Dr Bilal Philips: On Gratitude


Islamic Online University Chancellor Dr Bilal Philips speaks to Mspiration on ways to instill more gratitude in our lives.

You suggest that for a Muslim, being grateful to Allah is the beginning and end.

Surat Al Fatiha begins with Alhamdulilah, that is telling you this is where we have to begin. If we cannot capture and actualise Alhamdulilah then we will have miserable lives filled with anger, jealousy and depression. Alhamdulilah is the saviour. There are so many statements in the Quran like “if you are thankful I will increase with what you give thanks in” and the Prophet Muhammad PBUH said “verily the affairs of the Muslim is amazing and that is only for the believer. Whatever good comes to him he is thankful to Allah.” Being grateful is really at the bottom of everything.

What does being grateful entail?

Being grateful begins with realising Allah’s bounties and blessings which is found in every aspect of our lives. It is about being able to see  the bounties even when it doesn’t appear visible. It is an expression in our belief in the Qadr (unseen), the belief in the day of judgement and all of it points to the state of blessings which exist in all part of our lives. That’s why the Prophet PBUH said “don’t look at those above you, but those below you” because it’s better to be thankful to Allah for the blessings in your own life.

How does gratefulness affect our faith?

It links back to the consciousness of Allah, what we call Taqwa. Gratitude comes as a result of Taqwa. There is an interlocking, interrelated relationship between the two. The consciousness of Allah helps us to be able to finding gratitude in-spite of the challenges. It gives us assurance that even though we may find ourselves in difficult circumstances, ultimately it is for our betterment and there is good in it for us. So it is a matter of being patient with the trials, looking for the good and accepting it even though we can’t see it.

Is it tough to to attain a sense of gratefulness when we are living comfortable lives?

That is the real trial, to be grateful in times of ease. It is very easy to loose sight of the realities when you are so locked up in your own personal pleasures and enjoyment and forget to be grateful. That is what happens, people just go astray or go to extremes and abuse themselves and loose track of what is happening to themselves or their society.

Is being grateful an active task?

You have to live it. It is not a philosophical, ideological or intellectual concept. It has those elements to it but in the end it becomes something that you have to live. Your lifestyle or approach to life has to reflect it and if it doesn’t it just remains knowledge which is of no benefit.

What are some practical steps we can take to foster this sense of gratefulness to Allah SWT?

The beginning point is being aware of God. As Muslims we try to heighten that awareness by reading more Quran because that is your direct communication with God. That is God talking to you and in one way or another God is talking to you about gratitude. Then there is reading the life of the Prophet PBUH and seeing how his life reflected gratitude. It is also good to have around you grateful people because we are reflected by our environment. People who are always complaining that nothing is right and that there are problems will affect you and your own sense of gratitude will be destroyed by them. So you may have to move away from some of your friends and find other people who have a more positive outlook on life.

You also recommend Muslims to follow the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) sunnah of Sujood Al Shukr, where he would prostrate in gratefulness at a new blessing.

Sometimes I would sit in a room of hundreds of people and I would ask them who made Sujood Al Shukr in the last week? One hand would go up. Some would not even know what it is even though the Prophet done it all the time. Whenever good things came to him, the first thing he would do is drop down, prostrate and thank Allah. Bringing that back to life is alway something I advise in my khutbas.

What are the steps to making Sujood Al Shukr?

For one thing you don’t have to have wudu (ablution) and you don’t have to worry if you don’t know where the qibla is. Start off (whilst prostrating) with the standard Subhan Rabbi Al A’alah (Glory to my Lord, the Most High) and other dua’s the Prophet PBUH has made and then address the issue Allah has blessed you with. Express your thanks to Allah for what He has given you because you are closest to Him when you are giving sujood.

How can we maintain a grateful mindset in times of distress?

The advice the Prophet PBUH said that whenever good comes to you is to be grateful and whatever difficulties comes is to be patient. It is through patience that gratefulness becomes manifest. It is not to say that you stepped on a thorn and it is stuck in your foot and you say “Alhamdulilah”. You are in pain and suffering. But instead going of the other side and saying “God damn it” we hold our tongue and say “Inna Lil Lah and Ilaihi Rajioon (Surely we belong to God and to Him shall we return)” or “SubhanAllah (Glorious is God)”. Those kinds of expressions engender within us gratitude because remember what the Prophet said: “every pain a believer suffers is in fact a means of purification from sins. “

Some would respectfully argue that this is easier said than done

I remember when I first accepted Islam I went back to Jamaica to see if there was any Muslims down there, this was back in 1972. I couldn’t find any in Kingston and my cousins told me to go this place near Kingston because they said somebody built a mosque there. So when I got there I realised it was a temple. So we kept looking around and somebody said go to Spanish Town. So we went there and found an old guy of Indian origin and he built a mosque on his land and he was dying of cancer. He couldn’t even come in to the mosque. I thought to myself, at that time, wow, here is this man who helped people accept Islam. He done this good thing and there he was suffering. I thought this was like punishment for him and I thought, why him? Later on when I learned more about the deen I realised in suffering there is purification. So Allah was purifying him before he left this world. So he died from cancer. It was painful for him because in Jamaica the access to the kind of drugs normally available in the west wasn’t available. That was an eye opener for me and a lesson in purification. So can we really say “I don’t deserve this?” What we should be telling ourselves is why not me? Because I haven’t lived that perfect life where I didn’t commit any sins or errors. So who am I to complain?

What comes first, patience or gratitude?

It depends on the circumstance. The scholars describe them as the two wings of faith. Neither one can function without the other. Gratitude needs patience and patience needs gratitude.

Finally, is it the case in that the more you are grateful the more you will see things in life to be grateful about?

That is what Allah promises. The more you are grateful to Him then the more he will increase you in the things you are grateful for. You will have more things to be grateful about.

Dr Philips is the chancellor of Islamic Online University. Launched in 2007, the initiative offers a free diploma program in Islamic Studies in addition to a fully accredited tuition-free Bachelor’s program. Plans are currently being made for a Master’s program to be launched this year inshaAllah. For details click here

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