Concerning Thankfulness [shukr]

Concerning Thankfulness [shukr]

by Sayyidi Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani

As for thankfulness [shukr], the basic guidance on the subject is contained in the words of Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) :

If you are thankful, I will surely give you more; but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is terrible indeed. (14:7)

This is reinforced by the traditional report, transmitted on the authority of 'Ata' (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him), who said:

"I entered the presence of [the Prophet's widow] 'A'isha (may Allah be well pleased with her), and said: 'Tell us about the most amazing experience you ever had in the company of Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace).' She wept at first, but then she said: 'Was there anything at all about him that was not a marvelous wonder? He came to me one night, and snuggled up beside me in my bed [firashi] until his skin was touching my skin. But then he said: 'O daughter of Abu Bakr, let me go, so that I may devote myself to the worship of my Lord.'

"She said: 'So I told him: "I love your nearness, but I prefer to respect your dearest wish." I therefore allowed him (Allah bless him and give him peace) to take his leave of me. So he got up, found a skin container full of water, and performed his ritual ablution [tawadda'a], pouring a considerable amount of water in the process. Then he stood erect, and started to perform the ritual prayer [qama fa-salla]. He wept as he did so, until his tears were streaming down onto his chest. Then he adopted the bowing posture [raka'a], and shed more tears. Then he prostrated himself [sajada], and again he wept. Then he raised his head, and wept still more. He went on like this (Allah bless him and give him peace) until Bilal (may Allah be well pleased with him) arrived on the scene, and so he told him about the ritual prayer [salat].

"'I then said: "O Messenger of Allah, what causes you to weep, when Allah has forgiven you your earlier and later sins?" To this he replied (Allah bless him and give him peace) :

"'"Should I not be a thankful servant ['abd shakur]? Why should I not do it, since Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) has sent down to me the words of revelation:

Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, and the ship that runs upon the sea with that which is of use to human beings, and the water which Allah sends down from the sky, thereby reviving the earth after its death, and dispersing all kinds of beasts therein, and the distribution of the winds, and the clouds set in orderly array between heaven and earth -- surely there are signs for people who can understand. (2:164) "'"

According to those who specialize in ascertaining the actual facts [ahl at-tahqiq], the true nature of thankfulness [haqiqat ash-shukr] is the acknowledgment of the benefaction of the benefactor [ni'mat al-mun'im], with an attitude of humility. In accordance with this meaning, Allah (Exalted is He) has described Himself as being the Most Thankful One [ash-Shakur] in the widest sense, that is to say, in the sense that He rewards His servants for their thankfulness. For the recompense of thankfulness [jaza' ash-shukr] is also called thankfulness [shukr], just as Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) has said:

And the recompense of an evil is an evil just like it. (42:40)

It has also been said that the true nature of thankfulness [haqiqat ash-shukr] is the act of praising the beneficent person [muhsin] by mentioning his beneficence [ihsan]. The servant's thankfulness [shukr] to Allah (Exalted is He) is therefore expressed through the praise he offers to Him, by mentioning His beneficence [ihsan] toward His servant. As for the thankfulness [shukr] of the Lord of Truth (Glory be to Him) toward His servant, it is expressed through the praise He confers upon him, by making it known that he has acted beneficently for His sake. Furthermore, the beneficence [ihsan] of the servant represents his worshipful obedience to Allah, while the beneficence [ihsan] of the Lord of Truth (Glory be to Him) represents His bestowal of gracious favor [in'am] upon His servant. When the thankfulness [shukr] of the servant is genuine, it is not only a matter of utterance by the tongue, but also the heart's acknowledgment of the Lord's bestowal of gracious favor [in'am ar-Rabb].

Moreover, thankfulness [shukr] can be subdivided into several categories, namely:

1. Thankfulness expressed by the tongue [shukr bi'l-lisan]. This constitutes the acknowledgment of the benefaction [ni'ma] with an attitude of humble acceptance [istikana].

2. Thankfulness expressed by the body and the limbs [shukr bi'l-badan wa 'l - arkan]. This is the characteristic indication of loyalty and readiness to serve [al-wafa' wa 'l-khidma].

