Another year has passed, and another feast of Thanksgiving has come upon us. As families across America gather and eat turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all the fixings, we also (of course) reflect over those things for which we should be thankful. As an American Muslim, I am taking my reflection a little deeper this year.
God is beyond an all-encompassing description. There is no way I can fit God into a box and say with authority, "This is God." Having said that, in Islamic scripture, our Creator has sought to describe Himself so that the inherently imperfect human mind can try and comprehend the infinite magnificent qualities of God. Thus, the "99 Names of God" come to mind.
In Islamic tradition, God has 99 names or attributes that describe Him for the believer. These include the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Loving, the Shaper, the Maker, and many more. Most of these names are found in the Qur'an, and others are found in other Islamic literature. Here is a particularly beautiful example:
”This is the God, other than which there is no deity: Knower of the invisible and the evident, the Benevolent, the Merciful. This is the God, other than which there is no deity: the Sovereign, the Holy, Peace, the Giver of Safety, the Protector, the Almighty, the Omnipotent, the Overwhelming; glory to God, beyond any association they attribute. This is the God, the Originator, the Creator, the Shaper, to Whom refer the most beautiful names, celebrated by everything in the heavens and the earth, being the Almighty, the Perfectly Wise. (Qur’an, 59:22-24)”
These 99 names of God are often artistically rendered in beautiful calligraphy and hung on mosque walls and in homes across the Muslim world. They have been stamped on amulets of gold and silver to be worn around the necks of the Muslim faithful. They are also an integral part of Sufi Islam, like when Sufis sing and chant the names (called dhikr) in gatherings. They are part and parcel of Muslim spiritual life.
Yet, are these names only good for beauty and dhikr? I believe we should deeply reflect over the meanings of each of these names and attributes of God to try and understand what they mean to each of us. It is essential for us to get to know our Creator, with whom a strong, loving relationship is key to success in this world and the next.
Thus, in honor of Thanksgiving, I want to reflect over a particularly fascinating name for God: Al Shakur, or "The Appreciative." There are several verses of the Qur'an that speak of God as "appreciative:"
”... And if anyone willingly does what is good, God is appreciative and cognizant. (2:158)”
”Why would God punish you if you are grateful and faithful, since God is most appreciative, most cognizant? (4:147)”
”As God will pay them their due and more, from the bounty divine, for God is most forgiving, most appreciative. (35:30)”
”If you advance God a good loan, God will multiply it for you, and forgive you; for God is most appreciative, most clement. (64:17)”
Please consider how truly, truly amazing this name is: The Lord God--originator of the heavens and the earth, creator of all that exists, giver of life, the most powerful of all things, the king of all kings--is Al Shakur, or "The Appreciative."
But what is he appreciative of? And why? What have I done, as a servant of God, so that He would be appreciative of me? He gave me life, yet I (and most of us) return that debt by being sinful and disobedient. There is nothing that I could do for God, and yet He still is Al Shakur. He is appreciative when I "do what is good," or when I "advance God a good loan," or if I am "grateful and faithful." What an amazing, awesome God we have. He is giving his thanks to me, when he has given me the world, and I am so unappreciative to him. It is a tremendous manifestation of God's infinite love. He loves us so much that He is merciful towards us. On top of that, He is appreciative of the faith and service we give to Him, even though we constantly sin against Him.
So what are the implications of that fact? What should it mean to me that God is Al Shakur, or "The Appreciative?" It simply means that I should redouble my efforts to serve and please the Lord. I should redouble my efforts to try to avoid sinning against Him. That is the best way to show my gratitude to God for His being so loving, merciful, and appreciative. Since God is Al Shakur, then the least I could do is be grateful for this by trying my best to stay on His path of obedience and love.
"Every day should be Thanksgiving." I have heard some Muslims say this to me in an effort to persuade me that Muslims should not celebrate the day of Thanksgiving because it is a "non-Muslim" holiday. While I do not subscribe to this view (I believe Thanksgiving is for everyone because it is not specific to any faith), I do agree that every day should be a day of thanks. Each and every day, I must celebrate the beautiful fact that God is Al Shakur. And I do so by following the commands of God to the best of my ability.
And If I do that, God has assured me that He will shower his blessings upon me because He is "most appreciative, most clement." What an amazing, awesome God we have. We must give thanks for that.