Hamd is to extol and exalt the infinite greatness of Almighty Allah, His divine art and the manifestations of His attributes. Shukur is to praise and thank Him for His infinite bounties, favours and offerings through one’s words, actions and in the heart. Both words are very close to each other in meaning.
Every manner of exaltation is particular to Allah only and praise can only be for Him. To praise Allah for all of the bounties that He has bestowed is one of the duties of the Muslim. Even though this is a debt incumbent on the Muslim, Allah Most High informs us that He is pleased with His servant who praises Him. This too is a great bounty and favour and it is a manifestation of His infinite Mercy.
Allah Most High is the only Being truly worthy of praise. The Holy Qur’an states:
‘Praise belongs to Allah who created the heavens and the earth and appointed darkness and light’ (An’am, 6:1).
Allah Most High desires that His servants praise Him at every opportunity. He states in the Qur’an:
‘And say: ‘Praise be to Allah’(Isra, 17:111)
‘The end of their call is: ‘Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds!’(Yunus, 10:10)
We are encouraged to praise Allah during every cycle of our prayer with the first verse of the first Chapter of the Qur’an, Al-Fatiha:
‘Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds’(Fatiha, 1:1)
It is not possible to hope for any good from any task or action that is begun without having first praised Allah Most High. In warning his community about this matter, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has said:
“Every important task that is not begun without praising Allah is without blessings”(Abu Dawud, Adab, 18/4840)
Hamd is at the same time an important form of zikr (remembrance of Allah). The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has explained the virtue of praising Allah as follows:
“Cleanliness is half of faith. The words ‘Alhamdulillah’ (Praise be to Allah) is its balance, ‘Subhanallahi wa’l hamdulillah’ (Glory and Praise be to Allah) fill the space between the heavens and the earth with rewards. The ritual prayer is radiance; charity is proof; patience is light. The Qur’an is evidence either against you or for you. Everybody leaves in the morning (for the market) to sell their soul; some of them end up setting it free, while others end up destroying it”(Muslim, Taharah 1; Tirmidhi, Deawat 85/3517)
Like hamd, another important duty of the servant is shukur. Shukur is when the servant is pleased with the bounties and goodness that have been bestowed upon him and he speaks various words and actions in sincere servitude to His Lord who provided him with them. Shukur is to know the True Bestower of bounties.
It is not enough just to know and express verbally the bounties that Allah has bestowed in order to be considered a servant who is truly grateful. It is also vital that we perform our worship and do good deeds as necessitated by our Lord.
One of the most profound matters of this religion is that praise and gratitude is a requirement of being a human being. The human being is at the peak of the hierarchical chain of beings from the simplest to the most perfect, and has been created as the ‘ashraf-i mahklukat’ (the most noble of creatures).
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) has said:
“Shukur (Gratitude) is half of faith…” (Suyuti, I, 107)
Every human being who has preserved the dignity and nobility with which they have been created will feel in their conscience this duty of gratitude towards someone who merely offers them a glass of water. This being the case then, to remain heedless and ungrateful towards our Lord, the Source and Bestower of all of these bounties is contrary to reason, understanding and the human conscience. This state can only be a result of lack of intelligence and lack of feeling.
In spite of this, unfortunately there are many people who are in great heedlessness of the endless bounties and favours that Allah has bestowed upon them. In reference to this deep ignorance Allah says in the Qur’an:
‘But very few of My slaves are thankful’(Sebe, 34:13)
The state of ingratitude is a condition that our Lord is most displeased with. It is also a cause for the bounties that have bestowed upon us by Him to decrease. Almighty Allah says in the Qur’an:
‘Remember Me – I will remember you. Give thanks to Me and do not be ungrateful.’(Al-Baqara, 2:152)
‘If you are grateful, I will certainly give you increase, but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe.’(Ibrahim 14:7)
‘Whoever gives thanks only does so to his own good. Whoever is ungrateful, Allah is Rich Beyond Need, Praiseworthy.’(Luqman, 31:12)
Scenes of Virtue
Whenever the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would gather up his table he would say:
“O our Lord. We praise you with the purest of feelings, with an endless praise that never decreases and that will be accepted by you and not turned back” (Bukhari, At’ima, 54; Abu Dawud, At’ima 52; Tirmidhi, Deawat, 55)
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) once said:
“Allah Most High is most pleased with his servant who, after he eats or drinks anything he praises Him” (Muslim, Zikr, 89; Tirmidhi, At’ima 18)
One time two people sneezed in the presence of the Prophet (pbuh). To one of them the Prophet said ‘yarhamukallah’ (May Allah have mercy on you), while to the other he said nothing. The person to whom he did not say these words asked him:
“When so and so sneezed you said yarhamukallah; why did you not say it to me when I sneezed?”
