Gratitude in Islam: How to practice Gratitude as a Muslim (Hint: it’s not just about saying Alhamdulilah)
And for almost every answer to that question, you can see the solution vividly- “Be grateful”.
And it’s true- gratitude can help us see all of our problems in a completely different light. It can help us focus on finding solutions rather than complaining. It helps us stay positive and happy, even in tough situations. It helps us work even harder in life so we never take anything for granted.
Gratitude is the only mindset that lies at the heart of patience, happiness and hard work.
But we all know how important gratitude is. Yet, we still fail to practice it. Why is that?
Is it maybe because we don’t really know what being grateful really means in Islam?
Or possibly because we don’t know HOW to be grateful? How to practice it for maximum impact?
So in this article, I want to share with you:
- What gratitude really means to a Muslim
- Why ingratitude comes EASY to us
- Key things to keep in mind for practicing gratitude and,
- A brief action plan for getting started on practicing gratitude!
Gratitude is NOT FOR OTHERS- it’s for your own soul
“Be grateful to Allah for whoso is grateful is grateful for the good of his own soul.”
(Holy Qur’an Chapter 31, verse 3)
“Good of his own soul”… Let’s take a moment to dig deeper into that part of the Ayah.
Gratitude is a way of thinking (an attitude towards life) that deactivates so many of the negative emotions of our Nafs. Low self-esteem, jealousy, greed, hate, stress of getting more, laziness, arrogance, etc… SO many of the negative emotions are associated with ingratitude.
Gratitude peels off the rotting layers of these negative emotions and cleans up your soul. No other attitude is as powerful as gratitude… possibly the ONLY one powerful enough to rid us of all these other hateful emotions.
So let’s get this one thing straight- nobody is doing anybody a favor by being a grateful Muslim.
You’re doing nobody a favor by being thankful to them. Yes, sure… it feels nice when people hear others say thank you for the things they did for them. But “being NICE” by saying “thank you” is just the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg being gratitude.
Gratitude is a mindset. An attitude. A choice of lifestyle you make every single day.
And gratitude means something totally different to the unbelievers than it does to Muslims. The atheists associate gratitude to the act of being grateful and appreciative to the creations of Allah S.W.T such as mother-nature, earth, people etc. (whatever they believe in).
The religious Non-Muslims associate it to all kinds of deities they believe in. And it makes sense. Ultimately, they don’t even know who to be grateful to… where to direct their positive spiritual energy.
But we have Allah S.W.T to Whom we get to show our ultimate gratitude.
And that itself is something we should be grateful for!
Gratitude in Islam: What does it really mean to be a grateful Muslim?
But that’s not all gratitude means.
We shortsightedly think that being grateful is just to voice out “Alhamdulilah”.
Alhamdulilah brother, you got the job!
Alhamdulilah for the food.
Alhamdulilah for waking up.
It’s like the word Alhamdulilah is on automation.
And the truth is- that’s not enough for you to join the gratitude club. You can’t just roll out the word Alhamdulilah from your tongue and consider yourself to be a grateful Muslim. Oh no.
What it truly means is to acknowledge the fact that “ALL PRAISE IS FOR ALLAH S.W.T”. Alhamdulilah. To acknowledge it. To sincerely believe it. To repeat it in sickness or health. In happiness or sorrow. In fear or safety. In any scenario Allah puts you through. And not at the end of it but right at the beginning. When the pain is unbearable. That’s gratitude.
To have a mild chance at comprehending the magnanimity of gratitude, think about how the opening Surah of the Quran, Surah Al-Fatihah, starts with Alhamdulilah. All praise is for Allah.
It’s as if it’s telling us that what you have in your hands, the Holy Quran- the word of Allah, be grateful for it.
It’s as if it’s telling us that before we begin to do anything… before we are told to do anything by our Creator, we are told by Him to be grateful. Because if we get that wrong, we failed to learn the very first lesson of Islam.
And so today, I don’t want to give you the cliched advice… be grateful. Because that doesn’t really do justice to gratitude.
It is necessary that we know how to be grateful. I mean, who would have thought that gratitude would be something we could possibly get wrong. I know, right?! But we do! So, it’s quite important that we get it right! Because gratitude can seriously transform your life.
Thanklessness comes EASY to us…
It is NOT an easy thing to be a truly grateful Muslim. Most of us, despite reading and listening to everything on gratitude, will remain ungrateful people. And that’s not a mystery nor is it a bold opinion of mine. Allah S.W.T says that repeatedly in the Quran:
“And if you should count the favor of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful.” [Qu’ran: Chapter 14, Verse 34]
“And truly your Lord is gracious to mankind, but most of them are not grateful.”
[Qur’an Chapter 27, Ayah 74]
So let’s face it- INGRATITUDE COMES EASY TO US. Gratitude, on the other hand, doesn’t.
Let’s face it so we can move past it and actively work to be grateful Muslims. Yes, gratitude requires ACTIVE EFFORT. It’s not passive process for the believing Muslims in this era. No. Especially not in the beginning of your spiritual journey.
