In the name of God, the compassionate, the ever-merciful.
The coherence in this sūrah is like a multifaceted gem. It can be studied in many distict aspects. I shall take upon explaining all the facets of coherence in the sūrah one by one.
The Frist Aspect:
The first aspect of coherence in this sūrah stems from its status as the preface to the Qur’ān and the fact that it, in a concise manner, covers all fundamental themes of the Book (unicity of God, sharā’i‘ (laws), last judgment). It is in consideration of the fact that the sūrah covers the primary themes of the Book the scholars have called it al-mūfiyah (the complementing one). On top of being being a preface to the Qur’ān, housing all the fundamental themes of the Book, it is a miniature Qur’ān. This is because a preface to a book is an independent and complete discussion, and yet is always included as an addition to the book. This, however, is in only an aspect. A preface, in another aspect, is part of the book it inaugurates.
That the sūrah is an independent miniature Qur’ān in itself has been gleaned upon by the authorities in the Qur’ān tafsīr. They base this conclusion on their interpretation of the following verse which stresses God's extraordinary benevolence on the Prophet (sws): “We have given you seven oft-repeated ones and the great Qur’ān (sab'an min al-mathānī wa al-Qur'ān al-'azīm).”(Q 15: 87)
The scholars, from the earliest times to this day hold that the words sab‘an min al-mathānī (the seven oft-repeated ones) refer to Sūrah al-Fātiḥah. Notice how the Almighty specially calls it the great Qur’ān. This means this sūrah has an independent status. If someone holds that the wāw of ‘aṭaf (particle wāw meaning “and” in the verse) is not used to connote gloss and therefore, the most plausible implication is “we have given you these seven verses, and in addition to it, the great Qur’ān” then again, in as per this interpretation too, this sūrah is considered a chapter in addition to the Qur’ān. Thus whatever interpretation of the particle wāw we opt for, the sūrah can be proved to be an independent comprehensive entity. It is based on this that we can understand that the sūrah was not written in the codex of ‘Abdullāh b. Mas‘ūd (rta). For the Qur’ān was to be written on the hearts of the believers. Gabriel brought the Qur’ān to the Prophet (sws) who then taught it to the Companions (rta). They learnt it from him as oral word. That is why they themselves had to record it on pages in the form of a book. Thus if it is correct that ‘Abdullāh b. Mas‘ūd (rta) did not inscribe it in his codex, it is because he considered the fact that the sūrah was written in the heart of every believer. They recite it everyday more than thirty-two times. Whatever is frequently uttered by the tongue of a person does not need to be recorded in written form. It is there in the physical body and the spirit of the person. No despot can snatch it from him. He does not need to write it on a material which needs to be moved and carried separately while at home or on a journey vulnerable to theft and loss.
The Arabs would therefore not put to writing what they could remember and repeat orally. The Qur’ān too has been preserved and secured in this very manner. There is uncountable number of ḥuffāẓ (memorizers) of the holy Qur’ān in the ummah. God has always increased the number of ḥuffāẓ in the ummah.
A similar case is found in the Torah as well. The nation of Israel was required to memorize and secure the statement of the unicity of God in every possible manner. The rest of the Book was given them in written form. This later part was forgotten and lost. Similarly the Almighty Allah made this sūrah a part of the prayer and decreed that all the believers should write it on their hearts. This is what ‘Abdullāh b. Mas‘ūd (rta) had in mind when he did not write it in his personal codex. Generally people did not understand his view. They believed he did not consider it part of the Qur’ān. He is quit of the charge of doing so with such evil intention.
How does the sūrah cover all the fundamental teachings of the Qur’ān? The Qur’ān teaches us three fundamental themes: tawḥīd (unicity of God), al-Sharā’i‘ (divine laws), and the Last Judgment. If we proceed to discuss these themes in detail, trying to cover all the Qur’ānic parts dealing with them, it would put us in an unending discussion. We do not afford such an exhaustive survey of the matter. This matter will reveal itself to those who study the Qur’ān with deliberation.
I do not mean to say that some of the Qur’ānic verses exclusively deal with tawḥīd, some with rulings and some with the Afterlife. Contrarily, all these themes are mixed in different parts of the revelation. They are not put independently and separately in the book. Thus, in Sūrah al- Fātiḥah these themes have been put as follows: The theme of tawḥīd is put as a crown on the entire sūrah. Subsequently, the themes of the law and the afterlife are discussed as subsidiary of tawḥīd. You shall find the details of these points in the commentary on the sūrah in the following pages.
