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In this short article, we cover an important concept in the Holy Qur’an and in Islam in general; The concept of “Shukr” vs “Kufr”. A concept so important that it is repeated over and over throughout the Glorious Qur’an. At first glance you might ask ”but isn’t Iman (i.e. belief or faith) the opposite of kufr (i.e. Disbelief)?”. Of course, it is. However, I would like to invite you to join me in this journey. Let us delve deeper into the meanings of Kufr and shukr, and how the meaning of Shukr as opposed to Kufr is approached in the holy book.

First let us talk about the meaning of the word Kufr in Arabic language, because we know that words are used in the Qur’an as Arabs used them during the revelation of Qur’an to the prophet (PBUH).

Shukr and Kufr of Communities

Alhadeed:20

In the ayah above, Allah (SwT) uses the word kuffaar to describe disbelievers. However, in Arabic the word “Kafar” is like the English word “cover”, and “kaafer” is the doer (like the word “coverer”); A person who covers something. That is why Arabs used the word “kuffaar” (i.e. plural of Kaafer) to mean people who cover or plant seeds in the ground (i.e. farmers).

By the same token, disbelievers hide the truth; They do know it is there but they still hide it. Hence, they are “deniers” of truth. By the way, the word “Kafr” is still widely used in several areas in the Arab world such as Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria as names of agricultural villages, kafar this or kafr that.

Back to the Ayah, Allah is using the word “kuffar” in a very elegant way. The ayah indirectly compares life to crops admired by “kuffaar” as they watch it grow and prosper. A beautiful double usage of the same word to mean something that brings the concept of futility to this lower life (al-Hayat ed-dunia or simply dunia) closer the mind of the reader.

Without breaking the meaning of the word “kuffaar” in whichever context the reader wishes to see it; the reader’s eyes suddenly open up to the fact that indeed disbelievers (kuffaar) react to dunia in the same way that farmers react to plant growth only to see it fade away and die much like life itself fades away and die.

Another example of usage of the concept of kufr is when Allah (SwT) shows us that kufr, as a means of covering truth, can also be manifested in denial of Allah’s bounty rather than denial of the existence of Allah:

Nahel:112

Here, Allah (SwT) is referring to Mecca who acknowledged the existence of Allah as the true creator of heavens and earth but attributed all the bliss they were in, among all the misery of the other Arab tribes, to themselves and their idols, hence denied that their good life as a bliss from Allah.

The other side of this formula is the word “Shukr”. To understand it let us go back to the root meaning of the word. As always this can potentially enhance our understanding of this ayah as well as many other Ayahs in the Holy Qur’an. In Arabic “Shukr” is the exact opposite of “Kufr”. If “Kufr” is covering something then “Shukr” is uncovering it, showing it, acknowledging it. Early Arabs say that a tree has “shakarat” (i.e. made shukr) if it blossomed or its branches grew out. They call a cloud “shakarat” if it filled up and turned from a thin to a full cloud.

Modern Arabs call a grateful person a shaaker. Someone who would say thank you in Arabic would say shukran, and by extension in Urdu “shukriya”.

But being grateful is not just saying thank you. Being Grateful starts from the heart, and the tongue is only a manifestation of the feeling that emanates from the heart. As such a believer is a “shaaker” as he/she acknowledges the truth thereby attributes all to the true creator Allah (SwT).

Shukr and Kufr of Individuals

Insaan: 2-3

The general meaning here is Allah saying that we created the human being from a mixed (from male and female?[1]) drop (in the womb), changing his state[2] thus blessing him with sight and hearing, instruments to guide him to the right path, and from that he either is in a state of acknowledgement (Shaaker) or a state of denial ”kafoor”. Notice here the use of “Shukr” as opposite of “Kufr”.

A LifeStyle

Ibrahim:7

Here again, Allah (SwT) using these two words (Kaafer and Shaaker, not Kaafer and Mou’min, i.e. believer) as two opposites lifestyles; Your Lord (rubb[3]) is calling about (that) bring about and glorify my bounty and I will indeed give you more of it. Deny it and suffer the consequences.

Shukr as a Precursor to Iman

Nisaa’:147

Allah (SwT) is telling us that he has no use for making us suffer. Only if we just have shukr and Iman. Notice shukr is sperate from Iman. Not only that; it precedes it in the Ayah in the same way it leads to it in reality. You cannot find Iman if you are not appreciative of Allah’s bliss. However, interestingly, in the second part of this ayah Allah says that he himself in all his glory is a Shaaker and “Aleem”; All knowing. How else would he be Shaaker without being All-knowing; All-knowing of every single deed we do. So, these two descriptions are coupled together as they both are necessary to establish Allah’s acknowledgment of his worshipers’ good deeds. And what would be the ultimate practical implication of his shukr? After all the shukr of the Creator is nothing like the shukr of a creature. His utmost shukr is rewarding us in this life with more bliss, top among them the bliss of Iman in him, ultimately leading us to attain a higher level of his content in Jennah in the afterlife.

Methodology: A How-To

 Baqarah :152

The word “Thikr” has double usage in Arabic: “to remember” i.e. with the heart[4] or “to mention” i.e. with the tongue. Here an intriguing combination emerges: If you do me thikr then I will do you thikr, and do me shukr and don’t do kufr. So “thikr” clearly is a predecessor to shukr, whether by heart of tongue.

Saba’:13a

Allah (SwT) is speaking to Dawood family PBUT (including his son Prophet Suleiman) to: work for me the Shukr. Here we are taught yet another method that leads to Shukr. Furthermore, the word used here is synonymous of “work” not “do”. Work as a conscious action denoting a clear purpose as to whom we are to offer our Shukr.

Saba’:13b

The ayah continues, indeed “few” of Allah worshipers are “Shakoor”; He calls them “few” in a positive way as they are the elite few who has reached the level of Excellence in Shukr. But what is the meaning of “Shakoor”? It is a medal of honor that only those elite few who have made “Shukr” a conscious way of life deserves to put on their chest. A description so prestigious that Allah see it fit to bestow onto himself; The “Shakoor”[5].

Best Raw Model

And I can’t find a better example of a shakoor than our beloved raw model Mohammad (PBUH). Remember the story of our mother Aisha when she sees her beloved husband and prophet Mohammad (PBUH) hard at prayers for long hours during the night until his feets swells up, she asks him why would he keep hard at prayers all throughout the night when Allah have forgiven him all of his sins. His reply was simple yet represents the ultimate lifestyle we all should strive for: “shouldn’t I be a “Shakoor” worshiper?”.

May Allah call us to be among those few who are blessed with this honorable title.
Amen.

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[1] My comments between parenthesis.

[2] Again, the Arabic word “nabtalih” has to be used in its original meaning; changing his state from that change of state comes the test of man. The concept of Ibtilaa’ would be the subject of another article in sha Allah.

[3] “Lord” doesn’t give justice to the word Rubb in Arabic: the benefactor, the grower in charge of spreading bounties, the master of destinies and lord among the many meanings of Rubb

[4] or in modern day terminology with the mind; not the brain though. the mind. Two different things.) and is mentioned here is an intriguing way; If you Allah says if you remember me for more make sure you watch this you tube video: https://youtu.be/BqHrpBPdtSI

[5]  “Shakoor” is one of Allah good 99 names.