Ustadh Usama Canon addressed a full hall at Singapore Expo Max Atria on Saturday, 26 November 2016. The lecture is titled “Shukr in Action: Prophetic Attitude of Gratitude” and he covered all the bases.
He began with a story about forgetting to thank Allah for having a croissant. He says that it’s easy to thank Allah for a croissant (small blessing) but we forget to do it anyway. If we apply this forgetfulness regarding this croissant to other aspects of our life, then it becomes worrisome.
Ustadh Usama also said, “Some of you may say, ‘There’s so much difficulty in the Muslim world and critical social issues happening all around us, why are we not talking about them?’”. He says that he believes that gratitude is at the heart of healing for the Muslim community and the human family.
He began with defining gratitude as your heart being filled with witnessing the blessing of Allah. To do so, you’ll need to be present and be consciously aware about the fact that you are a recipient of blessing. He emphasized that gratitude is not a detached and passive feeling and that it’s difficult to allow your heart to be filled with witnessing when it’s filled with things that inhibit it.
An example of something that inhibits one to feel that one is a recipient of blessings is entitlement. We feel that we deserve all the good that we enjoy, example the safety and stability of the land we live in. Ustadh Usama says, “It’s insane to feel entitled because we’re not entitled to even existing. Allah didn’t have to create us.” When we take out entitlement, we can start to be grateful.
In Verse 18 of Chapter 16:
“If you were to attempt to enumerate the blessings of Allah, you would not be able to do so.”
It’s often translated as ‘blessings’ but the word that Allah uses in Arabic is actually in singular form: nikmatullahi. This is important because the commentator says that if you pick any one blessing from among the blessings of Allah, you would not be able to enumerate the blessings in that one. For example, sight. The blessings that come out of sight is perception and depth, seeing colour, being able to follow a road, being able to read, see the face of your loved ones, watch a sunrise etc. If we are to count the blessings within one blessing, we wouldn’t be able to do so.
Another subtlety in this verse is that some scholars say “the blessing of Allah” refers to Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wasallam. If we tried to count number of blessings in our beloved Prophet, we would not be able to do so and that we should reflect on his blessed life.
Ustadh Usama then spoke about how showing gratitude to people is showing gratitude to Allah as He has chosen them as the means for a blessing to reach us. He says it does not matter if we like the person, if they are religious, or even a Muslim, for us to show gratitude to them.
He then went on to speak about the way to show gratitude is to use a blessing for its intended purpose. For example, using your wealth not just for your family and to live a comfortable life but to think of the community and its future. He also said that as Singaporeans, living in a safe and stable society, we have a level of privilege that many people don’t have and we should therefore use our privilege to raise awareness for those who don’t enjoy similar privileges.
He ended his talk by asking the audience to go home that night and listing down all the blessings that Allah has given them, even the ugly things in life. Ustadh asked, “Could it be that what you perceive as an affliction is actually a blessing?” At the end of this exercise, we would feel some shyness in front of Allah and feeling “I don’t deserve any of this.”
Question & Answer
The first question from the crowd was “Are all things good?” in the context of needing to be grateful for everything, the good and the bad that happens to us. Ustadh Usama said that for the believer, all things are good as the narration from Prophet Muhammad: “Wondrous is the affair of the believer as there is good for him in every matter, and this is not true for anyone but the believer. If he is pleased, then he thanks Allah and there is good for him. If he is harmed, then he shows patience and there is good for him.”
He also said that in the Qur’an, we see that the etiquette of the Prophets is that they don’t attribute anything bad to Allah. Even though Sayyidina Ayyub was afflicted with illness, he said “I am ill” and not “You gave me illness”.
One of the wisdoms of Allah giving the most beloved of the Prophets difficulties is to show that it is not indicative that Allah is mad at you or want to punish you. But that this is the realm of dunya. Our primary concern should be what is pleasing to Allah and be in accordance to the Prophet’s actions. Persevere even in difficult times. There’s a wisdom in it. Try to submit to the decree of Allah.
Someone else asked, “How do we affirm and inspire faith in this nihilistic age?”
Ustadh Usama replied that in a study done, more than 30% of college students in the US think that life is just an existential hell. For a believer, the world of faith is a world of meaning. We should attempt to see meaning in everything. “What does this mean?” – we should ask this question in every situation. Concerning the election of Donald Trump, yes we may worry and do the necessary as Muslims in America to protect ourselves but there’s a meaning to it too. Allah raises and debases who He wishes.
Affirm meaning in things and you’ll increase in faith. Corporate boardroom, the mosque, the ocean are all places for you to increase in faith. The world is meaning set up in imagery.