“That person said ‘alhamdulillah’ (praise be to Allah), you said nothing”.(Bukhari, Adab 127; Muslim, Zuhd, 53).
One time the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) saw Umar wearing a shirt. He said to him:
“Is this shirt of yours new or has it been washed?” Umar (r.a) replied:
“It is not new, it has been washed, o Messenger of Allah”. The Prophet then said:
“Wear something new, live as one who praises Allah, and die as a martyr”(Ahmad, II, 89)
These miraculous words of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) eventually came true and Umar (r.a) did indeed die as a martyr.
The most important task performed by the slave is undoubtedly to praise Allah. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has informed us of the virtues of praising Allah as follows:
“One of the slaves of Allah said: “O my Lord! Praise be to You with a praise worthy of the Majesty of Your Countenance, for the Greatness of Your Power and Dominion”. This slave left the two angels appointed with the duty of writing down his deeds incapable of writing down the reward for this praise. They rose to the heavens and said:
“O our Lord. Your slave has uttered such words that we do not know how to write down their reward”. Allah Most High, asked, though He knew the words His slave uttered better than any other:
“What did My slave say?” The angels replied:
“O our Lord. That slave of Yours praised you in the following way:
“Ya rabbi laka’hamdu kama yanbaghiy l’jalaali wajhika wa li’a’thiymi sultaanika”. (O Lord. Praise be to You with a praise worthy of the Majesty of Your Countenance, for the greatness of Your Power and Dominion”).
Upon this, Allah Most High said to those two angels:
“Write down those words of My slave as he uttered them until He is reunited with Me and I then give him his reward for those words of praise that he uttered”(Ibn Majah, Adab, 55).
May our Lord bestow on us the sincerity of this prayer…
Abu Huraira (r.a) has said:
“I grew up as an orphan and I migrated as a poor man. I worked for the daughter of Gazwan (Busra) in return for the mere filling of my stomach and a pair of shoes. While on a journey I would gather wood for them and when they mounted their animals I would urge on their camels with sweet tunes in order to speed them up; Praise be to Allah for strengthening the religion of Islam and for making Abu Huraira an imam” (Ibn Majah, Ruhun, 5/2445).
Aisha (r.ha) narrates:
“One night the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said to me:
“O Aisha! If you allow me I want to spend this night in worship of my Lord”. I responded:
“By Allah! I love to be together with you; but I love what pleases you more than that”
Then he rose, took his ablution and stood to pray. He was crying… He was crying so much that his robe, his blessed beard and even the place of his prostration was soaking wet due to his tears. While he was in this state, Bilal came and called him to prayer. When he saw him crying he said:
“O Messenger of Allah. Why are you crying when Allah Most High has forgiven your past and future sins?”.
The Prophet replied:
“Shall I then not be a slave who praises Him much? I swear by Allah that such verses have been revealed to me that it is woe to the one who reads them and does not reflect on them”. Then he read the following verses from the Qur’an:
‘In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are Signs for people with intelligence: those who remember Allah, standing, sitting and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: ‘Our Lord, You have not created this for nothing. Glory be to You! So safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire’(Âl-i Imran, 3:190-191)
Whenever the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) saw that bounties that had been given to him had not been given to others, he immediately praised Allah. One time he went to visit a man who was paralysed and when he saw his state, he immediately got down from his animal and prostrated out of gratitude. (Haysami, II, 289)
A sign that one loves Allah’s Messenger is that one takes on his character. How many times do we prostrate out of gratitude in the face of all of the scenes that are full of lessons for us?
