Would you please explain the hadiths related to thanking people for a favor they have done?

Details of the Question
Would you please explain the hadiths related to thanking people for a favor they have done?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

In a sense, thanking is a way of telling someone who has done us a favor that we are aware of the favor, and expressing our pleasure. In our language, we express thankfulness to favors that are done by humans with the word “tashakkur” and we use the word “shukr” for Allah, just like “hamd”. 

Our religion appreciates not only giving thanks to Allah because of boons He endows upon us but also demands us to thank people for their favors and kindness. Just like “hamd” is a requirement of being a slave (to Allah), so too is thanking (tashakkur) a requirement of being a human. The religion of Islam orders people to praise (hamd) to Allah and also to give thanks to (tashakkur) to people who do us favors. 

Usama Ibnu Zaid reports: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: 

“Whoever says “Jazakallahu khayran (May Allah give you a good reward)” to anyone who has done him a favor, he has thanked in the best way.” [Tirmidhi, Birr 86, (2036).] 

Thana means praise. However, we show our feeling of gratefulness for a favor done to us by thanking. In fact, responding to a favor by doing a favor in return is essential. Notwithstanding, it is impossible to respond to each favor with a favor of the same kind for humankind is impotent to do so. In this sense, we need to express our gratefulness verbally. Some people have said: “If your arm is too short to give a reward, keep your tongue long enough to thank”.  

In the hadith in question, it is stated that the best verbal response to a favor would be saying “Jazakallahu khayran” which means “The favor you have done is so precious to me that I am unable to give the reward for it by myself; only Allah can give it. Both in the worldly life and otherworldly life, He substitutes me; may He reward you.” 

Hazrat Jabir reports: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: 

“Whoever receives a favor should respond to it right away if he can find him (who has done the favor). If he cannot, he should praise him (who has done the favor). Actually, by praising him, he thanks him. Whoever does not respond to a favor is ungrateful.” 

In a narration by Tirmidhi, there is an extra statement which the Prophet says: “… Whoever adorns himself with what has not been given to him is as though he has worn two dresses made of lies.” (Tirmidhi,Birr 86, (2035); Abu Dawud, Adab 12 (4813, 4814).) 

In this hadith, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) states that it is essential to respond to a favor with another favor of the same kind. Actually, the original word which we translate as “favor” is “ataa” which means donation. It is also spelled as “atiyya” in our language. If it is impossible to respond to a favor with a favor right away, that person should be praised done. That is to say, we must say something that expresses our pleasure and gratefulness and that pleases the one who has done the favor. This is done by thanking that person or praying for him. A hadith says: “One who praises has thanked.” 

Katm” means to keep silent. Here, it means one who does not tell that he was done a favor. That is to say, “One who neither responds to favor materially nor praises, nor responds actually or verbally is ungrateful.” In the original text of the hadith the word “kafara” is used instead of the word meaning ungrateful, which could also be translated as “unbeliever.” In our language, we refer to overlooking a favor as “ungratefulness” or “denier of the boons.” 

As for the extra statement in the narration by Tirmidhi, those who are adorned with what has not been given to them are likened to those who wear two dresses made of lies. What does it mean? 

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said it to a woman. The woman in question comes to the Messenger of Allah and asks: 

“O the Messenger of Allah. I have got a fellow wife. If I pretend that my husband gave something to me, is it regarded a sin?” 

The Messenger of Allah defines this behavior as a “double lie” with the answer above. The first lie here is to say “My husband gave it to me.” The second lie is to imply that “My husband loves me more than the fellow wife.” 

Hattabi records the following explanation: “Once upon a time, a man used to wear a suit that was worn by elite people in order to show himself to people as a good and reverend man. In this way, he wanted to earn people’s trust because elite people would not tell lies. When people saw him in that dress, they trusted his words and believed in his lies. Since the man managed to look like trustful people with that dress and therefore the dress was the reason of his lies, people called that dress “thawbayu zur” (dress of two lies).” 

