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By Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director.
This speech was delivered at an interfaith youth event on “Gratitude in Islam” at the South Bay Islamic Association on November 18th, 2017. You can watch an excerpt from the speech here.
Salam alaikum everyone. I want to start with a funny story that has a serious point.
Once upon a time, a King had a servant named Shukr (which means Grateful in Arabic). The two men were very close friends, where the King took Shukr everywhere with him.
Shukr was suitably named, for he was always grateful to God for whatever he had and for whatever situation he was in, a quality the King greatly admired.
The King loved to hunt, and so one day he and Shukr went out hunting in the forest. The King shot and killed a deer. In response, Shukr cried, “Alhamdulillah! (Praise be to God!)”
The two men went to remove the arrow from the deer, but as they did so, the end of the King’s little finger was severed or cut off.
“Alhamdulillah!” cried Shukr again. This time, however, Shukr’s gratitude angered the King, and he had him thrown into prison.
“Alhamdulillah!” cried Shukr at this turn of events, surprising all those around him.
The next week, the King went hunting by himself. As he made his way through the forest, he came across a tribe of primitive people. They seemed friendly and invited him to join in a sacred meal. Little did he know that he was the main course!
They tied him up; but as they prepared him for the pot, one man noticed that his little finger was cut off. Believing they could not offer a mutilated human being to their gods, they let him go free.
Overjoyed to have been released, the King ran back to the city and to Shukr.
After hearing the King’s story, Shukr was beside himself, crying out again and again “Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah!”
The King released him from jail, and Shukr went on crying out “Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah!”
Finding this ecstatic display of gratitude excessive even for Shukr, the King asked, why are you so grateful?
Shukr replied, “Because if you hadn’t thrown me in jail, I would have gone hunting with you, and the tribe would have eaten me instead of you!”
There’s an underlying truth to this story that’s especially relevant as we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, which certainly resonates with me as a Muslim, which is that, like Shukr in the story, gratitude can save your life.
It may not save you from a tribe of hungry cannibals, but, as my faith teaches, it’s a crucial necessity—perhaps the most crucial —if we’re to live lives that are worth living, lives of joy, happiness, and service regardless of our circumstances.
The necessity of gratitude is a fundamental teaching of Islam. We owe thanks to God just for being alive to be able to know God, an insight that Islam shares with other faiths; for example, there is a Catholic hymn sung at every Sunday mass that says, “We give thanks to You for Your great glory.”
And of course, gratitude reminds us that everything that happens to us comes from God and that we shouldn’t take the many bounties in our lives for granted.
The Qur’an says: “And whatever of blessings and good things you have, it is from God” (16:53).
And gratitude is not just about giving credit where credit is due. Gratitude is essential for our own spiritual and emotional well-being.
The Qur’an teaches this clearly. For instance, it says, “We bestowed wisdom on Luqman: ‘Show gratitude to God. Anyone who is grateful does so to profit his own soul: but whoever is ungrateful verily God is free of all wants worthy of praise.’” (31:12); and again, God says “Then when (Solomon)) saw it placed before him [referring to the throne of the Queen of Sheba], he said: ‘This is by the Grace of my Lord to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! And whoever is grateful, truly, his gratitude is for (the good of) his own self, and whoever is ungrateful, (he is ungrateful only for the loss of his own self). Certainly! My Lord is Rich (Free of all wants), Bountiful.’” (27: 40)
So the ability to be grateful, for any little or major thing we have is a great blessing, and those of us who nurture that sense within ourselves seek not only God’s pleasure but also our own happiness, relieving ourselves of the many pressures and anxieties that face us in our daily lives.
Gratitude, especially in a time of difficulty, helps us to stay positive and thankful rather than allowing ourselves to be crushed by adverse circumstances.
Anyone who’s gone through any sort of difficulty or is trying to overcome challenges in life, knows and understands that it begins by a positive attitude, and you gain a positive attitude by first accepting your predicament and even being grateful just for the knowledge of God to whom we ask for help for overcoming difficulty.
Remaining in a state of gratitude helps us to recognize how much we have in our lives that many others do not; it teaches us to count our blessings rather than look at what we are lacking.
Gratitude is a sense of fulfillment that comes not from wanting more but rather from knowing that God has already blessed us with what we need.
It’s no wonder, then, that the prophet Muhammad (p) taught his followers the following supplication: “Oh God help me to remember You, to be grateful to You and to worship You properly.”
Remembrance of God, gratitude, and worship—are for Muslims the foundation of a happy life.