That’s probably the reason why we feel so agitated when spiritually more elevated Muslims say to us “Be grateful to Allah. You have been given so much, just be grateful.”
According to my limited capacity, here’s what I think is the reason why we get so agitated on hearing those words sometimes- most of us were never really told that being grateful is an ACTIVE process.
And so, people who are stuck in depression and are desperately trying to get out of it feel so agitated because getting told to “be grateful” sounds so passive.
When the truth is- you’re trying and trying and somehow, you still have all these negative thoughts about your life.
Why? Why can’t you just be grateful for everything you have and be happy?
Why is it so easy for some people and so hard for you?
Ever felt like that? If not, that’s brilliant. If yes, put a smile on your face grasshopper… cause I’m about to tell you that it’s OKAY if you feel that way. And the best way to stop being so agitated when someone tells you to “be grateful” is:
- By accepting the fact that being truly grateful and positive about your life is going to be an ACTIVE process.
- To start working on that process in easy steps. Don’t expect yourself to suddenly be the most grateful Muslim alive. Also, don’t feel horrible about yourself when negative thoughts about your life make way into your head. Give yourself room to breathe and start practicing gratitude. You WILL get there, Insha’Allah.
Plus the entire process is going to be rewarding too!
Hold up- Say WHAT?!
Do we get PAID in reward for being grateful??!
Because it is an active process.
Allah S.W.T, being the Most Merciful, motivates us repeatedly in the Quran by saying that He S.W.T will give REWARD to all those who are grateful.
“And Allah will certainly reward the grateful.” [Qur’an: Surah 3, Ayah 145]
“…And whoever desires the reward of this world – We will give him thereof, and whoever desires the reward of the Hereafter – We will give him thereof. And We will reward the grateful.” [Quran Surah 3: Ayah 145]
Wow. Getting rewarded for being grateful.
Imagine somebody who does favors upon favors for you. Do you EVER expect to get a reward from that person if you just appreciated them for doing favors for you? *C-O-N-F-U-S-E-D-?*
I mean, who rewards anybody for saying thank you?!
All people do is consider you a decent human being for being thankful. Period.
So imagine the Mercy of Allah S.W.T Who is promising us reward in return for gratitude. SubhanAllah.
And it’s not just any reward. It’s limitless reward.
“And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.” [Surah Ibrahim: Ayah 7]
Increase you? In what? And how much?
Nope. He S.W.T just said increase you.
There’s no limit to how much He S.W.T would increase us if we’re grateful.
And increase us in what? He S.W.T doesn’t say Emaan or Taqwah or money. It’s everything and anything. *mind-blowing*
HOW TO PRACTICE GRATITUDE
1) Mindset change: from scarcity mindset to gratitude mindset
When you constantly focus on how LESS you have of something, such as knowledge, money, food, people, relationships etc… or when you’re always thinking about how many things are “going wrong” in your life, how many “problems” you have, how “tough” your life is… you are carrying a scarcity mindset.
In this mindset, people choose to look past all the things that are going “right” in their life, all the MORE they have of something, all the ease and comfort they have in their life.
That kind of mindset is so toxic and unproductive. Because it starts a vicious cycle:
- Negativity and scarcity mindset makes you overlook all the positive things in your life
- The good things in your life get overshadowed by all these problems you choose focus on
- And focusing on the problems in turn makes you even more negative and ungrateful.
There’s just no end to it.
You get the job, then what? You start focusing on how “single” you are.
You get married, then what? You worry about “not having any children”.
You are blessed with children, then what? You shift your focus on “not being able to buy a house”.
You buy a house, then what? By that time your children have grown up, you focus on how “your child is not building the career you want him to.”
I can go on and on. And I’m sure you can too. Because the majority thinks like that. Like Allah S.W.T said: most of us are ungrateful people.
And that’s not something to brush off easily. It’s actually quite serious because people who are not internally grateful, they can never succeed in life.
“The ungrateful never prosper.” [Qur’an Surah 28, Ayah 83]
Though it’s not difficult to understand. I mean, imagine a person becomes one of the richest people in the world- married to someone he loves, has children of his own… he has everything the average man desires in life… but he’s always searching for something?
What now, that he has achieved so much? What more could he have?
Because something is missing from his life.
You can guess what’s missing? Gratitude. If he finds that, he’ll be at peace even if he can hardly make ends meet.
Everyone is grateful for the big things in their life- at least for a moment before they totally forget about it.
But being grateful for the small things too? That’s when it really counts.
Like how easy it is for you to take a shower. Your tap can pour both hot and cold water with one tiny flick. Whereas for some people, they have to first travel a long distance to get water, spend a good 20 mins to heat it up, drag the water buckets to the shower, mix it with cold water and then use it. A tenuous process.
It’s these little things we take for granted that we need to think about more. And praise Allah for them.
