What is shukr (thanking Allah)? How should the duty of thanking be fulfilled?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi states that he adopted the principles of "absolute poverty, absolute impotence, absolute thanks, and absolute ardor" in order to attain the consent of Lord and to worship Him truly and that thanking is the most important one among them. (Mektubat, Yirmi Sekizinci ve Dördüncü Mektuplar)

Nursi states that thanking (shukr) is related to God Almighty’s name ar-Rahman (the Compassionate). This approach makes thanking assume an identity of being an evidence of oneness (tawhid) that enables Allah to be known.

Definition of Thanking (Shukr)

Many statements have been uttered and many definitions of shukr, which means gladness and gratitude shown in the face of any favor/good deed, have been made. It is possible to define shukr as "to use the feelings, thoughts, organs and faculties given to man in accordance with their purpose of creation"; thanking "can be fulfilled with the heart and tongue, as well as all organs."

Hamdi Yazır, the tafsir scholar states the following about shukr "Shukr means to respond to a previous boon with the tongue, deed or heart by respecting the giver of the boon. Shukr made by deed or heart is not hamd (praise). When it is made also by the tongue it becomes both hamd and shukr. Both hamd and shukr are a reality, love and exhilaration and hence ethics; the meaning of enthusiasm is more obvious in hamd and the meaning of loyalty is more obvious in shukr.  Thus, shukr is remembering and respecting something in the past; therefore, it is more difficult, and fewer people do it." (Hak Dini Kur'ân Dili, Istanbul 1979, I/57) Thus, he defined the concept of shukr and pointed out the difference between shukr and hamd, which are very close in meaning.

We can explain the difference between hamd and shukr as follows:

Hamd (Praise): Hamd includes the meaning of responding to the being that gives boons willingly and thanking Him; it also includes the meaning of presenting thanks to Him since He deserves to be praised and since He is the source of all grants. In hamd, it does not matter whether the grants and boons He has reach us or not. What matters is His deserving such hamd. Thus, when we present our feeling of thanking and praise in return for God Almighty’s greatness and grace, it is regarded hamd.

Shukr (Thanking): Shukr means thanking the being in return for the boons that He grants us. This thanking is in return for a boon. It can be made by the tongue, deed or heart. It is seen that thanking is general. It can be made by the tongue, deed and heart. Therefore, prayer is a kind of thanking Allah. To say "ash-shukru lillah (thanking is for Allah)" is a kind of thanking Allah. The heart’s feeling ingratitude in the face of Allah's boons or being in enthusiasm by thinking that Allah shows him mercy due to those boons a kind of thanking Allah in return for His boons.

One of the thinkers who dealt with shukr in detail is Imam Ghazzali. Ghazzali studied shukr with sabr (patience); he studied shukr in detail and attracted attention to the relationship between oneness (tawhid) and shukr. Stating that shukr is defined as "to admit the boon that is granted with the feeling of gratitude" and as "to praise the one who grants by mentioning His grant", Imam Ghazzali says, “None of the definitions made about shukr encompasses shukr fully.” According to him, in order to understand the reality of this concept, it is necessary not to forget that shukr has three aspects: knowledge/knowing, state/feeling and deed/doing. The definitions are incomplete because they were made based on only one aspect of shukr: knowing, feeling or doing. Therefore, shukr can be defined briefly as follows by considering all three aspects: "knowing that the boon comes from the one that gives it, feeling happiness due to the boon being given and acting in accordance with the purpose and love of the one that gives the boon". In that case, what is essential is to know; knowing brings about the feeling/state of gratitude; this feeling leads to acting accordingly. Ghazzali, then, analyzes the concept shukr from those three viewpoints and explains them systematically. (Ghazzali, Ihyau Ulumid-Din, Beirut nd, 4: 81, 84)

Ghazzali evaluates the definitions made by sufis before him as it is explained above and regards those definitions as insufficient since they deal with only one or two aspects of shukr. According to him, shukr consists of knowing, feeling and practicing. The knowledge aspect of shukr means to know that all boons are granted by Allah and the means/intermediaries are arranged by Him. To know that the boons and the causes of boons are created by God Almighty means to sanctify Allah and to believe in His oneness. When this knowledge settles in us fully, we will be protected from falling into polytheism with our deeds. (Ghazzali, 4: 82). Thus, shukr becomes the way of being saved from polytheism and the reason why it is used as the opposite of polytheism in the Quran is understood.

