Javed Ahmad Ghamidi /
This surah is a prayer to seek guidance from the Almighty for the straight path – a prayer which was the wish of every upright person in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (sws). After the Jews and the Christians had distorted the face of religion through their innovations and deviations, it was in fact the desire of every heart to receive fresh guidance. The Almighty articulated this desire through the tongue of His Prophet (sws) in these eternal and matchless words.
In other words, the prayer for fresh guidance after the Torah and the Injil is the topic of this surah. Consequently, its relationship with the Madinan Surahs of the first group is that of brevity and detail; however, with regard to its topic, it is a very appropriate preface to the Qur'an as well.
Viewed thus, it becomes evident that this is the first surah that was revealed to the Prophet (sws) in Makkah.
Text and Translation
بِاِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَانِ الرَّحِيمِ
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ الرَّحْمَانِ الرَّحِيمِ مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ (1-3)
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.1
إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ
[Lord] You alone we worship and only Your help we seek7.
عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ (4-6)
I Meaning & Morphology (الصرف و اللغة)
1. 'ب' of 'بِاِسْمِ اللَّهِ'
The 'ب' in the expression 'بِاِسْمِ اللَّهِ' signifies 'authority and sanction'. Thus, much like the phrase 'in the name of the king …', the expression 'in the name of Allah ….' means 'on the authority and through the sanction of Allah'. (see ref. 1).
In the Qur'an, it is used in a similar way in the following verse:
اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ (96: 1)
Read, on the authority of your Lord who created. (96:1)
2. 'الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ'
This expression as pointed out by the author (ref. 2) is generally used in the Qur'an to express gratitude to Allah. Some parallel examples are:
وَنَزَعْنَا مَا فِي صُدُورِهِمْ مِنْ غِلٍّ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهِمْ الْأَنْهَارُ وَقَالُوا الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي هَدَانَا لِهَذَا وَمَا كُنَّا لِنَهْتَدِيَ لَوْلَا أَنْ هَدَانَا اللَّهُ (43:7)
And We shall remove from their hearts any lurking sense of injury – beneath them will be rivers flowing – and they shall say: 'Gratitude be to Allah, who has guided us to this [felicity]: never could we have found guidance, had it not been for the guidance of Allah. (7:43)
وَآخِرُ دَعْوَاهُمْ أَنْ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ(10:10)
And the ending of their prayer will be: 'Gratitude be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds!' (10:10)
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي وَهَبَ لِي عَلَى الْكِبَرِ إِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَاقَ إِنَّ رَبِّي لَسَمِيعُ الدُّعَاءِ(39:14)
'Gratitude be to Allah, Who has granted unto me in old age Ishmael and Isaac: for truly my Lord is He, the Hearer of Prayer!' (14:39)
وَقَالُوا الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي صَدَقَنَا وَعْدَهُ وَأَوْرَثَنَا الْأَرْضَ (74:39)
They will say: 'Gratitude be to Allah, Who has truly fulfilled His Promise to us, and has given us [this] land in heritage'. (39:74)
فَإِذَا اسْتَوَيْتَ أَنْتَ وَمَنْ مَعَكَ عَلَى الْفُلْكِ فَقُلْ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي نَجَّانَا مِنْ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ(28:23)
And when you have embarked on the Ark – you and those with you – say: 'Gratitude be to Allah, Who has saved us from the people who do wrong'. (23:28)
وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا دَاوُودَ وَسُلَيْمَانَ عِلْمًا وَقَالَا الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي فَضَّلَنَا عَلَى كَثِيرٍ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ(15:27)
We gave knowledge to David and Solomon: and they both said: 'Gratitude be to Allah, Who has favored us above many of His servants who believe!' (27:15)
وَقَالُوا الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي أَذْهَبَ عَنَّا الْحَزَنَ إِنَّ رَبَّنَا لَغَفُورٌ شَكُورٌ(34:35)
And they will say: 'Gratitude be to Allah, who has removed from us sorrow: for our Lord is indeed Oft-Forgiving ready to appreciate [service]'. (35:34)
As pointed out by the author (ref. 2), the word 'اللَّه' is made by appending the article 'ال' to the Arabic word 'اله'.
