This is the sūrah of the ṣalāh for the ummah which has practically adhered to it by reciting it in every offering of ṣalāh. The ummah has also transmitted the knowledge regarding the status of the sūrah through tawātur (historical transmission of knowledge through generality-to-generality). The ḥadīth of khidāj and the following ḥadīth also attest this. The holy Prophet said that God says: “I (God) have distributed the ṣalāh between Me and My servant.”(Muslim No: 395) That it is a most appropriate supplication for the ṣalāh is also strengthened by the fact that the Prophet Jesus (sws) taught his disciples a similar supplication for the occasion. The Christians, however, lost and forgot parts of it. They have also lost the message it conveys. The Almighty says: “Also we covenanted with those who claimed to be Christians. But they disregarded part of what through which they were reminded (of religious truths).”(Q 5:14)
I intend to reproduce the supplication taught by Jesus (sws) in what follows so that its correspondence to the Qur’ānic fātiḥah is made clear. It will also help us appreciate the Qur’ānic eloquence. It finds mention in the Gospel of Luke as follows:
It so happened that in a certain place, Jesus (sws) was at prayer. When he seized one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us how to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He answered, “When you pray, say, “Father, in the heavens, glorified is Your name. Your kingdom shall definitely manifest itself and Your will shall prevail on the earth as it prevails in the heavens. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we too forgive all who owe us something. And do not bring us to the test but save us from evil.” (Luke 11:1-4)
Mathew 6:13 adds the following words to this prayer:
“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”
This last sentence is not found in most transcripts of Mathew. Perhaps they have taken it from the response of those offering prayer behind the imām and added it to the original.
If you study these verses closely you will learn that they remarkably resemble Sūrah al-Fātiḥah. The words, “father, in the heavens” are a result of a textual corruption. The original contained the words, “Our Lord”, as Jesus (sws) has been quoted as saying by God Almighty in the holy Qur’ān. The following statement has been attributed to him in Sūrah Ᾱl-i ‘Imrān (3), Sūrah al-Mā’idah (5), Sūrah Maryam (19) and Sūrah al-Zukhruf(43). “Allah is my Lord and yours. Worship Him.” (Q 3:51, 19:36) The words of the Gospel “subḥānaka” (Glory to You) parallel the Qur’ānic words “al-ḥamdu lillāhi” (All gratitude is due to God). The only difference between the two expressions, however, is that the words “subḥānaka” are originally used to express glorification, whereas the words “al-ḥamdu lillāhi” express glorification as well as gratitude.
The words of Jesus (sws) “Your kingdom shall definitely manifest itself and Your will shall prevail on the earth as it prevails in the heavens” ask God to implement the Judgment. The Qur’ānic counterpart of this statement is the verse “māliki yawm al-dīn” (Lord of the Day of Judgment.) The Qur’ānic words express submission to and reliance on God. The Qur’ān avoids invocatory style because of the extraordinary weight of the matter besought. This reality has been explained in the following verse of Sūrah al-Shūrā: “Those who do not believe in the Judgment seek to hasten it while those who believe in it are fearful of it. And they know that it is bound to come.”(Q 42:18)
Expressing this theme in invocatory style, however, suited Jesus (sws) because he was appointed to give glad tidings of the divine rule to manifest after him, in the form of the Prophetic mission of Muḥammad (sws), who was raised to make this happen. Through the Prophet Muḥammad (sws), God revealed and perfected His Sharī‘ah. He revealed all such parts of the Sharī‘ah which he had till then kept secure for His servants. There are many verses in the Gospels which indicate that by the kingdom of heaven, the Prophet Jesus (sws) meant the advent of Prophet Muḥammad (sws). I will explain this issue under my commentary on the Qur’ānic verse “and giving the good news of a Messenger who will come after me, his name being Aḥmad.” (Q 61:6)
It needs to be appreciated that after the kingdom of heaven was established by the Prophet Muḥammad (sws), the only part of it that is still left is the establishment of the Last Judgment. This is why he did not beseech it. Rather he showed an optimistic expectation for it after he expressed gratitude to God, and after he mentioned His lordship and mercy. This can be understood with the help of a famous ḥadīth qudsī (sayings attributed to God by Muḥammad). The Prophet (sws) says that God says, “I have distributed the ṣalāh between Me and My servant.” The ḥadīth goes on to mention that when God’s servant utters the words “Master of the Day of Judgment”, God responds, “My servant has submitted himself to Me.” This is a very beautiful form of showing reliance on God and submitting oneself to Him. Jesus (sws) would also do the same at the end of his supplications.
