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How One Word Sparked a Viral Video, Conversions Among Young Americans, and Empathy for Palestinians

As international students, we shared a hostel with Riyad, my Palestinian friend. Riyad and I, unlike our peers, scraped by without scholarships or sponsorships for…

As international students, we shared a hostel with Riyad, my Palestinian friend. Riyad and I, unlike our peers, scraped by without scholarships or sponsorships for our master’s degrees in psychology.

Riyad was older and saw me as both a younger brother and a friend. He would humbly say we learned from each other, but he was truly my mentor.

His response to adversity left a deep impression on me: he approached hardship with gratitude.

When faced with difficulties, he would say: “Alhamdulillah,” meaning “All praise is due to Allah.”

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For instance, his friend Owais, a doctor and our benefactor, was battling cancer. Riyad prayed for him daily, urging me to do the same.

“Ibraheem,” he would say, “please pray for my friend.”

When we lost Owais, Riyad simply said, “Alhamdulillah.”

This expression has touched many in the West, especially as Palestinians in Gaza, amidst the devastation of Israeli bombings, echo it while mourning.

Observers are perplexed by their gratitude despite daily casualties. As of December 5, 2023, 20,000 have died, predominantly women and children.

I mistook this trait as unique to Riyad’s faith, prompting me to adopt it myself. Yet, Gaza’s resilience shows it’s a broader Palestinian characteristic, deeply rooted in Islam.

This mindset has likely shielded many Palestinians from despair under a 75-year occupation.

Barbara Fredrickson’s research at the University of Michigan revealed that positive emotions during crises, such as the September 11th attacks, foster resilience and protect against depression. Matt Higgins echoes this in “Burn the Boats,” highlighting the value of optimism.

However, the link between science and Palestinian resilience is often overlooked, with many attributing their strength solely to the Qur’an—a book that captivates its readers.

It’s the reason Islamic preachers encourage the curious to read the Qur’an, promising transparency.

This has led Westerners to the Qur’an, with some converting to Islam.

A viral video shows Westerners marvelling at the reaction of the Palestinians after losing their loved ones. The video, among others,  shows a woman, a sea of debris behind her, saying “Alhamdulillah” after being told she lost her son.

A white woman in the video says “I’m Jewish, I lost family in the holocaust and I feel comfortable saying that what Palestinians are facing is another holocaust.”

Also, the UK Guardian reported on young Americans drawn to the Qur’an inspired by Gazan resilience. Megan B. Rice praised the Palestinians’ unshakeable faith, while Nefertari Moonn found the Qur’an’s passages deeply moving.

“I wanted to talk about the faith of Palestinian people,” Megan Rice said, “how it’s so strong, and they still find room to make it a priority to thank God, even when they have everything taken away from them.”

Another American lady, Nefertari Moonn, a 35-year-old from Florida, did the same thing: “I wanted to see what it was that made people call out to Allah when they stared death in the face,” she said. “Seeing passage after passage resonated with me. I began to have such an emotional attachment to it.”

In my book, “The Social Science of Muhammad” (may Allah’s peace be upon him) I cited at least seven benefits of gratitude from the scientific literature drawing on the works of scholars such as Robert Emmons.

In the book, I mentioned how Muslims say “Alhamdulillah” at least 17 times a day during their prayers.

A very important verse from the Qur’an says:

“If you’re grateful, I will surely give you more and more.” Surah Ibrahim, verse seven.

We recognize gratitude in joy, but its importance in adversity is profound. Islam teaches that believers are rewarded for every hardship endured, framing trials as opportunities for divine reward.

This outlook, as shown by Palestinians and supported by science, underpins their indomitable spirit.

Whether you’re a Muslim, non-Muslim or nonbeliever, if you’re going to take one insight from the Qur’an it should be this word: Alhamdulillah.

In conclusion, the power of a single word, “Alhamdulillah,” extends far beyond its immediate religious context, becoming a beacon of resilience and hope. This expression, deeply rooted in Islamic faith and exemplified by the Palestinians under trying circumstances, has resonated globally, sparking curiosity and empathy among diverse audiences. Its influence, as highlighted by the viral video and the growing interest in the Qur’an among Westerners, underscores a universal truth about the human spirit’s capacity for gratitude in the face of adversity.

The stories of Megan B. Rice, Nefertari Moonn, and others drawn to the Qur’an reveal a profound impact that transcends cultural and religious boundaries. Their experiences echo the scientific findings on the benefits of gratitude and optimism in overcoming crises. As my book, “The Social Science of Muhammad” explores, the practice of saying “Alhamdulillah” is not just a ritualistic utterance but a profound psychological tool that fosters resilience, a finding supported by scholars like Robert Emmons.

The resilience of the Palestinian people, their unwavering spirit amidst unparalleled challenges, and the growing global awareness of their plight and faith, all pivot around this powerful expression of gratitude. It teaches us that in our darkest moments, gratitude can be a source of strength, and even the smallest expression of thankfulness can have far-reaching effects.

Whether in joy or hardship, the word “Alhamdulillah” is a reminder of the transformative power of gratitude, a principle that holds true across all faiths and beliefs. It is a testament to the enduring human spirit and the ability to find hope and strength in the most challenging circumstances. As we delve into the depths of the Qur’an and the resilience of the Palestinian people, let this single word be a guiding light, a lesson in perseverance and the enduring power of faith and gratitude.



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