Monday, December 1, 2008

The Essence of Surah Al-Fātihah

The Essence of Surah Al-Fātihah

By Ibn Saleh

In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of al-`ālameen. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam is His Messenger.

The Name

This Surah is named “Al-Fātihāh (The Opening)” because of its subject matter. “Al-Fātihāh” opens a subject, a book, or any other thing. In other words, “Al-Fātihāh” is a preface. The Surah is also called ‘Ummul Qur`ān’.

Ibn `Abbas (radiyallāhu`anhu) narrated: “While the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam) was with Jibrīl [during Al-Isra’ and Mi’raj], he heard a noise from above. Jibrīl lifted his sight to the sky and said, ‘This is a door that was opened just now in heaven, and it was never opened before.’ An angel came down through the door to the Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) and said: ‘Receive the good news of two lights that you have been given and which no Prophet before you was given: the Opener of the Book (Al-Fātihah) and the last (two) ayat of Surah Al-Baqārah. You will not read a letter of them, but you will be granted its benefit.''' [Narrated by Muslim and An-Nasā`ie; this wording recorded by An-Nasā`ie].

The Period of Revelation

Al-Fātihāh was revealed during Makkah period as Ibn `Abbās, Qatadah and Abu Al-`Aliyah (radiyallāhu`anhum) stated.

Allāh Subhānahu wata’ala Says: “And indeed, We have bestowed upon you the seven Mathani” (seven repeatedly recited verses i.e. Surah Al-Fātihah)” [Surah Al-Hijr, 15:87].

It is one of the very earliest Revelations to the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam). It was the first complete Surah which was revealed to Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam). Before this, only a few miscellaneous verses were revealed which form parts of `Alaq, Muzzammil, Muddathir, Etc.

The Theme

The Surah is in fact a Du`ā which Allāh has taught to all those who want to make a study of His book, Al-Qur`ān. It has been placed at the very beginning of the book to teach this lesson to the reader vis-à-vis the Muslims: if you sincerely want to benefit from the Qur`ān, you should offer this Du`ā (Prayer) to the Lord of the Universe.

This preface is meant to create a strong desire in the heart of the Muslims to seek guidance from the Lord of the Universe, Who alone can grant it. Thus Al-Fātihāh directly teaches that the best thing for a man is to pray for guidance to the straight path, to study the Qur`ān with the mental attitude of a seeker-after-truth and to recognize the fact that the Lord of the Universe is the source of all knowledge. He should, therefore, begin the study of the Qur`an with a Du`ā (Prayer) to him for guidance.

The relation between Al-Fātihāh and the Qur`ān is not that of an introduction to a book but that of a prayer and its answer. Al-Fātihāh is the prayer from the mankind, the servant and the Qur`ān is the answer from the Master to his prayer. The servant prays to Allāh for His guidance and the Master places the whole of the Qur`ān before him in answer to his prayer, as if to say, "This is the Guidance you begged from Me."

[Tafhim al-Qur'an by Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi]

The Meaning of Surah

[1] “Bis-millā-hirrah-mâ-nir-raheem (In the Name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful)” [1] 

[2]“Alhamdulillāhi rabbil`ālameen (All the praises and thanks be to Allāh, [2] the Lord [3] of the ‘alamīn (mankind, jinn and all that exists).)” [4] 

[3]“Arrahmā-nir-raheem (The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.)”[5]

[4] ” Māliki yawmi addīn ( The Only Owner (and the Only Ruling Judge) of the Day of Recompense (i.e. the Day of Resurrection)” [6]

[5]"Iyyaka nâ’budu-wa-iyyaka-nasta-`aīn (You (Alone) we worship, [7] and You (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything).)” [8]

[6]“Ih-dinas-sirātal-mustaqeem (Guide us to the Straight Way.)”  [9]

[7] “Sira-tâl-ladzī-na-an-`amta `alayhim-ghayril-magh-dūbi-`alayhim-waladh-dhãlleen (The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace  [10], not (the way) of those who incur Your wrath  [11] (i.e. those who knew the Truth, but did not follow it) nor of those who went astray (i.e. those who did not follow the Truth out of ignorance and error).”  [12], [13]. “Dhãlleen” must be recited in six harākat (i.e. Mad Lazim musaqqall) in order the Solāh to be valid.

