FEATURE VOLUME. 7 ISSUE. 2
by Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq
Art by Marini Widowati
We all ask God for things in worship and at other times. However, expressing thankfulness and appreciation to God is an essential ingredient for spiritual growth that we often forget. Offered constantly and sincerely, gratitude is an ingredient for spiritual growth that keeps us in the remembrance of God, draws us closer to God and enables us to acknowledge that all blessings in our lives originate from the Bestower.
The wisdom of Luqman, an African sage who, according to some sources may have been enslaved, and according to others, may have been a prophet, has been celebrated in the divine revelation for the last millennium and a half of Islam’s history. Not only was Luqman blessed with the gifts of deep understanding, sagacious intelligence, and true speech, he was a man who thanked God.
As the exegete Tabari explains, the Qur’an tells us, such thanksgiving is only for the benefit of the human soul, which surrenders to the divine in a state of gratitude but does harm to the self when in a state of denial, for God is transcendent beyond being increased or decreased by human actions.
The juxtaposition of thankfulness, or shukr, to denial of God’s blessings, or kufr, is a startling one. We typically associate the concept of kufr with the idea of disbelief, atheism, or rejection of God’s religion. However at its heart, such disbelief is a rejection of divine munificence, a denial of the truth, and a self-delusory attempt to cover up what God has bestowed upon us of guidance. In other words, disbelief is the ultimate act of ingratitude to God.
To better understand the linguistic dimensions of the concept of shukr, we turn to the classical Arabic dictionaries of the past. In Fairuzabadi’s (d. 817 AH/1414 CE) al-Qamus al-Muhit, the term shukr is defined as recognizing the qualities of goodness and excellence and disseminating them. Related terms suggest other positive connotations, such as shakirat al-dabba, meaning the animal grew and became fat, implying abundance. There are other expressions: shakira fulan, meaning a person became generous after stinginess and ishtakarat as-samaa’, a downpour of rain from the sky. All of these words derive from the trilateral root of sh-k-r, from which shukr comes.
Based on the linguistic definitions of this term, we can conclude that shukr implies a generosity of spirit toward God’s creation as well as gracious acknowledgement of bounties. Building upon this understanding, religious scholars define shukr as a dynamic relationship between God and the believer whereby the latter does her utmost to utilize divine blessings for their intended purpose: praise and worship of God.