In his contribution to Spoken and Unspoken Thanks, Kevin Reinhart observes that “in English both ‘thanks’ and ‘gratitude’ belong to the domain of individual inner life and using them in a religious context mirrors our Western understanding of religion as interior and affective, as dispositional rather than operational” (116). It’s important, he says, “to remember that there are times and places in which ‘thanks’ is best understood as having an operational and social meaning” (133).
His essay explores some of those times and places in the history of Islam. For early Muslims, he argues, thanks “is performative: it is an acknowledgement and a statement of intention.” It is “the recognition of God’s claim-to-obedience resulting from the numerous benefactions enumerated throughout the Qur’an” (123).When Allah is the Benefactor, he imposes obligations – not a return gift but “obedience to His command.” Thanking is “recognizing a sort of moral claim to sovereignty. Thanking is first a cognitive event, and then a performative one. Feelings of ‘gratitude,’ in our English understanding of the term, play no part at all” (124).
What Reinhart says about early Islam is also true of the Bible, where “thanks” is normally a public event, a sacrifice and feast or a sacrifice of public, sung praise.