Surah al-Fatihah ( Part 2): There is no prayer without the opening of the Book

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

“Maliki yawmi’d-din” {Master of the Day of Retribution}

God is the Master of the Day of Retribution. He is both the Master {malik} and the Sovereign {malik}. The universe is an estate {milk} under His possession {malikiyyah} as well as a dominion {mulk} under His sovereignty and rule. His possession is comprehensive, encompassing everything. Even the government is under his possession: “Say, ‘O Allah, Master of all sovereignty!’”[26][248] In the same token, man, in relation to the limbs of his body, is the master as well as sovereign and commander.

The mastership of God is real, and not delegated and contractual. God is the Master of both the world and the hereafter. Yet, since man regards himself as the master of things and affairs in this world, he tends to become negligent of the Original Master. On that day when all causes will cease to exist, all relations will be abrogated and all tongues will be sealed, at that point, he will feel and discern the divine sovereignty well; for, he shall be addressed, thus: “To whom does the sovereignty belong today?”[27][249] When man would just open his eyes, he will say: “To Allah, the One, the All-paramount.”[28][250]

The praying person who recites everyday, “God the Master of the Day of Retribution” always remembers the Day of Resurrection and Reckoning. Before doing whatever work he intends to do, he first thinks about the book of accounts on the Day of Retribution.

The Arabic word “din”

The Arabic word “din” has various meanings:

1. “Din” is the divine law and shari‘ah, as the Holy Qur’an says: “Indeed, with Allah religion is Islam.”[29][251]

2. “Din” is deed and obedience, as the Holy Qur’an states, thus: “{Only} exclusive faith is worthy of Allah.”[30][252]

3. “Din” as account and retribution, as this noble verse proclaims: “Master of the Day of Retribution.”

One of the names of the Day of Resurrection is “yawm ad-din”. That is, the day of punishment and reward, just as the Holy Qur’an narrates about those who deny the Day of Resurrection: “They ask, ‘When will be the Day of Retribution?’”[31][253] Or, in describing that day the Qur’an says:

ثُمَّ مَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا يَوْمُ الدِّينِ ٭ يَوْمَ لا تَمْلِكُ نَفْسٌ لِنَفْسٍ شَيْئًا وَالأمْرُ يَوْمَئِذٍ لِلَّهِ

“Again, what will show you what the Day of Retribution is? It is a day when no soul will be of any avail to another soul and all command that day will belong to Allah.”[32][254]

“Master of the Day of Retribution” is a warning and a caution—O praying one! Starting today, think of tomorrow; the day when “Neither wealth nor children will avail;”[33][255] the day when “Your relatives and your children will not avail you;”[34][256] the day when neither the tongue has the permission to ask an apology nor the mind the opportunity to think; the day when nothing will avail and benefit except the grace {lutf} of God.

The placement of “Master of the Day of Retribution” alongside “the All-beneficent, the All-merciful” shows that fear and hope must go hand in hand and encouragement and punishment are together. As the Holy Qur’an says in another verse,

نَبِّئْ عِبَادِي أَنِّي أَنَا الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ ٭ وَأَنَّ عَذَابِي هُوَ الْعَذَابُ الألِيمُ

“Inform My servants that I am indeed the All-forgiving, the All-merciful, and that My punishment is a painful punishment.”[35][257]

And in yet another verse, God is described as: “acceptor of repentance, severe in retribution.”[36][258]

At any rate, “the All-beneficent, the All-merciful” is a giver of hope while “the Master of the Day of Retribution” elicits fear. The Muslim must be between fear and hope, apprehension and aspiration so as neither to feel proud nor to be hopeless of divine mercy.

“Iyyaka na‘bud wa iyyaka nasta‘in” {You {alone} do we worship and to You {alone} do we turn for help}

“Iyyaka na‘bud” means that “We are servants of You alone and not of others.” This sentence has two dimensions: One is the affirmation of servitude to Him and the other is the negation of servitude to other than Him. Yes, the perfect school {maktab} alongside faith in God necessitates denial of the taghut, and those who have faith in God but have accepted the hegemony of the taghuts are “half-Muslims” or perhaps not Muslims at all!

