Giving Thanks

Dear brothers and sisters. For many of us, Ramadan comes in to our lives each year as a long lost friend. It is a time for us to reflect, to increase our worship in all ways and to find our more about ourselves, our intentions and our responsibilities. And as it leaves we are sad to see the friend go, because we have gained so much during the visit. We look forward, insha’allah to being allowed to come to that time again. And also thanksgiving reflects our hearts’ knowledge of the source of what we have. That Allah (SWT) is surely the one we thank ultimately for our lives. For he is “Malik an-Nas” the sovereign of humanity. And “Ilahin nas” Allah, God of humanity.

During Ramadan we fast and in that we learn to discipline ourselves but we also learn to sympathize and empathize with those around us who are not as well off as we are. We not only feel their hunger but we are moved to help them, through acts of charity and generosity. Alhamdul’illah, thanks to Allah (SWT) for bringing us to this month and for guiding us through it so that we might get the full benefit for us in this life and the next. During Thanksgiving we are acutely aware of the abundance that is bestowed upon us and we should remember its source and our responsibilities with that abundance.

During Ramadan we also refrain from anger, speaking harshly to others, from enmity, greed, and excess in all things. We are thankful for this practice as well. It provides us a clear window into our hearts. It is said that during the month of Ramadan the gates of hell are chained shut and all the devils are prevented from walking the earth. So during this time, all we see within ourselves comes from our own self. Our own nafs. What a golden opportunity to look inside, to take responsibility for our faults and to make a vow to do better. Alhamdul’illah we offer our thanks to Allah (SWT) for this opportunity as well. It is important for us to remember where the thanks go. And our Suhur and Iftar give us the opportunity to be with family and friends and to strengthen the bonds with others so that we might know to treat them with compassion and friendship, always remembering that all these gifts come only from Allah (SWT).

There is the story of the traveler who came to a town and asked where he could stay for the night. The people told him of the rich man at the end of the street who welcomed in all travelers with the best of food and lodging. But they warned him that the man is also known to beat the guest upon their leaving. Well, the promise of good food and a warm comfortable place to stay was appealing to the traveler because he had been on the road a long time with no where to stay except the side of the path and little to eat. So he knocked on the door and introduced himself and the man welcomed him into his home. That evening he prepared a great feast for him with exotic fruits and vegetables of all sorts and savory meats. With the finest tea and sweet desserts. More food than the traveler could possibly finish. Then he provided him with the best room in the house to stay in, and the bed was soft and warm and comfortable and scented with lavender and other herbs. The house was quiet and the traveler slept better than he could ever remember. But when he woke up he remembered the warnings of the townspeople and he shot up out of bed, thinking that if he hurried maybe he could leave before his host got up and thereby he could avoid his beating. But to his dismay when he left the room, there was his host, already with a sumptuous breakfast prepared and sacks of more food for him to take on his journey.

When he had eaten his fill it was time to go. He figured that he would just have to put up with the beating as part of the payment for all this generous hospitality. And so they went out the front door and the traveler went to leave, said Salaam alaykum and started down the path to the road. He anticipated the beginning of the beating but to his surprise it never came and behind him he heard the door of his host’s house close. He turned around and sure enough the host had gone inside. Perplexed, he went back and knocked on the door. When the rich man opened it he was surprised and asked the traveler what it was he wanted? Well the traveler asked him, “All the townspeople said to ask you for lodging and food for the night, as your generosity is well known, but they also warned me that you always beat your guests when they leave, but you didn’t beat me and I am wondering why?” Well, the rich man said, “All my guests I treat with the same generosity and politeness that I showed you last night. They always get the best food and plenty of it, they always get the best room and the best bed just as you did. But the difference was that all my other guests, when I show them this generosity they always say, Thank you, thank you to me. But you always said Alhamdul’illah – thanking Allah for what was given to you. That is why I did not beat you, because you know who is really our source of life and who gives us all we have.”

When we receive honor and blessings, when we are shown generosity it is also a trial, we are tried just as hard through prosperity as we are through adversity, Allah (SWT) says in the Quran Sharif

fa-‘ammaa al-‘insaan ‘idhaa maa ibtalaa-hu rabb-hi fa-akrama-hu wa-na3ama-hu fa-yaqol rabb-e akrama-ni

As for man, when his Lord tries him through giving him honor and blessings, he says: “My Lord is bountiful to me.”