The statement, “Give us each day our daily bread” is an example of a parable, a very frequent feature of Jesus’s (sws) statements. Here he has used bread as expressive of the Holy Spirit, which descended with what constituted sustenance for the life of the pious and the virtuous. It is to this interpretation of a symbolic expression that Jesus (sws) himself referred to shortly following the supplication itself. It is customary for Jesus (sws) to explain the nature of his parables in the end. He says, “If you, then, evil as you are, know how to give your children what is good for them, how much more will your heavenly Father (the Supreme Lord) grant of the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Mathew 7:11) At another occasion he said, “(Scripture says) that man cannot live on bread alone; he lives on every word that God utters.” (Mathew 4:4) The implication is that man lives by the will of God and by His command. This entails that your true life lies in adhering to and following His Sharī‘ah. Jesus (sws) refers to the statement of Moses (sws). “To teach you that man cannot live on bread alone but lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
The above shows that Jesus (sws)’ supplication, “Give us each day our daily bread,” means, “Grant us that upon which our eternal life depends.” This asks for the spirit of guidance leading to the straight path. Jesus (sws) himself has explained the straight path in his explanation of the ṣalāh supplication. He says, “Enter by the narrow gate. The gate is wide that leads to perdition; there is plenty of room on the road, and many go that way; but the gate that leads to life is small and the road is narrow, and those who find it are few.” (Mathew 7:13-4) We see that Jesus (sws) gave the example of a narrow path for the road leading to spiritual life. This is the straight path which leads a servant to his Lord, the source of all life.
Know that true life is the love of God, in the most secret recesses of the heart. It is obtained by following the guidance which the Prophets of God have shown us. A similar statement has been mentioned in the holy Qur’ān. The Almighty says, “Can he, who was once dead, then whom We gave him life and made for him a light whereby he walks among men, be like him whose condition is that he is in utter darkness whence he cannot come forth?” (Q 6:122)
God has, in these verses, called the belief in God life, and has rendered following the Sharī‘ah as walking in that light. Both of these go always together. They are inseparable. God has said: “Whoever holds firmly to Allah will be shown the straight path.” (Q 3:101) This explains the evangelical statement, as is evidenced by the statement of Jesus (sws) which is quoted by the Qur’ān repeatedly. Jesus (sws) has been quoted to have said, “Allah is my Lord and yours. Worship Him. This is the straight path.” (Q 3:51) The implication is that worshipping the one God is the straight path. Worshipping God includes following Him, as shall be explained soon. The above discussion proves that this part of the supplication taught by Jesus (sws) can be compared with our prayer to God, “guide us to the straight path.”
Jesus (sws) in his statement, “And forgive us our sins, for we too forgive all who owe us something” (Luke 11:3-4) seeks God’s forgiveness through adopting the responsibility of forgiveness on himself.
In the declaration “You alone do we worship and You alone we ask for help” we seek God’s help by practicing every good deed and avoiding every evil one. Thus we refer to forgiveness and reward for doing good for our Lord. We do not directly ask God for these things, in consideration of many important facts. We do not say “help us.” We do not even say, “Help us for we are your loyal servants.” We mention a intermediary metonymically. We say that we do not hold anyone other than You as a deity worthy of our worship. Then we refer to two intermediaries. Thus our statement “You alone we ask for help” in itself an intermediary. We do not rely on one as a source of help. Then these two intermediaries are the greatest sources of help. For the noblest action is belief in the unicity of God. Someone among the People of the Book asked Jesus (sws), “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus (sws) replied that the first is, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord; love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” “There exists no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-30) He pleads to the Book of Moses (sws). Tawḥīd (belief in one God) is the most important teaching of all the Prophets, as has been clearly put in the Qur’ān. Refer to Sūrah Hūd beside others.
The statement, “And do not bring us to the test but save us from evil” (Luke 11:14) means keep us safe from trials so that we do not stumble after having stood firm. If we fall in some evil, bring us out of it. Save us. This supplication indeed corresponds to the state of the Israelites. Many such verses in the Gospels seek safety from trial, considering the weakness of the Israelites and the frequent tests they were put through.
