Praise is for God Alone

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

Their call therein will be, “Exalted are You, O God,” and their greeting therein will be, “Peace.” And the last of their call will be, “Praise to God, Lord of the worlds!” (Qur’an 10:10)

fatiha

Gratitude is important. But hamd, or praise, is a state that’s even higher than gratitude. Indeed, when God breathed life into Adam, upon him peace, Adam’s first words were:

 

“Alhamdulillah,” or Praise and Glory to Allah.

As a species, our first word was hamd.

Many scholars note that the name Allah combines all “The Beautiful Divine Names.” It is also referred to as the Greatest Name of our Lord.

Hence, when you are seeking refuge with God, you are also saying:

I seek refuge with Allah The Most Gracious.
I seek refuge with Allah The All Wise.
I seek refuge with Allah the All-Knowing.
I seek refuge with Allah The All Kind.
I seek refuge with Allah The Most Powerful.
I seek refuge with Allah The Bestower.
I seek refuge with Allah The All Just.
I seek refuge with Allah Ever Present.
I seek refuge with Allah The All Loving…

…and so on.

At times, it helps to reflect on that, expanding to all the names of God,  so that we realize who we exactly it is we’re seeking refuge with. When we seek refuge from someone evil, we don’t need just the toughest person on the block. What we seek is one who has power as well as mercy, compassion for our experiences, kindness and love, wisdom and knowledge of the dilemmas we struggle to explain to the powerful forces often committed to misunderstanding us.

When we stop and expand that name — Allah — to include all His Beautiful Names, it opens our heart to knowledge of the One with whom with we are seeking refuge.

Often, we live in fear of fate. It is natural to fear what might happen.  There are stories of very brave people doing all sorts of heroic things.  Yet  which of us,  if facing such a fate, could handle such a trial? Many of us might collapse or fall apart.

Praise in good times and bad

When I think about praise, I remember a moment in 1999, when I’d recently experienced my second miscarriage. Around the same time, I received news of a family member who was in the hospital with leukemia, about to have her first dose of chemotherapy. I had to remind myself to say Alhamdulillah. Then I read a passage about a conversation between the angels and God, wherein God asks them: What did my servant say after he was afflicted? The angels reply: Alhamdulillah. And so God tells them to reward this servant with a palace in heaven.

Later, I was visiting my relative in the hospital. I wasn’t sure how to comfort her, and I struggled with what to say. Then I was reminded of that passage, and I told her about it, and about how I’d praised God while recovering from my miscarriage. She looked at me and said, Alhamdulillah. She repeated it a few times, as it comforted her soul. Shortly afterwards, she went into a coma and passed away.

Her final words were Alhamdulillah, or Praise be to God.

Every time I open the Qur’an and come across verse 10 in the Yunus chapter, I shudder.

Their call therein will be, “Exalted are You, O God,” and their greeting therein will be, “Peace.” And the last of their call will be, “Praise to God, Lord of the worlds!” (Qur’an 10:10)

Alhamdulillah or Praise be to God is one of the greatest badges of the believer. We praise God no matter what state we find ourselves in, whether it be joy or sorrow, sickness or health, strong faith or doubt, wealth or poverty, married or single, with children or childless.

A commitment to work “Praise be to God” into the folds of our lives means putting God in control and trusting that God is able to do all things. This phrase enables and builds trust, particularly if we say it always, silently, and to ourselves as we watch the sun set or rise, or birds fly, or flowers bloom, or snow fall, or a loved one exit the world.

Saying “Praise be to God” brings us nearer to God. By saying it, we recognize Him not at our own station but His station, as Our Lord, Our Creator, and the One Who Loves Us More Than Anyone, including ourselves. We start to nurture feelings of love for Him and to bear witness when we are ungrateful.

Scholars have said: Praise is a settled matter, but for whom?

God said: for God.

When we praise other people, we become blind supporters of human beings who are not perfect. There’s nothing wrong with thanking people, and we should express our gratitude to others. But praise belongs to God, as perfection is His alone.

Praise as a way of learning

Yet we can’t praise God if we don’t know Him—so praising God also pushes us to know the one we’re praising.  When a person is celebrated in society, we all want to find out more about them. Just so, when we commit to praising God, we push ourselves in that mode: to know and see the beauty around us, the signs of His greatness. We start to want to know His words as they appear in the Qur’an and what they mean. As a fan follows a celebrity, we’ll start to seek the one we praise and to cultivate awe in our hearts.

Words of praise become a light in the heart, and what we seek seeks us. The heart is created to praise, so if we do not praise God, we’ll be praising someone or something else—whether we’re conscious of it or not.

We look to Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, for guidance on how to praise God.  His name “Muhammad” means “the most praising,” and there is no creature who praised God more than His messenger Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

We learn from Muhammad that praise is the means we have of approaching God the Almighty. Other names—“Ahmed,” “Muhammad,” and “Hamed,” are also derived from the word “praise.” Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, used to say:

“Glory be to You, we cannot count the praises for You, as You also praised yourself.”