He puffs himself up as if he thinks he is receiving this bounty as anything other than a true trial of his remembrance of Allah. He thinks he has gained because somehow it is due to him. But then,

wa-‘ammaa ‘idhaa maa ibtalaa-hu fa-qadara 3alay-hi rizq-hu fa-yaqol rabb-e ahaana-ni

But when He tries him through restricting his subsistence, he says: “My Lord has humiliated me.”

Then humans then view the loss of worldly possessions or affluence not again as a trial but as evidence of some kind of divine injustice they deny Allah (SWT) in this and instead of using this time for introspection they turn to blame. They complain if what is provided for them is not as they see it living up to their expectations.

But in reality the explanation lies in our own reactions to these trials Allah then says-

kallaa bal laa tukrimon al-yatem

wa-laa tah.aad.d.on 3alaa t.a3aam al-misken

wa-ta’kulon at-turaath ‘akl(an) lamm(an)

wa-tuh.ibbon al-maal h.ubb(an) jamm(an)

But you did not show kindness to the orphan, nor did you encourage each other in feeding the poor. Greedily you lay your hands on the inheritance of the weak, and you love wealth with all your hearts.

When we have more than we need we think it is our right to have it and when we have less we blame and complain. It is alike a bumper sticker I used to see – “Allah gives and forgives, Man gets and forgets”

Part 2

Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan reminds us that in India children are taught these lessons through leaning the simple uplifting poems of Sa’adi. In his poem “Karima” the first lesson Sa’adi gives is to learn how to be grateful, how to express gratitude, how to appreciate; and so he teaches the lesson of gratefulness and appreciation for all in the world, for the kindness and love of mother and father, and of friend and companion, by teaching first gratefulness to God for all the blessings and benefits man receives. Sa’adi begins in “Karima” by saying: “Oh Lord, most merciful, I ask Thy forgiveness, for I am limited and in this life of limitation I am always apt to err.” He teaches in the first lesson, that people should recognize their limited condition, and that this limitedness makes them subject to error, and at the same time he suggests the innermost desire of every soul to rise above limitations and keep from error, to seek divine love and ask pardon, and to appreciate all the blessings recieved in life, in order to rise towards that ideal stage of the humane person.

So what is the answer? The answer is that in our trials of prosperity we remember the source of our prosperity and we give of it willingly and generously. And in our trials of adversity we remember the source and we remain patient and steadfast.

And Pir-o-Murshid goes on to say Respect, consideration, reverence, kindness, compassion and sympathy, forgiveness and gratefulness, all these virtues can be best adorned by subtlety of expression. One need not dance in thanksgiving; one word of thanks is quite sufficient. One need not cry out loudly, ‘I sympathize with you, my dear friend!’ One need not play drums and say, ‘I have forgiven somebody!’ Such things are fine, subtle; they are to be felt; no noise can express them. Noise only spoils their beauty and takes from their value. In spiritual ideas and thoughts subtlety is more needed that in anything else. If a spiritual person were to bring his realizations into the market-place, and dispute with everyone that came along about his beliefs and disbeliefs, where would he end?

Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan also tells us that In prayer the repetition of thanksgiving brings to our soul our own voice, and that voice echoes before the God who is within.

So we learn that also in our thanks we can reflect the manner in which we looked within to find what was in our heart in the first place. Our character, our personality change not only through understanding ourselves and others better but also in the way we change how we act and how we use what we find out. Subtlety in action echoes through our being, it lets us hear our own real voice and allows us to know our source.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If anyone says in the morning, ‘O God! Whatever favor has come to me, it comes from Thee alone…To Thee praise and thanksgiving are due,’ he will have expressed full thanksgiving for the day. And if anyone says the same in the evening, he will have expressed full thanksgiving for the night.”

My dear brothers and sisters. I encourage you as I encourage myself, to go with a new dedication to be thankful to Allah (SWT) in everything in our lives, so we remember to be thankful, to be generous when we have abundance and to persevere through adversity. And to watch and care for our hearts. Ameen.

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