Shukr in Badiuzzaman Said Nursi’s Mentality

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, the great thinker of our age, defines shukr as follows: "to recognize that the bounties (boons) come directly from God Almighty, to appreciate their worth and to perceive one’s own need for them." (29. Mektub; 1. Söz) With this definition, he mentions the three different aspects of shukr as knowing, expressing and feeling as Ghazzali also mentions. However, he mentions needing the boons in the last stage, indicating the importance and difficulty of having this feeling.

Nursi regards noticing that a boon is a boon and appreciating it as being within the concept of "spiritual shukr". (29. Mektub) Therefore, he describes living frugally, which is based on the principle of appreciating the boons (bounties), and fasting, which enables man to understand the value of the boons, as "spiritual shukr". The value of a boon is understood better when it does not exist. Fasting is an important tool that leads us to spiritual shukr since it enables us to appreciate the boons. Nursi states the following regarding the issue in the booklet on Ramadan: "When it is time to break the fast, the sense of taste testifies that the dry bread is a precious divine bounty in the eyes of a believer." (29. Mektub, İkinci kısım) He also states the following in the same booklet: "Thanks to fasting, man’s imaginary dominicality is shattered; it performs its worship and begins to offer thanks, its true duty... They realize how unsound are their weak bodies, and perceive how needy they are for kindness and compassion. So they abandon the soul’s pharaoh-like despotism and recognizing their utter impotence and want, perceive a desire to take refuge at the divine court. They prepare themselves to knock at the door of mercy with the hands of thankfulness." Thus, he states that shukr spiritually includes all of the four principles of fasting: poverty, impotence, thanks and ardor. He attracts attention to the value of spiritual shukr obtained by fasting as follows: "Fasting in Ramadan, then, is the key to true, sincere, extensive, and universal thankfulness." (see ibid)

Since living frugally "shows respect towards the divine mercy manifested in the bounties, and most definitely is the cause of plenty" (19. Lem'a), frugality is a sort of thanks. Nursi states that wastefulness is the opposite of shukr as follows: "The All-Compassionate Creator desires THANKS in return for the bounties He bestows on mankind, while wastefulness is contrary to thanks, and slights the bounty and causes loss. Frugality, however, shows respect for the bounty and is profitable." (19. Lem'a) Fasting and avoiding wastefulness are types of spiritual shukr based on voluntary preference; patience shown in the face of misfortunes and poverty is regarded as spiritual thanking and worshiping. "Shukr at the time of a misfortune transforms every hour of the misfortune into one day of worshipping because no hypocrisy can penetrate into this kind of worshipping." (2. Lem'a) Being full of the feelings of thanking toward God Almighty is the most sincere state of worshipping that enables us to appreciate boons and health.

Nursi brings the concept "absolute thanking" into the forefront in the face of the understanding of "abandoning the world" of some Sufis. (4. Mektub). He states that it is necessary to appreciate and know the divine boons and to meditate on the graces of divine mercy instead of abandoning the worldly boons. According to him, the sense of tasting has an aspect that is related to the heart, spirit and mind since it is a means of realizing the reality of thanking. A person whose spirit rules his body, whose heart rules his soul, and whose reason rules his stomach can prefer delicious food if he wants pleasure only with the intention of thanking. Preferring delicious food with the intention of thanking is also regarded as spiritual thanking. However, man "can follow his pleasure on condition it is not wasteful or extravagant, and is purely to carry out his duty of thanks and recognize and perceive the varieties of divine bounty, and on condition it is licit and does not lead to degradation and begging." (19. Lem'a).

