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“in the name of god the Merciful, the Compassionate” (1). This surah, like all other surahs in the Qur’an with the exception of al-Tawbah, opens in the name of God, Allah (SWT),1 the most exal- ted and holiest of names which, when invoked, provides protection from all harm and evil. As an expression of praise and gratitude to God the surah represents the very heart and soul of the Qur’an and, although it is one of the shorter surahs, it is often considered to be the most illustrious of them all. Al-F¥ti^ah conveys the quintessen- tial ideal of Islam giving expression and deﬁnition to the covenant made between human beings and God upon which the mission and task of humankind in this world has been founded. It is, moreover, an earnest prayer to God, a heartfelt plea to show humans the right way, give them guidance and make them deserving of His pleasure and benevolence.
Let us take a close look at the verse: “Praise be to God, Lord of all creation” (2). This verse articulates three concepts:
- praise and gloriﬁcation of the grandeur, magniﬁcence, and perfection of God Almighty;
- praise to God, the Creator and Provider, for the grace, generosity, and kindness He has shown towards His creation; and
- SWT—Sub^¥nahu wa Ta¢¥l¥: May He be praised and may His transcen- dence be afﬁrmed. Said when referring to Allah.
A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an
- gratitude and thankfulness to the Creator and Provider, for all the favors and the grace He has bestowed upon His creation.
Every time one utters these words or expresses these feelings, one not only gloriﬁes God, but praises and thanks Him at the same time. “Lord of all creation” (2) is an assertion that God is Master of all, from the mightiest to the humblest of creatures, wherever they may be on earth and in the universe. He is the Master of humans, animals, plants, angels, planets, stars, systems, the seen and the unseen. Every- thing that has existed or shall ever exist in this world is subordinate to God, subservient to Him, bound to His power, and totally depen- dent upon His grace, blessings, and compassion. God says elsewhere in the Qur’an:
To God is praise, Lord of the heavens and of the earth, Lord of all creation. Glory to Him in the heavens and on earth. He is Mighty and Wise. (al-J¥thiyah: 36–37)
“The Merciful, the Compassionate” (3). Human beings, and all other creation, live by the grace of God’s mercy, which is abundant beyond all estimation. Were it not for His mercy, our existence would have been eroded by both our sins and ingratitude as well as by our arrogance and high-handed tendencies.
“Master of the Day of Judgment” (4). This refers to the day of reckoning, which heralds the beginning of a new life that will be in total contrast to our present transient one. The concept of a “Day of Judgment” has been all but obliterated and forgotten in today’s materialistic society. It has become a subject for satire and ridicule. In areas of education, law, national and international politics, it has been deliberately omitted or swept aside. Nevertheless, it represents a most basic and fundamental fact of human existence and should be cherished and reckoned with.
surah 1 • Al-F¥ti^ah
“You alone we worship, and to You alone we turn for help” (5). Everyone and everything is in need of God and His favors. Prophet Muhammad (ßAAS)2 was known to appeal to God: “Help me to be mindful of You and thank You and worship You, the best I can.” He was reported to have advised: “When you have a speciﬁc need, ask God to provide it, and when you are short of help seek it from God.”3
“Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom You have favored” (6-7). A straight line is the shortest distance between two points and is therefore unique. Whoever leads a straight and righ- teous life will be on the right path to God, for that is the one and only sure and direct way that leads to Him. God’s religion is one religion, preached by all prophets and messengers at all stages of human his- tory. It is founded on the oneness of God who deserves total allegi- ance and full praise and on whom everyone and everything depend.
This concept seems to be a matter for considerable confusion and debate among followers of some contemporary religions. But Mus- lims believe with certainty that everything in existence, human or otherwise, is totally subservient to and dependent on God in every aspect of its existence, now and in the life to come. And there are no exceptions to this rule; neither among human beings nor other crea- tures. Those who deny or overlook this fact are doomed to ruin and humiliation.
On the other hand, whoever submits willingly to God and obeys Him and His Messenger, Muhammad, will ﬁnd the right and straight path and would follow it. God says elsewhere in the Qur’an:
whoever obeys God and the Messenger [Muhammad] will be in the company of those whom God has favored: the prophets, the
- ßAAS—ßalla All¥hu ¢Alayhi wa Sallam: May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him; said whenever the name of Prophet Muhammad is mentioned or whenever he is referred to as the Prophet of Allah.
- Narrated by Ab‰ D¥w‰d and al-Nas¥’Ï in their Sunan.
A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an
believers, the martyrs and the pious; and what good company they will be! (al-Nis¥’: 69)
As for those who take other gods, or deities, besides God or ﬂout His commands, their plight will be hopeless and they will be wasted, wallowing under the combined effect of a total loss of direction and the wrath of God. People should strive to be clear and correct in their thinking and sincere in their vision and perception. Once shown the truth, people should uphold it, show humility towards God, and kindness and benevolence towards other beings.
God prescribed the recitation of this surah as part of all Muslim prayers, including the obligatory ﬁve daily ones. It is a refreshing, regenerative, and intimate communication between people and their Lord. It is a manifesto of fundamental truths and ideals, and an overture of humility from a modest apologetic servant to the All- Powerful Lord and Master. Prophet Muhammad is reported to have quoted God as saying:
[the fruits] of prayer are shared equally between Me and My servant, and My servant will be granted what he had asked for. As he recites: “Praise be to God,” God would say: “My servant has praised Me.” As he recites: “The Merciful, the Compassionate,” God would say: “My servant has thanked Me.” As he recites: “Master of the Day of Judgment,” God would say: “My servant has gloriﬁed Me and sur- rendered to Me.” As he says: “You alone we worship, and You alone we turn to for help,” God would say: “This is between Me and My servant, and My servant will receive what he has asked for.” And, as he says: “Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom You have favored, not those who have incurred Your wrath, nor those who have gone astray,” God would say: “This is for My servant, and he will be granted his wish.”4
- Narrated by Muslim in his ßa^Ï^.
surah 1 • Al-F¥ti^ah
We recite these blessed words of supplication and praise for the beneﬁt of our own souls, just as washing regularly is necessary for the health of our bodies. The beneﬁts we reap justify the regularity and repetition of the recitation. A body would not remain clean by washing it only now and then; it needs to be washed regularly all through one’s life. Likewise, human temperament and behavior are never put right by a short prayer, casually repeated but soon forgot- ten. One has to stand before God as frequently as possible, because human recklessness and imprudence, as well as Satan’s insinuations, never cease nor know any bounds. Prayer, supplication, and submis- sion to God have to be observed and performed as a matter of habit. God says elsewhere in the Qur’an: “Prayer has been enjoined on the believers at set times” (al-Nis¥’: 103).
In a few short lines, therefore, we have a true expression and a full deﬁnition of the natural and proper relationship between people and their Lord. The essence of this relationship is people’s acknowledge- ment of God, their unqualiﬁed praise of Him, their eagerness to reach closer to Him, their commitment to worship Him, and their continual active and sincere efforts to beg for His favor, mercy, and grace. All this in order that God may help people to exist and live as He wishes them to do.
بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ
إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ
اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