The word Kafir, most frequently translated “disbeliever/ unbeliever,” also means “ungrateful” as specified here:
Quran Surat Al-Insan (The Human) 76:3
إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ إِمَّا شَاكِرًا وَإِمَّا كَفُورًا
Indeed, We guided him to the way, be he grateful or be he ungrateful.
The Arabic uses the word shakiran which exclusively means “thankful/ grateful” and juxtaposes it with kafura (derived from the same root as kafir and used the same way), thereby showing here the same word commonly understood as “disbelieving” clearly means “ungrateful.” This shows us that disbelief, more accurately translated “denial”, is at heart a lack of thankfulness. When we think of the original Arabic root word as kufr, which means “denial,” and comes from “to cover (up)” where you can hear the similarity between cover and kufr (like cof-er; Arabic has no “v” sound), then we can understand the relationship between ungratefulness and disbelief: both are forms of denial.
This meaning is so significant that it is considered the core attitude to have, the one that makes the most difference in our lives, without which there can be no worship, no faith, no meaning or purpose to life. Here Allah the Exalted Himself guided us to “the way,” which at the end of this surah is specified as “a way to your Lord” (76:29), leaving it up to our free will to accept your life and Allah’s guidance with an attitude of thankfulness — or assume an attitude of denial, which is associated with emptiness and arrogance.
Addressing this potential for arrogance, which is a choice and not a permanent state, the 1st verse of this surah (76:1) begins with a question: “Wasn’t there a time when the human wasn’t a thing (at all) even mentioned?” This recalls that Allah creates any thing with a word (Be!), so we were created by being “mentioned” and then became something that exists, alive. He gave us faculties and life and all that we have, as mentioned in the 2nd verse of this surah, to test us. And what is the test? To see if we will be grateful and have an attitude of looking for what is good, or live in denial, with an attitude of demanding, doubting any good thing, and finding fault, which leads to conceit: “if that’s all there is,” deciding life has no purpose but to serve our own short-sighted desires.
This surah “The Human” is dominated by some of the most beautiful descriptions of paradise in the Quran, showing us this life is a difficult test, but our fulfillment comes in being appreciative of our Creator, and the true and lasting bliss of our gratitude and patience being rewarded as only the Almighty can reward, the fulfillment of being accepted by Allah who guides us to become the appreciative love-filled humans we were created to be, forever.
This article gives some recommendations as to get how to express one’s gratitude, and also expresses its importance:
Gratitude is the heart of worship. To master worship, we must master being thankful. Being thankful means being happy with what we have been given, starting with the greatest gift of faith. Gratefulness is not a particular act of worship, but the feeling of gratefulness is a prerequisite for any meaningful worship. Believer are by definition pleased with what Allah has given them, and this is an attitude that extends to all of life. Being an optimistic, easygoing, forgiving person to others is part of being a grateful servant. The Prophet ﷺ left no doubt, “He who does not thank people does not thank Allah.”
Further, this reflects practically in one’s life:
Oddly, it is people who have little who give most thanks, and feel the happiest vis-à-vis their Lord, whereas those loaded with wealth and luxuries have their eyes set on more, ever resentful of the comparatively little that afflicts them. Wealth is a blessing if it is seen as God’s test and shared and kept outside of the heart, but a curse if it enters the heart and takes the space that properly belongs only to the love of the Creator.
“And if you should count the bounties of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful” (14:34).
As humans, this whole life is a chance to become grateful and thus fulfill our purpose as human beings. Ramadan is a wonderful time to renew that in ourselves.