Sunday, April 20, 2014

Beware of ‘thank goodness’

Indeed, all praises are for Allah subhaanahu wa ta’ala. We praise Him, we seek His help, we seek His forgiveness, and we seek refuge in Allah from the evils of our souls and our evil actions. Whosoever Allah guides then none can misguide and whosoever Allah misguides then none can guide aright. I bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah alone, having no partners, and I bear witness that Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace be upon him) is His servant and  Messenger.

Perhaps every Muslim who has a grasp of both English and Arabic  languages knows that the English translation of the Arabic word ‘al-Hamdulillah’, is ‘Praise be to Allah or All praises and thanks are  to Allah alone’ or something similar to them. However, today, we find stickers on the cars and vehicles of people, used as decoration or perhaps as a sort of reminder, with the word ‘al-Hamdulillah’ written in
Arabic and immediately below or above it the words ‘thank goodness’ are placed. In this article, we shall endeavour to prove that the translation is not accurate both in its literal sense and in its meaning. And we shall also, Insha-Allah, try to unveil its contradiction with the principles of Islam.

Before we do that, it is important to note that the Qur’anic ‘translations’ we read in English are not the Qur’an. “Neither the translator nor his audience believe that the translation is the Qur’an.” This is because the Qur’an itself, in about 11 references, explained that it was revealed in the language of the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam, which is in Arabic. With this in mind, whenever we say 
the English translation of ‘al-Hamdulillah’, we mean the translation of the meaning of ‘al-Hamdulillah’ translated as ‘thank goodness.’

Interestingly, in a span of two centuries of translation of the Qur’an, none of the translators rendered ‘al-Hamdulillah’ into English as ‘thank goodness’. In the 18th century, George Sale translated ‘al-Hamdulillahi-Rabbil-’alameen’ as “Praise be to God the Lord of all creatures”. Likewise, in the 19th century, J M Rodwell translated it as “Praise be to Lord, Lord of the Worlds”. Also, in first half of the 20th century, M Pickthall translated it as “Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds”. In recent times, The Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an in the English language by Al-Hilali et al translated ‘al-Hamdulillah’ as ‘All the Praises and Thanks be to Allah.”

The English translation of the Araword ‘al-Hamdulillah’, is ‘Praise be to Allah or All praises and thanks are to Allah alone’ or something similar to them. However, today, we find stickers on the cars and vehicles of people, used as decoration or perhaps as a sort of reminder, with the word ‘al-Hamdulillah’ written in Arabic and immediately below or above it the words ‘thank goodness’ are placed.

Also if one looks through Arabi-English dictionaries, the Arabic word ‘Hamd’ is translated as ‘praising’ or ‘thanking’ or something similar to them, and I have yet to find a dictionary that translate the word ‘Allah’ as ‘goodness.’

Due to this unusual translation, the intended meaning of ‘al-Hamdulillah’ has been severely corrupted.

To know the intended meaning of ‘al-Hamdulillah’, we quote some of the Tafseer (Explanation of the Qur’an) of the scholars.

Al-Haafidh Ibn Kathir, rahimahullah, in his Tafseer of the Qur’an, quoted at-Tabari (Tafseer of the Qur’an by at-Tabari 1:135) regarding the meaning of ‘al-Hamdulillah’ as follows:

The meaning of ‘al-Hamdulillah’ is “All thanks are due purely to Allah, alone, not any of the objects that are being worshipped instead of Him, nor any of His creation. These thanks are due to Allah’s innumerable favours and bounties that only He knows the amount of. Allah’s bounties include creating the tools that help the creation worship Him, the physical bodies with which they are able to implement His commands, the sustenance that He provided them in this life, and the comfortable life He has granted them, without anything or anyone compelling Him to do so. Allah also warned His creation and alerted them about the means and methods with which they can earn eternal dwelling in the residence of everlasting happiness. All thanks and praises to Allah for these favours from beginning to end.”

Shaykh Muhammad Ameen Shanqeetee, rahimahullah, explained in his Tafseer of the Qur’an, Adwaa’ul Bayaan, the meaning of ‘al-hamdulillah’ as follows:

“The saying of the Exalted, ‘all the praises and thanks are for Allah’: there is no mention here as to when this praise is said or where this praise comes from, but in Surah Ar-Rum there is mention that from amongst the ‘wheres’ are the heavens and the earth – in His saying, ‘ and His is all the praises and thanks in the heavens and the earth.’ 

And in Surah Qasas there is mention that from amongst the ‘whens’ are in this world and in the Hereafter – in His sayings, ‘And He is Allah, none has the right to be worshipped besides Him. To Him belongs all praise in the beginning (ie this world) and in the end (ie the Hereafter).’ (28:70).

And He said in the beginning of Surah Saba’a,

His is all the praise in the Hereafter, and He is the All-Wise, All-Aware.’ (34:1).

The Alif (letter A) and Laam (letter L) (ie the definite article ‘the’) in al-Hamd is so as to include all the different manners of praise, and it is an extolling with which Allah has praised Himself and ordered His 
servants to praise Him with.”

