Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A short commentary on Surah Fatiha

Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim

Something we need to reflect upon is our basics. A building can only be as strong as its foundation. Similarly, we can only grow spiritually and gain insight and delve into the depths of what the Quran offers us if our basics are well understood.

We recite the Fatiha at least 17 times a day, in every salah and each Muslim holds. We read the Quran and perform our salah, fast etc but there is no way we can perform these external acts unless we have knowledge of how to perform them. This ‘ilm we call Fiqh. ‘Ilm of how to execute the laws of Allah externally. Beyond the externals of reciting Quran and performing salah, we have the internal. The internal would be my motive or intention for performing the prayer or reciting the Quran. Am I reading to be noticed, for status or for wealth? Or am I reading with the sole purpose of striving to receive the satisfaction of Allah with me? The Prophet (saw) said, ‘Actions will be judged according to their intentions. This we call the ‘ilm of the inside, the ilm of the heart, Tasawuf. These are the feelings hidden away from the public eye but not hidden from Allah.

Regardless of it being fiqh or tasawuf, our foundation is knowledge which should form the basis of our actions.

Abu Dhar (May Allah be pleased with him) said, ‘“I would rather learn one point than spend my night in ibada;”

And Imam Hasan al-Basri (Mufti of Basri) who lived before the four Imams of the Madhahib ‘Tafakkur Sa’atan khayrun min ‘Ibda Sanah’, meaning to reflect or pnder or to think carfully for an hour is better that prayer for an entire year’.

وقال الشافعي رضي الله عنه: طلب العلم أفضل من النافلة

And Imam Shafi’I (may Allah be please with him) said, ‘the searching of knowledge is preferred over voluntary prayers’.

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Surah Fatiha starts with Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim translated - In the Name of God, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful.

In the beginning of the Book of Tafsir, in his Sahih, Al-Bukhari said; "It is called Umm Al-Kitab, because the Qur'an starts with it and because the prayer is started by reciting it.'' It was also said that it is called Umm Al-Kitab, because it contains the meanings of the entire Qur'an. Ibn Jarir said, "The Arabs call every comprehensive matter that contains several specific areas an Umm. For instance, they call the skin that surrounds the brain, Umm Ar-Ra's. They also call the flag that gathers the ranks of the army an Umm.'' He also said, "Makkah was called Umm Al-Qura, (the Mother of the Villages) because it is the grandest and the leader of all villages. It was also said that the earth was made starting from Makkah.''

Further, Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Hurayrah narrated about Umm Al-Qur'an that the Prophet said,

«هِيَ أُمُّ الْقُرْآنِ وَهِيَ السَّبْعُ الْمَثَانِي وَهِيَ الْقُرْآنُ الْعَظِيمُ»

(It is Umm Al-Qur'an, the seven repeated (verses) and the Glorious Qur'an.)

Also, Abu Ja`far, Muhammad bin Jarir At-Tabari recorded Abu Hurayrah saying that the Messenger of Allah said about Al-Fatihah,

«هِيَ أُمُّ الْقُرْآنِ وَهِيَ فَاتِحَةُ الْكِتَابِ وَهِيَ السَّبْعُ الْمَثَانِي»

(It is Umm Al-Qur'an, Al-Fatihah of the Book (the Opener of the Qur'an) and the seven repeated (verses).)

Before we eat, drink, sleep, wake up etc we say this. The ulama of Tasawuf, Sayid Bakri Shata from the ulama of Makkah says that it is not In the Name but rather By and Through Allah…

The second verse of Surah Ikhals reads, ‘

اللَّهُ الصَّمَدُ

If Allah is the Samad then we are the Samadiyya of Allah. The Samadiyyah of Allah refers to two aspects:

1) His absolute independence from all things and, 2) The absolute dependence of all things on Him. (quoted from an article written by Sh Seraj Hendricks)

Meaning, everything created by the creator is 100% dependent on Him while He is 100% independent of them. He is Qadim, the ancient and in the subject of Tauhid we learn the following:

‘Anything that was once non-existent and then brought into existence (created) must have an ending. As for Allah, He was not created and has no ending.’

If we understand this then we can understand what Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim means.

It means that if I am thirsty then that thirst is created by Allah (al-Khaliq – the Absolute Creator) as He alone creates the slaves and their actions but has honoured them with choice.

And we can then understand what it means to say, ‘La Hawla wala Quwwata illa billa’ meaning, there is absolutely no power not might except from Allh.

And I then lift up the glass to drink the water, then only through the Mercy of Allah as Rahman and Rahim, only by and through Allah’s Rahma can my thirst be quenched and this is the reality of things.

The way we understand and believe affects the way we behave and act. Does the water remove the thirst?

If I place my hand in fire then what happens? It burns. Does the fire have the power to burn or not?

When Nabi Ibrahim was placed into the fire, what happened? It became bardan salama – the fire became a security and place of tranquillity. Allah creates, control and gives the effects, every single second to every single creation from the human being blinking to the spec of dust falling.

