardly known, and who hardly had a life to live. And yet, one of the righteous men of our ummah was given a vision confirming his entry into paradise. He truly embodied the verse of the Quran, If you are thankful, then I will increase you. [Quran 14:7]
(Story mentioned in Siyar a’lam an-Nubula by Imam adh-Dhahabi. Collected from a talk by Shaykh Kamal el-Makki from the United States.)
How to Overcome Sadness and Be Happy
By Taheerah Alam
So should I be thankful for the good clothes I wear or the Gucci bag I carry? Maybe the good food I can eat? Oh wait, what about the opportunity to study at a reputable university or being employed at a good company? Hey, did I mention my caring and wonderful parents or my cool siblings who are my best friends? Hold on, I completely forgot about the blessing of Islam in my life; How Allah guided my heart to His path! AlhamdulilLah (praise be to God).
Tired of counting already?!
No wonder Allah said in the Qur’an that if we were to count the favors of Allah, we will not do justice to even one favor! (14:34)
Yes, we are all struggling with something and I feel ya, my brother/sister in Islam. Maybe it’s been months and you are still looking for a decent job. Maybe you are a single brother/sister struggling to fight off temptations while there seems to be no progress in the ‘marriage’ part of your life and you are tired of searching for that ‘right’ person. Maybe you have been trying for years and still with no success in conceiving a baby. It could be anything. Anything that makes you feel that sense of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. A gap between what you desire to happen and what is happening in reality. And I feel your pain and I will never underestimate it.
But brothers and sisters, I request you all to take concrete steps to change your situation. Do something about it right now! You know how?
“…If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]…” (Qur’an, 14:7)
Shift your focus.
Pay attention to the wonderful things you have, as opposed to what you don’t have.
Believe me, you will get lost in the counting of those blessings even if you’re a math expert!
And then, when you genuinely appreciate the blessings you enjoy and, in turn, appreciate how Merciful He, your Lord, has always been to you, He will do as promised inshaAllah (God willing); He will increase you in various ways in life. Trust me, with a positive and grateful mindset, you will feel His barakah (blessing) in your life constantly and that will make you a much happier human being. You will enjoy the days and nights of this fleeting life that doesn’t want to slow down! You will kick away depression from your life and make way for activism and energy!
And most importantly, you will be able to remember your Lord consistently and His consciousness will become ingrained in your lifestyle inshaAllah. What a wonderful way to worship the One to whom we owe everything!
But then you might be thinking “how” exactly do I show this gratitude? Is it just repeating “thank you God” every time I buy a Louis Vuitton bag?
That too and maybe something more. The best way to be grateful for Allah’s favors is to use them for things that make Him happy.
So you’re good in accounting? Help someone to do their homework. You love writing? Use your beautiful words to inspire people to Allah’s deen (religion). Maybe Allah blessed you with wealth so you can buy all the good stuff alhamdulilLah. Why not buy something nice and gift it to a poor person once in a while? And you can be as creative as you want! The list is endless. But you get the point inshaAllah.
Come on fellas. It’s time to be positive. It’s time to be grateful. It’s time to act.
And always remember this motto no matter what you go through in life:
“An attitude of gratitude is what is truly needed!” – Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan
This cannot be undone and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.
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