The Basic Principles in Al-Fātihah

  • As an introduction to the Qur`ān; Al-Fātihah contains all the basic principles that are given in detail in the Qur`ān.
  • It tells us that we are surrounded by Allāh’s grace and favours; He is the Source of all love and mercy, and for that, we should be thankful to Him.
  • It also teaches the following lessons: Life on earth is not permanent. Everyone will die one day and Allāh will judge us. He alone is the Master of that Day and we must worship Him and Him alone.
  • It reminds us that Allāh is the only One Who can really guide towards “the straightway”; we must seek His help and guidance and He has all the power to give us the guidance and blessing we require.
  • It calls for righteous actions in this life: the straightway. It speaks about life after death and the consequences of human action and behaviour. It tells us that the true guidance comes through Allāh's prophets and messengers. They were the people who were truly guided, and they received Allāh’s grace and mercy. Those who turned away from that path were those who went astray and they incurred the wrath of Allāh and His punishment.
  • After this introduction comes the rest of the Qur`ān. Muslims consider Al-Fātihāh as “The Prayer (Du`ā)” and the Qur`ān as the answer to that (prayer).

The Significance of Al-Fātihāh in the Solāh

Abu Hurayrah (radiyallāhu`anhu) said that the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said: “Whoever performs any solāh in which he did not read Ummul Qur`ān, then his solāh is incomplete.” He said it thrice. [Muslim]

In another hadith Abu Hurayrah (radiyallāhu`anhu) was asked, “[When] we stand behind the Imām'' He said, "Read it to yourself, for I heard the Messenger of Allāh Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said:

“Allāh Almighty said: “I have divided the prayer (Al-Fātihah) into two halves between Myself and My servant, and My servant shall have what he asks for.”

If he says: [“Bis-millā-hirrah-mâ-nir-raheem (In the Name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful)”] [1] “Alhamdulillāhi rabbil`ālameen (All the praises and thanks be to Allāh, [2] the Lord [3] of the ‘Alameen (mankind, jinn and all that exists).)” [4] Allāh says: “My servant has praised Me.”

When the servant says: “Arrahmā-nir-raheem (The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.) [5]Allāh says: “My servant has glorified Me.”

When he says:  "Māliki yawmi addeen (The Only Owner (and the Only Ruling Judge) of the Day of Recompense (i.e. the Day of Resurrection)” [6] Allāh says: “My servant has glorified Me,” or “My servant has related all matters to Me.”

When he says: "Iyyaka nâ’budu-wa-iyyaka-nasta-`aeen (You (Alone) we worship, [7] and You (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything).) [8] ”Allāh says: “This is between Me and My servant, and My servant shall acquire what he sought.”

When he says: “Ih-dinas-sirātal-mustaqeem (Guide us to the Straight Way.)”  [9] “Sira-tâl-ladzī-na-an-`amta `alayhim-ghayril-magh-dūbi-`alayhim-waladh-dhãlleen (The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace [10], not (the way) of those who incur Your wrath [11] (i.e. those who knew the Truth, but did not follow it) nor of those who went astray (i.e. those who did not follow the Truth out of ignorance and error).” [12], [13].Allāh says: ‘This is for My servant, and My servant shall acquire what he asked for.’ ’’ [“Dhãlleen” must be recited in six harākat (i.e. Mad Lazim musaqqall) in order the Solāh to be valid.]

[An-Nasā`ie, Muslim ; both Muslim and An-Nasa`ie collected the following wording, "A half of it is for Me and a half for My servant, and My servant shall acquire what he asked for.''] 


