In order to understand what exactly is Shokr Al Ne’mat (thankfulness of bounty), it important for us to understand what is it's opposite; that is, Kufran Al Ne’mat (denial of bounties) which is one of the topics addressed in the Holy Quran. By understanding what exactly Kufran Al Ne’mat entails, we can avoid falling into that sin and refrain from being among those who exhibit that negative behavior. By definition, the word “Kufran” which is derived from the Arabic root word “Kufr” means disbelief, infidelity, or blasphemy. In simple words, to practice Kufr is to deny or reject and the common example used is when we refer to the disbelievers and rejecters of a religion as “Kufaar” (nonbelievers).
So what exactly does it mean to say “”Kufran Al Ne’mat”? In the words of a prominent and unique scholar of his time, Allamah Rasheed Turabi, “rejecting the divine favors or bounties, not recognizing Allah's favors as favors, changing the basic idea of a Ne’mat, wasting a bounty, and diverting the sense and the meaning of a blessing, all fall under “Kufran Al Ne’mat”.
He further explains that a bounty is a favor in which the concept of a right is absent, so if a recipient claims that he had the right to a particular blessing and if he considers that favor as his due, he instantly alters the nature of that Ne’mat and exchanges the bounty with thanklessness by denying it. Allah (SWT) opens our eyes to this category of individuals
"ألم ترى إلى الذين بدّلوا نعمة الله كفراً وأحلوا قومهم دار البوار. جهنم يصلونها وبِئس القرار."
Have you not seen those who gave away the blessings of Allah in exchange for thanklessness and led their people down to the Abode of Loss (Even to) Hell? They are exposed thereto. A hapless end! [14:28]
The key word in this verse is تبديل / Tabdeel which means to replace, alter, or change one thing with another. In the context of this verse, Allah (SWT) is telling us that there are individuals who will replace the bounty of Allah (SWT) - a particular bounty and not just any bounty - with disbelief, rejection, and neglect. Not only that, but a consequence of their action is leading the people astray.
Now, what type of blessing is this which if denied or replaced will lead to misguidance? What type of bounty is that which will lead to eternal damnation in Hell-Fire? Could it be the bounty of eating, drinking, or possession of wealth? Of course not! Logic and common sense tells us that it could not be a materialistic bounty and that Allah (SWT) must be referring to a bounty that is much greater in His eyes such that He (SWT) is mentioning it in the singular form!
If we research authentic traditions, we will find that it is narrated by Ali ibn Ibrahim in his commentary of Quran that Imam Al Sadiq (AS) said in reference to this verse, “By Allah, we are Ne’matullah / the bounty of Allah which He (SWT) gave this blessing to His servants. Through us, the victorious gain their victory.” These words of the 6th Imam is also narrated by the tongue of the 1st Imam as relayed by one of his close companions Asbagh ibn Nubata which is cited in both Tafseer Mizan and Ayaashi. So if we come to realize that the purified progeny of the Holy Prophet (SA) are essentially the bounty which has been replaced, it leads us to question how and why they were replaced.
Sure enough, if we reminisce the verses we discussed earlier in our discourse, we will remember the event of Ghadeer Khum in which the Prophet (SA) appointed his cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor and Wali /guardian and took the pledge of allegiance from all the Muslims present. However, history confirms to us that many turned back on their oath allegiance to Imam Ali (SA), disbelieved in it, and replaced him with another Caliph who was chosen by a group of them. Even though many companions knew the right of Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS) for the Caliphate which the Prophet (SA) publicly announced on the day of Ghadeer as the divine will and selection, they denied him his right after the Prophet's demise. So Allah (SWT) says about them,
"يعرفون نعمة الله ثم يُنكرونها وأكثرهم الكافرون."
They fully recognize GOD's blessings, then deny them; the majority of them are disbelievers. [16:83]
It may be understandable if a person makes a change or replacement from something that is bad to something better, or something good to something that is best. However, this situation begs the mind to question why this change and replacement from what is definitely good by divine approval to what is less good, if not worse! Hence, Allah (SWT) expresses this wonder when He (SWT) exclaims [16:71] "أفبنعمة الله يجحدون" Will they still deny the favour of ALLAH and in the following verse He (SWT) questions out of astonishment and wonder
"أفبالباطل يُؤمنون وبمنعمة الله يكفرون."
Should they believe in falsehood, and deny GOD's blessings! [16:72]
As indicated in this verse, one of the signs of Kufran Al Ne’mat (denial of favors) is to believe in batil (falsehood) and support it. Since we've concluded that Imam Ali (AS) is the one meant by Ne’matullah (the bounty of Allah), we can fairly conclude based on this verse that those who deny Ali (AS) his rights and disbelieve in him are categorized as “those who believe in batil/falsehood”.
Now if we search and review our authentic history, we can easily pinpoint those individuals who represent “batil/falsehood” and had supporters who followed them and preferred them over the bounty of Allah, who is Imam Ali (AS).