As pointed out by the author (ref. 3), the word 'رَبّ' has been stripped off its literal meaning of 'sustainer' and 'cherisher'. It has come to be used in the sense of 'lord' or 'master'. Thus expressions like 'رَبُّ الْبَيْت' and 'رَبُّ الْنَاقَة' are frequently used in Arabic.
The plural here does not signify any meaning beyond its singular 'اَلْعَالَمْ'. Both are used in Arabic to imply 'the world'. In other words, the plural form does not mean that 'all worlds' are being implied.
The fact that this plural word can be used in the singular sense is evident from its usage in the Qur'an. Consider the following verses:
أَتَأْتُونَ الذُّكْرَانَ مِنْ الْعَالَمِينَ(165:26)
Of all the creatures in the world, will you approach males. (26:165)
تَبَارَكَ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ الْفُرْقَانَ عَلَى عَبْدِهِ لِيَكُونَ لِلْعَالَمِينَ نَذِيرًا(1:25)
Blessed is He Who sent down the Criterion to His servant, that it may be an admonition to the world. (25:1)
It is quite obvious that in both these verses the word 'الْعَالَمِينَ' is not meant in its plural sense and is equivalent to 'اَلْعَالَمْ'.
6. 'الرَّحْمَان' and 'الرَّحِِيْم'
It is evident from ref. 5 that in the opinion of the author, commentators have generally failed to appreciate the true relevance and usage of these attributes mentioned successively. Zamakhshari for example says that 'الرَّحْمَان' has more intensity and exaggeration than 'الرَّحِِيْم'.1 As pointed out by the author, it is Imam Amin Ahsan Islahiwho for the first time has determined the true purport of these attributes. No doubt both these attributes are intensive forms; however, both have specific meanings to convey.
While pointing out the meaning of this word, the author has written:
The word 'عِبَادَة' is primarily used in Arabic for 'humility' and 'submission'. In the Qur'an it is specifically used for the humility and servility a person shows to His Creator. The basic manifestation of this trait is worship, however, since man in this world is also a 'man of action' this worship necessarily relates to his deeds and actions as well and in this way includes obedience.
II Syntax & Declensions & (النحو و الاعراب)
1. Declension of 'مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ'
The word 'مَالِك' is used as an attribute and not as a nomen agentis 'اِسْمُ الْفَاعِل'2. Therefore, its annexure (اِضَافَة) has made it a defined (مَعْرِفَه) adjective. Hence, it can occur in conjugation with the defined adjectives mentioned in the previous verses.
2. Declension of 'غَيْرِ'
The word 'غَيْرِ' is declined in the genitive because it is a permutative (بَدَل) of 'الَّذِينَ' found in the expression 'صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ'. Thus the sense is '… الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْغَيْرِصِرَاطَ'.
III Style & Eloquence (الاساليب و البلاغة)
1. Suppression related to the particle 'ب' in 'بِاِسْمِ اللَّهِ'
As pointed out by the author (ref. 1), the Bismillah verse is addressed to the Prophet (sws) and hence the words 'اِقْرَأهُ عَلَى الَّناس' ([O Prophet] read this surah out before these people) are suppressed after the verse. This opinion of the author is in contrast with most of the classical commentators who regard verbs such as 'اَبْدَاُ' (I begin) and 'اَقْرَاُ' (I read) to be suppressed before or after the Bismillah verse.
2. Suppression of the Preposition
The preposition 'اِلَى' is suppressed after the verb 'اِهْدِنَا'. In classical Arabic, prepositions are suppressed to emphasize and add to the meaning of verbs after which they are suppressed. The author has pointed this out in the following words:
The expression 'اِهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ' now does not simply mean 'give us guidance'. It means: 'set our hearts on this path; instill in us the desire to tread this path, give us the resolve, determination and facility to stay on this path and guide us forever through whatever circumstances we encounter while traversing it.'
