Surah al-Fatihah ( Part 1) : There is no prayer without the opening of the Book

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)- By: Hojjat al-Islam Muhsin Qara’ati

After the recital of Takbirah al-Ihram, Surah al-Fatihah is to be recited and if this surah is not recited in the prayer, the prayer is invalid. “There is no prayer without the Opening of the Book {fatihah al-kitab}.”

The other name of this surah is the Opening of the Book {fatihah al-kitab} because the Qur’an begins with this surah. This surah has seven verses[1][223] and according to the tradition of the Most Noble Messenger (S) on the authority of Jabir ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari, it is the best surah of the Qur’an.[2][224]

Surah al-Fatihah is the only surah which is obligatory upon every Muslim to recite at least ten times daily in his five obligatory prayers.

Concerning the importance of this surah, it is enough to say that it is narrated in the traditions: “If you recite this surah 70 times for the dead person and he revives, do not be surprised.”[3][225]

From the name, “Opening of the Book” {fatihah al-kitab} of this surah, it is clear that all the verses of the Qur’an were compiled during the time of the Prophet (S) and formed into a book and at his order this surah was placed at the beginning of the Book. The verses of the blessed Surah al-Hamd (or, Fatihah) are about God and His attributes, the issue of the Resurrection {ma‘ad}, request for guidance on the path of truth, and the acceptance of the sovereignty {hakimiyyah} and lordship {rububiyyah} of God.

Also, in this surah we express our interest to tread the path of the saints of God and aversion and disavowal of the misguided ones and those who have earned the divine wrath.

Surah al-Fatihah is the source of remedies—a cure for both physical ailments and spiritual maladies. In his book, Tafsir Fatihah al-Kitab, the late ‘Allamah Amini has narrated many traditions in this regard.

The instructive lessons of Surah al-Fatihah

1. By reciting Surah al-Fatihah, man cuts his hope from other than God by saying, “Bismillah” {In the Name of Allah}.

2. By saying “Rabbi’l-‘alamin” {Lord of all the worlds} and “Maliki yawmi’d-din” {Master of the Day of Retribution}, he feels that he is the servant {marbub} and the one who is ruled {mamluk}.

3. By reciting the phrase, “Rabbi’l-‘alamin,” he establishes a connection between himself and the universe.

4. By “Ar-rahmani’r-rahim” {the All-beneficent, the All-merciful}, he see himself under the aegis of His vast favor.

5. By “Maliki yawmi’d-din” {Master of the Day of Retribution}, his negligence of the Day of Resurrection will be erased.

6. By “Iyyaka na‘bud” {You {alone} do we worship}, he abandons his selfishness and desire for fame.

7. By “Iyyaka nasta‘in” {to You {alone} do we turn for help}, he removes from his mind the idea of seeking help from other than God.

8. By “An‘amta ‘alayhim” {You have blessed}, he understands that the distribution of favors lies in His hand and envy must be abandoned because the envious one in reality is not satisfied with God’s manner of deciding on and allocating sustenance.

9. By “Ihdina’s-sirata’l-mustaqim” {Guide us on the straight path}, he wants to ask for firmness in treading the path of truth.

10. By “Sirat alladhina an‘amta ‘alayhim” {the path of those whom You have blessed}, he declares his solidarity with those who have traversed the way of God.

11. And finally, by “Ghayri’l-maghdubi ‘alayhim wa la’d-dallin” {such as have not incurred Your wrath, nor are astray, he declares disavowal of falsehood and the people of falsehood.

Bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim {In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful}

Among various peoples and communities, there is a custom of beginning an important work with the name of one of the leading figures of that community who is respected and admired, so that the task would be started and pursued with blessing and auspiciousness.

Of course, each person acts according to his or her correct or corrupt ideas and beliefs. Some people commence their tasks with the name of idols and taghuts while others do the same with the name and assistance of God and the saints of God. Nowadays, it has become the custom that in constructing important buildings, distinguished figures are the first to strike the pickaxe on the ground. Prior to the Battle of the Trench, the Holy Prophet (S) was also the first to break the ground in digging the trenches.