It is seen that there is a close relationship between thanking and compassion in the thought of Nursi. He mentions "impotence, poverty, compassion and meditation" in the annex of 26th Word, where he explains the principles of his way. He mentions "thanking" and "enthusiasm" too in Mektubât (4. Mektub). According to him, thanking is related to the name/attribute Rahman and compassion is related to Rahim. Thanking has an aspect of meditation and an aspect of feeling. The feeling aspect of thanking is based on compassion; therefore, he says, "sincere thanking is kneaded with compassion". (32. Söz) Thanking expresses a slave’s love and worshipping toward God Almighty and compassion generally expresses a slave’s feeling of mercy toward other beings. Therefore, he states that "showing compassion to people is a principle of real thanking." (29. Mektub)

When the "Shukr Booklet" (28. Mektub, Beşinci Mesele), in which the topic of shukr (thanking) is dealt with exclusively, is studied, it will be seen how Nursi bases metaphysically the concept of shukr, which is generally dealt with as an ethical and mystic concept in general. Nursi explains the reality of shukr first. According to him, shukr "is the most important result of the creation of the realm." The Shukr Booklet proves this postulate. After stating that the most important result of the creation is shukr, Nursi lists his evidences beginning from the universe in order prove this postulate. First, he determines the place of shukr in the realm of creation and beings and consolidates his determinations with the examples and observations he gives from nature. The deduction he makes in that part in order to show the place of shukr in the hierarchy of beings is a reasoning that also proves oneness. Furthermore, it can even be said that he aims to prove oneness first with this deduction. Then, he explains the relationship between shukr and divine names. Finally, he explains with examples how man will feel the oneness of God Almighty with shukr, and the psychological destruction caused by ingratitude on unbelieving people by establishing a connection between shukr and oneness.   

Evidences of Oneness in Shukr (Thanking)

1. The Evidence of the Universe

It is stated at the beginning of the Shukr Booklet that Allah wants His slaves to thank in many verses and that ingratitude means denying the truth as it is stated in the verse below and similar ones  "Then which of the favors of your Lord will ye deny?" (ar-Rahman, 55/13); thus, the evidences of the issue based on verses and hadiths are listed first. After that, attention is attracted to the universe with the following statement: The Quran states that the result of the creation is thanking; when the universe, which is like a great Quran, is studied, it will be seen that the most important result of the creation is thanking. According to Nursi, the universe was formed in a way that would lead to thanking. Since thanking is the fruit of the tree of the creation and the best product of the factory of the universe, everything in the universe is related to thanking to some extent. Nursi provides evidence for this decree acting upon the universe as follows: When the creation of the realm is studied, it will be seen that the realm of beings was created in the form of a circle, with life in its center. That all beings were arranged in a way to serve life or to produce things that are necessary for life shows that the purpose of the Creator in creating the universe is life. Then, it is seen that man was created in the form of a dot in a central identity. That living beings gather around man and serve him show that all of the purposes demanded from living beings gather in man. This shows clearly that man was chosen from among living beings and that this choice is based on Allah’s will. Then, it is seen that the world of humanity and the animal kingdom are disposed like circles with sustenance placed at their center. Sustenance has a lot of types. It is enough to show the importance of sustenance that there are very sensitive scales placed in the tongue to taste the food and drink, which are a type of sustenance, put in the mouth. Therefore, sustenance is the most interesting, beautiful and comprehensive reality in the universe.

Nursi states that the nice scents and shapes in the boons of sustenance invite man to thank, that they bring about the pleasure of eating in man and forms appreciation and respect, which are spiritual thanking, that they urge conscious beings to appreciate boons and encourage them to thank with their words and attitudes. According to him,

"In the view of power, sustenance is as important as life. Power brings into existence, Divine Determining clothes in form, divine favor nurtures. Life is a summary, a specified product and is apparent. Sustenance is not a summary; it is gradual and widespread, and provokes thought." (Mektubat, "Hakikat Çekirdekleri", madde 85)

Therefore, the importance of the reality of sustenance cannot be realized immediately like life; it can be understood only through belief and meditation.

After his explanations related to beings-life-sustenance, Nursi explains the relationship between sustenance and thanking as follows:  

"Now we see that just as everything has been gathered around sustenance and looks to it, so does sustenance in all its varieties subsist through thanks, both material and immaterial and that offered by word and by state; it exists through thanks, it produces thanks, its shows thanks. For appetite and desire for sustenance are a sort of innate or instinctive thanks. Enjoyment and pleasure also are a sort of unconscious thanks, offered by all animals. It is only man who changes the nature of that innate thanks through misguidance and unbelief; he deviates from thanks and associates partners with God.  Although sustenance becomes such a valuable treasury by means of thanks, it becomes an object through which worthless animal pleasures are satisfied by means of ingratitude In that case, the real nature of the feeling of thanking in man changes and assumes an identity that provides an animal appetite and material interests."

