Gratitude is to acknowledge the truth

We live in a world where we seem to be surrounded by bad news. That leads to us feeling stressed, depressed, threatened, and hopeless about the future. Many people seem to feel that we are living at the end of times, and in a world and society that is terrible to live in. If you feel this way, believe me, you are not alone. However, the problem with this feeling is that firstly it is not true. Secondly, if you feel this way, then it debilitates you and takes away your initiative to do anything. It drains your energy, sabotages your ambition, and increases your anxiety to potentially dangerous levels. Allah told us to be grateful and warned those who are not, to beware of His punishment. Gratitude is energizing, joyful, encouraging, and very powerful. Ingratitude is the opposite on all these counts. The question is, what should we be grateful for? Let me help you with facts.

When I was growing up from 1950’s to 1980’s,  we didn’t have a refrigerator, gas, or electric stove. Food was cooked on firewood or coal in a smoky kitchen or outdoors. We routinely had no electricity for many hours a day and so no lights or fans. We had no central heating or air conditioning, one car. Nobody had ‘cars’, even one was a rarity. No TV. What was on your lap was not a computer. Go wash out your brain. Phones were not smart, people were. We wrote letters by hand, licked the stamp, stuck it on the envelope, posted it and counted the days until the postman brought us a reply. We had malaria, cholera and typhoid, polio, and tuberculosis. Later we got chikungunya, and dengue. We always had the flu and when the doctors didn’t know what we had, they called it, ‘viral fever’. Today, malaria and poliomyelitis have been eradicated. The others remain. I can add to this list, and there are many here who will bear witness with me and thank Allah that we can talk about those days and smile.

Today with air-conditioning, antibiotics, painkillers, glasses and LASIX surgery for sight correction, cataract and bypass surgery, medical diagnostic equipment and advanced pathology, sneakers, thermal underwear, and jackets, eating out, non-seasonal fruits, treadmills, central heating, indoor flushing toilets, hot and cold water on tap, we, ordinary people, are better off and more comfortable than the wealthiest kings and queens of the past. Add to this that today our children routinely go to school, are literate and many go on to higher education. In Medieval Europe 99% of people couldn’t write their names and that included most kings and queens. We live in countries where the only thing limiting your material growth, learning and career advancement is yourself. Anyone willing to make the effort can get to the top. See who are the people heading major corporations whose turnover is more than the GDP of many countries. Not a single one is a hereditary monarch or noble. There was a time, not too long ago where if you were not born into the right family, your fate was sealed. Today, your present situation doesn’t decide if you will succeed or fail. It only defines where you need to start. If you have ambition, determination, seek feedback, are willing to learn, sleep less and work hard, nothing but death can stop you.

Despite all this, we enjoyed life enormously and have wonderful memories, not because we had stuff, but because we had attitude. An attitude of gratitude. That was inculcated into us from the earliest and that is what is most necessary in the way we raise children today. Teach them to value people and use stuff. Not the other way around. Thankfulness is the open secret of happiness. So, while we look at all that is ‘wrong’ with society, let’s reflect on what is right. There is far more that’s right than what’s wrong.

Let’s continue. Today our major preoccupation is Covid, right? Let us put that also in perspective. The Justinian Plague which started in 541 CE wiped out 40% of the Arab population. While the exact origins of the plague remain unclear, it is estimated that up to 300,000 people died in Constantinople in the first year of the outbreak. There were approximately 5,000 deaths in the city every day at the height of the pandemic, even reaching highs of 10,000 on some days. The Justinian plague is estimated to have killed 50 million people—about half the world’s population at that time—as it spread across Asia, North Africa, Arabia, and Europe. The plague had a mortality rate of between 68-78%. Death would come between 2 – 5 days after infection. The plague resurfaced roughly every 10 years from 1348 to 1665—40 outbreaks in just over 300 years. Plague doesn’t exist today. Another major killer was Smallpox with a mortality rate of 30%. Those who survived lived with permanent scars on the face. DePaul Professor Thomas Mockaitis writes, “There hasn’t been a kill off in human history to match what happened in the Americas where 90 to 95 % of the indigenous population was wiped out over a century. Mexico went from 11 million people pre-conquest to one million.” One of those alleged to have used Smallpox as a germ or biological warfare weapon against the Native Americans, right here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is Field Marshal Lord Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst, who allegedly ordered that blankets infected with the discharge of Smallpox sores should be sold to Native Americans. This was done and the result in a population which had no resistance to the disease was predictable. It wiped them out. Smallpox was eradicated in 1981. Now, compare this fatality rate of the plague and Smallpox to Covid 19 which never exceeded 1.5% at its peak. What do you want to say about Covid now? The fact is that if we look at change over time, the world today is healthier, richer, and better educated than in the past.

This doesn’t mean that there are no problems. There are problems, many of them new ones. To solve them we must collaborate and work together and across boundaries of culture, race, religion, and nationality. We must collaborate and share our blessings for the greater good of everyone. We like to talk about the ‘Global Village’, but don’t usually remember that one of the results of being a village is that what happens to one, will affect another. We are in this together, in the same boat, to sink or swim as we wish.

From an Islamic angle we must do three things.

