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Quran & Etrat

Thanks (شُكر) and Praise (حمد) for the Ne’mat

SHAFAQNA- The remembrance (dhikr) of Allah’s bounties and its acknowledgement is the first step towards expression of thanks (shokr) and praise for His bounties to us.  Ameer Al-Mu’mineen (AS) starts Sermon 114 of Nahjul Balagha with these most profound words which sheds light on the correlation of praise with bounty, “Praise be to Him Who makes praise followed by bounty and bounty with gratefulness. We praise Him on His bounties as on His trials.” 

From his eloquent words of wisdom, we come to recognize that Allah (SWT) the Almighty Creator created ‘praise’ and taught us its knowledge so that we can appreciate His bounties.  It follows that more praise leads to more divine grace and vice versa.  Not only that, but our praise to Him should not be limited or restricted to His bounties on us.  As servants, we should also express thanks and gratitude for the times of trial and calamities we experience.

From the strange phenomenon which is of human nature that doesn’t change with time or place is that man tends to forget, disregard, or overlook Allah’s bounties and blessings to him, whether they are apparent or hidden.  It is the tendency of humans, with the exception of few, that when man receives a blessing on a continuous and consistent basis he takes that bounty for granted and forgets to thank the Giver and Provider for that عطاء / grant.  He distances himself from the Provider and becomes غافل/ heedless and oblivious to it.  Allah (SWT) describes man to be ungrateful,

“وقليلُ مِن عباديَ الشكور.”

Only very few of My servants are grateful. [34:13]   

It is only when that bounty is seized from him at a moment of trial that man begins to wake up from his slumber and remember that the bounty was indeed a gift and that gift was bestowed by the Creator/Gifter.  When a calamity or misfortune takes place, the person is then reminded to return to his Creator in a state of despair seeking refuge and help from Him.  However, that state of return is short-lived and dies down when the bounty is restored and he returns back to his normal life of ghaflat / heedlessness and detachment from His Lord.  This state is described in the Holy Quran as Allah (SWT) says in Surat Al-Israa:

أعرض ونأى بجانبه وإذا مسه الشر فذو دعاء عريض” “وإذا أنعمنا على الإنسان

When We bestow favours on man he turns away, and gets himself remote on his side (instead of coming to Us); and when evil seizes him (he comes) full of prolonged prayer! [17:83]

It is important for us to note that trials or Neqmat can also act as a Ne’mat which we may not realize or recognize that it is.  In fact, authentic narrations say that the right of Allah (SWT) during the time of trial is satisfaction and patience, while His right during the time of ease is praise and gratitude.  So, if we exercise patience, submission, reliance, and gratitude to Allah (SWT) at our times of trial and difficulty, then this experience will surely strengthen our relationship with our Creator and will bring us closer to Him which is the ultimate salvation and the greatest bounty from Him.

Likewise, a Ne’mat (bounty) may also stand as a test and trial for us if we fail to appreciate it, recognize its benefactor, and give due thanks to Allah (SWT) to the best of our ability.  In other words, if our reaction to His bounty is that of arrogance, neglect, and thanklessness to the Giver, then we have surely done injustice to ourselves as well as our Lord, and that is in essence the trial which we have failed!

Furthermore, man does not count or tally the number of bounties and blessings he enjoys from Allah (SWT), but his memory tends to be strong and he is quick to remember to how many negative events or misfortunes he encounters even if it is in the past.  From the injustices that we commit against our Lord is our failure to fully recognize and appreciate every bounty that we receive and we only consider the materialistic bounties while ignoring many other blessings which may have more value and importance.  Allah (SWT) has given us many Ne’am which cannot not be calculated or counted

وإن تعدوا نعمة الله لا تحصوها.””

And if you should count the favors of Allah, you could not enumerate them. [16:81]

As cited in the exegesis of Mizan, Burhan, as well as Safi, whenever Imam Ali ibn Al Husain (AS) recited the above verse, he would reflect and say, “Glory be to Him who did not grant the knowledge of His Ne’mat/bounty without having awareness of Taqseer/neglect of its knowledge, just like He did not grant anyone the knowledge of its Edraak/recognition more than the knowledge that the servant cannot fully recognize Him.  So he (servant) thanks the Lord for the knowledge of the gnostics regarding the deficiency of his knowledge of how to properly thank Him.  So Allah (SWT) made the knowledge of their deficiency in itself an expression of Shokr/thanks.”