It is clear, without any doubt from the above translations of the Qur’an (by Muslims and non-Muslims), and as well as from the Tafseer of the Mufassiroon, that translating ‘al-Hamdulillah’ as ‘thank goodness’ is not accurate both from the linguistic point of view or from the meaning of the Tahmid (al-Hamdulillah). It is absolutely clear that nothing deserves ‘al-Hamd’ except Allah alone.

In addition, regarding ‘al-Hamd, Dr Muhammad Khalil Harras in his commentary of Aqeedat-il-Waasitiyah by Shaykh-ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, rahimahullah, says:

“Hamd means praising orally a grace regardless of being benefited by it, be it a favour or anything else, such as a sfavour or anything else, such as a statement that ‘I did hamd of a certain person in connection with the prize he had been awarded or for his feat of boldness.’ Shukr (thanking) is that praise which is done orally or emotionally or by any other organ of the body in lieu of some favour. This shows that the word hamd is commonly used in one situ.”

If ‘al-Hamdulillah’ means to praise and thank Allah for His bounties, therefore, the translation should mention Allah being thanked and praised or else we would be praising or thanking someone or something other than Allah. If Allah should be acknowledged first when being grateful for some fortune, then all the more so the translation should mention the word Allah or at least put the word ‘God’ for those who don’t know the word ‘Allah.’

In the translation, however, Allah is not mentioned, instead, ‘goodness’ is mentioned.

The danger in translating ‘al-Hamdulillah’ as ‘thank goodness’ has this implication: That the translation of the word ‘al-Hamd’ is ‘thanks’ and the English word for ‘Allah’ is ‘goodness.’ It is obvious that both 
words ‘al-Hamd’ and ‘Allah’ don’t mean ‘thanks’ and ‘goodness’ as the conscious translation of the meaning of ‘al-Hamdulillah’ in the English language is like saying thanks for the bounties we receive to some abstract idea like ‘goodness.’ This is because ‘Allah’ does not mean ‘goodness.’

Moreover, some might say that goodness could be one of Allah’s names. If this is the case then we say ‘produce your proof.’ We describe Allah the way He describes Himself and the way His Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) described Him.

Imaam Aboo ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Abdur-Rahman As-Saboonee in describing what the people of the Sunnah believe concerning the names and attributes of Allah, says:

They affirm what Allah, the Most Majestic, has affirmed for Himself in His Book or through the tongue of His Messenger, (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam).

Imaam Ibn Qudaamah says about the obligation of sticking to the Qur’an and authentic Hadith concerning the names and attributes of Allah:

We are obliged to believe in and to welcome with submission and acceptance everything that is mentioned in the Qur’an or that is correctly transmitted from the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) 
concerning the attributes of Allah. And we must not oppose it (which is done) by radd (rejection), ta’weel (distortive interpretation), tashbeeh (comparison) and tamtheel (representation).

Furthermore, Shaykh ‘Umar Sulaiman al-Ashqar says:

“It is not permitted to talk about the unseen except with a clear proof.”

And do not follow that of which you have no knowledge. Surely the hearing, the sight and heart, about each of these you will be questioned. (17:36)

In addition, Allah criticised those who claimed that the angels are female and He made what they said a testimony about which they are going to be asked when He brings them to stand in front of Him.

And they made the angels, who themselves are slaves to the Most Merciful, females. Did they witness their creation? Their testimony will be recorded and they will be questioned? (43:19)

If such matter of speaking about the angels without knowledge is such, then consider the seriousness of speaking about Allah without knowledge. It is a sin, considered as one of the major sins according to the scales of Truth and His Law.

Say: What my Lord has forbidden you are all acts of indecency, whether committed openly or in secret, sin and wrongful oppression, that you associate with Allah that which has not been sanctioned by Him and that you say concerning Allah something about which you have no knowledge. (7:33)

THE reliable and safe way that will lead us to knowledge of Allah, the Most High, is through revelation, which brought this knowledge to light in the clearest possible manner. It is the clear and distinct method whose results are reliable and trustworthy because the source of it is the All-Knowing the All-Aware and His Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam).

There is no-one more knowledgeable about Allah than Allah Himself just as no-one in creation is more knowledgeable about Allah than His Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam).” 

The names of Allah are the matters of al-ghaib (unseen) and as such that they can’t be known except through revelation from Allah. Hence we require proof from the revelation – the Qur’an and authentic Hadith – that says that ‘goodness’ is one of the Names of Allah.

It must be emphasised, however, that in no way we mean that Allah is not “good”. No doubt that Allah is the Creator and the Source of all good. In fact, there is a hadith in which Allah is described as At-Tayyib, The Good. But ‘The Good’ is entirely different from ‘goodness’.

