Normally, my husband does the bedtime routine for our kids, but when he is traveling, I have to take over. The last time he was traveling, I did something different. After brushing teeth, kissing and hugging goodnight as each one wriggled excitedly in my arms, then tucking each one into place in bed, reading some Quran, I asked each child in turn, composing my face into grave, serious lines, “Ok, now I’m going to ask you a very important question. What do you want to thank Allah for today?”
The kids were so excited! Their faces lit up. I didn’t expect them to get so happy at being asked this question, but they did. Kids, even as young as 3 and 4, really love being asked questions about their opinions and thoughts.
I didn’t know what to expect in terms of their answers, since kids usually give funny answers to serious questions. The answers they gave astounded me and humbled me, and this question immediately became everyone’s favorite part of bedtime (mine too).
The answers they gave sometimes revolved around the funnest things we had done that day, such as:
“I want to thank Allah because we went to that new park today! With the see-saws!”
“I want to thank Allah for the chocolate cake after dinner today!” (“Mama, can we have some more cake tomorrow inshaAllah?” “We’ll see.”)
But I heard some answers from them I had not quite expected to hear, especially given their young ages. Nobody here is quite 7 years old yet.
There was, “I want to thank Allah for not making us orphans.” (We talk about orphans sometimes because of the mention of orphans in the short surahs of Juz’ `Amma)
And, “I want to thank Allah for Mama and Baba and how they are so beautiful!”
And “I want to thank Allah for giving us Khalid, for putting him in our family!” (Their baby brother)
And “I want to thank Allah for giving us a lot of good food to eat and a house to live in and making us safe!”
The most surprising one was my oldest son saying: “I want to thank Allah because I made dua this morning because I didn’t want to go to the doctor’s appointment today, because I don’t like shots. Then you said my appointment was canceled! I want to thank Allah for answering my dua!”
Alhamdulellah. I was very surprised to learn just how much very young kids pick up on and understand. They understand, instinctively, the importance of family. They can perceive, on some level, the things that their parents do for them. They understand, at least superficially for right now, that all the things we have were given to us by Allah, and that Allah hears and responds to dua.
My reasons for asking them this specific question every night are several. One is that we live in a very selfish, entitled world, where society increasingly encourages us to be more self-absorbed and self-centered (most notably with the rise of the selfie generation). We like to take credit for things and are smug and self-congratulatory, rarely giving credit where credit is truly due, namely to the Creator. I hope and pray that Allah steers all of our children away from that and makes them aware of others and their needs as opposed to having a laser focus on themselves alone.
Why? Why are many people completely oblivious and ungrateful? In a powerful passage from Surat Al-A`raf, Allah describes to us how the Shaitan promised to mislead and destroy us, all of the children of Adam. At the end of Shaitan’s promise, he says:
ثُمَّ لَآتِيَنَّهُم مِّن بَيْنِ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِمْ وَعَنْ أَيْمَانِهِمْ وَعَن شَمَائِلِهِمْ ۖ وَلَا تَجِدُ أَكْثَرَهُمْ شَاكِرِينَ
“And I will come at them from between their hands, and from behind them, and from their right and from their left, and you will not find most of them to be thankful.”
Another reason is to simply get them used to thanking Allah from a very young age. Last year, to get them used to saying “thank you” generally, I taught the kids the hadith:
لا يشكر الله من لا يشكر الناس
“He does not thank Allah, the one who does not thank people.”
And it occurred to me that I should also teach them to focus on the first half of this hadith: thanking Allah. What good is it ultimately to have polite, well-mannered kids who say “thank you” to people, if they don’t thank Allah Himself?
وقد روي في الأثر : أن داود – عليه السلام – قال : يا رب ، كيف أشكرك وشكري لك نعمة منك علي ؟ فقال الله تعالى : الآن شكرتني يا داود ، أي : حين اعترفت بالتقصير عن أداء شكر النعم
It has been narrated in the athar, (tradition) that prophet Dawud, `alayhi al-salam, said, “O Lord, how do I thank You, when my thanking You is itself a blessing from You on me?”
Allah, the Exalted, said, “Now you have thanked Me, O Dawud, meaning when you have acknowledged the deficiency in fully expressing thanks for blessings.”
The third reason I have in mind is to teach them gratitude and positive thinking from a young age. Psychologists tell us that whatever path the brain usually travels along in our everyday thoughts, that will become the ingrained path for our thoughts to follow. That will become our default mode, our entrenched thought patterns. Some people are stuck in incessantly negative thoughts because that is the path that has become ingrained in their minds.
I hope to teach myself and my kids to do the opposite, namely to have entrenched positive thoughts, to have positivity and gratitude as the default. I want them to get accustomed to scanning the day for everything positive in it, for all the blessings that Allah has bestowed upon them. Sometimes we do the exact opposite. We scan our day and our life for all the negatives, all the things that went wrong, all of the ways in which we feel we’ve been deprived. Allah describes this in Surat Al-‘Aadiyat when He says:
إن الإنسانَ لِرَبِّهِ لَكَنود
“No doubt, the human being is, toward His lord, kanud.”
What does this word mean? In the tafsir of Ibn Kathir, we find this definition:
لَوَّام لربه، يعدّ المصاءب و ينسى النعم
“A person who blames his lord, counting the calamities and forgetting the blessings.”
A chilling encapsulation of the exact attitudes of many today. Especially in our heedless, godless modern West, we see this: People who angrily blame God for everything wrong with them and everything bad that ever happened in their lives, literally counting the problems and utterly forgetting all the blessings. Lacking self-awareness, such people act out the attitude described in the verse. May Allah save us and our families from this thankless attitude.
In Surat Ibrahim, Allah tells us,
وَآتَاكُم مِّن كُلِّ مَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَإِن تَعُدُّوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَا ۗ إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَظَلُومٌ كَفَّارٌ
“And He has given you everything that you have asked for. And if you were to count the single blessing of Allah, you would not be able to enumerate it. No doubt, the human being is extremely unjust, constantly denying.”
Here, this verse mentions counting too, but instead of counting problems, it talks about counting bounties. Generally, we see a link between these two concepts: gratitude (shukr) and denial/disbelief (kufr). The Prophet Muhammad, sallaAllahu `alayhi wa sallam, said it explicitly in this hadith:
التَّحدُّثُ بنعمةِ اللهِ شُكرٌ، وتركُها كُفرٌ
“Talking about Allah’s blessings is shukr (gratitude), and leaving it is kufr (denial/ disbelief).”
The other place we see this clear link between these two opposites, shukr and kufr, is in the seventh verse in surat Ibrahim:
وإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ ۖ وَلَئِن كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِي لَشَدِيدٌ
“And when your lord promised: If you were to have gratitude, I will absolutely increase you; and if you were to deny/disbelieve, my punishment is severe.”
May Allah make us all, along with our children, people of shukr, of thankfulness and gratitude, and save us from being people of kufr. May Allah increase us in all that is good, as He has stated in His Divine Book.
Umm Khalid was born in Egypt but moved to the US at a young age. She completed memorization of the Quran early in life and then attended Harvard University for her undergraduate studies. She studied Anthropology with a regional focus on the Middle East and graduated with honors. She has served as campus chaplain at a women’s college in New England while teaching Quranic recitation.
Umm Khalid is the mother of four children whom she home schools using a curriculum she personally developed, focusing on Islamic tarbiya and inculcating strong convictions for young children.
For more Islamic parenting and homeschooling info, you can follow Umm Khalid on her Facebook page.
Umm Khalid also teaches online at Alasna Institute.