So, human’s awareness of his lack of knowledge or Taqseer/neglect and his inability to fully appreciate the bounties he receives from His Creator and his failure to properly express Hamd, is in itself a Ne’mat/bounty which deserves endless thanks and praise by the servant. As beautifully expressed by Imam Zainul Abideen (AS) in his supplication of thanks, “The most thankful of Thy servants has not the capacity to thank Thee.”  These words of the Infallible Imam (AS) are in line with verse [16:81] in addressing the capacity of a servant to thank the Creator.

Moreover, every time a person expresses Hamd/praise or Shokr/thanks to Allah, our 4th Imam (AS) teaches us that our act of praise in itself deserves another thanks.  In fact, there are three things which we should thank Allah (SWT) for whenever we utter or express gratitude to Him.  First, we owe it to Allah (SWT) who taught us how to express thanks to Him and we should thank him for giving us that knowledge.  Second, we should thank Him for giving us the ability to express thanks to Him by our tongue and providing the means and method of communication with Him.  Last but not least, Allah (SWT) is most-deserving of our utmost thanks for inspiring and giving us the opportunity to remember and appreciate His bounties.

This beautiful phrase from the ‘Munajaat (Whispered prayers) of Thanks’ by Imam Sajjad (AS) as available in Saheefa Al Kamela nicely describes the state of wonder where a servant expresses his failed attempt to recognize and give due thanks to the Giver and Sustainer.  Here, the servant who carries high level of knowledge and ma’refat/recognition of His Lord realizes that every word of praise by him deserves more thanks:

“ونعماؤك كثيرة قصر فهمي عن إدراكها فضلاً عن إستقصائها فكيف لي بتحصيل الشكر وشكري إياك يفتقر إلى شكرٍ ، فكلما قلت لك الحمد وَجبَ عليَّ لذالك أن أقول لك الحمد.”

Thy favours are many – my understanding falls short of grasping them, not to speak of exhausting them! So how can I achieve thanksgiving? For my thanking Thee requires thanksgiving. Whenever I say, ‘To Thee belongs praise!’, it becomes thereby incumbent upon me to say, ‘To Thee belongs praise’!

Since we’ve reached the conclusion based on the analysis so far that the most important and valuable bounty given to us by Allah (SWT) is the divine guidance impersonated by His chosen Infallible Prophets and Imams, it follows logically that this gift of Wilayah deserves most thanks and praise to Him compared to any other bounty.

Moreover, it is the supplication of the prophets and righteous servants to Allah (SWT) that He gives them the ability to express thanks and gratitude for His blessings, and this supplication is cited in the Quran in their own words,

“ربي أوزعني أن أشكر نعمتك التي أنعمت عليَّ وعلى والديَّ وأن أعمل صالحاً ترضاه واصلح في ذريتي.

My Lord, direct me to appreciate the blessings You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and to do the righteous works that please You. Let my children be righteous as well. [46:15]

According to Tafseer Bayan Sa’ada, this verse is specifically the words of Husain ibn Ali (AS) who prayed that he successfully expresses thanks for the bounty on him and his parents, Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS) and Fatima daughter of Muhammad (SA).  Interestingly enough, this exegesis points out that the prayer of

وأن أعمل صالحاً ترضاه

(and to do the righteous works that please You) is in reference to the great sacrifice which Husain (AS) presented on the day of Ashura in Karbala in the year 61 A.H.

The clue in this verse which proves that Imam Husain (AS) is the one reciting this supplication is his prayer that Allah (SWT) grants him a righteous progeny.  Sure enough, after being slaughtered and sacrificing everything he had for the sake of Allah (SWT) on the plains of Karbala, Allah (SWT) rewarded him with a pure progeny who are the nine Infallible Imams from his descendants, and ending with Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance).

As a sign of gratitude, It is imperative for a servant who is blessed with God’s bounty to show the effect of these divine blessings and convey them to others without bragging or boasting as Allah (SWT) states in Surat Adh-Duha:

“وأما بنعمة ربك فحدث”

And proclaim the Grace of your Lord. [93:11]

This Surah speaks about the blessings which Allah (SWT) granted His Prophet (SA) such as giving him refuge as an orphan, guiding him, and making him self-sufficient with contentment.  Interestingly, Allah (SWT) instructs the Prophet (SA) to speak about and convey His specific bounty.  Tafseer Burhaan explains that what Allah (SWT) blessed His Prophet (SA) with is prayer, Zakat, fasting, Hajj, and the Wilayah which he is to proclaim to the people.  So, the Prophet (SA) is to speak about the importance of Wilayah and the virtues of the Wali himself (Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib) even if the people disliking hearing that discourse.