3. Thankfulness expressed by the inner feeling [shukr bi'l-qalb]. This requires a careful balance between the visible display of appreciation and the constant preservation of a sense of reverence.

It has also been said that thankfulness of the eyes [shukr al-'ainain] means that you overlook any fault you notice in your companion, while thankfulness of the ears [shukr al-udhunain] means that you ignore any fault you hear him accused of possessing.

In the simplest terms, thankfulness [shukr] means that you do not disobey Allah (Exalted is He) by misusing His gracious favors.

Here is another saying that clearly deserves to be quoted:

"Thankfulness [shukr] may mean the thankfulness of the learned scholars [shukr al-'alimin], in which case it will be among the subjects they discuss.

"Thankfulness [shukr] may mean the thankfulness of the dedicated worshippers
[shukr al-'abidin], in which case it will be a feature of their actions.

"Thankfulness [shukr] may mean the thankfulness of those who know by direct intuition [shukr al-'arifin], in which case it will be expressed through their honest devotion to Him (Almighty and Glorious is He) in all their states and conditions. It will be expressed through their firm conviction that whatever is good in their experience, and whatever is manifested from them in the way of worshipful obedience, servitude, and remembrance of Him (Almighty and Glorious is He), is entirely due to His enabling guidance [tawfiq], His gracious favor, His help, His power and His strength (Almighty and Glorious is He). It will be expressed through their detachment from all of that, and their total absorption [fana'] in Him. It will be expressed through their acknowledgment of their own inability, deficiency and ignorance, and then through their humble submission to Him (Almighty and Glorious is He) in all conditions and circumstances."

It was Abu Bakr al-Warraq (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him) who said:

"Thankfulness for a gracious favor [shukr an-ni'ma] means feasting one's eyes on the gift received, while preserving a sense of reverence."

As someone else once put it:

"Thankfulness for a gracious favor [shukr an-ni'ma] means that you regard yourself as no more deserving of it than a parasite [tufaili]."

It was Abu 'Uthman [al-Hiri] (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him) who said:

"Thankfulness [shukr] is the conscious awareness [ma'rifa] of the fact that you are quite incapable of thankfulness."

Let us also consider the following wise sayings:

"Thankfulness for thankfulness [ash-shukr 'ala 'sh-shukr] is more complete than simple thankfulness [shukr]. This means that you regard your thankfulness as the result of His enablement [tawfiq], and you have received that enablement on account of the gracious favors bestowed upon you, so you give thanks to Him for the thankfulness He has enabled you to experience. Then you thank Him for the thankfulness-upon-thankfulness [shukr ash-shukr], and so on ad infinitum."

"Thankfulness [shukr] is the attribution of blessings to their Master [Mawla], with an attitude of humble submission to Him."

It was al-Junaid (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him) who said:


"Thankfulness [shukr] means that you do not look upon yourself as worthy of the gracious favor you have received."

In several wise sayings, the meaning of the simple adjective shakir [thankful; grateful] is contrasted with the significance of the intensive form shakur [very thankful; most grateful; extremely appreciative]. For instance:

"The person who is simply thankful [shakir] is someone who gives thanks for what is available [mawjud], while the person who is very thankful [shakur] is someone who gives thanks for what is unavailable [mafqud]."

"The person who is simply thankful [shakir] is someone who gives thanks for the provision of benefit [naf'], while the person who is very thankful [shakur] is someone who gives thanks for the withholding of benefit [man']."


"The person who is simply thankful [shakir] is someone who gives thanks for the granting of gifts ['ata'], while the person who is very thankful [shakur] is someone who gives thanks for trial and tribulation [bala']."

"The person who is simply thankful [shakir] is someone who gives thanks in response to immediate delivery [badhl], while the person who is very thankful [shakur] is someone who gives thanks when delivery is subject to deferment [matl]."

It was [Abu Bakr ibn Jahdar] ash-Shibli (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him) who said:

"Thankfulness [shukr] means focusing attention on the source of the benefit [mun'im], not focusing attention on the benefit [ni'ma] itself."

Someone else had this to say on the subject:

"Thankfulness [shukr] means firmly securing the bonds of that which has been found [qaid al-mawjud], and then hunting for that which is still missing [said al-mafqud]."