Faith in God minus the denial of the taghut means a captive Muslim! In order to be relieved from the axis of shirk {polytheism}, one must seek refuge in the center of unity and power. Thus, while standing in prayer the person praying does not see himself alone by thinking of himself alone.

Rather, as if representing all monotheists, he is saying: “O God! I alone am not deserving and worthy to have a meritorious worship. So, I have joined the other Muslims and we do worship and adore You together. I am not alone; rather, all of us seek assistance from You. Therefore, prayer in principle must be said in congregation, and individual prayer belongs to the next stage.

The preceding verses gave us theoretical monotheism {tawhid} and the proper cognition of God, whereas this verse discusses devotional and practical tawhid. That is, we should not only recognize God in His Oneness, but we should also, in practice, worship Him alone and we should be monotheist. Why should you abandon God who is the All-beneficent, All-merciful, Sovereign, and Master, and subject yourself to the servitude of others?

Be the servant of God alone, and not the servant of the West or the East, not the servant of gold and silver, and not the servant of the taghuts. You do not have even the right to serve and obey the righteous except in cases where God gives you the permission or command. For example, regarding His Prophet, God says: “Whoever obeys the Apostle certainly obeys Allah.”[37][259] That is, if we obey our father and mother, it is because God commands us to do so and in doing so, we are actually obeying Him.

By the dictate of reason, man must accept servitude to God only because we human beings are in love with perfection and in need of growth and nourishment. God is also the embodiment of all perfections and the Lord of all beings. If we are in need of benevolence and affection, then He is the All-beneficent and the All-merciful, and if we worry about the distant future, then He is the Controller and Master of that day. So, why should we go to others and seek help from them?

“Iyyaka na‘bud” means that I am with the people, but I have no emotional attachment to other than You. Neither do I isolate myself from the congregation of Muslims for me to forget Your creatures nor am I be absorbed in the congregation that I would abandon You, the Creator. Rather, I know that the way toward the Creator passes through the creatures.

“Iyyaka nasta‘in” means that although we make use of the causes and means You have placed in creation, I know that the effectiveness and efficiency of every cause and means is through Your hand. You are the One giving effect to the cause as well as the One rendering it futile. You bestow effect on something as well as take away its effect. You will is dominant over all laws and nature is subjected to Your will.

“Iyyaka na‘bud” means that You alone are worthy of worship and that we worship You not on account of fear (of hell) and covetousness (for paradise), but out of love and affection to You. Which beloved {mahbub} is closer and more compassionate to us than You?

“Iyyaka na‘budu wa iyyaka nasta‘in” means that it is neither predestination {jabr} nor Divine Resignation {tafwid}.[38][260] As we say, “na‘bud” {we worship}, it follows that we have free will and since we say “nasta‘in” {we turn for help}, it means that we are needy and that all affairs are beyond our control.

“Iyyaka na‘budu wa iyyaka nasta‘in” means that we perform the prayer in congregation and that we Muslims are standing in one line, in unison and solidarity as brothers and equals.

“Iyyaka na‘bud” means: O God! I regard You as present and watching over me and so I am saying,

“Iyyaka {You}” for the servant who regards himself in the presence of God, the Exalted, will benefit sooner.

From the beginning of Surah al-Fatihah, we have been talking about God in third person, but in this part we are addressing Him in the second person (iyyaka {You}). Initially, we are acquainted with God and little by little we begin to reach toward Himself. And it is not only once but rather, as the conversation with one’s beloved is sweet and pleasant, we do repeat the address, “iyyaka” {You} (twice).

O God! Although worship is incumbent upon us, in worshipping we are also in need of Your help:

وَمَا كُنَّا لِنَهْتَدِيَ لَوْلا أَنْ هَدَانَا اللّهُ

“We would have never been guided had not Allah guided us.”[39][261]

Though to Him alone do we turn for help, seeking assistance from other than Him is permissible provided that it is by His leave. For example, man seeks the assistance of his own talents, faculties and mind, this is not repugnant to the principle of tawhid. God Himself thus commands us to cooperation—“تَعاوَنوا”—because life without cooperation and assistance is not possible.

Hadrat ‘Ali (‘a) said to a certain person who was praying, “O God! Do not make me in need of people”: “This is not a correct sentence. Instead, you say, ‘O God! Do not make me in need of bad people’ because life without cooperation and assistance is impossible.”