3. Shift in Address (اِلْتَفَات)
The first three verses of the surah do not directly address anyone. Rather they are an expression of the various attributes of the Almighty in general. It is the fourth verse with which the address starts. This 'اِلْتَفَات' (address shift) is very apt as the attributes form a befitting prelude to the direct prayer that the subsequent verses express.
IV. Exegesis and Explanation (الشرح و التفسير)
1. The Connotation of 'اَلْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ' and 'اَلضَّالِّين'
A study of the Qur'anand other parallel verses in which these expressions occur reveals thatthe people referred to by the words 'اَلْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ' and 'اَلضَّالِّين' are the Jews and Christians of the time of the Prophet Muhammad (sws). The author has pointed this out in ref. 11 and ref. 12. Thus the context of 5:60 and 2:61 shows that Jews are addressed:
قُلْ هَلْ أُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِشَرٍّ مِنْ ذَلِكَ مَثُوبَةً عِنْدَ اللَّهِ مَنْ لَعَنَهُ اللَّهُ وَغَضِبَ عَلَيْهِ وَجَعَلَ مِنْهُمْ الْقِرَدَةَ وَالْخَنَازِيرَ وَعَبَدَ الطَّاغُوتَ أُوْلَئِكَ شَرٌّ مَكَانًا وَأَضَلُّ عَنْ سَوَاءِ السَّبِيلِ (5 :60)
Say: 'Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, [as judged] by the treatment it received from God? Those who were cursed by God and incurred His wrath, those from whom some he transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped Evil; – these are [many times] worse in rank, and far more astray from the even Path!' (5:60)
وَإِذْ قُلْتُمْ يَامُوسَى لَنْ نَصْبِرَ عَلَى طَعَامٍ وَاحِدٍ فَادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُخْرِجْ لَنَا مِمَّا تُنْبِتُ الْأَرْضُ مِنْ بَقْلِهَا وَقِثَّائِهَا وَفُومِهَا وَعَدَسِهَا وَبَصَلِهَا قَالَ أَتَسْتَبْدِلُونَ الَّذِي هُوَ أَدْنَى بِالَّذِي هُوَ خَيْرٌ اهْبِطُوا مِصْرًا فَإِنَّ لَكُمْ مَا سَأَلْتُمْ وَضُرِبَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ الذِّلَّةُ وَالْمَسْكَنَةُ وَبَاءُوا بِغَضَبٍ مِنْ اللَّهِ (2: 61)
And remember you said: O Moses! we cannot endure one kind of food; so ask your Lord for us to produce for us of what the earth grows, – its pot-herbs, and cucumbers, its garlic, lentils, and onions.' He said: 'Will you exchange the better for the worse? Go you down to any town, and you shall find what you want!' They were covered with humiliation and misery; they drew on themselves the wrath of God. (2:61)
Similarly, it is evident from the context of 5:77 that Christians of the times of the Prophet (sws) have been addressed in it. They are the ones who have gone astray (as indicated by the underlined portion). Soon the basis of 5:77 one can conclude that the word 'اَلضَّالِّين' (who have gone astray) in Surah Fatihah refers to these Christians.
قُلْ يَاأَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا أَهْوَاءَ قَوْمٍ قَدْ ضَلُّوا مِنْ قَبْلُ وَأَضَلُّوا كَثِيرًا وَضَلُّوا عَنْ سَوَاءِ السَّبِيلِ (5 :77)
Say: 'O People of the Book! Exceed not in your religion the bounds [of what is proper], trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow the vain desires of people who have gone astray in times gone by, – who misled many, and strayed [themselves] from the even Way. (5:77)
2. The Connotation of 'أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ'
As pointed out by the author (ref 10), the Qur'an itself points out who are implied by the words 'أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ':
وَمَنْ يُطِعْ اللَّهَ وَالرَّسُولَ فَأُوْلَئِكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ مِنْ النَّبِيِّينَ وَالصِّدِّيقِينَ وَالشُّهَدَاءِ وَالصَّالِحِينَ وَحَسُنَ أُوْلَئِكَ رَفِيقًا(4 :69)
And those who obey Allah and the Prophet shall be among those whom God has blessed like the Prophets, the upright, the witnesses [to the truth] and the righteous. And how excellent these companions are. (4:69)
3. The Status of the Bismillah verse
In the opinion of the author (ref. 1), the Bismillah verse, though a part of the Qur'an, is not part of any Qur'anic Surah including Surah Fatihah. It is addressed to the Prophet Muhammad (sws) with the indication that he is required to read out before his addressees the surah that follows these words.