After providing evidence of the existence of thanking in the universe and its reality as it is explained above, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi establishes its relationship with Allah and states the following: "As well as a brief and temporary superficial pleasure, through thanks, these delicious foods and bounties gain the favors of the Most Merciful One, which provide a permanent, true, boundless pleasure." He also states that thanking is a means of attaining the compliments of ar-Rahman, which is the highest and sweetest pleasure. Then, he makes his determinations concrete by giving examples from the universe and animal kingdom.

In this part of the booklet, Nursi seems to aim to emphasize the importance of thanking in the first place but his other, and most important purpose, is to use thanking as an irrefutable evidence for the oneness of Allah. As a matter of fact, Nursi uses the deduction related to the place of the relationship between life and thanking that he explained in the Shukr Booklet again as one of the evidences of oneness in several other places in his books. He mentions the relationship between life and thanking as follows in a place where he deals with the importance of life:     

"Just as life is the purest essence of the universe, distilled from of it, so it is a mighty mystery producing thanks, worship, praise, and love, the most important divine purposes in the universe and most important results of the world’s creation." (30. Lem'a, Beşinci Nükte)

He explains that the purpose of the creation of life and the creation of man are thanking as follows in the same place:

Just as the result of the universe is life, so are thanks and worship the result of life, and the cause and ultimate reason for the universe’s creation, and its desired result. Yes, the universe’s Ever-Living Self-Subsistent Maker certainly wants thanks from living creatures in return for His making Himself known and loved through so many sorts of bounties, and He wants their praise and laudation in return for His precious arts, and for His creatures to respond with worship and obedience to His dominical commands. In accordance with this mystery of dominicality, it is because thanks and worship are the most important purpose of every sort of life and therefore of the whole universe that the Qur’an of Miraculous Exposition urges thanks and worship with fervour, intensity, and sweetness. "It states repeatedly that worship is for God alone, thanks is due only to Him, and praise is particular to Him." (30. Lem'a)

2. The Evidence of the Divine Names

Nursi imagines divine names and attributes as sources of light that explore the universe and ensure the understanding of the reality and nature of things. Therefore, he explains many issues and provides evidence for them acting upon divine names. In addition, he looks at the issues that he has explained from different viewpoints also from the viewpoint of divine names; and he attributes everything to Allah’s knowledge and oneness. At this point, he deals with the relationship between thanking and divine names in order to explain and prove that the most important purpose of the universe is thanking. In the second part of the Shukr Booklet, he states that ar-Rahman (the Compassionate), which is the greatest name of God Almighty after the name Allah, also means ar-Razzaq (the Sustainer) and he even states that its clearest meaning is ar-Razzaq, dealing with the relationship between sustenance and the Sustainer. He states that there is “a pure belief and a sincere oneness” in thanking since thanking shows the name ar-Rahman, who gives sustenance. For, a person who eats an apple and shows his thanking by saying "Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah)" believes, buy uttering that word, that this apple is a gift of ar-Rahman directly and an example of His treasures of mercy; thus, he attributes everything, whether particular or general, to Him and knows that everything is a result of His mercy (28. Mektub).

In another place, he explains the relationship between thanking and the names ar-Rahman (the Compassionate) and ar-Rahim (the Merciful) due to their close relationship with sustenance as follows: “The names of Merciful and Compassionate appear as a light so vast it embraces the whole universe and satisfies all the eternal needs of all spirits, and so luminous and powerful it secures a person against all his innumerable enemies. The most important means I have found for attaining to these names are ‘poverty and thanks, impotence and compassion’.” (8. Mektub)