Sa’d ibn Abi Wakkas (r.ha) narrates:
“One day I had set out from Mecca in order to go to Madina with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). When we arrived at a place called Azwara the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) descended from his camel. Then he raised his hands to the sky and prayed for a while, then he prostrated and stayed in prostration for a long time. He repeated this three times. Finally he said:
“I asked for a request from my Lord and I prayed for intercession for my community. And Allah promised me one third of my community. Then I prostrated out of gratitude to my Lord. Then I raised my head once more and asked my Lord to forgive my community; then he promised me another third of my community. Upon this I prostrated once more out of gratitude. Then I raised my head once more and asked for my community; He then promised me the remaining third of my community. Then I prostrated once more to my Lord out of gratitude” (Abu Dawud, Jihad, 162/2775).
The good news that pleased our Prophet so much and drove him to prostrate out of gratitude was that those members of his community who committed major sins would not remain in Hell forever, even though they may be punished for their sins, but they would eventually enter Paradise as a result of his intercession. And those who committed minor sins would be forgiven, perhaps even without meeting with any punishment.
That those who have no faith will not enter Paradise is not under discussion here.
Abdurrahman ibn Awf (r.a) narrates the following event which shows the sensitivity of the Prophet (pbuh) in the matter of being grateful to Allah for His favours and bounties:
One time the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) left the mosque and I followed him without him noticing. He went into a date field. There he faced the direction of Mecca and prostrated. He prolonged his prostration to such a degree that I thought he had passed away. I immediately went to him and kneeled down to look at his face. He raised his head and asked me:
“What is the matter o Abdurrahman?”
“O Messenger of Allah. You stood so long in prostration that I feared that you had passed away and I immediately came to your side”. The Prophet replied:
“When I entered this garden I encountered Gabriel. He gave me the good news that Allah Most High said: “Whoever greets you with the greeting of peace then I bring peace upon that person. Who sends blessings upon you then I bless that person”. This is why I prostrated to my Lord out of gratitude”. (Hakim, I, 344-345/810).
All of the bounties that we have been given are undoubtedly from Allah Most High. To thank the means by which these bounties reach us is a sign of loyalty and courtesy. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has said in a hadith:
“If a person prays to Allah for the one who does him a favour as follows: “May Allah bring you good”
Then he will have paid his debt of thanks in the best way…”(Tirmidhi, Birr, 87/2035)
Aisha (r.ha) narrates:
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would frequently say to me:
“O Aisha. Would you recite some of the poems that you have memorised?”
I would reply:
“Which verses would you like o Messenger of Allah? I know many poems”.
He would then say:
“The ones that are about gratitude”. One time I said:
“May my mother and father be sacrificed for you. I then read the following poem:
“Hold the weak person that you see by the hands and help him to stand. Do not let the fact that he is weak deceive you. The day will come when calamities will befall you and envelop you. Then will come the time when that poor person will recompense you or if he cannot do anything he will at least praise you. Because someone who praises you for something that you did for them will have rewarded you. If you wish to disgrace someone who is noble know that weak forces cannot weaken a strong rope”
Upon this the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:
“O Aisha! According to what Gabriel has told me, on the Day of Judgement when all of creation will be resurrected, Allah Most High will say to His slave who has been the recipient of a favour by another:
“Did you thank My slave who was good to you?”
He will reply:
“O my Lord. I knew that any good that comes to me is from You so I thanked You only”. Then Allah Most High will say:
“You will not have thanked Me as long as you have not thanked My slave who has been the means for this good reaching you”.(Ali al-Muttaki, III, 741-742).
In another hadith of the Prophet, Allah Most High has expressed the close connection between being grateful to Allah and thanking someone who has done them a favour as follows:
“The one who does not thank the people has not thanked Allah”. (Abu Dawud, Adab, 11/4811; Tirmidhi Birr, 31).
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has said that one of the greatest bounties bestowed upon mankind is a grateful heart. Sawban (r.a) narrates:
“We were once on an expedition together with the Messenger of Allah when the following verse was revealed:
‘As for those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in the Way of Allah, give them the news of a painful punishment’(Tawba, 9:34). Some of the Companions said:
“What is to be revealed about gold and silver has been revealed (we will no longer hoard them). If only we knew which goods were better we could obtain some of those”. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) then said:
“The most valuable possessions are a tongue that is in constant remembrance of Allah, a heart that is full of gratitude, a righteous wife who helps her husband in his faith”(Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 0/3094).