Bismillah {In the Name of Allah} is the beginning of the book of revelation. Bismillah is not only the beginning of the Qur’an but rather the beginning of all heavenly scriptures. Bismillah has been the epigraph of the work of all the prophets (‘a). When the ark of Nuh (Noah) (‘a) was about to set out amidst the waves in the storm, he asked his followers to embark and then he said: “In the Name of Allah it shall set sail and cast anchor.”[4][226]

When Hadrat Sulayman (Solomon) (‘a) invited the Queen of Sheba (Bilqis) toward God, he began his invitation letter with the phrase, Bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim {In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful}.[5][227]

Hadrat ‘Ali (‘a) says: “Bismillah is the source of blessing in work, and abandoning it leads to the lack of success of affairs.”[6][228]

He (‘a) also said to someone who was writing the phrase, “Bismillah”: “Jawwiduha” {Inscribe it well}.[7][229]

The recital of “Bismillah” at the beginning of every work has been enjoined—eating, sleeping, riding on an animal (or a vehicle); marriage and matrimony, and many other tasks. Even if an animal is slaughtered without the utterance of “Bismillah”, consumption of its meat is unlawful {haram}. The secret behind this is that the food of a goal-oriented religious person must also have a divine connection.

Why do we start each task with “Bismillah”?

The products of a factory have the special logo and emblem of that factory. For example, a porcelain-producing factory puts its logo on all its wares, both big and small. Every country has its own flag hoisted above offices and garrisons, on ships and on office tables. In the same manner, the name of God and His remembrance is also the logo and emblem of the Muslim and the phrase, “Bismillah” is the symbol and code of the Muslim.

In every activity, big and small; everywhere, in the mosque or factory; and anytime, in the morning or evening, this blessed phrase is uttered by Muslims, and thus, we read in the hadith: “Do not forget bismillah even in writing a couplet of a poem.” Traditions about the reward of a person who teaches bismillah to a child have also been narrated.[8][230]

Is Bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim a part of Surah al-Fatihah and a distinct verse {ayah}?

Although some individuals have not regarded it as part of the surah or have abandoned mentioning it in the prayer, these people have been subjected to criticism by Muslims. For example, one day, Mu‘awiyah did not mention bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim in the prayer, and the people strongly protested, saying: “Did you steal an ayah or forget it?”[9][231]

In his tafsir {Qur’anic exegesis}, Fakhr ar-Razi enumerates 16 proofs substantiating the fact that bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim is a constitutive part of Surah al-Fatihah and Alusi also expresses this view in his tafsir. Ahmad ibn Hanbal has equally stated in his Musnad that bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim is a part of the surah.

According to the Ahl al-Bayt[10][232] (‘a) of the Messenger of Allah (S) who were a hundred years senior to the leading fuqaha {jurists} of the Ahl as-Sunnah, who attained martyrdom in the way of Allah and whose infallibility {ismah} and purity have also been stipulated in the Qur’an, the phrase, bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim, is itself a distinct verse and is part of the surah.

The infallible Imams (‘a) insisted on reciting aloud bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim during prayer. Imam al-Baqir (‘a) thus says regarding those who were not reciting it during prayer or not regarding it as part of the surah: “They stole the best ayah!”[11][233]

In his commentary on Surah al-Fatihah, ‘Allamah Shahid Mutahhari identifies Ibn al-‘Abbas, ‘Asim, Kasa’i, Ibn ‘Umar, Ibn Zubayr, ‘Ata’, Tawus, Fakhr ar-Razi, and as-Suyuti as among those who have regarded bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim as part of the surah.

Of course, there is no bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim at the beginning of Surah al-Bara’ah (Surah at-Tawbah). According to Hadrat ‘Ali (‘a), it is because bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim is a phrase of security and mercy and it is not consistent with the declaration of disavowal {bara’ah} of the polytheists.