From the preceding discussion one can learn the wisdom behind making this sūrah a necessary part of the ṣalāh. Reciting Sūrah al-Fātiḥah is like reading the entire Qur’ān in brief. Reading a short version of something, after having learnt its detailed form, helps refresh the entire discussion. Shortly I shall explain to you how this sūrah completes one’s ṣalāh. No ṣalāh is better than that of one whose ṣalāh includes this text. This is perhaps because of this fact that the theme of this sūrah has been part of the ṣalāh even when it was not expressed in these exact words of miraculous beauty. Thus, no ṣalāh is possible without the theme this sūrah is expressive of. It is precisely for this reason that the Prophet (sws) stated that ṣalāh is not valid unless the worshipper recites al-Fātiḥah. The Prophet (sws) showed unprecedented love for the ummah when he said that whoever did not recite this sūrah in his ṣalāh his worship would be incomplete. He repeated the word “incomplete” three times. By this he meant to stress the importance of this sūrah as part of the ṣalāh. He emphasized that ṣalāh is not complete without the recitation of this sūrah, and that the believer should not keep this sūrah out of their ṣalāh, like the Jews and the Christians had done. The Jews, it should be noted, did not appreciate the importance of their fātiḥah, in spite of the fact that it was written in the Scriptures. It formed part of the ṣalāh of their prophets. I will deal with this matter in ……. section. They ignored this supplication and introduced new ones in its place. They kept changing their replacements and entered into disputes on this issue.
The Almighty Allah has showed great benevolence to the ummah of the Last Prophet, Muḥammad (sws). It is only because of God’s blessings that no faction in this ummah has failed to acknowledge importance of this sūrah. All the believers recite it in their ṣalāh. They are united on its status as part of the ṣalāh just as they are unanimous on the number of daily Prayers, the raka‘āt (units) to be offered in each, and its complete form, including the standing and sitting postures. The Almighty Allah preserved the form of the ṣalāh just as he saved the entire Qur’ān from alteration and adulteration.
We thank God on saving this ummah from falling into such error. He did not leave us fall into waywardness and error like the Jews and the Christians. This proves that Islam is still helped and protected by God. Its shades are expanding. Other nations continue to turn to it. God’s light still falls and shines on it. The Book of God is there to lead us. It is a covenant which we contracted with Him. The ṣalāh serves as a reminder of this covenant, as is evidenced by the Torah, the Gospels and the Qur’ān. This last fact shall be explained in the commentary on the last part of the Sūrah al-Fatḥ.
I have only mentioned the above facts in order that you do not lose sight of the central importance and extraordinary status of this sūrah, as well as of the importance and status of the ṣalāh, during which you recite the sūrah with full devotion. This shall also help you ignore the views of those who hold that Islam has lost God’s protection and that it is no longer under the divine light.
It is God Almighty Who sent the last of the Prophets, Muhammad (sws), whom He promised His help. He then of course fulfilled His promise. He helped the Prophet (sws) and perfected His blessings on him. The Almighty says: “It is He who has sent his Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, that He may proclaim it over all religions, even though the idolaters may detest it.” (Q 61:9)
The glad tiding that the last Prophet (sws) would triumph over his enemies was so prevalent and conspicuously mentioned in the earlier scriptures that the Jews would pray for victory over the rejecters through the promised Prophet (sws) even before the advent of Muhammad (sws). We see that the earlier Scriptures praised those who would enter Jerusalem. The praise of these people has again been mentioned in the Qur’ān, developing on the previous scriptural statements. The Qur’ānic verse in the praise of this group is as follows: “That is their description in the Torah. And their description in the Gospel is like seed-produce that puts forth its sprout, then strengthens it, till it becomes stout and stands firm on its stem, delighting the sower.” (Q 48:29)
Can a thing, the appearance of which has so profoundly foretold, be like a shade destined to recede into oblivion? Was it something like a tree easily pulled out by the roots? Or was it merely a rainless cloud? No. Never. It is only the untruth and falsity which are destined to vanish. Truth, on the contrary, is destined to grow aloft.
The Second Aspect
You have learnt that Sūrah al-Fātiḥah, as a preface to the Qur’ān, comprehensively covers the primary Qur’ānic themes, which are three in number. It is also a miniature Qur’ān in that it exhibits the form of coherence of the entire Qur’ān. If you recite the sūrah, you can get a reflection of the coherence of the entire Book. Seen in this perspective, this sūrah is like a small mirror reflecting a huge object. This is thus another aspect of it being a complete representation of the entire Qur’ān in a miniature form.