But gratitude not only pleases God and benefits those who are grateful—as all good things of the spirit do – it extends these blessings to others.
For gratitude, if it is genuine, cannot be limited to gratitude to God. Part of being grateful is remembering to express gratitude towards other people. The Prophet Muhammad (p) said, “He who does not thank people, does not thank God” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi).
He also said: “Whoever does you a favor, then reciprocate, and if you cannot find anything with which to reciprocate, then pray for that person until you think that you have reciprocated them.” (Abu Dawood 1672)
I want to close with a story that I think embodies the meanings of gratitude in Islam that I’ve been talking about.
There was a man named Abdullah who in his travels ended up on a small hill where he came across a tent.
The tent was badly torn, and wind was blowing fiercely through it. So Abdullah peered in and saw a very old man, blind, with no hands, no use of his legs; he was basically paralyzed.
All he was repeatedly saying as he laid on the ground was: “All Praise is due to God who has preferred me (in blessings) to so many of His servants.”
Abdullah greeted the old man and said, “I am a traveler and wanted to ask you a question.”
The old man said: “I will respond to your question, but you must do me a favor first.”
Abdullah agreed, and then asked, “Why is it that I see you in the 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 God for preferring you over so many of His servants.”
The old man asks: “Do you not see that I am of sane mind?”
Abdullah replied: “Yes.”
The old man asked: “How many of the believers of God are insane?”
Abdullah said: “Many.”
The old man replied: “Then Alhamdulillah, (All Praise is due to God) who has preferred me over so many of His insane servants.
Then he asked, “Do you not see that I am able to hear?”
Abdullah replied: “Yes.”
The old man asked: “How many of the servants of God are deaf?”
Abdullah replied: “Many.”
The old man said: “Then Alhamdulillah who has preferred me over so many of His deaf slaves.”
The man goes on and on and points out that he can still speak while so many of the servants of God are mute. He goes on to mention how he has been blessed with the belief in God while other people are worshipping idols, etc.
Then Abdullah asked, “So what is the request that you have?”
The old man replied: “All my family members have died. The only one person I have left 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 will you help me find him?”
So Abdullah went out in search of the boy. After a period of time, he learned from nearby villagers that the boy had died.
Abdullah was tempted not to go back to the old man, but he couldn’t bring himself to do that. So, he started making his way back and on the way he remembered the trials of the Prophet Ayyub (Job), pbuh. He entered the tent.
The old man immediately knew that the boy was found. He asked, “Where did you find him?”
Abdullah said: “I will ask you a question first. Who is more beloved to God, you or His Prophet Ayyub (Job)?”
The old man said: “No doubt it is Prophet Ayyub.”
Abdullah then asked: “Then who has had a more difficult test, you or His prophet Ayyub?”
The old man said: “No doubt His prophet Ayyub.”
Abdullah then says: “Seek the reward then from God. I found your boy but he has passed away.”
The Old man replies in supplication, saying: “La hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raajioon. Ash-shadu la ilaha illa Allah.” (There is no power or might except with God. Indeed to God we belong and to Him is our return. I testify that none is worthy of worship but God.)
And the man kept repeating this supplication over and over again. He kept remembering God and then started taking deep breaths until he finally died.
Abdullah then washed the body, wrapped it in a shroud, buried the man and prayed over him.
That night Abdullah saw the old man in a vision. The old man looked strong and young in his 30’s and in excellent health.
Abdullah asked him: “How did you get here? How did you become better? How did you change so much?”
The old man replied: “My Lord brought me into paradise, and it was said to me, ‘Peace be unto you for what you have borne patiently, and what a good end you got.’
This story of the old man is a reminder for us, and a metaphor that each one of us is in reality entirely dependent on God, whether we recognize it or not. We work hard to earn a living, we bear children that we raise, we study and get a good education, and we put in a lot of effort to have a decent life. But ultimately the good life we have is but a blessing of God.
The old man enters Paradise, as hopefully we will, for having forbearance, fortitude as well as trust in and gratitude to God, as God promises in the Quran, If you are thankful, then I will increase you. [Quran 14:7]
May all of us—who live in one of the most prosperous regions of the richest country in the world—live lives as filled with gratitude as that old man.
Thank you. Peace be unto you.
 Story is based on a story from this link: https://shortislamicstories.wordpress.com/category/virtuous-actions/gratitude/
 The story is an adaptation of a story found on this link: http://understandquran.com/a-story-of-gratitude-and-islam-cc.html