Showing gratitude to Allah
Being thankful to Allah means not only expressing inner gratitude to Him for all sorts of favors granted, but to put those favors to use in a way that Allah approves.
Besides conveying gratitude by words and heart, it is important to express it by deeds. Using a particular blessing for the cause of Allah (for the purpose of earning His good pleasure) would fulfill this obligation. A person fails to give due thanks to Allah unless he uses his possessions, wealth, status, intelligence or health for the cause of Allah.
In fact, gratitude to Allah is an act of worship to which Allah repeatedly draws attention in the Qur'an, and believers pay meticulous attention to it. The following are injunctions related to gratitude:
Giving due thanks to Allah earns a person Allah's love and good pleasure, drawing one nearer to Him. Because a person does not attribute his ability to worldly causes, he knows deep inside that he owes everything to Allah alone and thus avoids ascribing any associates to Him. In this way, he attains spiritual benefits which are far better than any material gain and praises Allah for every blessing.
All favors in this world are a means by which Allah puts man to the test. In the Qur'an, Allah reveals this important fact:
He Who possessed knowledge of the Book said, 'I will bring it to you before your glance returns to you.' And when he (Prophet Solomon) saw it standing firmly in his presence, he said, 'This is part of my Lord's favor to test me to see if I will give thanks or show ingratitude. Whoever gives thanks only does so to his own gain. Whoever is ungrateful, my Lord is Rich Beyond Need, Generous.' (Surat an-Naml; 40)
It can be seen from the words of the Prophet Solomon (as) that the ability to give thanks to Allah is in itself a great favor granted by Him, for one cannot thank Allah unless He so wills, and gratitude is inspired by Him. The prayer regarding gratitude of the Prophet Solomon (as) is related thus in the Qur'an:
He [Solomon] smiled, laughing at its words, and said, 'My Lord, keep me thankful for the blessing You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and keep me acting rightly, pleasing You, and admit me, by Your mercy, among Your servants who are righteous.' (Surat an-Naml; 19)
Being thankful, like having faith and doing good deeds, takes place by Allah's leave.
A person of conscience recognizes that all the blessings by which he is surrounded would not exist and that he could never attain them unless Allah so willed it. His body, intelligence, wisdom, feeling, health, strength—in fact, all the favors he thinks he possesses on his own are actually blessings granted by Him.
Giving thanks to Allah is not merely saying, "Al-hamdulillah" at certain times, as when one has completed a task, eats a fine supper or survives an ordeal unhurt. Gratitude is a state one experiences deep in the heart because one can never account for all the favors he enjoys, even the obvious ones:
If you tried to number Allah's blessings, you could never count them. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surat an-Nahl; 18)
Heedless ingratitude is a serious trap devised by satan. Indeed, it is a main ambition of his to hinder man from giving thanks. In the Qur'an, Allah relates this plot of satan's:
As Allah makes clear in the Qur'an, satan's efforts revolve around this goal; keeping man from giving thanks to Allah. And his plan has indeed proven successful on many occasions:
... Allah shows favor to mankind but most of them are not thankful. (Surah Yunus; 60)
In the Qur'an, Allah reveals satan's expression of his explicit will to approach man from this direction and thus makes clear the importance of gratitude to Allah as an aspect of worship. No doubt, abandoning it is sinful in the Sight of Allah:
And when your Lord announced: 'If you are grateful, I will certainly give you increase, but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe.' (Surah Ibrahim; 7)
Asking Allah for forgiveness
In the Qur'an, Allah reveals:
If Allah were to punish people for their wrong actions, not a single creature would be left upon the earth, but He defers them till a predetermined time. When their specified time arrives, they cannot delay it for a single hour nor can they bring it forward. (Surat an-Nahl; 61)
If Allah were to punish people during this life for their wrong actions, no being, without exception, would be left upon the Earth. Obviously, believers are included in this. Therefore, no believer can see himself as sinless and without error. Knowingly or not, believers commit various sins throughout the course of their lives. The number of these sins or mistakes varies according to one's wisdom, consciousness and the profoundness of one's faith. No one can regard himself as sinless—for doing so is a serious mistake. We learn from the Qur'an that claiming to be without error was an attribute of Pharaoh's perverted character.
As the faith of a Muslim becomes firmer and he grows wiser, he begins to better recognize his sins and mistakes. Attaining a better awareness of his situation and a deeper fear of Allah leads him to a more serious effort to correct himself and seek forgiveness for the sins he committed intentionally or unintentionally. This is the practice of a conscientious Muslim. As a matter of fact, asking for forgiveness is an obligation for believers:
Ask your Lord for forgiveness and then repent to Him. He will let you enjoy a good life until a specified time, and will give His favor to all who merit it. But if you turn your backs, I fear for you the punishment of a Mighty Day. (Surah Hud; 3)
We may see that such obedience in asking Allah for forgiveness will be a means to His favors.