Anyone who would sincerely say, “Iyyaka na‘bud,” has no more sense of pride, vanity and egoism, and he is obeisant and subservient to the divine commands. He knows that since God has bestowed so much grace upon him, the best of submissiveness must be shown in His presence.

He would stand like an absolute servant in front of his Absolute Master and humbly say, “I am the servant and You are the Master. I have nobody else except You. But You have many others apart from me. You are needless of my worship. On the contrary, I am absolutely in need of Your grace and generosity, and I have to turn to You for help always.”

“Ihdina’s-sirat al-mustaqim” {Guide us on the Straight Path}

The caravan of creation is constantly moving toward God, the Exalted: “Toward Him is the return”[40][262] and man is also endeavoring and moving: “You are laboring toward your Lord”[41][263] and in every movement, there is only one straight path and all other paths are deviant. Islam has also determined both the path and guide for this movement, specified the destination, and given man the means of wayfaring. And it is us who have to choose which way to traverse.

God has endowed the desire for growth, perfection and the quest for truth in the depth of the soul and the natural disposition of every human being. If they are nurtured in the light of the teachings of the prophets (‘a), this desire and endeavor will earn the special favor of God: “As for those who are {rightly} guided, He enhances their guidance.”[42][264]

The Qur’an talks about two types of guidance. One is creational guidance {hidayat-e takwini} such as the guidance endowed the honeybee about how to suck the nectar of flowers and how to make honey. The other type of guidance is religious guidance {hidayat-e tashri‘i} which is specific to human beings and it refers to the instructions of the divine prophets (‘a).

Which one is the Straight Path {Sirat Al-Mustaqim}?

The word “sirat” which has been mentioned in the Qur’an more than 40 times means a path that is permanent, luminous and wide. There are numerous paths in the life of man one of which has to choose: The path of one’s desires; the path of people’s inclinations; the path of the taghuts; the path of our ancestors and the predecessors in terms of ethnic and racial fanaticisms; the path of satanic insinuations; the uncharted paths; and finally, the path of God and the divine saints.

It is natural that the person who believes in God would choose the path of God and the divine saints alone because this path has merits which the other paths do not possess:

The straight path is the shortest route between two points. So, this is the fastest way to arrive at the destination.

The divine path is permanent. It is contrary to other paths which change everyday according to one’s desires or the desires of others.

There is only one way between two points; there is only straight path. Other paths are different in one way or another.

It is the certain and harmless path. It is contrary to other paths where man is always under the threat of perdition.

This is the way that leads to the destination, i.e. the pleasure of God, in which there is no defeat and failure.

The straight path is the way of God: “Indeed my Lord is on a straight path.”[43][265]

The straight path is the very path of the prophets (‘a): “You are indeed one of the apostles, on a straight path.”[44][266]

The straight path is the path of servitude to God: “Worship Me. This is a straight path.”[45][267]

The straight path is the path of trust and reliance on God: “And whoever takes recourse in Allah is certainly guided to a straight path.”[46][268]

Man should turn to God for help in choosing the path as well as in traversing and keeping on the path. It is just like an electric lamp that should continuously receive electricity from the main source in order to keep alight. Thus, not only the common people but also the prophets of God and the infallible Imams (‘a) have to pray to God to keep them on the straight path.

Not only in prayer but rather in all conditions and in every task, whether it is in choosing one’s occupation or friend, in marriage and in studies, man should always pray to God to keep him on the straight path. It is because there are many cases when a certain person has correct beliefs but he has shortcomings in practice at times even acting to the contrary.

The straight path is the middle path of moderation. Imam ‘Ali (‘a) says:

اَلْيَمِينُ وَ الشِّمالُ مَضَلَّة وٱلطَّريقُ ٱالْوُسْطىٰ هِىَ الجادَّة

“Left and right are deviations and the path of felicity is the middle way.”[47][269]

The straight path means to keep aloof from any sort of immoderation {ifrat} and profligacy {tafrit}; neither the denial of truth nor extremism in truth; neither predestination {jabr} nor Divine Resignation {tafwid}; neither individualism nor collectivism; neither mere theory nor mere practice; neither worldliness nor otherworldliness; neither negligence of the Truth (God) {haqq} nor disregard for the people {khalq}; neither intellectualism nor emotionalism; neither forbiddance of good deeds nor plunging into carnal desires; neither stinginess nor extravagance; neither covetousness nor flattery; neither fear nor impetuosity; etc.

