Some words, simple as it may sound, are not as simple in reality and (most) dictionaries just don’t suffice. ‘Gratitude’ is such a word. In fact, the subject of this essay is not the English equivalent, but the Arabic word – Shukr – its original form and derivatives, and most importantly its degrees. Yes, gratitude has attitude, let alone a very comprehensive meaning, thankfully!.
ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
Gratitude: [grat-i-tood, -tyood]–noun; the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.
Some words, simple as it may sound, are not as simple in reality and (most) dictionaries just don’t suffice. ‘Gratitude’ is such a word. In fact, the subject of this essay is not the English equivalent, but the Arabic word – Shukr – its original form and derivatives, and most importantly its degrees. Yes, gratitude has attitude, let alone a very comprehensive meaning, thankfully!
Putting our dictionaries aside, let us journey into nature. Consider a camel in the middle of the Australian Simpson desert (we have more camels in Australia than in Arabia. Australia exports camels to Arabia. Sorry for the side tracking, but be thankful for the additional information!). It is truly a miracle for such a large (and cutely boisterous) animal to forage and survive in the harshest of environments on planet earth. What is more profound is that it will forage for food and produce milk, most often with a very full udder (camels are known for their super-efficient bodies. I side track again, but I am certain you are grateful for the extra bits and pieces of information!). In abundance and in scarcity, it is the most reliable and greatest (in amount) provider than bovines. Well-documented properties of camel’s milk include:
- Ten times more iron than cow’s milk
- Three to five times more vitamin C than cow’s milk
- Rich in B vitamins
- High in imuno-globins (note- not goblins)
- Very high in protein
- Low in fat – 1.8-2% fat compared to 3.5-4% in cow’s milk
- Much lower in cholesterol
- Anti-bacterial properties
- Anti-inflammatory properties
That is pretty good for a desert roamer.
And do not worry; I have not side tracked into animal husbandry. All of this information is very important… crucial in fact, in order to understand shukr, or gratitude.
When the she-camel’s udder is full with milk, it is said to be shakar. The operative word is “full”, or “in abundance”, and which we will return to later. The camel with such full and wholesome udder is called shakira, despite the fact is it had only a small share of herbage and pasture to forage on and feed itself with.
The meaning of shukr lies in the entire process of the camel finally giving milk. The camel takes from the praiseworthy bounty of herbage, seeming to the eye scarce and insufficient, takes from it what it needs to sustain itself, but yields a significantly more praiseworthy gift called milk, that benefits everything else- its young as well as human beings. Its sincerity only sees abundance in what others see scarcity; its selflessness sees benefit from it for others in what others see profit for themselves. As a shakira, the camel manifests altruistic benefit. Its gratefulness for existence is seen and experienced in it using the bounties to produce beneficial result over and beyond its self.
Shukr is more than being thankful or grateful; in fact that would be seen as self-indulging and greed. Shukr is only gratefulness if from what one receives out of the beneficence of another, that the recipient utilise it only in ways that is pleasing to the benefactor, primarily that the recipient would utilise such a favour in a beneficial and good manner over and beyond himself. As such, gratefulness carries the condition of unconditional charity from what one receives, after thanking the benefactor. Thus, Shukr has an inward and outward reality; the outward being using the tongue to thank and using the limbs to effect unconditional and beneficial altruism.
The inward reality is a lot more complex. But before that, the use of the tongue to thank the benefactor is also an important element of shukr (unfortunately it is frequently the only aspect of it that is acted upon or known to most).There are three essential forms of the outward reality of shukr:
- One must verbalise one’s gratefulness; to say thank you, truthfully.
- One must acknowledge the beneficence of the benefactor by utilising the gifts appropriately.
- One must commend and praise the benefactor for their beneficence they so generously gave, and to do so frequently.
Shukr therefore rests on five foundations.
- Humility in the recipient towards the benefactor, rather than have a selfish expectation.
- The recipient to have sincere love for the benefactor shown in limbic action, rather than intent of exploitation.
- The benefit in the gift to be acknowledged by the recipient, rather than unchecked abuse.
- The recipient to praise the beneficence of the benefactor, rather than heedlessness.
- The recipient to verbalise thankfulness and praise, rather than silence and concealing it.
So we observe that there are three parts of shukr: the two outward that we have already discussed in length- the manifestation in the limbs (beneficial altruism) and the tongue (thankfulness). The third, the inward, is the manifestation in the heart, this being the pillar of the entirety of shukr. Without its manifestation in the heart in a specific way, the outward manifestations are futile and even hypocritical.
ALTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
The depths and heights of shukr is beholding a profound state of awe-inspiring consciousness of the benefactor. Its reality is not in the beneficence at all, but in the benefactor. Heedlessness of the benefactor is ungratefulness, regardless of how well what was granted to the recipient was used.