Bismillah {In the Name of Allah}

o Bismillah is the indicator of divine baptism {sibghat Allah}, and the mark of our monotheistic orientation.

o Bismillah is the code of tawhid {monotheism} while the name of others is the code of kufr {infidelity} and the name of God along with others is the sign of shirk {polytheism}. We should not place the name of others beside the Name of God or put the names of others in the place of God’s Name. The meaning of “Celebrate the Name of your Lord”[12][234] is that even the Name of God should also be free from any sort of polytheism.

o Bismillah is the secret of eternity and perpetuity, and anything that is devoid of the “divine color” is perishable.[13][235]

o Bismillah is the code of love for God and reliance on Him.

o Bismillah is the code for keeping aloof from vanity and the expression of impotence in the presence of God.

o Bismillah is the code for ensuring actions with the name of God.

o Bismillah is the code for the sanctification of actions.

o Bismillah is the code for the perpetual remembrance and glorification of God—“O God! I will never forget You in any situation.”

o Bismillah is the expression of man’s objective—“O God! You are my aim; not the people, not the world and not capricious desires.

o Bismillah means that we seek help from Him alone and not from others.

o Bismillah is indicative of the fact that the content of the surah has been revealed from the Genesis of Truth {mabda’-e haqq} and the Embodiment of Mercy {mazhar-e rahmat}.

“Al-hamdulillah” {All praise belongs to Allah}

The words, “madah,” “shukr,” and “hamd” have identical meanings, but each of them also has its own particular meaning. For instance, the word “madah” means “to praise” regardless of whether the praise is worthy, based on flattery or something unworthy, or whether on account of one’s excellences, fear, covetousness, beguiling, or ingratiation.

The word “shukr” means gratitude for the grace and favor given by others to someone. In the word “hamd,” however, apart from gratitude and thanks, another meaning is latent and that is worship. Gratitude and thanks to the extent of worship is “hamd”. Hence, to express “madah” and “shukr” to others is permissible, but “hamd” is exclusive for God because He is the Only One worthy of worship.

“Al-hamdullillah” is followed by four descriptions of God: “rabb al-‘alamin,” “ar-rahman,” “ar-rahim,” and “maliki yawmid-din” which indicate that on account of these divine favors and grandeur, man has to express “hamd” to God. But before all these descriptions, the word “lillah” {belonging to Allah} appears. It means that “hamd” is solely for Him and as He is the Only One worthy of “hamd,” those descriptions can also be assumed even if they had not appeared afterward.

If your eyes are focusing on the benevolence of the Friend, then you are under the fetter of your self, not under the bond of the Friend.

“Rabb al-‘alamin” {Lord of all the Worlds}

God is the Lord of all the worlds. He is the Lord of whatever is in the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them:

رَّب السمَٰوَﺍتِ وَ الأَرْضِ وَ مَا بَيْنهُمَا

“The Lord of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them”[16][238]


هُوَ رَب كلّ‏ِ شيْ‏ءٍ

“He is the Lord of all things.”[17][239]

Hadrat ‘Ali (‘a) says about the interpretation of “‘alamin”:

من الجمادات و الحيوانات

That is, He is the Lord of the inanimate objects and the animals, the living and non-living things.

Although in the Qur’an sometimes “‘alamin” refers to human beings, in most cases “‘alam” refers to creatures while “‘alamin” points to all creatures. It can be thus understood that He is the Lord of the entire creation and that what some believed during the pre-Islamic period of ignorance {yawm al-jahiliyyah} and among some nations that there is a distinct god for every type or kingdom of creatures is a false idea.

God has determined the course of growth and perfection of all creatures after creating them and the divine nurture is the same course as that of divine guidance. “Our Lord is He who gave everything its creation and then guided it.”[18][240] It is He who taught the honeybee which plant to suck. It is He who taught the ant how to preserve its winter resources. He has created the human body in such a way that it is automatically hematogenous.