The details of this brief statement follow. When you consider the Qur’ān in its entirety, you learn that it starts by an expression of gratitude to God. Then you find it revealing the principles of Islam, in both their exterior and interior dimensions. It develops on till the point in which it completes the discussions with a mention of the help granted to the believers. The disbelievers are finished and annihilated, and the prophetic mission of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) culminates. The Sūrah of tawḥīd (Al-Ikhlāṣ, Q 112) has been put at the end as a representation of the last covenant of God. At this point, the divine city represented by the Qur’ān is fully constructed. Then there are two bulwarks built around it for defensive purposes. Or, we can say that two swords, or rather a double edged sword, are appointed to defend it. These are the last two Sūrahs of the Qur’ān, the so called mu‘awwadhatayn (the two seeking refuge). We can say that the Qur’ān is like an eternal garden which is watched over by two guards holding shining swords in their hands. This issue shall be detailed in the discussion on the arrangement of the sūrahs.
If you imagine the Qur’ān this way and ponder over Sūrah al-Fātiḥah, you will notice that the sūrah contains a stark similarity to the entire Qur’ān in this sense. It starts by an expression of gratitude to God. Then it takes up the theme of justice. Then we see two bases of worship. Then there is a mention of the right guidance and straight path consisting of tawḥīd and sunnah. Then surfaces the theme of seeking refuge in God. This seeking of refuge in God, just like the mu‘awwadhatayn, contains two aspects, both external and internal. A detailed discussion on this correspondence between the themes of the Sūrah and that of the entire Qur’ān requires a great amount of detail. This shall be clear to you once you have studied the commentary on the last sūrahs of the holy Qur’ān. However, you will find some important points in this regard in the explanation of the verses of the present sūrah.
The above, it is hoped, reveals that like the entire Qur’ān, this sūrah too is an eternal garden protected by two guards. This similarity between the two is not a baseless poetical imagination. It is, on the contrary, based on firm foundations and clear evidence. This basis shall be explained with the help of God.
The Third Aspect
This sūrah, the foundation block of the ṣalāh, prefaces the great Qur’ān. From its placement and relation to the Qur’ān, we can infer that the ṣalāh is the foremost directive of the religion. The one who does not offer regular prayers indeed abandons the entire religion. This conclusion drawn from the placement of the sūrah and its relation to the Book of God appears, after all, to be a mere inference. However, when we study the religious directives contained in the Qur’ān and the Sunnah this inference is established. Thus the status of the ṣalāh is edified seeing that God has made this sūrah the opening of the last divine covenant that He contracted with human beings.
In my commentary on verse 152 of the second sūrah (Al-Baqarah, Q 2) of the Qur’ān (“So remember Me, and I will remember you”), I have mentioned that the divine covenant made with this ummah is kept intact through the ṣalāh. When we hold fast to the ṣalāh, we in fact stick to the rope of God (the holy Qur’ān) and and also have a firm bond with Him. In return, God helps us over the enemies of the religion. He protects us from the worst enemy (Satan) who is residing with us. God has promised this in many places in His book. In the most of clear words, this promise has been put in the following saying of the Almighty Allah: “Surely the ṣalāh keeps off indecency and evil.” (Q 29:45)
The fact that abandoning the ṣalāh had put some of the earlier nations in error and waywardness is clear in the following verse: “A later generation succeeded them who have lost the ṣalāh and followed lusts. They shall soon meet error.” (Q (19:59) This verse has been placed following a mention of those whom God blessed, the Prophets and their followers. This points out that abandoning the ṣalāh means expulsion from the group that has God blessed, or the party of God. In Sūrah al-Fātiḥah this has been emphasized. God taught us to specially ask Him to put us on the path of this party of God. The above suffices as an introduction. I shall take up this issue again and deal with it in detail in my commentary on the following verses of Sūrah al-Ḥajj: “Those who, if we granted them power in the land, establish the ṣalāh, do their alms, enjoin good and forbid evil.” (Q 22:41) I will also deal with this theme in “Guard strictly your prayers, especially the middle prayer.” (Q 2:238) This issue will in addition be taken up in the commentary on the initial verses of Sūrah al-Mu’minūn and Sūrah al-Kawthar.
(Translated from Nizam al-Qur'an by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)
This discussion has been left unfinished.