1. Islāmic culture requires a man to commence everything with the name of Allāh. If this is done consciously and sincerely, it will surely produce three good results: First, it will keep him away from evil, because the very name of Allāh will impel him to consider whether he is justified in associating His name with a wrong deed or an evil intention. Secondly, the very mention of the name of Allāh will create in him the right attitude of mind and direct him to the right direction. Thirdly, he will receive Allāh's help and blessing and will be protected from the temptations of Satan, for Allāh turns to a man when he turns to Him.
2. The Surah AI-Fātihah is a “Du`ā (Prayer)”. It begins with the praise of Allāh to Whom it is addressed in order to teach us the right way of making a supplication. We should not put forward our request bluntly and abruptly without an appropriate introduction. The right way is to acknowledge the excellences and the favors and the high position of the One to Whom we address our prayer. That is why we begin our prayer with the praise of Allāh, for He is the perfection of all excellences and .is also our Benefactor. We pay homage to Allāh to show that we sincerely acknowledge His excellences and also are grateful to Him for His countless favours. It should also be noted that not only Praise is for Allāh but also Praise is only for Allāh. This distinction is very important because it cuts at the root of the worship of any of His creation. As none of them is worthy of praise, none is worthy of worship. No man, no angel, no prophet, no so-called god, no star, no idol, in short none of His creation inherently possesses any good quality. If one has any, it is given by Allāh. Hence the Creator of these qualities alone deserves devotion, worship, gratitude, and none of His creation.
3 The word Rabb” which has been translated into `Lord' into Lord: The actual word used in the Qur`ān is Rabb There is no proper equivalent for Rabb in English language. It means the One and the Only Lord for the entire universe, its Creator, Owner, Master, Organizer, Sustainer, Provider, Guardian, Sovereign, Ruler, Administrator, Organiser, Planner, Cherisher, and Giver of security. Rabb is also one of the Names of Allāh. The word "Lord" is the nearest to Rabb. All occurrences of "Lord" in the interpretation of the meanings of the Noble Qur’ān actually mean Rabb and should be understood as such.

4. Narrated Abu Sa`id bin Al-Mu`alla (radiyallāhu`anhu): While I was praying in the masjid, Allāh’s Messenger (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) called me but I did not respond to him. Later I said, `O Allāh’s Messenger, I was praying." Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said: "Didn’t Allāh say - Answer Allāh (by obeying Him) and His Messenger when he (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) calls you." (Al-Anfal, 8:24). Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) then said to me, "I will teach you a Surah which is the greatest Surah in the Qur`ān, before you leave the masjid." Then Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) got hold of my hand, and when he intended to leave (the masjid), I said to him, "Didn’t you say to me, "I will teach you a Surah which is the greatest Surah in the Qur`an?" Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said, " Al-Hamdu lillāhi Rabbil-`alameen [i.e. all the praises and thanks be to Allāh, the Lord of the `alamīn (mankind, jinn and all that exists)], Surah Al-Fātihāh which is As-Sab `Al-Mathani (i.e. the seven repeatedly recited Verses) and the Grand Qur`ān which has been given to me." [Recorded by Sahih Al-Bukhāri, Vol.6, Hadīth No. 1].

5. Although the Arabic word “Rahman” is in the superlative form and denotes the attributes of beneficence and mercy in the highest degree, even this word fails to express the boundless extent of these attributes of Allāh. Hence another word “Rahim” of the same root has been added to make up for the deficiency.
6. After saying that Allāh is Beneficent and Merciful, it has immediately been added that He is the Master of the Day of Judgment, so that the qualities of mercy and kindness might not mislead anyone into forgetting that on that Day He will gather together all human beings from the first to the last and require each and every one to give an account of all of one's acts to Him. A Muslim should, therefore, always keep in view the fact that Allāh is not only Merciful, but He is also Just. He has, however, full authority to pardon or punish anyone He pleases, for He has complete power over everything. Therefore we should have full conviction that it lies absolutely in His power to make our end happy or sorrowful.
7. The Arabic word `Ibadat is used in three senses: (a) worship and devotion, (b) submission and obedience, (c) subjection and servitude. Here it implies all the three, that is, We are Thy worshipers, Thy subjects and Thy slaves and We keep these relations with Thee and Thee alone and "We make none else the object of our worship in all the three senses."
8. It means, We ask for Thy help because we know that Thou art the Lord of the whole Universe and Thou hast all powers and Thou art the Master of everything. Therefore we turn to Thee for help for the fulfillment of our needs and requirements.
9. (Al-Fātihah, 1:6). Al-Fatihah is a Du`ā seeking Allāh’s guidance. Guidance is of two kinds:

a) Guidance of Tawfiq i.e., totally from Allāh, i.e. Allāh opens one’s heart to receive the truth (from disbelief to Belief in Islamic Monotheism).

b) Guidance of Irshad i.e. through preaching by Allâh’s Messengers and the pious preachers who preach the truth i.e. Islāmic Monotheism.

Thus it means, "Showing us the way which may lead us aright in every walk of life and keep us absolutely free from errors and evil consequences and bring us success in the end.”, This is indeed the request which the servant of Allāh makes to Him when he begins the study of the Qur’an. He seeks Allāh to guide him in every aspect of life and save him from the labyrinths of doubt and uncertainty, which result from the lack of true knowledge. The servant also requests the Master to show him the right and the straight way of life from among the many by-paths and crooked ways.
10. The Straight Way for which we are praying is the way which has always been followed by the people favored by Thee and which has always brought Thy favors and blessings. i.e. the way of the Prophets, the Siddiqun (i.e. those followers of the Prophet, who were first and foremost to believe in him, like Abu Bakar As-Siddīq), the martyrs and the righteous, [as Allāh Subhānahu wa Ta`āla said: "And whoso obeys Allāh and the Messenger (Muhammad Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam), then they will be in the company of those on whom Allāh has bestowed His Grace, of the Prophets, the Siddiqun, the martyrs, and the righteous. And how excellent these companions are!" (Al-Nisā’, 4:69)].
11. Narrated `Adi bin Hatim (radiyallāhu`anhu): I asked Allāh’s Messenger (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam), about the Statement of Allāh: “Ghairil-maghdhubi `alaihim (Not the way of those who earned Your Anger),” Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) "They are the Yehuds". And “Wa-ladh-dhãlleen (Nor of those who went astray)," Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) replied: “The Christians and they are the ones who went astray” [This Hadith is recorded by At-Tirmidzi and Abu Dawūd].

The favored people are not those who go astray and incur the wrath of Allāh, though apparently they might be enjoying the transitory good things of life. The really favored people are those who receive blessings on account of their righteous living. It also becomes clear that by favors are meant those real and permanent rewards, which result from righteous living and from winning the pleasure of Allāh, and not those transitory good things of life which have been enjoyed even by the tyrants and worshipers of mammon and which are being enjoyed even today by all sorts of evildoers who have gone astray from the straightway.

12. It was narrated by `Ubadah bin As-Samit (radiyallāhu`anhu) Allāh’s Messenger (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) said, Whoever does not recite Surah Al-Fātihāh in his Solāh, his Solāh is invalid.” (This Hadith is recorded by Al-Bukhāri, Vol.1, Hadîth No. 723).

13. It was narrated by Abu Hurairah (radiyallāhu`anhu): Allāh’s Messenger (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said: "When the Imām says: Ghairil-maghdhubi `alaihim Wa ladh-dhãllin [i.e. not the way of those who earned Your Anger, nor the way of those who went astray (1:7)], then you must say, ãmĩn , for if one’s utterance of ãmĩn coincides with that of the angels, then his past sins will be forgiven." [This Hadith is recorded by Al-Bukhāri, Vol.6, Hadith No. 2].

And Allāh Almighty Knows best.

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