Throughout the Qur'an, there are references to prophets asking forgiveness for various reasons. Although they were protected from committing sin, they would still ask for forgiveness when faced with a test or when they merely remembered Allah's punishment. Allah considers asking for forgiveness a praiseworthy practice of believers:
And they would seek forgiveness before the dawn. (Surat adh-Dhariyat; 18)
As you can see, it is not essential to commit a mistake in order to ask for forgiveness from Allah. Asking for forgiveness is, in a way, expressing one's weakness and insignificance in the shadow of Allah's infinite might and recognizing the fact that it is impossible to avoid sins without His help. Being unaware of one's mistakes and sins—that is, a state of heedlessness and unconsciousness—prevents one from seeking forgiveness. As a consequence, one's heart hardens, and a person can ultimately become arrogant and deem himself perfect, thus attributing to himself a quality equal with Allah (Allah is surely beyond that).
Honoring trusts and contracts
What is meant by "trust" is not merely to keep something in one's safekeeping for a period of time. All obligations and duties are trusts. A person fails to honor his trust when he is careless in his duties.
A believer, as described in the Qur'an, is an honest, assured person who undertakes his responsibilities and does not pursue insignificant personal interests. That is why others can confidently rely on him to fulfill a responsibility or contract. In numerous verses, Allah praises this quality in Muslims:
One should not assume a trust he is not able to fulfill. That is because failure to honor a promise or betraying a trust are responsibilities for which a believer will have to account in the Hereafter:
... Fulfill your contracts. Contracts will be asked about... (Surat al-Isra'; 34)
You who believe! Do not betray Allah and His Messenger, and do not knowingly betray your trusts. (Surat al-Anfal; 27)
On the other hand, an important aspect deserves mention here: a Muslim must not avoid responsibility using the excuse of possible failure, laziness or similar reasons, since he is also accountable for the avoidance of good works he is able to perform.
Accepting responsibility does not always depend on one's own decisions. In situations where a commandment of Allah is involved, the Muslim has no choice. While working for the cause of Allah, duties and tasks are allocated according to the talents of each individual. Any attempt to reject such responsibilities would not be legitimate. With strict obedience, sincere intention and prayer, a Muslim can accomplish a given task to perfection.
Being steadfast during worldly occupations
Muslims must be careful not to become carried away by daily routines to the point of forgetting the main purpose of their life, which is to worship Allah. This means they do their best to comply meticulously with His commandments. Unless a believer strives to keep his faith sincere and improve his relationship with Allah, he can eventually lose his sensitivity to faith-related issues and fail to exercise wisdom.
For some, prosperity proves to be a test more difficult than hardship. In hard times, people find it easier to keep their minds occupied with the remembrance of Allah, since it is then that they feel the need for Allah in their hearts. But it is important to maintain this spiritual bond alive even after the crisis is over.
Anyone who has undergone difficulties and ordeals for the cause of Allah must keep up the remembrance of Him and his zeal based on faith and never forget his main purpose in life. Failing to remember Allah hardens one's heart, disables his consciousness and makes one unable to benefit from the lessons of life. Separated from Allah's will, he progresses along a path of no return. After having forgotten the Hereafter, his benumbed heart then turns its attention solely to the life of this world, and he finds immediate gratifications more attractive than making efforts for the cause of Allah. Allah tells His Messenger (saas) to warn against such a danger:
A Muslim must always remain alert against attachment to this world. A believer may sometimes fall into error and abandon a course of action that was pleasing to Allah; he may improperly give in to his ego and desire some worldly pleasures. Continuation of such acts may lead to disbelief and hypocrisy. The condition of the ones who lose their consciousness and prefer worldly earnings to Allah's Prophet (saas) is an example of such bad behavior:
But when they see a chance of trade or entertainment they scatter off to it and leave you standing there. Say: 'What is with Allah is better than trade or entertainment. Allah is the Best of Providers.' (Surat al-Jumu'a; 11)
Faithful believers who always fear Allah, the Day of Judgment and hell are not taken in by the deceptions of this world.
Not distracted by trade or commerce from the remembrance of Allah and the establishment of regular prayer and the payment of alms; fearing a day when all hearts and eyes will be in turmoil. (Surat al-Nur; 37)