However, testing the humans is a sunnah (way) of God. None can remain entirely safe from trials. For God says, “The one who created life and death in order to test who among you is best in deeds.”(Q 67:2) Similarly 29:2-3 reads: “Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe’, and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.”(Q 29:2-3)
The holy Qur’ān informs us that even the Prophets and Messengers were tested and tried. God Almighty says: “And remember that Abraham (sws) was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled: He said: “I will make you an imam (leader) to the nations.” (Q 2:114) Adam (sws) too was tried through the tree. Noah (sws) was tried through his son. God said: “I give you counsel, lest you act like the ignorant!” (Q 11:46) Then Noah (sws) entered God’s refuge and sought forgiveness from his Lord. Similarly, God says concerning David (sws): “and David gathered that We had tried him: he asked forgiveness of his Lord.”(Q 38:24) Regarding Solomon (sws) God says: “And We did try Solomon: We placed on his throne a body (without life); but he did turn (to Us).”(Q 38:34) The way Moses (sws) and Aaron (sws) were put to trial has been mentioned in detail in the Torah. Both could not lead their nation to final triumph and died before the Israelites crossed the river of Jordan. God purified them both in this worldly life. You can learn how Jesus (sws), Job (sws), and Joseph (sws) were tried. Just read through the cries of Job (sws) in his book. The Prophet Yaḥyā (sws) was killed. The above introduces us to the fact that the Prophets too were tried and tested in their lives. Through we do not know the details of the trials of all the Prophets in the divine books and the historical resources, yet we can learn from the Qur’ān that all must have been put through tests and trials. For the holy Qur’ān says: “who created life and death in order to test who among you is best in deeds.” (Q 67:2)
Jesus (sws), however, in spite of knowing that testing and trying humans, including the Prophets, is the sunnah of God, fears God and seeks concession for his nation. He appreciates the weakness of his nation and seeks God’s refuge from His trials. He himself was tried by God for forty days. We can even say that he remained under trial all his life till God helped him and raised him up. This has been reported in the Qur’ān. “O Jesus! I am going to take you and raise you to Myself and save you from the rejecters.” (Q 3:55)
The ummah of Jesus (sws) too was tested and tried frequently. God, however, strengthened those among them who truly believed. Such trials of the Christians have been alluded to in Sūrah al-Burūj of the holy Qur’ān. Many incidents in their life corroborate this.
If one ponders over this supplication of Jesus (sws), one feels that perhaps Jesus (sws) foresaw such trials that his ummah was going to face. He might have concluded this by reflection on his own life. To have a full understanding of this issue, refresh in your mind what has happened to his ummah. There were many trials which they could not successfully bear. They let the trials overpower them till they reached such a desperate state that they lost hope of coming out of this state till the coming of the Last Prophet (sws).
As for Jesus’s (sws) request to save them, God saved him in a better manner than he had asked for. Still, however, in spite of this supplication for help, he was pleased with the will of God. The will of God is, it must be noted, better for the believers. This way Jesus (sws) too benefited from being pleased with God’s will. Just consider how he prayed while prostrating on the mount of Zaytūn. He prayed on the place called Gethsemane where he went into seclusion and separated himself from his followers and said: “O Lord, all things are possible to You. Take this cup away from me. Yet, I prefer Your will over mine. Let Your judgment prevail.” (Mark 14:34)
He had, before going to pray, asked his disciples to do the same. They, however, fell asleep. He kept on visiting them again and again in intervals. Every time he found them asleep. Each time he went back to pray while he was sad and fearful, yet even through this he still remained hopeful.Now imagine his reaction when he seemed to have lost all hope before crucifixion. He says, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Imagine the time when the drink of death reached his lips and God removed it from him, delivered him and raised him unto Himself. This way the decision of the knowing God is implemented.
In the like manner, God saved the true believers from among his ummah. They believed in Muḥammad (sws), the unlettered Prophet prophesied by Jesus (sws) himslef. In future also, whoever among them believes in the Last Prophet (sws) shall also be delivered.
Thus the Almighty accepted the prayers of Jesus (sws) concerning the true believers among his ummah. They entered Islam in multitudes. They will continue to embrace the faith. Regarding the wrongdoers among them, God did not accept his prayer, in the same way God dealt with the prayer of Abraham (sws) concerning his progeny. The holy Qur’ān says: “He (Abraham) said, ‘and my progeny?’ He (God) said, ‘My promise does not extend to the wrongdoers among them.’” (Q 2:124) The above is thus an explanation of the words of Jesus (sws), “do not bring us to the test but save us.”
It is obvious that this supplication by Jesus (sws) is another expression of his prayer to give him his daily bread. Bread refers to the Holy Spirit or the original guidance. Whomever God guides, He saves from trial. Such a blessed person is saved from the spiritual evils. Thus we see that Jesus (sws) prayed for the divine guidance. Then he explained it further and revealed to us that leading to this guidance is a difficult path of which the opening to it is a narrow door. It is this guidance which the Prophets of God bring.
We need to appreciate that Jesus (sws) asked this in order to highlight and stress the high status of the Sharī‘ah. This prayer also indicated his fear that his ummah might fall into error. He had before him the example of the Jews, who were being tested through the prophethood of Jesus (sws). They could have been blessed if they believed in him. They, however, rejected him and thus their misstep put them in waywardness which earned them the wrath of God. This has been clearly attested to by the Gospels and the holy Qur’ān. The Almighty says, “We covenanted with the Children of Israel and We sent to them Messengers. Whenever a messenger came to them with that which they did not desire some of them they denied and some they slew. They thought no evil would come of it, so they were willfully blind and deaf. And afterward Allah turned in mercy toward them. Then again many of them are being willfully blind and deaf.” (Q 5:70-1)