It was Abu 'Uthman [al-Hiri] (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon
him) who said:

"The thankfulness of the common folk [shukr al-'amma] is for food and drink and clothing, while the thankfulness of the elite [shukr al-khawass] is for the spiritual values [ma'ani] conferred upon their hearts."

Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) has told us:

And few of My servants are very thankful. (34:13)

[The Prophet] David (peace be upon him) once said:

"My God [Ilahi], how can I thank You, when my thankfulness to You [shukri la-ka] is itself a blessing from among Your gracious favors [ni'ma min ni'ami - ka]?"

So Allah (Blessed and Exalted is He) conveyed to him by way of inspiration [awha ilai-h] : "Now you have thanked Me indeed! [al-ana qad shakarta-ni]."

To quote another wise saying:

"If your hand is too short to extend remuneration, let your tongue dwell at length on the expression of thanks [shukr]."

When Idris (peace be upon him) was given the good tiding of forgiveness, he is said to have asked for life. "Why?" he was asked, so he explained: "So that I may be able to thank Him, for I was previously working for forgiveness." The angel thereupon spread its wing, and carried him up to heaven.

It is said that one of the Prophets [Anbiya'] (peace be upon them all) once passed by a small stone, from which a large amount of water was gushing forth. He was astonished at the sight, but Allah caused the stone to let him know that it could speak, so he asked it about its condition. It told him: "Ever since I heard Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) speak of: 

a Fire of which the fuel is men and stones. (66:6) 

I have been weeping from fear of it." So that Prophet (peace be upon him) offered a prayer of supplication, pleading with Him to grant that stone asylum from the Fire. Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) thereupon conveyed to him by way of inspiration [awha ilai-h] : "I have already granted it asylum from the Fire." That Prophet then continued on his way. When he returned later on, he found that the water was still gushing from the stone, but even more copiously than on his previous visit. He was bewildered, but Allah (Exalted is He) again caused the stone to let him know that it could speak, so he said to it: "Why are you still weeping, when Allah has already forgiven you?" The stone explained: "That was the weeping of sorrow and fear, but this is the weeping of thankfulness [shukr] and joy."

In the words of another wise saying:

"One who is thankful [shakir] is in the presence of superabundance [mazid], because he is going through the experience of receiving gracious favor [ni'ma], for Allah (Exalted is He) has told us:

If you are thankful, I will surely give you more. (14:7)

"And one who is patient [sabir] is in the presence of Allah, taking shelter with Him (Exalted is He), because he is going through the experience of suffering trial and tribulation [bala']. Allah (Exalted is He) has told us:

Surely Allah is with those who are patient. (2:153)"

"Praise [hamd]," it has been said, "is for the very breaths we breathe, while thankfulness [shukr] is for the blessings of the senses."

In the words of the authentic tradition [al-khabar as-sahih] :

The first of those invited to enter the Garden of Paradise will be those who are constantly praising Allah [al-hammaduna li'llah].

"Praise [hamd]," it has also been said, "is for what He has prevented, while thankfulness [shukr] is for what He has brought into being."

The following story was told by one of the righteous:

"In the course of one of my journeys, I caught sight of an old man, who was far advanced in age, so I asked him about his condition. He responded by telling me: 'In the early part of my life, I was deeply in love with a cousin of mine, the daughter of my paternal uncle, and she was equally in love with me, so it was agreed that I should marry her. [When she entered my chamber] on the night of her bridal procession [zifaf], I said to her: 'Come, let us spend the whole of this night in worship, as a way of giving thanks to Allah [shukran li'llah] (Almighty and Glorious is He) for having brought us together.' So we performed the ritual prayer [sallaina] throughout that night, and neither of us paid any attention to the other. Then, when the second night came around, we spent the whole of it in similar fashion. This came to be our constant practice, so that now, after seventy or eighty years have gone by, we are still in that same state every night.' His wife was with him at the time, so he turned to her and asked her: 'Is that not just the way it is, O So-and-so?' To this the old woman replied: 'It is just as the old man told you.'"

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This brings us to the end of the section concerning thankfulness [shukr].

Praise be to Allah, the Lord of All the Worlds! [al-hamdu li'llahi Rabbi'l-'alamin].

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