“Praise” is an easy word to be glib about, saying such platitudes as “we must be grateful for all we have,” but the Quran mentions al-hamd so frequently and with such significance that I was struck with a lesser-noticed attribute: sheer power. Past the invocation or Bismallah, the first word in the Quran is al-hamd, or “praise.” But in a sense it is also the last word, as this aya indicates…
From Surat Yunus 10:10:
دَعْوَاهُمْ فِيهَا سُبْحَانَكَ اللَّهُمَّ وَتَحِيَّتُهُمْ فِيهَا سَلَامٌ وَآخِرُ دَعْوَاهُمْ أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
Their prayer therein will be: Glory be to Thee, O Allah! and their greeting therein will be: Peace. And the conclusion of their prayer will be: Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds!
Here Allah is referring to the faithful people in Paradise after Judgment Day. Of course, it would make sense for them to have profound gratitude, after passing through the trials of this earthly life and been granted the ultimate joy by Allah’s mercy. But there is also an element of power here: this du’a or supplication is the final “seal” on their success and happiness. This du’a expresses completion and fulfillment, the “closing” of the circle reuniting us with our Creator.
Then should we sincerely want to achieve that success, that total fulfillment, we need more expressions of praise, more attentiveness and remembrance of Allah, and in praise is a positive sense of worship, a focus on the fact that Allah is profoundly good.
All salat begins with Al-Fatiha, which begins with thikr (the Bismallah) and then immediately gives us the verb “praise.” So essentially we begin salat with praise. Likewise, we need to begin our approach to Allah with an attitude of praise, especially when reading the Quran or fasting or worship, and also in how we consider Him in our minds. Praise immediately acknowledges that Allah is good, and there you have the seed of great optimism.
This optimism should also be a point of guidance. Some interpret Islam with a focus on the ultimate destruction of this earthly life, when and how will it happen, what are he signs, how close are we, and “are we there yet?” It is more consistent with the teachings of the Quran itself to focus not on the destruction of this earthly life except with the perspective of what is even larger than that, our final focus, what Allah plans in the big picture, al-Akhira, the Hereafter. And we can’t claim we weren’t told what these plans are. But we can find a way to Allah’s paradise, a joyous fulfillment beyond comprehension.
And getting the right attitude is really more important than racking up so-called “hassanat” or good “points” in what many seem to visualize as more of an accounting feat, to the point where some would “game the system” by reading Surat al-Ikhlass, one of the shortest Suras in the Quran, to supposedly get “credits” as if s/he read the entire Quran, letter for letter. Why would they even bother to read the rest of the Quran? All it is to them is a system of letters, each counting one point, which then is multiplied by ten, and all you have to do is mouth the words. Devoid of meaning. What a lie! Nothing could be further from the truth. But this needs another deeper discussion.
It’s as if people refuse to think about things and want everything to come to them ready-made, leaving the mind free to think about how to make more money, how to impress a girl, how to get high, how to ace a test, what to eat or wear, or anything, anything of this world.
Surat Al-Qiyama (The Resurrection) 75:21-2
كَلَّا بَلْ تُحِبُّونَ الْعَاجِلَةَ
Nay, but ye do love the fleeting Now
And neglect the Hereafter.
Even the end-time obsession is in some way concerning al-dunya, this “lower” earthly life. In this same Sura, Al-Qiyama 75:5-6:
بَلْ يُرِيدُ الْإِنسَانُ لِيَفْجُرَ أَمَامَهُ
But man would deny what is before him.
يَسْأَلُ أَيَّانَ يَوْمُ الْقِيَامَةِ
He asks: When will be this Day of Resurrection?
Instead of this, ask “how can I prepare for it?” The Quran is rich with answers to that question. And to imagine being in the presence of Allah, all radiance and power and the essence of Good, the fulfillment of the heart and soul, how can one not want to be there? The worst torture of hell IS simply separation from Allah, and all the rest are certainly just and fair consequences, but the agony of that separation is the worst of it, if you only knew. To prepare begins with desire: desire to be with Allah and to know what that means. Desire to pass the trial of this life and return to Him fully accepted in His abiding love that surpasses all ecstasy. This means to focus on the Hereafter not in the sense of when it will be or bringing it about by beheading so-called “non-believers,” or other bizarre acts of supposed (not!) jihad. In fact, killing non-Muslims for other than self-defense is a form of “shirk” or idolatry, an unforgivable sin, taking on oneself what is the prerogative and domain of Allah alone. No, instead focus on Al-Akhira in the sense of planning ahead in this life by exercising compassion, worship, charity, and purifying one’s heart and striving to know truth and act on it as much as possible.
One simple way to start is with praise. Just as a friend with depression recommended smiling and acting happy even when miserable, because it forces one to get out of one’s self-feeding cycle of misery…so we can praise Allah consistently until we begin to rise out of the cycle of ignoring and denying, which in Arabic relate to deliberate ignorance and Kufr. To end well is to be in a situation where praise comes naturally. To get there from here, practice praise now. The forces of evil really really hate this! Make them miserable in their defeat.