The prophet Dawud (upon whom be peace) used to thank Allah very often. One time he said:
“O Lord. How can I truly praise You? For I can only be truly grateful to you through Your bounties.”
It was revealed to him:
“Are you aware that all of the bounties that come to you are from Me?”
Upon this Allah Most High said:
“That you believe so is enough for Me to be pleased with you”.
Umar (r.a) once came across a believer who was continually praying as follows: “O Allah make me of those who are very few”. Umar (r.a) did not know what the man intended by this prayer and he asked him:
“Why do you pray like this?” That believer replied:
“Allah Most High has said: ‘…very few of My slaves are thankful’ (Saba, 34:13) I wish to be of that happy minority”.
Umar (r.a) was left in awe of this beautiful way of thinking and he lamented to himself:
“Woe to me; everyone is more intelligent and knowledgeable than Umar” (Ibn Abi Shayba, Musannaf, VII, 81).
When Junayd al-Baghdadi was seven years old his uncle Seriyy-i Sakati took him to Hajj. During one of their wise talks which used to take place in the Harem, they began to discuss shukur, or gratitude. After each of the scholars made their own evaluation, Seriyyi Sakati turned to Junayd and asked him to give his opinion. After pausing to think for a moment, Junayd gave the following magnificent reply:
“Gratitude is not to be rebellious towards the bounties that Allah has bestowed nor to use those bounties in order to commit sins” (Feriduddin Attar, p 318)
The following discussion about shukur which took place between Ibrahim ibn Adham and Shakik-i Belhi has an important lesson for us all:
Shakik-i Belhi asked Ibrahim ibn Adham:
“How do you earn your livelihood?”
Ibrahim ibn Adham replied:
“I am grateful for whatever I find; and when I don’t find anything I am patient”
Shakik-i Belhi then said:
“The dogs of Khurasan do this too”. This time Ibrahim ibn Adham asked:
“Well, what do you do?”
Shakik-i Belhi gave the following reply:
“Whatever we find we are grateful for and we give it away; and if we don’t find anything we are again grateful and patient”.
It is not possible to thank Allah for all the bounties that He has bestowed upon us as He should be thanked. However if we praise and thank Him as much as we can then Almighty Allah will accept what little we do as if it were great and He will be pleased with us. Bishr-i Hafi, one of the friends of Allah, is a good example of this:
This individual was seen in a dream after he passed away. He was asked:
“What judgement did Allah decree for you?” He responded:
“Allah forgave me and bestowed upon me Paradise and he said:
“O Bishr! Even if you prostrated upon burning embers for Me, you would not have been able to thank me for the love that I have placed for you in the hearts of My servants” (Kushayri, Risale, Beirut 1990, p 406)
Andrea Dorya was defeated by Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha at Preveze. Andrea Dorya was then forced to abandon his fleet and flee in a wretched state and he barely managed to save his life.
With the enemy warships with their masts down and thousands of slaves in front of him, Barbaros entered the Halij from Sarayburnu. The surface of the sea was covered with enemy warships full of war slaves.
Sultan the Magnificent, his viziers and pashas watched this awesome scene in Sarayburnu from a shore that is not present today. One of the pashas said in excitement:
“My Sultan, I wonder how many times the world has witnessed a scene such as this? You must be very proud”
The famous Sultan the Magnificent gave the following response:
“Pasha! Does it befit us to be proud and boast or to praise and thank our Lord who bestowed this victory upon us?”
What great Islamic training and what a magnificent inner world of the heart…
In conclusion, it is a most vital duty that we live every moment that we have feelings of praise and gratitude. At the same time to carry out this duty will be a means of bringing us closer to Allah and a means of those bounties increasing. Jalaluddin Rumi has the following to say:
“To be grateful for a bounty is nicer than the bounty itself. Would the one who loves to be grateful leave being grateful and focus on the bounty itself? To be grateful is the soul of all bounties. The bounty is like the skin or the peel. Because the only thing that can take you to the door of your Friend is gratitude. Bounties can make a person heedless, which is the opposite of awareness. However gratitude always brings awareness. Come to your senses and hunt for the true bounty with the bounty of gratitude.”
. Muslim, Zikir, 89
. Ibn Kathir, “Kisasu al-Anbiya,” Beirut, Dara’l Qalam, p 524