It’s natural to praise

If we don’t praise God, many of us seek out other humans to praise, and praising other people can often lead to idolizing them. We often seek out people who have voice, influence, and power. If we’ve been traumatized and abused, we might not be able to tell that we’re praising a narcissist.

A major difference between praising a human and praising God is that God does not benefit with our praise of Him. The praise, instead, benefits us. If we praise God instead of a celebrity, then we’ll have the strength to stand up to the abuse of power, as we can see Rep. Ilhan Omar standing up to the abuse of power. Praising God protects us, by helping us not to be misled, used, and abused.

Thus we can thank Rep. Omar, but praise is for God alone. That way, if an individual travels, disappoints us, or dies, we still know who stood behind them and sent us the blessings that came through that individual.

The benefits of praising God alone

Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings said:
“How wonderful is the believer! All of his matters are good and this is not for anyone but the believer; if he had good fortune he gave thanks, then it was good for him; and if he had a misfortune he endured it with patience, so it was good for him.”

And if Muhammad was faced with something that he disliked, he would say: “Praise be to God for everything.”

Praise centers and grounds a person. It turns them into a mountain in the face of the winds of trials and tribulations we all face.

This doesn’t mean that if we’re in a bad or unpleasant situation we shouldn’t try to fix it. But praising God will help us avoid falling into despair or running to various forms of escapism. Praising God also helps protect us against narcissism and praising narcissists. In good times, we also praise God in order to humble our ego and strengthen our soul. This praise helps us to internally assign our blessings to God instead of to ourselves.  That way, when we see people deprived of a blessing—whether it be wealth or skills or health—we don’t look down on them, but rather thank God and seek to help them however we can.

This doesn’t mean we’ll never come into contact with narcissists. If, for instance, you have a narcissistic caregiver or close relative, it will leave an impact on you, and you’ll be left with a wound. Even if you witnessed a narcissist acting out against others, and you wished to protect those others, that would leave an impact on you. As a result, you will be drawn to narcissists, with the urge to either protect yourself from them or rescue others.  Or you might blame yourself, because, no matter what you do, you can never make such individuals happy. This might make us feel lost.

But let’s look at this same situation through the lens of faith.  We have a narcissistic person in our lives.  Alhamdulillah.  Instead of seeking to please that person, we seek to please God in relating with this person. We do what God commands with regards to boundaries, and, as we help this individual, we’re praising God. If the individual is pleased, praise God. If the individual is never pleased, and feels entitled, and yet we fulfilled our obligations toward them as God commanded, then praise God. As a result, there is no wound to attract future narcissists.

Hence, praising God, inoculates you from becoming a narcissist or being drawn to narcissists. The best protection against narcissism is praising God, continuously.

As human beings, when we heal our insecurities, which have prevented us from feeling safe and that we could look after ourselves, then we are not as chemically taken in by strength, charm, or voice hogs.

As we get older, we realize that everyone has a past and therefore baggage. Some people will be narcissists, some will be susceptible to narcissists. But facing trials with “Alhamdulillah” gives us inner strength and wisdom.  Instead of trying to please a never-will-be-pleased loved one or leader, we focus on pleasing and praising God.

Verily, in the remembrance of God,  our hearts find rest.  This praise of God lightens our pain or hurt, but even more, it strengthens us and builds up our integrity and character.

It also makes you attracted to decent, solid and responsible people who have compassion, empathy, and kindness — people who nurture us by being good role models. We see this in the story of Moses, upon him peace, as he left the Pharaoh and moved into the care of Prophet Shuaib, upon him peace.  Indeed, we see this in all the prophets’ lives.  So “Alhamdulillah” guides our steps and takes us on a path from pain and suffering to healing, faith, and nurturing the stronger person within. “Alhamdulillah” inoculates us against Satan and psychopaths.

Not just ‘lip service’

There is a false praise of God where we see ourselves as better than others, where we say — for instance about refugees — “there but for the grace of God go I,” and look down upon them.  This might appear as praise of God, but is instead seeking higher status. Satan was like that, and he is constantly trying to ensnare others to fall like he fell.

The son of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal narrates the following story about his father’s death:

Death approached the pious and scholarly Imam, and the people around him said: “Laa ilaaha illallaah” which translates to “there is no deity except Allah.” Imam Ahmad was in a semi-conscious state, and he said, “No…not yet, not yet.”

This worried people around him. They hadn’t expected such a pious person to be warding off death. When Imam Ahmad regained consciousness, his son asked him about why he’d said such a thing.

Imam Ahmad replied: “Satan came to me and said: ‘Ahmad, you’ve eluded me,’ meaning, I have lost the battle with you.”

To this, Imam Ahmad replied “No…not yet, not yet.”

Imam Ahmad meant that a person never wins the battle against Satan until they breathes their final breath upon faith.