He is to focus the spotlight on his purified progeny even if they call him crazy or insane or claim that he is possessed with his cousin which is what actually happened!  So Allah (SWT) hastened to his defense in Surat Al Qalam and swore that the Prophet (SA) is not crazy regarding the Ne’ma of his Lord who is none other than Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS).  Nor is he fanatical about his cousin and son-in-law, as some of the companions were envious of the special and very close relationship which the Prophet (SA) cherished with Imam Ali (AS).

ن ۚ وَالْقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطُرُونَ  مَا أَنْتَ بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ بِمَجْنُونٍ

Noon. I swear by the pen and what the angels writ:e. You are not, By the bounty of your Lord, mad (possessed) [68:2]

Although commentators of Quran do not explicitly convey this meaning, if we closely analyze this Surah we’ll notice that this chapter starts and ends with the mention of جنون / insanity.  Interestingly enough, Allah (SWT) mentions twice in this short chapter that the nonbelievers are claiming that the Prophet (SA) is insane and in both occasions Allah (SWT) is vindicating His Prophet from that false claim.

وَمَا هُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرٌ لِّلْعَالَمِينَ وَإِن يَكَادُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَيُزْلِقُونَكَ بِأَبْصَارِهِمْ لَمَّا سَمِعُوا الذِّكْرَ وَيَقُولُونَ إِنَّهُ لَمَجْنُونٌ

And those who disbelieve would almost smite you with their eyes when they hear the Message (the Command) and they say “Surely he is mad (possessed). And It is not but a message to the worlds. [68:51-52]

In the commentary of these verses, Tafseer Al Safi cites that according to Al Kafi, one day Imam Al Sadiq (AS) passed by the Masjid Ghadeer and turned his head to one side and pointed out the exact position where the Prophet (SA) stood and pronounced the successorship of Imam Ali (AS).  Then he turned his face to the other side and pointed out the location of the tent (on that day) of such-and-such person including Salem (the freed-slave of Hudhaifah ibn Al Yaman) and Abi Ubaidah ibn Al Jarrah.

When these individuals saw the Prophet (SA) raising the hand of Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS), some of them turned to the other and whispered among themselves about the Prophet (SA), ‘Look at his eyes how they move around as if they are the eyes of a mad person!’ At that moment, Archangel Jibrael descended with this verse

 لَمَّا سَمِعُوا الذِّكْر

whenthe Prophet (SA) spoke to the audience about the virtues of Imam Ali (AS).

So Ameer Al-Mu’mineen Ali (AS) is described by Allah (SWT) to be

ذِكْرٌ لِّلْعَالَمِينَ

(the dhikr/remembrance/message to the whole world) which is in essence Wilayah Mutlaqa / absolute guardianship.  Now if we correlate verses 51-52 with verse 2 of this Surah, we will realize that the subject of “madness” is the same and that is – the Wilayah of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS)!

So, when the Prophet (SA) speaks publicly in Ghadeer about the virtues of Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS), he is fulfilling the instructions of verse 93:11 to speak about the bounty of Allah (SWT) represented in his successor.
Actually, the act of Tahadoth / proclaiming the grace of Allah (SWT) is in itself a sign of Shokr (thanks).  This is supported by a prophetic hadeeth which states that,

“من لم يشكر الناس لم يشكر الله ومن لم يشكر القليل لم يشكر الكثير والتحدث بنعمة الله شكر وتركه كُفر.”

Whoever is not grateful to the people is not grateful to Allah (SWT), and whoever does not thank for the little bounty will not thank for the many bounties.  Asserting the favours of Allah (SWT) is considered to be gratitude while avoiding to do so is Kufr (disbelief).

This leads us to the next important subtopic in our discussion which is Kufran Al Ne’mat.

Adapted from: “Brief Analysis of Ne’ma (Bounty) in the Holy Qur’an” by: “Jerrmein Abu Shahba”

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