We need to return to the camel! The critical point of definition in shukr in relation to the she-camel’s (shakira’s) udder , is its fullness with milk. The fullness, the abundance, the significance in quality and quantity is known as shakīr. It is used to describe a tree with corpus amounts of healthy fruit, or the abundance of shoots that arise from a plant, e.g., banana saplings. Another use of the term to refer to this huge abundance is when it rains extremely heavily (shakīr as-samā’). Essentially, this foundational meaning is the crux of the word (all Arabic words have a foundational meaning, which is upheld in the various derivatives of the word). As such, because of the praiseworthiness of this entire essence of the word which is underpinned by the understanding of fullness- the true reality, the heart, of shukr, the recipient being copious and abundant in his praise of the benefactor. Why? Because nothing else matters! If one is constant in their love and praise of the one who is giving, then one is assured of such a benefactor’s everlasting generosity…. everlasting beyond this material world.
Such a benefactor is our Lord, God The Exalted, The Owner of all that is and free of any need of them, from whom all we receive is received from.
Praise be to such a Generous, Kind, Compassionate, Ever-Providing, Protecting and Nurturing Lord! He, Sublime is He, is immeasurably Generous that in being Generous (for He is the Owner and Sovereign of everything), He Himself is Grateful that the recipient will bring about benefit from such gifts. He assuredly declares:
Indeed, those who recite the Book of God and establish prayer and spend out of what We have provided them, secretly and publicly, can expect a profit that will never perish – That He may give them in full their rewards and increase for them of His bounty. Indeed, He is Forgiving and Most-Grateful!
Our Generous Lord, free from all need, is Grateful! O recipient, humble yourself! Oh your Lord bestows you with another Blessing, simply because you the recipient of the first Blessing praised your Lord for it (by saying Alħamdulillah- All praise is for God)!
And He reminds us:
If you are grateful, I will surely increase you in blessings…
But, as mentioned earlier, heedlessness of the Benefactor is truly heedlessness, and our Merciful kindly reminds us in the verse that continues from the preceding mentioned:
…but if you are ungrateful, then indeed My Punishment is undoubtedly severe!
And He, Exalted is He, lets us know that this Station of those who truly are thankful are sadly but a few:
And only a small number from His servants are grateful.
And know that His Favours, His Blessings, is innumerable:
And if you tried to numerate the Blessings of God, you would never be able to count them.
[Qur’an 14:34 and 16:18]
CERTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
The reality of shukr therefore is not in merely acknowledging and thanking the benefactor for what he gave (although that is one significant part of it), but in the complete awe and acknowledgement of the Giver. It is one thing to thank someone for giving you a particular thing or a number of things (which is the first level of shukr), and it is completely another to fully and completely acknowledge the very one who gave it you, for really that is what truly matters (the ultimate and highest level of shukr known as hamd). You would not possess what was given to you, if the Original Possessor did not graciously give it you in the first place! In shukr one recognises the gift and through which one recognises the gifter. In hamd one recognises the gifter regardless of when, how and what was given! Al-ħamd, The entirety of praise, therefore is worthy for and belongs to the Sustainer and Owner of all that exists, God The Exalted.
And who not only set example for us regarding the nature of and how to praise but himself praises his Lord the most? None other than the one sent as the mercy to all creation, the Beloved of God The Exalted, the one who is most praised himself- Muhammad, upon whom be the everlasting peace and blessings of God The Glorious!
The name of the Final Messenger of God, lovingly known as Muhammad, comes from the root word meaning praise; Muhammad means “the one most praised”. Yet, his more formal name is Ahmad, which means “the one who praises the most”- a cycle of praise that is never ending, praise thy Lord!
The deeply conscious state of the Beloved Messenger, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, regarding his Lord can be understood from this historical record. The Prophet once was crying in his night-vigil prayer, and later his wife, ‘A’isha, may Allah be well pleased with her, said, “What are you crying about given Allah has forgiven you what has proceeded and proceeded you?” He replied, “Should I not be a grateful servant?” [Hadith recorded in Bukhari and Muslim, and by others] He was preoccupied through the night praising his Lord in prayer not only for what his Lord bestowed upon him, but simply because he recognised the utter Magnificence of his Lord.
Praise thy Lord, I say!