Nursi emphasizes that the giver of the boons demands thanking by saying "the boons and bounties in the universe are the reason for praising and thanking Allah" (15. Şuâ) in several places. He attracts our attention to the manifestations of Allah’s names in the universe and emphasizes that knowing Him and His oneness in the absolute unity depends on knowing His names and attributes. Recognizing the divine names leads to understanding the universe and discovering the realities in the realm of beings. Accepting the existence of boons in the universe shows a being that gives boons. Then, he seeks the answer to the question, "What does this Being, who gives boons, want?":

"A price is required for the foods a tray-bearer brings from the royal kitchen. But to look on those priceless bounties as valueless while tipping the tray-bearer, and not to recognize the one who bestowed them is the greatest foolishness. God Almighty has spread innumerable sorts of bounties over the face of the earth for mankind, in return for which He wishes thanks, as the price of those bounties. The apparent causes and holders of the bounties resemble tray-bearers. We pay a certain price to them and are indebted to them, and even though they do not merit it are over-respectful and grateful to them. Whereas the True Bestower of Bounties is infinitely more deserving of thanks than those causes which are merely the means of the bounty." (29. Mektub; 1. Söz)

Using deduction based on opening the window to the art of the Owner of the art or rather showing this window, which is always open, Nursi mentions examples related to sustenance a lot in those deductions. For, those examples are repeated any moment and can be understood by anyone without needing a deep meditation: 

"Yes, we see with our eyes and understand clearly with our minds that this city of the universe, quarter of the earth, and barracks of men and animals is governed, supervised, and maintained by an All-Compassionate Provider, a Munificent Provider of Bounties. For in order to have His bounties praised and thanked for, He makes the earth into a merchant ship and railway train bringing provender, and the spring into a wagon filled with a hundred thousand sorts of foods and packets of conserves called breasts, conveying them to the needy living creatures whose rations have been exhausted at the end of winter. Anyone with an iota of intelligence would agree that this was the work of an All-Compassionate Provider. While one who does not affirm it and deviates into denial is a foolish, harmful animal since he is then obliged to deny all the regular bounties and specific foods on the face of the earth, which are the cause of praise and thanks." (15. Şuâ).

3. The Evidence of Man’s Own Self

Badiuzzaman said Nursi analyzes man in the last part of the Shukr Booklet and deals with the manifestation in human spirit. In compliance with the understanding of free will, he describes in the issue of qadar (destiny), Nursi talks about the bad deeds caused by man’s will when it falls into ingratitude due to unbelief and aberration. According to him, human soul is the source of all negative deeds. If man thinks that a boon that he eats is a grace of Allah and thanks Him, the boon he eats will become a luminous light and an otherworldly fruit of Paradise. The thought that a boon is a gift of the mercy of God Almighty gives man a constant spiritual pleasure. When he does not thank, all of the perfect boons that he eats fall to the level of feces thrown away from the body. What is left is only the temporary pleasures taken while eating.  That is probably what Nursi means with the following statement: "Sustenance is indeed in a form worthy of love, and this form is to be seen through thanks."

Along with explaining the issues by giving examples from the book of the universe, Nursi provides evidence for them based on man. He emphasizes that man should look at himself and meditate on himself:

"Consider your own self, your stomach, and your senses! How many things and bounties they need! See how many foods and delights they want for the price of praise and thanks, then compare all living creatures with yourself." (15. Şuâ)

In another place, he writes about the need felt by the spiritual faculties man has for the feeling of thanking as follows:

"God Almighty, in order to display His infinite power and unlimited mercy, has made inherent in man infinite impotence and unlimited want. Further, in order to display the endless embroideries of His names, He has created man like a machine capable of receiving unlimited varieties of pain, as well as infinite varieties of pleasure." (2. Lem'a)

Man, who was created like a machine, has hundreds of different tools whose pains, pleasures, duties and rewards are different. Issues like health, welfare and taking pleasure lead man to thanking. Thus, the organs and senses man has will be kept busy with their real duties. Thus, "man becomes like a factory of thanking."

