بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَانِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful
Historical Status of the Verse
A study of the Qur’an reveals that since ancient times there has always been a mention of the meanings encompassed by this verse in revealed scriptures in one form or another. It may be the first time that these meanings are framed in such a sublime diction in the Qur’an, yet what they convey is so close to human nature that one strongly feels that the Almighty must also have revealed them in the very beginning. The Prophet Noah (sws), when his followers were boarding the ark, said something quite similar, as is mentioned in the Qur’an:
وَقَالَ ارْكَبُوا فِيهَا بِاِسْمِ اللَّهِ مَجْرَاهَا وَمُرْسَاهَا إِنَّ رَبِّي لَغَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ (41:11)
And he said: Embark therein! In the name of Allah will it sail and cast anchor. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful. (11:41)
Similarly, the Prophet Solomon (sws) began his letter, addressed to the Queen of Sheeba, with these blessed words, as is quoted by the Qur’an:
إِنَّهُ مِنْ سُلَيْمَانَ وَإِنَّهُ بِاِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَانِ الرَّحِيمِ (30:27)
It is from Solomon and it [begins] in the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful. (27:30)
Prayer Nature of the Verse
The verse is not an informative statement, and, like Surah Fatihah, is actually a prayer. It is a voice which emanates from the heart of every upright person. A more beautiful expression of emotions in words so akin to human nature could not have been imagined. If a person consciously utters this prayer before any piece of work or routine, it makes him aware that what he is about to undertake must not be against the Almighty’s liking; on the contrary, it must be in accordance with the way of life prescribed by Him. Also, by virtue of this prayer, he seeks help from two great attributes of God – ‘رَحْمَان’ (Rahman) and ‘رَحِيْم’. (Rahim). Both these attributes secure him the blessings and help of the Almighty: he is protected from the ill-effects of his undertaking and receives strength and courage to carry out his task to completion; he is shielded from the onslaughts of Satan, and his work becomes beneficial for him in this world and a means to please the Almighty in the Hereafter. Anything done without this prayer certainly fails to reap all these blessings, as the Prophet (sws) himself is reported to have said.
These blessings of the verse manifest themselves for every routine that is initiated with it. However, reading it before reciting the Qur’an has certain other aspects also, which should remain in mind.
Firstly, when a person says ‘بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَانِ الرَّحِيمِ’ before reciting the Qur’an, he actually obeys the directive revealed in the first revelation in the words:
اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ (1:96)
Read in the name of your Lord. (96:1)
Secondly, these blessed words remind man of the reality that the greatest favour of the Almighty on human beings is that He has blessed them with the faculty of speech because of which they became the recipients of this Book. The attribute Rahman mentioned in the verse alludes to this fact. At another place in the Qur’an, it is specified that it is this attribute of the Almighty which made Him create man, grant him the ability to speak and, as a result, teach him the Qur’an:
الرَّحْمَانُ عَلَّمَ الْقُرْآنَ خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ (55 :1-4)
It is the Most Gracious who has taught the Qur’an [because] He created man and taught him speech. (55:1-4)
Thirdly, this verse testifies to the veracity of a prediction that was made about the Prophet Muhammad (sws) found in previous scriptures. According to this prediction, he would teach and instruct people in the name of Allah:
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put My words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to My words that the prophet speaks in My name, I myself will call him to account. (Deuteronomy, 18:18)
Fourthly, just as the Qur’an is the manifestation of the attribute Rahman of the Almighty, it is this very attribute which helps a person in understanding it. Difficult verses and passages unfold their meaning to a reciter if he seeks help from this attribute. Also, he would be protected through these words from the incursions of Satan while deciphering the meanings of the Qur’anic verses and be shielded from various evil suggestions of his own soul.
Attributes of the Almighty in the Verse
Three attributes of the Almighty are mentioned in the verse: ‘اللَّه’ (Allah), ‘رَحْمَان’ (Rahman) and ‘رَحِيْم’ (Rahim). I shall briefly explain them.
