In the Name of the Magnificent and Appreciative Precious Beloved
This article first appeared on Patheos.
Another year has passed, and another feast of Thanksgiving has come upon us. As families across our great nation gather together, eat turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, gravy, and the like, it is a natural time for us as Americans to reflect over those things for which we should be thankful. As an American Muslim, I am taking my reflection a little deeper this year, and I have been thinking about this for many days leading up to this week's national holiday. (During which I will likely be working . . . hmpf!)
God is beyond an all-encompassing description. There is no way I can fit the Lord God into a box and say for sure, "This is God." Having said that, in His infinite Mercy and Compassion for us, our Creator has sought to describe Himself in the scripture so that the inherently imperfect human mind can begin to comprehend what is truly an Awesome God. Thus, the "99 Names of God" come to mind.
In Islamic tradition, it is believed that God has 99 names, or attributes, that describe God for the believer. These include the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Loving, the Shaper, the Maker, and many more. Many of these names are found in the Quran, and others are found in the Prophetic 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" (59:22-24).
Muslims have placed these 99 names as artwork in beautiful frames hung in the houses of God and His servants. The 99 names of God are written in beautiful calligraphy on mosque walls across the Muslim world. They are stamped on amulets of gold and silver, worn around the necks of the Muslim faithful. They are sung in songs and chanted in Sufi gatherings. They are part and parcel of Muslim spiritual life.
But, is this all for which they are useful? Should there not be more to the 99 names of God than wearing them around your neck or even chanting them aloud in a group? I believe there should. I believe we should deeply reflect over the meanings of each of these names and attributes of God 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 Quran 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).
"And for anyone who brings about good, We will add goodness to it, for God is forgiving, appreciative" (42:23).
"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).
This is truly, truly amazing. 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."
Appreciative of what, however? What have I done, as a servant of God, so that He would be appreciative of me? He gave me life, but I return that debt by being sinful and disobedient. There is nothing that I could do for God; yet He still is al Shakur. He is appreciative when I "do what is good," or "advance God a good loan," or if I am "grateful and faithful." What an amazing, awesome God we have.
It is a tremendous manifestation of God's Infinite Love. He loves us so much that He is merciful toward us. On top of that, He is appreciative of the faith and service we give to Him, even though we constantly sin against Him. What an amazing, awesome God we have.
So, what are the implications of that fact? What should it mean to me that God is the Appreciative? It 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. It is the best way of my showing gratitude to God for His being so loving, merciful, and appreciative. If God is al Shakur, then the least I can do is be grateful for this by trying my best to stay on His path of obedience.
"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 Thanksgiving because it is a "non-Muslim" holiday. While I do not subscribe to this view, I do agree that every day should be Thanksgiving. Each and every day, I must celebrate the beautiful fact that God is al Shakur, or the Appreciative. And I do so by following the commands of God to the best of my ability. And, if I do that, God told me that He will shower his blessings upon me because He is "most appreciative, most clement."
What an amazing, awesome God we have.