If we reminisce for a moment on the meaning of Shokr Al Ne’mat (thankfulness of a bounty) and correlate it with the concept of Kufran Al Ne’mat (denial of a bounty), we will realize based on the verses just analyzed that Kufran Al Ne’mat does not only mean lack of gratitude or neglect to a bounty. In fact, one of the most severe types of Kufran Al Ne’mat is to change that bounty altogether and replace it with one that does not deserve that position. Now what could be the reason or motive for this state of Kufran which results in replacement of the original bounty? Allah (SWT) sheds some light to us in the Quran:
"أم يحسدون الناس على ما أتاهم من فضله."
Are they jealous of the people because of that which Allah has bestowed on them of His Bounty? [4:54]
One of the undesirable evil attributes is jealousy and envy which is detrimental to both the physical and mental health to the extent that Ameer Al-Mu’mineen (AS) said: “One who does not suppress jealousy makes his body his own grave.” Jealousy is when a man desires that a blessing be removed from another person though he knows that this blessing is well-deserved by the recipient, while envy means to desire the blessing possessed by others and make effort to equal others.
Jealousy is a calamity for religion and Imam Sadiq (AS) has stated: “Indeed envy and jealousy burns down Faith just as fire burns down timber.” History shows us classical examples that teach us a lesson of how jealousy leads to destruction and the wrath of God. We have an example in Iblees/devil who was the first to practice jealousy and introduce this vice to humanity. After him, Qabeel son of Adam and the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (AS) displayed and acted upon their jealousy.
Allah (SWT) intentionally mentions these stories in the Quran to lift our attentions that we must not harbor feelings of envy towards another creature that has been bestowed with blessings or bounties by God; otherwise it will lead to Kufr. He (SWT) gives us these examples to warn us not to repeat the same mistake with the most important bounty given to us which is our faith, religion, and the divine guides represented by the Prophets and Infallible Imams.
It is narrated by Allamah Majlisi in Volume 1 of Hayat Al Quloob that Allah (SWT) revealed to Prophet Adam (AS): “Oh Adam! Raise your head and look at My empyrean.” Adam raised his head and beheld some names on it. Adam asked, 'Who are they?' Allah (SWT) answered, “They are from your offspring and are much better than others. I have not created the heavens, the earth, and the hell, but only out of love for these five Honorable beings. I have created you and all creatures for them. Do not be jealous of them otherwise you will be deprived of My bounties!”
According to reliable chain of narrators as cited in the same above-mentioned source, a companion by the name of Sulayman ibn Khalid said to Imam Al-Sadiq (AS), “May I be sacrificed for you. What was the reason that Qabeel killed Habeel?”
Imam (AS) replied, “Because Adam had appointed Habeel as his successor. Allah revealed to Adam to hand over the successorship and the Grand Name to Habeel while Qabeel was the elder. When he knew this, he was angry and said that he was the rightful heir to successorship and bounties. Under divine instructions, Adam asked both of them to present a sacrifice to Allah. Allah accepted Habeel's sacrifice and rejected Qabeel's. So he envied Habeel and killed him.”
From day one of creation, Allah (SWT) makes it clear to us and engraves in our minds that jealousy and envy against His chosen guides is the key to His wrath and eternal doom and leads to Neqmat - deprivation of His bounties.
Furthermore, Allah (SWT) tells us straightforwardly that the consequences of Kufr/disbelief is severe punishment,
"وإذ تأذَّن ربُكم لئن شكرتم لأزيدنكم ولئن كفرتم إنَّ عذابي لشديد."
And when your Lord declared: `If you are grateful, I will surely bestow more favours on you; but if you are ungrateful, then know that MY punishment is severe indeed.' [14:7]
More specifically, if we are thankful for the bounty of Wilayah, He (SWT) will increase us in guidance. So serious and swift is the punishment of Allah (SWT) for those who disbelieve in the Wilayah that it is narrated when the Prophet (SA) ordered everyone to give their pledge of allegiance to his cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS) as his legatee, a man complained and questioned the Prophet (SA) whether that order was originating from him or from Allah (SWT).
That man's feeling of jealousy and animosity caused him to doubt Ali's right for the seat of Caliphate. So he challenged the Prophet (SA) to receive swift punishment if his (Prophet's) words in this matter were truly a revelation from God. Sure enough, Allah (SWT) responded to the man's challenge and he perished immediately in front of the audience watching this historical moment, and this story is revealed in the Quran for all of mankind to bear witness and take lesson from. The first few verses in Surat Al Ma'arij describe this event:
"سئل سائلٌ بعذابٍ واقع (1) للكافرين ليس له دافع (2) من الله ذي المعارج (3)"
A questioner asked concerning a torment about to befall (1) Upon the disbelievers, which none can avert, (2) From Allah, the Lord of the ascending steps. [70:1-3]
The take home message here is that as soon as someone dared to openly disbelieve and question the prophet's truthfulness regarding this very important matter of successorship, Allah (SWT) intervened and brought immediate punishment to the questioner (upon his request) which stands as a strong proof till the end of time to support the divine appointment and Wilayah of Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS).
Now, if this is the punishment of Kufran Al Ne’mat in the life of this world, then one can only imagine what type of severe punishment await the nonbelievers and deniers of the bounty on the Day of Judgment!