  1. Change the way we connect to Allah and Rasoolullah :

As I mentioned last Friday, given ever more powerful technology, there is a tendency to get disconnected with Allah and to lose confidence in the Sunnah of Rasoolullah. We must reconnect with Allah through Tahajjud and the Qur’an and by reflecting on His Glory and Majesty and His innumerable blessings on us. We must remember that Allah is the Creator of the creator of the technology. Technology is nothing new. Humans have had access to technology for millennia and some of that of such high complexity that we don’t even understand it yet. Yet we see its amazing traces and effects which leave us astonished. I can give you a list but will mention just one which Allah mentioned in the Qur’an. The man who brought the throne of the queen of Saba from its location in today’s Rubb-al-Khaali to Jerusalem in the blink of an eye. He effectively transported a massive physical object over 1789 km (1111 miles) without any physical means. Sulaiman (AS)’s reaction shows us how to keep connected to Allah despite whatever technology comes our way. He said:

قَالَ ٱلَّذِى عِندَهُۥ عِلْمٌ مِّنَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ أَنَا۠ ءَاتِيكَ بِهِۦ قَبْلَ أَن يَرْتَدَّ إِلَيْكَ طَرْفُكَ فَلَمَّا رَءَاهُ مُسْتَقِرًّا عِندَهُۥ قَالَ هَـٰذَا مِن فَضْلِ رَبِّى لِيَبْلُوَنِىٓ ءَأَشْكُرُ أَمْ أَكْفُرُ وَمَن شَكَرَ فَإِنَّمَا يَشْكُرُ لِنَفْسِهِۦ وَمَن كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ رَبِّى غَنِىٌّ كَرِيمٌ

Naml 27: 40      One with whom was knowledge of the Scripture said: I will bring it to you within the twinkling of an eye! then when [Sulaiman] saw it placed before him, he said: This is by the Grace of my Rabb to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! And whoever is grateful, truly, his gratitude is for (the good of) his own self, and whoever is ungrateful, (he is ungrateful only for the loss of his own self). Certainly! My Rabb is Rich (Free of all wants), Bountiful.

The best example of the importance of having confidence in the Sunnah is the behavior of Sayyidina Omar ibn Al-Khattab (R), when he went to Jerusalem to take the key to the city from Patriarch Sophronius in 637/8 CE. Sayyidina Omar (R) refused to ride his camel and led it while his servant was mounted on it. He refused to wear rich elaborate clothes and when Abu Ubaidah ibn Al-Jarrah (R) tried to insist, Sayyidina Omar (R), said to him, ‘The only thing that saves you from me is that Rasoolullah loved you. We just defeated these people. Do you want me to give up what gave us victory and take to the ways of the people we defeated?’ It is confidence that we lack today, and the results are clear. This is what we must get back.

  • Change the way we educate:

We have fractured education and teach the Qur’an as if there is no creation and teach about the creation as if there is no Creator. I have spoken at great length about this and will do so in the coming weeks, especially as we are going to start the After School program. Let us remember what Allah said:

إِنَّ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱخْتِلَـٰفِ ٱلَّيْلِ وَٱلنَّهَارِ لَـَٔايَـٰتٍ لِّأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَلْبَـٰبِ

ٱلَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ ٱللَّهَ قِيَـٰمًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَـٰذَا بَـٰطِلًا سُبْحَـٰنَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ ٱلنَّارِ

A’al Imraan 3:190-191    Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for people of understanding. Those who remember Allah standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): Our Rabb! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire.

Integrated teaching according to the sequence mentioned in the Qur’an opens the heart to the Glory of Allah and reminds us about our meeting with Him. It produces Taqwa and Tawakkul which lead to contentment and the pleasure of Allah in this life and the next.

  • Change the basis on which we relate to one another:

It is high time and critical to connect with one another on the basis that Allah declared for us and to resolve any differences we may have and recreate the brotherhood of faith, the Ummah of Muhammad. Allah said:

وَٱعْتَصِمُوا۟ بِحَبْلِ ٱللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا۟ وَٱذْكُرُوا۟ نِعْمَتَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَآءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِۦٓ إِخْوَٰنًا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِّنَ ٱلنَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ ءَايَـٰتِهِۦ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ

A’al Imraan 2: 103    And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (Qur’an), and be not divided among yourselves, and remember Allah’s Favour on you, for you were enemies one to another but He joined your hearts together, so that, by His Grace, you became brethren (in Islamic Faith), and you were on the brink of a pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes His Ayat (signs, revelation) clear to you, that you may be guided.

Allah didn’t prohibit difference of opinion but He prohibited divisions. He prohibited us from dividing into sects and groups, hating, and condemning one another. This is tragically what we have done to ourselves today. We must learn to disagree without being disagreeable and learn to collaborate and work together. The truly great and complex problems that face us can only be solved by collaborating. Not by people working in silos, each in his own highly individualistic world. Today we do almost nothing together as a family. That must change. We must build bridges between family members, community members, and members of society and learn to work together across boundaries of culture, belief, language, race, and ethnicity. We must work together because in the end, we are all creatures of One Creator to Whom is our return. I ask Allah for His help and Mercy to enable us to live in a way that benefits us and pleases Him.