As a matter of fact, we have to always adopt the middle path of moderation in belief and thought as well as in behavior and action.

In moving along the straight path, we have to always seek assistance from God because this path is narrower than a hair and sharper than a sword, and every moment, there is the danger of falling down. The one who will pass by the straight path on the Day of Resurrection is he who did not deviate from the straight path of God in the world whether in the form of intellectual deviations or practical and moral deviations.

One believes in predestination and attributes to God all actions, as if man has no role in charting his own destiny as if he is without control and will. And the other one regards himself as the sole actor of all his deeds, considering the hand of God as tied.

One treats the heavenly leaders as common people while the other one elevates them to the status of divinity, considering al-Masih (the Christ) (‘a) as the son of God, nay God Himself!

One maintains that ziyarah {paying homage} and tawassul[48][270] are acts of polytheism {shirk} while the other resorts to even a tree or a wall! Due to misplaced jealousy, one does not allow his wife to go out of the house while the other one, out of dastardliness, sends his wife to the alley and market without having proper Islamic modest dress {hijab}.

All of the above are deviations from the course of the straight path. God says:

قُلْ إِنَّنِي هَدَانِي رَبِّي إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ دِينًا قِيَمًا

“Say, ‘Indeed my Lord has guided me to a straight path, the upright religion.”[49][271]

Elsewhere He states:

جَعَلْنَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسطاً لِّتَكونُوا شهَدَاءَ عَلى النَّاسِ

“Thus We have made you a middle nation that you may be witness to the people.”[50][272]

It has been recorded in the traditions that the infallible Imams (‘a) used to say: “We are the straight path.” That is, the actual and practical straight path, and the model and paradigm on how to traverse this path are the heavenly leaders.

In their instructions regarding all aspects of life such as work, entertainment, studies, criticism, giving of charity, and expressions of interest, love, anger, and harmony, they have always admonished us to exercise moderation and equilibrium. These instructions have been recorded in the noble Usul al-Kafi under the heading, “Al-Iqtisad fi’l-‘Ibadat” {Moderation in Acts of Worship}.

At this point, we shall quote some Qur’anic verses and Prophetic traditions in which moderation has been emphasized while going to extremes has been prohibited:

“Eat and drink, but do not waste.”[51][273]

“Do not keep your hand chained to your neck, nor open it all together.”[52][274]

“Those who, when spending, are neither wasteful nor tightfisted, and moderation lies between these {extremes}.”[53][275]

“Be neither loud in your prayer, nor murmur it, but follow a middle course between these.”[54][276]

“And those who are with him are hard against the faithless and merciful among themselves.”[55][277]

“And maintain the prayer and give the zakah.”[56][278] That is, keep your relationship with both the Creator {khaliq} by praying to Him and with the creatures (people) {makhluq} by giving zakat.

“And those who have faith and do righteous deeds…”[57][279] That is, both faith and conviction of the heart, and righteous deeds and behavior are required.

Although the Qur’an says, “And do good to the parents,”[58][280] in another place it states on the contrary: “(But if they urge you to ascribe to Me as partner that of which you have no knowledge,) then do not obey them”[59][281]

“Be witnesses for the sake of Allah, even if it should be against yourselves”[60][282] and “And ill feeling for a people should never lead you to be unfair.”[61][283]

On the night of ‘Ashura’ Imam al-Husayn (‘a) was praying intimately to God as well as sharpening his sword!

The pilgrims of the House of God are praying on the Day of ‘Arafah and the night preceding the Feast of Sacrifice {‘id al-qurban}, but on the day of the feast they have to go to the slaughterhouse and familiarize themselves with blood!

And finally, Islam is not one-dimensional and has not focused on only one aspect while neglecting others. Rather, it has paid attention to all the dimensions of life in a balanced manner.