A pious Muslim is always between fear and hope, and never feels completely saved, as this opens the door for delusion and arrogance, the door that caused Satan to fall from grace. Saying “Alhamdulillah” nurtures this faithful, spiritual state. It protects and inoculates one against oppressors and those who enable oppression.

Other “lip service” praise of God comes from religious extremists such as those who love President Trump and say God put Trump in power. This is true: God put Trump in power to test them and the sincerity of their faith. God also put Rep. Ilhan Omar and others in power. Why don’t they accept God’s decision there as well?

Yet while results are always with God, we shouldn’t fail to study for a test and then praise God when we get a bad grade. That’s not praising God, but rather evading hard work. That’s what we mean when we say that praising God isn’t about words on the tongue, but takes on a number of dimensions, including words. We can say:

“Praise be to God – for creating us.”
“Praise be to God – for our breath.”
“Praise be to God – for water.”
“Praise be to God – for food.”

…and so on.

When my mother had a stroke, she lost all the abilities we take for granted: the ability to breathe, to eat, to drink, and even to use the bathroom.  She needed aid or tubes for all these things. We had to teach her all over again her as one teaches a baby. This was an experience through which we learned gratitude for the ability to eat without the need of a feeding tube, to breathe without a breathing tube, to drink without an IV, to raise our hands, to walk, and more.

But this is different from gratitude. It’s a state of praise, through which we exalt God as Lord, regardless of whatever state we find ourselves in. It’s a state of beholding God and acknowledging His attributes. It’s not a feeling, and we should praise Him regardless how we feel.

When we praise God, it also helps us be patient while God unfolds His decree and help us understand His wisdom behind an event. While we are alive, our knowledge is limited, and praise helps to nurture the certainty of faith.

When we’re not seeking God, then we’re seeking to fulfil our desires or the desires of others. “Alhamdulillah,” on the other hand, grants us true freedom. Through it, we can see others as instruments in God’s hands who He uses to benefit us or test us. We were created for the purpose of worshiping God, so “Alhamdulillah” nurtures us to embrace our purpose.

A torch to light the way

In the chapter of the Qur’an called Al Fatiha or The Opening, we can read: “It is You and You alone Whom we worship and you alone we seek for help.”

It is You we worship and You we ask for help.
Guide us to the straight path –
The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray. (Qur’an 1:5-7)

Much as worshiping God protects us from narcissists and abusers, it also protects us from idolizing other people, from escapism, and from oppressing others. The chapter called Al Fatiha begins with “Alhamdulillah.” This phrase is our torch in the journey of life, and, as the chapter explains, it guides our steps. It allows us to turn to God for guidance during every trial, sorrow, and difficulty — and in the good times, too.

We don’t turn to ourselves, the way Satan did, when he worshiped God from a sense of egoism. Instead, we worship God the Almighty by asking help from God the Almighty. When we bow to Him, we announce our submission to Him, and in prostration we ask Him for help.

Just so, the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, said: “Every verse has its share of bowing and prostrating.”

We say: “Glory be to my Lord the Great,” which means that we submit to and acknowledge God. In prostration, we say: “Glory be to my Lord the Most High.”

When we prostrate before, we are seeking help and guidance to live out His commands. The bowing and prostration is also an acknowledgement of our human weakness as well as our need for His help and guidance.

“Allah wants to make clear to you [the lawful from the unlawful] and guide you to the [good] practices of those before you and to accept your repentance. And Allah is Knowing and Wise. Allah wants to accept your repentance, but those who follow [their] passions want you to digress [into] a great deviation. And Allah wants to lighten for you [your difficulties]; and mankind was created weak.” (4:26-28)

“Alhamdulillah” gave strength to the Prophet Joseph, upon him peace, to stand against the calls from all the women of the Kingdom. It gave him guidance, strength, and willpower so that he was elevated to a station of power over them when he was released.

When he was released, he did not attribute his release to anyone other than God.

We can see the subtle form of “Alhamdulillah” in this verse:

“And he raised his parents upon the throne, and they bowed to him in prostration. And he said, “O my father, this is the explanation of my vision of before. My Lord has made it reality. And He was certainly good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you [here] from Bedouin life after Satan had induced [estrangement] between me and my brothers. Indeed, my Lord is Subtle in what He wills. Indeed, it is He who is the Knowing, the Wise.” (Qur’an 12:100)

And so “Alhamdulillah” is the torch we need to keep us moving forward on the path of faith and guidance, from our first breath to our last, in hope we will receive the invitation from our Beautiful Lord:

(To the righteous soul will be said:) “O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction!  “Come back thou to thy Lord,- well pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him!  “Enter thou, then, among My devotees! “Yea, enter thou My Heaven!(Qur’an 89:27-30)

This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US.  She is a public speaker and writer and lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

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Posted on March 14, 2019, in Engage Minnesota, Fedwa Wazwaz and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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