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Originally published March 8, 2013 at 6:00 PM | Page modified March 8, 2013 at 9:02 PM

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Gratitude, charity help us better appreciate our lives

A sense of fulfillment does not come from desiring more, but from knowing that we are already blessed.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Faith & Values

In the ever-materialistic society we live in, stopping to recognize and feel thankful for our many blessings can sometimes seem like a distraction, yet it can renew our sense of appreciation in life.

Being thankful for every aspect of our lives — for our faith, for God, our friends, our loved ones, the list is endless — is one of the most important characteristics for a Muslim. If we focus on what others have and we do not have, we will never feel grateful.

Prophet Muhammad, who was known to be grateful, said: “Associate yourself with the poor and the needy, be friendly with them and sit in their company.”

In 1980, I took my first trip to Cairo, Egypt. I was so excited to see the pyramids, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and to sail on the Nile, all of which I eventually did. But something more memorable highlighted my trip.

When my flight arrived in the middle of the night, I went straight to my hotel. The next morning, my best friend Jamal met me in the lobby. As we stepped outside, he handed me a handful of coins. At first I wondered why.

In the heart of a city thriving with tourists and commerce, the urban poor were everywhere, begging. Unforgettable was the sight of a begging mother, sitting in the sweltering heat with four children spread across her torn dress.

After we distributed our coins, Jamal showed me a sprawling slum where impoverished residents made a living off the city’s trash. They were deprived of nutritious food, clean water and sanitation, and seeing that changed my life forever.

Today, my gratefulness is most felt when I see and visit the poor and homeless closer to home. We all see them — on downtown Seattle streets, at freeway on- and offramps and at tent encampments like Nickelsville.

When we take time to help the less fortunate, our fellow citizens, we begin to understand that a sense of fulfillment does not come from desiring more, but from knowing that we are already blessed, and being grateful for that.

Being grateful is not associated only with serving the poor. By thanking those in our own lives who are worthy of thanks, we feel more contented, optimistic and connected.

Making an effort to show our thankfulness takes time, and today, time is a precious commodity. But even simply smiling at others, nodding our heads, sparing some change or just listening can also express our thanks.

My own gratitude is linked directly to my attitude. When I express appreciation toward my fellow citizens, I create a positive change in my own life, and for those I value, bringing joy to the giver and receiver.

Our lives are never too busy to acknowledge that we have much to appreciate. Let us not take for granted the people or things that are most worthy of our gratitude.

Aziz Junejo is host of “Focus on Islam,” a weekly cable-television show, and a frequent speaker on Islam. Readers may

send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com.

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