The secrets lie in saying Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim. And when the slave says Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim, says the ‘ulama, ‘the slave is affirming the reality of things (that only by and through the Mercy of Allah) do things happen and can my thirst be quenched) and by the slave affirming what is actually happening, Baraka then descends upon the act he is doing. We receive Barakah through the Basmalah because we affirm the divine reality that everything happens by and through the Mercy and Compassion of Allah.

This is what Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim means.

In a narration we find the following, ‘The Zabur, Injil and Taurah is within the Quran. The Quran is found within the Fatiha and the Fatiha is within the Basmala and the Basmala is found within the Baa and the Baa is within the dot below the Baa.’

الْحَمْدُ للَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَـلَمِينَ


Hamd – from hamd we get the name Muhammad, Ahmad, Humayd and so on. Says the Arab that Hamd means to praise but it’s a praise that needs to be understood. It is as if one was in a state staring at a picture for a long time. Suddenly his attention is drawn to something so unique like Table Mountain which he sees for the first time. He then gasps with air at the uniqueness and magnitude of what he is seeing and this entire state he is in is accompanied with awe and reverence and this is called Hamd . This Hamd is in response to BismillahI Rahmani Rahim because the slave knows that nothing happens except by and through the Allah’s Rahma.


Rabb – from root rabbaba and from here get the word tarbiya. In the Arab countries we find he kuliya tarbiya or faculty of education. A place where we enter knowing little but when we leave we are enlightened. So we praise Allah as the Rabb, one who creates (without a need to have us around), then nourishes us creation with food, water and knowledge regardless of us being good or bad for every split second of our existence.


Alamin – we are in a state of Hamd to the Rabb of the ‘Alamin.

‘Alamin from the root letters ‘Ayn, Lam and mim. From here we get ‘alm and ‘ilm

‘Alm – creator of the entire cosmos and created order from the dunya to the akhira, to the world of thoughts, the secrets in the hearts, the world of dreams, the angels, the jinn and deepest recess of space.

‘Ilm – the one who has knowledge of all these worlds, its design, its perfection and the complexities of it.

We now realise that only by and through Allah as the Rahman and Rahim can anything happen and we respond with such a praise of awe and reverence to the Rabb of the entire created order and once we have this basis of whom we are bowing down to, our attention is drawn to two critical and important qualities. Key qualities around which everything else revolves and that is Arahman and Ar-Rahim. Our attention is being drawn to most central Sifat of Allah, Mercy and Compassion, yet our focus is so much more on punishment and Hell fire.

الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ


Rahim – The Prophet (saw) is referred to Ra’ufu Rahim. Rahim is therefore a quality human beings can posses. Rahim is a response to a need. Someone is in need and we respond to the need and we assist. Allah responds to us with air to breathe, warmth when we are cold and so on. As the Rahim, Allah gives to us when we need and this giving or Mercy is termed Rahim (a responsive mercy which has no limit).


Rahman – Mercy given without a need for it to be given. Allah creates us without him having to create us. This Sifat is exclusive to Allah. It is endless giving to those who believe and those who do not believe.

The Prophet (saw) said, ‘Allah’s mercy for his creation is more than the compassion a mother has for her child who she has been separated from for many years.’

مَـلِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ

We are then directed to Maliki Yaumi Din – that on that day, the day of reckoning, the day of justice. When Allah’s justice will be 100%. The jewels are in the previous verse where Allah has emphasised that He is so merciful. Think of the love one has for his mother and know that this is a not even a drop of the love Allah has for his creation.

Says the ulama, ‘Of the major sins is for the slave to believe that Allah will not forgive him’. Why? Because with this kind of belief, he is minimising the forgiveness and mercy of his Rabb. He is reducing and limiting Allah’s forgiveness and mercy to his own understanding of mercy where Allah’s mercy cannot be comprehended and has no limit.

On that day of judgement, know that the owner, the Malik, the King, Allah, will judge us yes, but on the basis of Mercy and Compassion as he has stressed in the previous verse.

The Prophet (saw) in a hadith Qudsi said that Allah says, ‘Qad Sabaqat Rahmati Ghadabi’ meaning, My Mercy outstrips My Anger’ and this is Who I am. And for this reason we then turn to Allah with tears in our eyes say

إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ

,’ Iyya ka na’ bu wa iyyaka nasta’in with the intention, ‘I understand that only through and by your Mercy is the reality and nothing exists outside and independent of your Rahma and therefore I turn to you with Hamd as you are the Nourisher of all existence and you will judge us on the last day with your infinite love and mercy and for this reason we say, ‘Thee alone do we bow down to and thee alone do we ask for help’. and this is what we need to understand when we say Iyya ka na’ bu wa iyyaka nasta’in.

by Muhammad Allie Khalfe

18 December 2010

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