I was reading a tafseer of Al-Fatiha (in Turkish), and it is mentioned on that text that there are 2 kinds of ni'met (benediction), one is material and other is spiritual. It says that we shukur (thanks) to Allah for material ni'mets, and we hamd (thanks) to Allah for spiritual ni'mets. I thought both of them meant thanking. Can anyone explain what exactly hamd and shukur means and what is the difference between them?
Great question! I was taught that the main difference between hamd and shukr was that shukr was thanks given after a favor was done. Someone does you a favor, helps you out, gives you something - and you give them shukr in return. It's given in return for some kind of personal benefit. Hamd on the other hand includes shukr but also has an additional connotation of not being given in return for anything - it is praise that is given regardless of whether someone did you a favor or not, it is praise given because of who they are, not what they did. In Islam, we say Allah SWT is Al-Hameed - He is the One who is deserving of Praise always, whether He has done something for us or not, whether we praise Him or not.
Hans Wehr defines hamd as praise, commendation, or laudation and shukr as thankfulness or gratefulness or thanks, which roughly follows what I said above.
1. Class on Names of Allah taught by Ustadha Muslema Purmul, 2009.
2. Hans Wehr dictionary
Good Answer by Ansari. There are several differences. I would like add something to his answer.
Al-Hamd necessarily happens through tongue. However, ash-shukr is possible with the tongue as well as with action.
So, from the point of view of where it occurs, ash-shukr is more general than al-hamd, because it includes the praise of the tongue and the action, and al-hamd is more specific because it only occurs by the tongue.
Allah says in Qur'an:
اعْمَلُوا آلَ دَاوُودَ شُكْرًا
"Work, O family of David, in gratitude." [Surah Saba 34:13]
That is an example of Ash-Shukr through action.
And if you see from the point of view that Ansari mentioned i.e. for what it is praised, then Al-Hamd is more general.
+1 for pointing out another difference. Perhaps you want to include that ayah from the Qur'an: "i'maloo aala Dawooda shukra" - where the people of Dawud (as) are being commanded to "do" thankfulness.– AnsariJul 20, 2012 at 19:06