Yes, such a God is worthy of praise and gratitude. One of the peculiar characteristics of man is that he appreciates beauty, perfection and elegance, and expresses gratitude for favors and goodness. God, the Exalted, is worthy of praise on account of His Beauty and Perfection, and He is worthy of being thanked because of His goodness and favors.

Of course, to be grateful to God is not inconsistent with expressing thanks to people provided that it is the command of God and in the way of God. Although anyone can show his appreciation for others in diverse ways, in reality he is praising the Source and Fountainhead.

“Rabb al-‘alamin” means that the relationship between God and the creatures is a perpetual and close-knit relationship.

“Rabb al-‘alamin” means that there is the possibility of growth and training for all. Not only the good but the bad also benefit from the divine favors. “To these and to those—to all We extend.”[19][241]

God says: “We assist all and have provided the ground for all so that each person could attain whatever aim he has.” Since the world is the abode of prohibition and obstacles, it is natural that not everyone can attain his or her goal.

“Rabb al-‘alamin” means that God is both the Ruler and the Manager of creation.

The word “rabb” is derived from either “رَبَيَ” “rabiya” which means “one who bestows growth and training”, or from “rabba” which means “owner”. God is the Owner of the world as well as its Nourisher and Manager. “All creation and command belong to Him. Blessed is Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.”[20][242]

According to the traditions, the phrase “All praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds”[21][243] is the best gratitude for the favors of God. Thus, it is enjoined to praise {hamd} God before any supplication or request is made of Him; otherwise, the supplication is defective.

Not only is it mentioned at the beginning of supplication and adulation but the inhabitants of paradise also repeat the same phrase at the end of a task:

وَآخِرُ دَعْوَاهُمْ أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

“And their concluding call, ‘All praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the all the worlds.”[22][244]

“Ar-rahmani’r-rahim” {the All-beneficent, the All-merciful}

Translating these two terms into Persian as “bakhshandeh-ye mehraban” is not a perfect and expressive translation because according to ‘Allamah Shahid Mutahhari, “bakhshandeh-ye mehraban” is the translation of the Arabic words jawad {generous} and ra’uf {kind}, and not rahman and rahim. And in principle, there have been no equivalent Persian terms for both these words.

Although both “رَّحْمٰن” “rahman” and “رَّحيم” rahim have been derived from the root-word “رَحْمَة” “rahmah,” “rahman,” which encompasses the expansive beneficence of God, and is general and includes all human beings, however “rahim” is a mercy which will be showered only on those who are good as a reward for their good deeds. Thus, according to Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) God is rahman in relation to all the creatures but He is rahim only to the believers. God has made mercy {rahmah} incumbent upon Himself: “He has made mercy incumbent upon Himself.”[23][245] Similarly, the Prophet and the Book of Allah are also mercies for all of creation:

وَ مَا أَرْسلْنَٰكَ إِلا رَحْمَةً لِّلْعَٰلَمِينَ


“We did not send you but as a mercy to all the nations.”[24][246]

His nourishment and training are based on mercy and His punishment and requital are like the stick of a teacher which is necessary in training. Forgiveness of sins, acceptance of repentance, concealment of people’s faults, and giving respite to compensate for the past are all manifestations of His all-encompassing mercy.

In essence, creation is a manifestation of His mercy and whatever reaches every creature from Him is grace and mercy. Thus, all surahs of the Qur’an (with the exception of Surah at-Tawbah) begin with Bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim {In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful}.

Ar-rahmani’r-rahim alongside rabb al-‘alamin means that the divine nourishment is based on grace and mercy. In the same manner, His teaching is also anchored on mercy and compassion: “The All-beneficent has taught the Qur’an.”[25][247] And this is itself a lesson for us human beings that the teacher and trainer must be always benevolent and compassionate.






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