New York - With the approach of the Thanksgiving holiday, I have been reflecting on what it means to be grateful and considering how I can best live in a state of continuous gratitude.
New York – With the approach of the Thanksgiving holiday, I have been reflecting on what it means to be grateful and considering how I can best live in a state of continuous gratitude.
I recently realized that gratitude is much deeper than I previously thought. While it is easy for me to feel my heart filled with thankfulness when I think of all the wonderful people and blessings in my life, it is a bit more challenging to actually live in a way that consistently expresses gratitude.
Last week, at our Quran Discussion meeting, we read an excellent essay by Abdel Rahman Al-Jowzi that Dr. Sultan translated to English. Al-Jowzi was a prolific Muslim scholar born in Baghdad in 1116, at the peak of the Islamic Golden Age when Baghdad was an international center of learning and wisdom. This essay, although written almost a thousand years ago, seems contemporary and is full of knowledge that anybody can apply and that, if embodied, will make our life a great contribution to humanity, which is the best form of worship. As Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind.”
Although gratitude is a central concept in Islam and the guaranteed path to abundance, I used to see it only as something to be felt and expressed. However, Al-Jowzi’s essay made me see that living in gratitude entails much more than that. Our entire lives can be oriented towards and centered in gratitude.
Our character can be made better through gratitude: “Thanksgiving is expressed with the heart, with the tongue and with your limbs. Giving thanks from your heart is when you think of doing something good for God’s creation. Giving thanks with your tongue is when you praise God. Expressing gratitude with your limbs is by using them for a good purpose, and not use them to do harm. For example, gratitude with your eyes is when you see defects in someone and not publicize them. Giving thanks with the ears is when you hear something bad about someone and do not repeat it. Giving thanks with your tongue is when you express pleasure with what God has given you.”
True gratitude, then, means using our time, faculties, talents and every type of wealth we have been blessed with in the right way; that is, in a way that is pleasing to God. Al-Jowzi writes: “being thankful means using what God has given you in ways that please Him, ingratitude is the opposite of this, you either do not use what has been given to you, or use it in undesirable ways.”
This statement is quite profound. Gratitude in its full meaning demands deep self-knowledge and knowledge of what pleases God. And, as Al-Jowzi explains, knowing what pleases God “requires a heart with insight, which is extremely rare.”
This idea applies to our lives in more ways than the obvious. Of course, most of us realize that if we use our faculties and time to do those things that are traditionally deemed sinful, we are being ungrateful. Al-Jowzi explains that, for instance, if we look at forbidden things, we are ungrateful “not only for the eye, but also for the sun that gives the light which makes it possible for you to see.”
But are we aware of the more subtle ways in which we might presently be lacking in gratitude? For instance, are we failing to use a talent God gave us due to fear, laziness, or lack of self-knowledge? Or are we perhaps slightly deceitful in our affairs? Or, are we using our resources extravagantly or incorrectly? If so, what can we do about it in order to express more gratitude with our entire being?
This sentence particularly struck me: “Anyone who makes utensils out of gold and silver is ungrateful, because it is similar to taking a wise man and assigning him to manual work which anyone can do.” We each have unique talents and gifts and it is our responsibility to discover what these are, develop them and use them for a high purpose that brings us joy and helps others. Achieving this requires regularly spending time in solitude and self-reflection.
May we have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving holiday.