In this sense, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) likened fake behavior which is based on lies for show-off to wearing “a dress of lies”, by making use of an idiom commonly used by people. 

In a narration by Abu Said, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “One who does not thank people does not give thanks to Allah, either.” (Tirmidhi, Birr 35, 1955; Abu Dawud, Adab 12 4811). 

There cannot be any other statement more eloquent than this to indicate the importance of thanking people according to Islam. Actually, here, thanking people is regarded as important as giving thanks to Allah. 

Qadi Iyad explains the hadith in two aspects: 

1- The reason of conclusion made by the Messenger of Allah is as follows: Humans can give thanks to Allah by obeying Him and following His orders strictly. As one of Allah’s orders is to thank people who are a means of delivering Allah’s boons to humans, one who disobeys this order is considered not to have paid his debt of giving thanks to Allah for the boons endowed upon him. 

2- One who is ungrateful to favors of people in his nature and does not value thanking grows the habit of not giving thanks to Allah for the boons He endows upon us and denies them. In this sense, Allah the Glorious will not accept “shukr” (giving thanks to Allah) on its own, which is closely related to tashakkur (thanking people). 

Hazrat Anas reports: When immigrants arrived in Madina and saw how Ansar (people of Madina) helped them, they said: 

“O Messenger of Allah! We have never seen any other people like those of Madina, amongst whom we are now, who give so abundantly from their properties that are a lot and who help so beautifully with their properties that are little! They have helped with our works; they have helped us put our lives in order. We are afraid that they will take away all our thawabs (which we have earned by migrating and worshipping)!” 

The Messenger of Allah answered: 

“- No! They will earn thawabs because of your prayers (for them) and your thanks to them.” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah 45i (2489); Abu Dawud, Adab 12, (4812).) 

1- In another narration, the hadith is as follows: “When the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) immigrated to Madina, immigrants (who immigrated there before) came to him and said…” 

2- An important and remarkable matter here is that how pleased were Immigrants with Ansar’s (people of Madina) help. It is stated that they were helped by both rich ones and poor ones. Ansar is famous for providing shelter, date trees and fields. All of them gave half of their properties to their immigrant brothers and sisters. Agricultural jobs were done together and harvest and other products were shared. As the brotherhood that emerged between them was a result of faith, so as to please Allah, it was not a verbal but real brotherhood. When the practice is considered, we could say it was a brotherhood that was even stronger than blood brotherhood. And when the right of inheritance was also involved, it became religious, legal and hearty, as well. It is impossible for us to liken this brotherhood to any kind of brotherhood today, when we consider that it was so deep that they could divorce their second wives and make them marry their immigrant brothers. 

When the Immigrants received such a help that cannot be perceived by human mind and cannot be imagined, they began to worry whether all thawabs that we earned and will earn through immigrating, praying, fasting, enduring difficulties, jihad and other various worships for the sake of Allah would go to them? What if we are deprived of our thawabs? They voiced their worry to the Messenger of Allah. 

This resorting and the worry voiced in this resorting is the most obvious way of stating their pleasure with Ansar; it is impossible to think of a more obvious one. 

3- The matter related to thanking and the importance of thanking, the last part of the hadith, is the reality that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) told the immigrants to console them: 

“- Thawab, which will come out from your thanking to them and praying for them, will be enough for the great help of Ansar, who helped you. Thawab from your other good deeds and worship will be left to you.” 

With this answer, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) also states the importance of thanking and praying in return for favors received. 

The late Sharih Tibi interpreted this application and thawab in a different way. He says: “The Immigrants meant to say: “Ansar are already earning thawabs by putting themselves into trouble and difficulties in order to provide us with comfort and resources; how shall we respond to them? 

The Messenger of Allah disagreed with this view and said: 

“No, it is not as you think. As long as you keep thanking and praying for what they have done, you will cause them to be rewarded.” 

(see Ibrahim Canan, Translation and Interpretation of Kutub-u Sittah, issue of thanking)

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