Everybody has a feeling of worshipping toward boons and the one who gives boons. However, man does not perceive or feel those boons that pour on him like the fish living in the sea not knowing the sea until he is warned and directed. What is more, he can attribute them to the simple causes around him. Praise and thanking show that the boons are bestowed and the one that gives the boons are known. Man sees the favor of the mercy of Allah, who is the real Bestower and the manifestation of His compassion in His continuing to bestow boons. This thought gives man one thousand times more (spiritual) pleasures than the pleasures the boon gives. (20. Mektub) Therefore, man should understand that all of the beauties and virtues he has are boons bestowed on him by Allah and he should thank instead of boasting; he should praise Allah instead of boasting. (29. Mektub)

In order to reach a conclusion, Nursi writes about the superior characteristics of man first at the end of the Shukr Booklet:

"Among animate species, man is the most needy for all the varieties of sustenance. Almighty God created man as a comprehensive mirror to all His names; as a miracle of power with the capacity to weigh up and recognize the contents of all His treasuries of mercy; and as His vicegerent on earth possessing the faculties to draw to the scales and evaluate all the subtleties of His names’ manifestations."

Then, he states that God Almighty gave man endless needs and made him need all kinds of material and spiritual sustenance. He reaches the following conclusion and ends the issue of thanking: What will elevate man, who has so comprehensive characteristics and whose needs are endless, to the best of the molds is thanking.

Conclusion

When the small book booklet related to shukr (thanking) included in the 28th Letter written by Badiuzzaman Said Nursi as the Fifth Matter is studied, it will be seen that the issue of thanking is dealt with in perfect wholeness. The issue of thanking is presented with all of its aspects without leaving anything outside. First, the universal realities are mentioned; then examples and evidences are given. In terms of both the style and the depth of the determinations as well as the scope, “the beginning and the end are combined in the same text”. For, Nursi provides evidence for the concepts he analyzes and the issues he deals with by taking into consideration the materialistic approaches of exact sciences and the hypotheses of philosophy and without leaving any logical gaps. Therefore, he tries to analyze every concept that he deals with in a wholeness that shows the final reality of that concept. For this reason, every booklet allocated for a certain issue should be regarded as an independent work and its content should be analyzed accordingly.

Nursi does not find it enough to explain the results and manifestations of the concepts he deals with; he also makes analyses showing their real nature. He bases his analyses on the axis of the universe, the manifestations of divine names and man. He enriches his deep knowledge on the universe and human psychology with his exact observations and experiences; he combines them with his unique knowledge, which he has obtained with full surrendering to Allah and by meditating on the names of God Almighty all the time, and opens ways leading to oneness. Therefore, his explanations affect people of all levels deeply, producing a wholeness, vitality and feeling of perfection.

Badiuzzaman said Nursi regards thanking as the purpose of man’s creation and the essence of worshipping. Since thanking includes the meaning of worshipping, he explains this concept with mental evidences too. The writers who wrote about thanking before dealt with the evidences of thanking in the Quran and the Sunnah and found it enough to study the manifestations of thanking in general. They did not try to prove the concept thanking based on mental evidences. For, according to them, thanking is a feeling and perception belonging to man like patience, sincerity and taqwa. From this viewpoint, thanking is an ethical concept. It is not necessary to prove it with mental evidences like the other ethical concepts and norms. For, ethical norms take their power of sanction from the religion or society. It is enough for the followers of a religion if the religion orders something.

Nursi explains with mental evidences the issues like qadar, the existence of angels and life in the hereafter, which are included within the scope of the science of kalam but which the previous kalam scholars did not try to prove with mental evidences very much and which they regarded as issues of creed based on verses and hadiths.   Providing mental evidences for the aforementioned issues might not be regarded as significant since they are principles of belief. However, it is an interesting example to explain an issue that is within the scope of sufism and ethics and whose actual and emotional aspects overweigh with mental evidences. Other similar concepts can be explained by acting upon this example; it can be shown that ethical principles based on the religion can be explained mentally and that they have concrete counterparts in the realm of beings. Thus, it will be shown that ethical concepts are not hollow commands as some people claim and the approaches like “social ethics” and “duty ethics” put forward with the intention of making ethics base on rational foundations will be answered.

References

- Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, Sözler; Mektubat; Lem'alar; Şualar
- Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır, Hak Dini Kur'ân Dili, Istanbul 1979.
- Imam Ghazzali, Ihyau Ulumid-Din, Beirut n.d., Vol: IV.

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