‘اللَّه’ (Allah): The word Allah is made by prefixing the article alif-lam to the word ‘اله’ (Ilah). From the earliest times, this name has always been used for the Almighty specifically as the Creator of the Universe and of every living being. This connotation of the word also existed in pre-Islamic times in Arabia. The people of Arabia practiced polytheism, yet they never equated any of their deities with the Almighty. They always acknowledged Him as the sole Creator of this world. They worshipped other deities only because they wrongly believed that these deities were close to God and could intercede for them. Their views are stated in detail in the Qur’an:
مَا نَعْبُدُهُمْ إِلَّا لِيُقَرِّبُونَا إِلَى اللَّهِ زُلْفَى (3:39)
We worship them only that they may bring us nearer to God. (39:3)
وَلَئِنْ سَأَلْتَهُمْ مَنْ خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَسَخَّرَ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ لَيَقُولُنَّ اللَّهُ فَأَنَّا يُؤْفَكُونَ اللَّهُ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ وَيَقْدِرُ لَهُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ وَلَئِنْ سَأَلْتَهُمْ مَنْ نَزَّلَ مِنْ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَحْيَا بِهِ الْأَرْضَ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَوْتِهَا لَيَقُولُنَّ اللَّهُ (29: 61-3)
And if you ask them: Who has created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon [to His law]? They will reply: Allah. How are they then deluded away [from the truth]. It is Allah who gives abundantly to whom He pleases and gives sparingly [to whom He pleases]. Allah has knowledge of all things. If you ask them: Who is it that sent down-rain from the clouds and therewith revived the earth after it became dead. They will say: Allah. (29:61-3)
قُلْ مَنْ يَرْزُقُكُمْ مِنْ السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ أَمَّنْ يَمْلِكُ السَّمْعَ وَالْأَبْصَارَ وَمَنْ يُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنْ الْمَيِّتِ وَيُخْرِجُ الْمَيِّتَ مِنْ الْحَيِّ وَمَنْ يُدَبِّرُ الْأَمْرَ فَسَيَقُولُونَ اللَّهُ فَقُلْ أَفَلَا تَتَّقُونَ (31:10)
Ask them: Who is it that sustains you from the sky and the earth, or who is it that has power over your hearing and sight and who brings forth the living from the dead and the dead from the living and who directs all affairs? They will say: Allah. Then ask: Are you not afraid of Him? (10:31)
‘رَحْمَان’ (Rahman) and ‘رَحِيْم’ (Rahim): The noun ‘رَحْمَان’ (Rahman) is in the intensive form of ‘فَعْلان’ (fa‘lan), (eg: ‘سَكْرَان’ (Sakran) and ‘غَضْبَان’ (Gad~ban)), while the noun ‘رَحِيْم’ (Rahim): is an adjective of the form ‘فِعَيْل’ (fa‘il) (eg: ‘عَلِيْم’ (‘Alim) and ‘كريم’ karim)). A look at the usage of the Arabic language shows that the form ‘فَعْلان’ (fa‘lan) expresses great fervency and enthusiasm, while the form ‘فِعَيْل’ (fa‘il) expresses steadiness and perpetuity. In other words, the first depicts vigour and the second constancy in God’s mercy. A little deliberation shows that the Almighty’s mercy on His creation possesses both these characteristics. The enthusiasm and warmth is complemented by permanence. It is not that His attribute of ‘رَحْمَان’ (Rahman) induced Him to create, and He later forgot to foster and sustain His creation. Indeed, He is nourishing and taking proper care of them because He is ‘رَحِيْم’ (Rahim) as well. Whenever a person invokes His help, He hears his calls and accepts his prayers. Also, His blessings are not confined to this world only. Those who lead their lives according to the path prescribed by Him, shall be blessed with eternal life and joy. It must be conceded that all these aspects cannot be comprehended without an integrated understanding of these attributes.
Placement of this Verse in the Qur’an
An important question which arises regarding this verse is its real place in the Qur’an. This question arises because of the fact that though it is written in the beginning of every surah (except Surah Tawbah) as an independent verse, yet apparently in none of the surahs except Surah Naml is it included in the text of the surah. For this very reason, there is a difference of opinion among scholars on whether it is part of some particular surah or whether it is written at the beginning of a surah merely to invoke the blessings of the Almighty. The opinion of the readers (Qurra’) and jurists of Madinah, Basrah and Damascus is that it is not part of any surah including Surah Fatihah and it is merely a means to obtain the blessings of Allah and serves to separate the various surahs of the Qur’an. As such, it differentiates between various surahs of the Qur’an and a reciter earns the favours and blessings of Allah by reading it before reciting a particular surah. Imam Abu Hanifah also holds this view.
On the other hand, the Makkan and Kufan jurists believe that it is part of every surah of the Qur’an including Surah Fatihah. Imam Shafi‘i also subscribes to this view.
In the opinion of my mentor, Imam Farahi, this verse is part of Surah Fatihah and a preamble to the other surahs of the Qur’an. As for myself, I prefer the view of the Madinan reciters. The reason for my preference is that it is the Prophet (sws) himself who has arranged the Qur’an in the light of the guidance provided by the Almighty.As such, this verse has also been divinely placed. In the arranged sequence of the Qur’an, no difference has been made in writing this verse whether it is the case of Surah Fatihah or any other surah. In every case, it stands apart in each surah as an independent verse.
(Translated by Shehzad Saleem from Islahi's Tadabbur-e Qur'an)