“Sirat alladhina an‘amta ‘alayhim ghayri’l-maghdubi ‘alayhim wa lad-dallin” {The path of those whom You have blessed—such as have not incurred Your wrath, nor are astray}

After asking for guidance along the straight path, the one praying beseeches God to keep him along that path which has been the path of those who have earned divine grace. In Surah an-Nisa’, verse 69 and Surah Maryam, verse 58, the Qur’an describes this group. Here, we shall cite below the former reference:

وَ مَنْ يُطِعِ ٱلرَّسُولَ فَأُولئِكَ مَعَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللهُ عَلَيهِم مِنَ ٱلنَّبِيِّينَ وَ ٱلصِّدِّيقِينَ وَ ٱلشُّهَداء وَ ٱلصَّالِحِينَ وَ حَسُنَ أُولٰئِكَ رَفِيقًا

“Whoever obeys Allah and the Apostle—they are with those whom Allah has blessed, including the prophets and the truthful, the martyrs and the righteous.”[62][284]

The person praying is invoking God to include him in the ranks of the prophets, the truthful, the martyrs and the righteous. Aspiring for this path of the upright and pure ones protects from the peril of deviation and aberration, and their memory and reminiscence are always alive in the heart of the one praying.

Who are those who are astray and have incurred the divine wrath?

In the Qur’an, individuals such as the Pharaoh, Qarun (Korah) and Abu Lahab, as well as communities such as the peoples of ‘Ad and Thamud and the Children of Israel have been described as those who have incurred the divine wrath. In every prayer, we ask God for us not to be like these individuals and communities that have incurred divine anger and wrath in belief, morality and deeds.

The Children of Israel whose account and civilization have been most frequently mentioned in the Qur’an, they were once superior to all the people of their time. Concerning them, God says: “I gave you an advantage over the nations.”[63][285] But in spite of this advantage and superiority, they incurred the anger and wrath of God because of their reprehensible thoughts and actions. In this regard, the Qur’an states: “And they earned Allah’s wrath”[64][286] That is, this change in their fate was caused by the change in their behavior.

The Jewish scholars distorted the heavenly commandments of the Tawrah (Torah):[65][287] “They pervert words (from their meanings).”[66][288] The traders and the wealthy among them engaged in usury {riba’} and profiteering: “And for their taking usury…”[67][289] And in reply to the call for jihad and struggle, the common people refused to go to the battlefront out of self-preservation and fear, thus saying to Musa (‘a):

فَاذْهَبْ أَنتَ وَرَبُّكَ فَقَاتِلا إِنَّا هَاهُنَا قَاعِدُونَ

“Go ahead, you and your Lord, and fight! We will be sitting right here.”[68][290]

The same intellectual and practical deviations made God removed them from the pinnacle of glory to the abyss of abjectness and ignominy.

So, in every prayer, we have to implore God that we be not of the people who distorted the Book of Allah, the people who took usury, and the people who fled from war and jihad; similarly, that we should not be among the misguided ones; those who, like lost persons, are subject to abjectness and ignominy, and every moment, without having a prior aim, they wander about; they live as opportunists and have no will and power of their own.

Those who are astray—“dallin”—are not like the blessed ones—“an‘amta ‘alayhim”—who have been included in the ranks of the prophets and the righteous, and are not like those who have incurred the divine wrath—“al-maghdubi ‘alayhim”—who are waging war against the religion of God. Instead, they are indifferent, indolent and comfort-seeking individuals who, like animals, are only thinking of the stomach and the flesh, without caring for truth and falsehood.

For them, it makes no difference whether the prophets or the taghuts are ruling. What is important for them is that they live in material comfort and ease; anyone who likes may rule. This is the group of the misguided ones because they have not chosen a specific way for themselves.

This verse, “Sirat alladhina an‘amta ‘alayhim ghayri’l-maghdubi ‘alayhim wa lad-dallin,” is the perfect showcase of tawalla {befriending the truthful ones} and tabarra {avoiding the people of falsehood}.

At the end of Surah al-Fatihah, the person praying expresses his love, fondness and tawalla for the prophets, the martyrs and the righteous, as well as his disavowal {bara’ah} and renunciation {tabarra} of the misguided and those who have earned the divine wrath. This expression of aversion toward the deviant and those who have incurred the anger of God in every prayer makes the Islamic society firm and resistant to the acceptance of their rule. The Qur’an thus exhorts:

لا تَتَوَلَّوْا قَوْماً غَضِب اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ

“Do not befriend a people at whom Allah is wrathful.



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