3. The First Revelation
According to the author, Surah Fatihah is the first revelation of the Qur'an. It is the only surah of the Qur'an which is not directed to any addressee of the Prophet (sws). Its addresser is every person in the time of the Prophet who yearned for fresh guidance from the Almighty after the Jews and Christians – the People of the Book – had corrupted and interpolated the divine guidance they had been blessed with.
4. Is Surah Fatihah 'سَبْعًا مِنْ الْمَثَانِي'?
Certain A%hadithsay that Surah Fatihah is 'سَبْعًا مِنْ الْمَثَانِي'. This expression is interpreted to mean 'the seven oft-repeated ones'. This is because it is suggested that the number seven means the seven verses of Surah Fatihah and since the surah is read in all the prayers it is befittingly called the 'seven oft-repeated ones'. However, a first reading of the surah shows that is does not have seven verses; they are actually six. Since the expression 'سَبْعًا مِنْ الْمَثَانِي' was understood to mean 'the seven repeated ones' and thus the Hadith seemingly says that Surah Fatihah has seven verses, scholars tried to solve the problem by either counting the Bismillah verse as part of Surah Fatihah or splitting the last verse into two verses.
It is submitted that the expression 'سَبْعًا مِنْ الْمَثَانِي' also occurs in the Qur'an (15:87):
وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَاكَ سَبْعًا مِنْ الْمَثَانِي وَالْقُرْآنَ الْعَظِيمَ(15: 87)
We have bestowed upon you sab'an mina'l-mathani and the great Qur'an. (15:87)
A deliberation on its meanings shows that the expression does not mean 'the seven repeated ones'. The word 'مَثَانِي' is the plural of 'مَثْني', which means 'in two's' or 'in pairs'. In other words the expression 'سَبْعًا مِنْ الْمَثَانِي' means '… seven of those composed of pairs. As pointed out by Islahi3, this refers to the seven groups of the Qur'an in which the surahs occur as pairs. As for the conjunctive 'و' that precedes the words 'الْقُرْآنَ الْعَظِيمَ' in 15:87, its grammatical function is 'explication' (tafsir), and so the verse means: '… seven of those composed of pairs, i.e. the great Qur'an. In other words, as per 15:87, it is the Qur'an itself which is the 'سَبْعًا مِنْ الْمَثَانِي'.
Now the question arises that why do certain A%hadithcall Surah Fatihah 'سَبْعًا مِنْ الْمَثَانِي'. The reason, it seems, is that the surah epitomises the Qur'an, and, as such, can be taken as the Qur'an in miniature. It is this character of the surah that the Ahadith seek to bring out.
V. Scriptures and Testaments (العهود والصحف)
1. Surah Fatihah in the Previous Scriptures
It seems that the Old and New Testaments contains verses which closely resemble Surah Fatihah.
The Old Testament contains the following prayer:
'The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children fro the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.' (Exodus 34:6-7)
Upon a request from one of his disciples Jesus (sws) taught the following prayer to the disciples:
'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive those who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.' (Luke, 11:2-4)
Farahiin his exegesis has explained how closely these words of Jesus (sws) resemble Surah Fatihah.4Those interested in this comparison are advised to read it.
See how closely the following Palm of David (sws) resembles the content of Surah Fatihah:
A prayer of David
1. Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
2. Guard my life, for I am devoted to you. You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you.
3. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.
4. Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5. You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.
6. Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.
7. In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.
8. Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours.
9. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name.
10. For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.
11. Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
12. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.
13. For great is your love towards me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.
14. The arrogant are attacking me, O God; a band of ruthless men seeks my life – men without regard for you.
15. But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
16. Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant your strength to your servant and save the son of your maidservant.
17. Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.