3) Don’t take your Emaan (Faith) for granted
Allah says in the Quran: “Exalt Allah for having guided you and that you may be grateful.” [Qur’an Surah 2, Ayah 186]
If anything, be grateful that Allah S.W.T made you from among the people of emaan.
I feel like the gratitude talks don’t emphasize this enough.
Your emaan is the most treasured part of your soul. Lose it, and you lose everything including yourself. It’s easy to take something that you can’t physically see for granted.
But we can’t afford to skip this. Allah S.W.T gave us our hidayah, our emaan and taqwah… He S.W.T can also take it anytime.
Holding on to our Deen in the times of fitnah today, has been compared to grasping hot coal. So let’s not underestimate the value in being grateful for our faith.
Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “A time of patience will come to people in which adhering to one’s religion is like grasping a hot coal.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhī , Grade: Sahih]
4) If you can’t be grateful to people, you can’t be grateful to Allah
Messenger of Allah (S.A.W) said: “Whoever is not grateful to the people, he is not grateful to Allah.” [Tirmidhi]
As much as we want to just be grateful to Allah S.W.T alone and never mind the people sometimes, it doesn’t work that way.
I mean, it can be hard to be grateful to the people around you especially when you’re mad at them because of something. Or if they irritate you. Or if you don’t like them. Gratitude doesn’t take into consideration any of those emotions.
Being grateful to Allah S.W.T is so much easier because He is always doing favors upon you. But if our hearts can’t feel thankfulness towards people, especially our PARENTS, we can’t sincerely feel grateful to Allah.
Start appreciating little things people do for you, tell them you’re grateful and do more in return for them.
5) It’s the constant comparisons that trigger feelings of inadequacy and ingratitude
Messenger of Allah (S.A.W) said: “Look at those who are beneath you and do not look at those who are above you, for it is more suitable that you should not consider as less the blessing of Allah.” [Ibn Majah]
That means you can’t say:
“I’m so grateful for being married. I just wish I was married to someone richer like so-and-so is, so I also didn’t have to worry about finances all the time.”
No JUSTs. No BUTs. No IF ONLYs. If those words are creeping into your sentences, that’s only a reflection of what’s going on in your heart.
Your words are a mere reflection of your heart.
Comparison belittles your own esteem. You, my grasshopper, are above that.
You don’t need comparisons to validate yourself. Because there are many people in the world who would give anything to be where you are! 🙂
6) Complaining and gratitude don’t work so well together
I see this one going on all around. Muslims are deep in the complain game, constantly ranting on about everything that’s going seemingly wrong in their lives and then at the end saying “But, Alhamdulilah for everything.” Umm. That’s a little confusing.
What you say is what you feel.
And you’ve gotta FEEL gratitude, not just say it.
If you’re complaining most of the time, that means you don’t internally FEEL grateful for all the good things in your life.
Tell me this- when are you most likely to complain? When you’re facing a problem, right?
So if your mind and your eyes are trained to see problems, you’ll complain more. And earlier we said that people who focus on problems have a scarcity mindset. We also said that a scarcity mindset creates feelings of ingratitude.
Always complaining = scarcity mindset = ingratitude.
So if you consider yourself a complainer, maybe start working there.
7) Gratitude is not a “HOLIDAY PRACTICE”
Last but not the least, gratitude is not a holiday practice for us Muslims.
We don’t wait for “Thanksgiving” to be grateful and spend the rest of the year complaining.
Oh no, our entire day is filled with azkaar and duas that begin with Alhamdulilah.
Don’t count your blessings today and forget about them for the rest of the month. Because the effects of gratitude are cumulative. Meaning, when you practice being grateful for small things daily, the effects of gratitude add on. Your mindset slowly transforms until gratitude comes to you in your sleep. On autopilot.
Let’s wrap it up here with one of the most inspiring Ahadith:
Messenger of Allah (S.A.W) said: “Strange are the ways of a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (God), thus there is a good for him in it, and if he gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), there is a good for him in it.” [Sahih Muslim]
Gratitude converts every situation into a win-win situation for a muslim.
Finally, I have a fun action plan practicing gratitude:
- Take a moment to genuinely appreciate the people around you. In the comments section below, tell me one person in your life that you truly appreciate. *Oh, and grasshopper… I appreciate you!* 😉
- Think about 3 things you’re grateful for that you’ve never really given much thought to before. I promise you, you’ll be surprised at how many there are! 😀
- Pick one person you’re grateful for. Now get super-detailed and list out at least 3 reasons why. (For e.g. I’m grateful for my sister/ One reason: She helps me get unstuck when I’m overwhelmed.)
- One material thing you’re grateful for and why? List out at least 3 reasons. (For e.g. I’m grateful for my laptop because without it, I couldn’t have built Muslim Youth Programme and connected to amazing Muslims from all over the world!)
And finally, remember- Don’t just do this once and go back to complaining. Remember pal, you’re in this for the long haul! 😉
And Allah S.W.T knows best!
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