By Muneeb Nasir
In a Qur’anic verse (ayat), Allâh says, “Then remember Me; I will remember you. Be grateful to Me, and do not reject Me” (Qur’an – al Baqara:152).
What does gratitude really mean in our lives?
Most of us are thankful for the blessings we have in our lives.
We have loving families, jobs that help us provide the necessities of life, good health, friends to laugh and play with, and freedom to live our lives the way we want to.
When we stop to think about it, most of us would be very grateful for these blessings.
But how often do we stop to reflect on the blessings we have? Probably not as often as we should.
Why is gratitude even important, you might ask?
Sure, we’re thankful for what we have, but why should we have to dwell on it?
Allah has told us, in a Qur’anic verse, that only those who are grateful to Him truly worship Him:
“… and be grateful to Allâh, if it is Him you worship” (Qur’an: al-Baqarah:172).
There is a universal principle – when we are truly grateful for the blessings in our lives, and we take time to reflect on them, we automatically begin to draw more blessings to ourselves.
This is what Allah says in the Qur’an: “…And if you show gratefulness, I will give you more; but if you are ungrateful, verily My punishment is indeed severe.” (Qur’an: Sūrah Ibrāhīm:7).
We create what we focus on.
True gratitude isn’t the act of mechanically listing the blessings in our lives every night before we go to sleep.
Gratitude is an attitude – it is attitude we should live with.
It’s a mindset of thankfulness for the wonderful blessings in our lives.
It is a deep and heartfelt acknowledgement that our lives would not be as they are now if we didn’t have those blessings.
This is what Allah says in the Qur’an: “And if we were to count all of these blessings and favours we would not be able to do so.” (Qur’an: Sūrah Ibrāhīm: 34).
Maybe not everything in our lives is perfect right now.
Gratitude can be hard to foster when we are also experiencing difficulties.
Maybe we’ve just lost a job or a loved one.
Maybe we have difficult financial struggles.
Maybe we are mired in depression and sadness.
It’s hard to feel grateful during moments like that.
That’s where patience (sabr) comes in.
Shukr (gratitude) and sabr (patience) go hand in hand.
Gratitude is reflecting on and being thankful for the blessings we do have, while patience equips us to persevere in difficult times.
Maybe not everything in our lives is the way we want it to be, but some things are wonderful, and the things that aren’t so wonderful will get better in time – if not in this earthly life, we will be compensated in the Hereafter.
As one of the pious ancestors (salaf) said: Faith is in two halves: one half – patience, one half – gratitude.
And Allah, the Most High, says in the Qur’an: “Indeed in that there are signs for each one who is patiently persevering and truly grateful.” [Quran: Surah Ibrahim: 5]; “for Allah is with the patient.” [Quran: Surah Al-Baqarah:153]; “O you who believe! Persevere in patience, vie in perseverance, be ever vigilant, and fear Allah, that perchance you may prosper” [Quran: Surah Al-Imran:200].
This is what we believe and we know in our hearts.
I recently read and saw this principle of gratitude and perseverance in action and what gratitude as an attitude leads to.
Out of thousands of students, a Muslim graduate, Mona Minkara, was chosen to give the 2009 Wellesley College Commencement speech.
She is one of the first legally blind students to graduate from Wellesley College with a science degree.
“When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with macular degeneration and cone rod dystrophy; doctors predicted I would be completely blind. Currently I have no vision in my right eye, and just peripheral vision in my left eye. Around the time of my diagnosis, during a summer trip toLebanon, my mom and my uncle took me to one of the most prestigious eye doctors inBeirut. I remember that day so clearly; my mom came out crying, and my uncle was telling my mom that he would go to the ends of the world to help us. I found out only later that the doctor had told my mother that it wasn’t worth spending a penny on my education because I was going to be blind anyway.
But as my life went on to prove, it was not I who had limited vision, but he.
I have been blessed to be surrounded by people who believed in me, first and foremost my parents. My parents gave up their dreams of going back toLebanonso that I could stay here and become educated. My mom would stay up all night going through projects with me. My dad would literally wake up at the crack of dawn to go through math and physics questions with me. But the list doesn’t stop there. There were many more individuals who were instrumental to my success.
As I await my diploma, I fully realize that I would not have been able to make it onto this stage today, if it wasn’t for the help of so many individuals who have aided me, every single step of the way. From my fellow classmates who would read to me on a daily basis to my professors who would regularly meet with me and go over concepts and were willing to adjust their teaching techniques, I was never alone in my journey. If it weren’t for these individuals—family, friends, faculty, staff, and even strangers along the way—who took time out of their lives and ambitions, I would not have been able to graduate with all of you today. Their kindness and generosity have inspired me to strive to help others.
Over the past spring break,Wellesleysent a group of students toUtahfor the annual American Chemical Society meeting, and I happened to be one of those students. On my way there, I had a connecting flight inDenver. So I was sitting in the airport, growing kind of thirsty, and I asked a lady, a stranger, where I could find a water fountain. The next thing I knew, she had bought me a water bottle. I asked how much did it cost so I could pay her back. You know what she said to me? She said, “You can pay me back by buying somebody else a water bottle.” I can’t share enough with you how much her words struck me. I have realized from this simple incident, that it doesn’t take something phenomenal to make a significant impact. But something as simple as buying a water bottle for your fellow human being. Or even planting a seed to grow. Done selflessly, a small gesture can have a powerful rippling effect.
Let us ask ourselves, as we embark into the real world, how happy can we be if all we do is work for our own ambitions and our own goals, and don’t notice anyone around us? Is this a life worth living? Do you want to grow older and remember that you only concentrated on your own interests? Or do you want to remember that you have helped our fellow human beings, and reaped the harvests of seeds that have been planted not only for our own success, but for the success of others?”
Mona Minkara describes what the attitude of gratitude is all about – gratitude, not only through expression but through actions – that to be truly grateful we must be selfless in working righteousness:
We conclude with the words of Allah: “And certainly We gave wisdom to Luqman, saying: Be grateful to Allah. And whoever is grateful, he is only grateful for his own soul; and whoever is ungrateful, then surely Allah is Self-sufficient, Praised.” (Quran: Surah Luqman:12)
Let us pray to Allah that we will always be grateful for all the favours that He has given us and will persevere when we are tried.
(Sermon delivered at University of Toronto, August 14 2009).