Know that our state of being has degrees. For some, what they receive keeps them self-centered for they assume such material possession as the ends, and they are in utter loss, and we seek refuge with our Lord. For others, what they receive is consciously sought as a means where they struggle against their temptations to be self-centered, and aspire to utilise it in accordance with what pleases the Benefactor, and they show great promise for their everlasting felicity. Then, there are those who are not concerned with the means because they know it is not the gift but the Generous Giver that is the Beginning and the End, The Cause of all means, and so they are preoccupied in beholding such an Exalted Lord in praise and acknowledgement. Their outward limbs are busy extracting good for others from the bounties bestowed upon them (‘amilus-śāliħāt) and the tongue busy in remembering and acknowledging the Benefactor (dhikr) and their inward heart is busy in beholding their Lord in loving praise (al-ħamd).
It is for this exalted reason, that beholding The Benefactor in full and loving praise is the highest station, over and beyond one’s striving to hold the virtues of patience, material detachment and fear of wrongdoing against one’s Lord. This is because there is nothing intended or expected by grateful praise for personal gain in its essence. Patience seeks from its manifestation the overpowering of one’s passion and desire because they fail him, and fear is a whip that drives the fearful to the intended Stations of praiseworthiness in the first place. And material detachment is escapement from the preoccupation regarding fodder and possessions that keeps one away from god The Exalted.
But as for gratefulness, loving and continuous praise, then the intended end is the One for whom is all praise. It is for that reason it does not cease in Paradise but that praise of God, The Exalted, is everlasting. It is for this reason God, The Exalted, says:
And the last of their call will be, “Praise be to God ,The Lord of all creation.
Every other virtuous trait aims to bring us to the Station of praising in deep gratitude of our Lord, yet true and sincere praise itself leads every virtuous trait. It is for this reason, that the beloved Messenger, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, said, “The one who says Subhān Allah (Glory to Allah), then for him is ten rewards. And the one who says La ilāha illallah (there is no deity to worship, except God), then for him is twenty rewards. And the one who says Alħamdulillah (all praise belongs to God), then for him is thirty rewards.” [Hadīth recorded by Ahmad].
Do reflect yourself (for this is not the place for further lengthy explanation!), that the blessed reward of the first two equals the last!
Praise of The Benefactor, The Beneficent, Exalted is He, in ultimate truth suffices; it is for this reason our erudite and rightly guided Scholars have always commenced speech by saying – Alħamdulillah, wa kafa – All praise belongs to God, and that is sufficient (to state)!
We need to return to the camel! It is irrefutably manifest that shakira is in outward gratitude, for it does not stop to transfer the benefit of the bounties upon it beyond itself. This is a conditional proof of shukr, i.e., gratefulness in truth. And I am certain that if its heart spoke, it would be in constant beat of praise of its Lord that has given it existence to know such a Unmatched, Unique, Generous and Magnificent Lord. It will be shown that it is not concerned about how much milk it produces to give away and how much it withholds for selfish store. It will be seen that its foraging of herbage is not for personal profit but a means of acknowledging its Lord that it is doing what it was asked to do. A camel does not go on holiday discharging its responsibility in a chain of complex existence, nor does it one day stop to be a camel. Similarly, observe the miracle of a bee- it is mentioned in the Qur’an not because it provides any scientific proof for the production of honey in which there are ways to get cure for the human (a very self-centered assumption, although the bee’s honey does have all such blessings), but because it is proof that it is in constant focus on what the Provider, its Creator, has given it as blessings- an acute sense of direction, speed, teamwork and much more. By being in such grateful praise of its Lord (obedience through its outward limbic function) it produces sweetness unmatched. You see, the bee is not concerned about the quality of its honey. In fact what the human relishes in the delicious taste of honey, is in truth the bee’s regurgitated vomit! These wonderful creatures are in submission to their Lord, in completeness and only then do they produce nutritious milk and sweet honey. Submission, prostration and bowing is due to the praise of God, The Most High. He says:
Do you not see that to God prostrates whatever is in the heavens and on the earth- the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the moving creatures and many from among the humans?
The camel has taught us gratitude, shukr, through its essence of existence (something the human-made dictionary could not possibly do), so be grateful for all bounties of your Lord, for they are Signs to be interpreted to know your Lord. The bee’s and our camel, Shakira’s gratitude is a superior lesson for the human to reflect on and learn from in order to ascend to the angelic levels the human can ascend to in their true praise of their Lord, through insightful discernment (which itself is a Bounty from our Lord. O the cycle of praise!).
Do you not also see that God, The Exalted, reveals that everything non-human are in such state of praise through humility before their Lord, except humans (only many, but not all are in such humble presence)?
Praise your Lord in truth and in sincerity. Without the three parts and the five foundations, our claim to be shākir is just that- an unfulfilled claim and heedless state of self-engrossment. Know that ungratefulness and disbelief share the same word – kufr. Ungratefulness is a slippery slope to utter loss, whilst gratefulness is a journey to your Lord. So, praise thy Lord, in truth!
Alħamdulillah, wa kafa!
© Afroz Ali, 2011