One of the Names of Allah is Ar-Rahman (The Merciful) but we don’t say that Allah is Rahmah (mercy). And Allah is Al-Hakeem (The All-Wise), but we don’t say that Allah is Hikmah (wisdom). Likewise, Allah is At-Tayyib(The Good) but we don’t say that He is ‘goodness’. Ar-Rahman, Al-Hakeem, At-Tayyib are Names of Allah, therefore we may say At-Tayyib is Allah. However ‘mercy’, ‘wisdom’, and ‘goodness’ are characteristics ascribed to Allah, but we don’t say ‘mercy’ is Allah. ‘wisdom’ is Allah, or ‘goodness’ is Allah. And besides the meaning of At-Tayyib is closer to mean “Pure’ than to the meaning of ‘goodness’. Hence, we can say ‘all praises and thanks to Ar-Rahman;’ but we can’t say ‘all praises and 
thanks to Rahmah’. Likewise, we can say ‘all praises and thanks to At-Tayyib’ but we can’t say ‘all praises and thanks to ‘goodness’.

Thus, the final analysis is, neither the word ‘Allah’ means ‘goodness’, nor can ‘goodness’ be established from any angle to mean ‘Allah’. Hence, saying ‘thank goodness’ instead of saying ‘thank Allah’ is close to committing Shirk (polytheism) because ‘goodness’ doesn’t deserve the thanks and praises of the creatures between the heavens and earth. Even though we may thank someone who’s done something good at the same time we must recognise or acknowledge that ultimately all good comes from Allah. Therefore, He is the One Who deserves to be praised.

It could tantamount to Shirk because ‘goodness’ replaced the word ‘Allah’ as if ‘goodness’ is the translation of the word ‘Allah’, or as if ‘goodness’ is Allah Himself! This, by necessity, gives a connotation that ‘goodness’ can avert or inflict harm or can grant good or wishes when undoubtedly this Ability is the prerogative of Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an, the English translation of its meaning is:

Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the Wakil (Trustee, Disposer of affairs, Guardian, etc) over all things. (39:62)

The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam), the one sent to explain the Qur’an in detail, says in a hadith reported by Ibn Abbas (radi-allahu-anhuma):

Know that if the whole nation united in an effort to benefit you with something, they would only be able to benefit you with something that Allah has destined for you. Likewise, if the whole nation united to harm you with something, they would only be able to do so if Allah had destined it to happen to you. 

If this could be Shirk, then, Muslims must be very far from this because Shirk is the greatest Zulm (Wrong). 17 Allah doesn’t forgive Shirk if one did not repent before death. Allah says in the Qur’an:

“Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him in worship, but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He pleases, and whoever sets up partners with Allah in worship, he has indeed invented a tremendous sin.” (4:48)

In addition, ‘al-Hamdulillah’ is a Speech of Allah, His Word, and should be considered with utmost care when translating and not taken lightly. Saying ‘al-Hamdulillah’ is the best form of supplication as was recorded in this hadith: “The most excellent dhikr (remembrance) is [the statement] laa ilaaha illallaah and the most excellent du’a (supplication) is [the statement] al-Hamdulillaah.” 

Therefore, we must translate it in the best possible manner.

The origin of the expression ‘thank goodness’

The origin of the expression ‘thank goodness’ is from Western societies in which the predominant life’s philosophy is secular in nature, and science is the ultimate yardstick in life (i.e. what can’t be proven by science is non-existent). Instead of saying the word ‘God’, they replaced it with the word ‘goodness’ or with other words, since ‘God’ according to science can’t be proven by physical experiment. They do this even though the whole of Creation points to the existence of God. And belief in God in these societies is not something that one can really be proud of, instead, religion is viewed as a shackle to one’s mind (the opium of the masses).

The danger in imitating the Kuffar (disbelievers)

The Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam said: “Whoever imitates a people, then he is from them.”

This expression (thank goodness) is actually an imitation of the Kuffar because this is what some of them say when something good happened to them or some harm was removed from them. While in Islam, Allah is acknowledged first as the ultimate cause of everything. Meaning if something good happens then it is from Allah, and if some calamities happen, then they are tests from Allah. That is why there are words tosay in times of happiness (ie alhamdulillah) and in times of disaster (Qaddarallah, it is Allah’s decree).

Perhaps the one who translated this had in mind: That the reason for the translation is for the non-Muslims – who don’t believe in God – to understand the expression ‘al-Hamdulillah’ in a frame of mind they are familiar with. If he (the translator) is a Muslim he must understand that He is required to speak about Allah and His Greatness. If he is a non-Muslim, then he has blundered in his translation.


Trivial as it may be to non-Muslims, translating ‘al-Hamdulillah’ to ‘thank goodness’ has grave implications to Muslims because it strikes at the very foundation of Islam, which is Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism, Affirmation of the Uniqueness and Perfection of Allah). That is because the expression ‘thank goodness’ as the English for ‘al-Hamdulillah’ is not accurate, and because of that, and at the least, it is ascribing an inappropriate name to Allah, or carries some form of Shirk.

Lastly, this saying ‘thank goodness’ has deep psychosocial roots in Western societies that are permeated with, and anchored upon, atheism and upon the belief that religion is divorced from mundane life, and Muslims must be aware of this


khalil ibn hasan said...

Alhamdulillah kuya uttah very informative article. jazakallahu khair.

Madz Ahmadul said...

magsukul Khal...nice to see you around