In the heart of Surat Al-Fatiha lies a secret …it is hidden from Muslims that recite it without understanding its meaning. What is the secret of this Makkan Surah?
“(1) In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy! (2) Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds, (3) the Lord of Mercy, the Giver or Mercy (4), Master of the Day of Judgment. (5) It is You we worship; it is You we ask for help (6) Guide us to the straight path: (7) the path of those You have blessed, those who incur no anger and who have not gone astray.
Surat Al-Fatiha embraces all the meanings of the Qur’an. Every meaning and denotation in the Quran is found in Al-Fatiha. The Quran is summed up in seven verses. Al Fatiha is a precise table of contents of the Qur’anic message. This is the inherent secret. And there is nothing like Surat Al Fatiha…
A) The Quran teaches us BELIEFS – believing in Allah. Verses 1-3 of Al-Fatiha present Monotheism and belief in the Day of Judgment – the essences of Islamic belief. The remainder of the Quran clarifies and explains beliefs (Allah’s names and attributes, the angels, the books, day of judgment…etc.)
B) The Quran teaches us how to WORSHIP Allah. Verse 5 of Al-Fatiha embellishes the fundamental reality that it is only Allah that deserves to be worshiped and that it is only the All-powerful Lord who we can ask for help. The remainder of the Quran shows us the details of how to worship Allah. (praying, fasting, duaa, giving dawa, having good character, etc.).
C) The Quran teaches us a WAY OF LIFE on earth. A way chosen for us by Allah. Verses 6-7 of Al-Fatiha tell us that this way is the straight path and not the path of the people who have incurred Allah’s anger or who have gone astray. The remainder of the Quran gives us examples from the past of those people, brings us good news of the believers and the fate of the people who consciously rejected Allah’s message with knowledge of its truth.
Ibn-Al-Qayyem says: Allah (swt) revealed 104 books; he summed up their meanings in three books: the Torah, the New Testament and the Quran. And He summed up these three books in the Quran; and He summed up the Quran in Al-Fatiha; and He summed up all the meaning of Al-Fatiha in “It is You we worship; it is You we ask for help”
Can you see how Surat Al-Fatiha is the Mission Statement of every Muslim? Can you see that it is your identity? We know Surat Al Fatiha like the back of our hands, but can you now feel its significance?
EXEGESIS – VERSE BY VERSE….
1) In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy! (2) Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds, (3) the Lord of Mercy, the Giver or Mercy:
“Al-‘Alamin” (“the Worlds”)” encompasses all states, all Worlds, the seen and unseen, in sleep and wakefulness, here and in the hereafter. So Allah is truly the Lord of Mercy and the Giver of Mercy as every state reflects the mercy of Allah. Think about it – was the mercy not there when you were in your mother’s womb? You stayed there for nine months and yet you were content. It is a mercy that we are able to die, so that there may be breathing and standing space for others to come. It is a mercy that the earth is positioned with scientifically breathtaking precision to the sun – as one cm closer and the earth would have burned and erupted from heat, and one cm further and the earth would have frozen from the cold. It is a mercy of Allah that we are put through trials, tests and tribulations, in order that we may attain patience, strength, steadfastness, and hence the reward and pleasure of our Lord. When you recite this verse you are saying I am in gratitude, I am content, praise to Allah in all states and in all circumstances.
In fact, “Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem” (“the Lord of Mercy, the Giver or Mercy”) is repeated twice (verses 1 and 3) – did you notice? This is because the relationship between Allah and mankind is dependant upon His mercy.
(4), Master of the Day of Judgment.
We cannot become arrogant when we are slaves – we have a Master. He is merciful but he is our Master. In prayer, remember this. The first matter you will be asked about by your Master are the very prayers you are praying. Are you prepared for the Day of Judgement?
Reciting this verse should make us wake up from heedlessness, from arrogance, from the concerns of this world and remember that we are on a journey, that this life is temporary…we will meet our Master; we will be questioned on our life. By the end of the prayer, you want to be in a state that has a firmer pledge to fulfil God’s task for us on earth.
(5) It is You we worship; it is You we ask for help.
To worship our Lord is to love Him, to adore him, to live every second and breathe every breath for Him, to serve him. We are his slaves. Submission. Once we realize this we become unwavering in out belief that we only worship Him and no one and nothing else. We depend on Him for each and every thing, our hearts and souls beseech Him for help, we cry out to Him and realize that only He can help us.
The tangible materialization of worship is not just through praying and fasting all day. That on it’s own does not make us good Muslims. This is actually restricting the understanding of Islam to mere religious practice .The full meaning of worshipping Allah is also to be his vice-regents on earth (khalifa), which means to be responsible for the earth, to look after it, to better society, to improve our communities, all in a way that is pleasing to Allah…to lay down his law on earth, to enjoin all that is good and forbid all that is evil, to follow the way of our beloved prophet (saw)….. The companions of the prophet (saw) did this and thus achieved both happiness and success in this life and the hereafter.
And we do all this for Allah and no one and nothing else – not for fame, not for power, not for praise, not for the self. This is sincerity. It is pure.
(6) Guide us to the straight path
A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. A straight line is also one point traveling in only one direction. Therefore, you are asking to be shown the most direct route towards the ultimate destination. Ibn Jawziyyah says “Some people would ask why we need to ask for guidance while we are already guided…? We need to believe without doubt that we are all always in need to ask for guidance because… the things which we do not know [due to our carelessness or laziness] are more than the things which we know. The same can be said about the things which we are incapable of doing.”
This verse is actually explained in the following Surah – Surat Al Baqara, which begins with “Alif-Lam-Mim, This is the Book (the Qur’an), there is no suspicion about it, A GUIDANCE to the pious” referring to the guidance asked for in Surat Al Fatiha. What excellent order, consistency and beauty is in the Quran!
(7) the path of those You have blessed, those who incur no anger and who have not gone astray.
As human beings, we are all occasionally at a loss and often unsure. It is for this reason that we have to keep healthy correct good companionship. Friendship. A good brotherhood. A good sisterhood. This verse is a reminder of good companionship and a warner of bad company.
Ibn Jawziyyah says “If sometimes we feel lonely when passing Allah’s path we need to think of those who passed or are passing the same path, to know that they are our company, and to make our best to follow their steps. At the same time we should not pay any attention to those who do not want to choose the same path and should be strong enough so we do not let them detain us.”
ITS TIME FOR ACTION – PRACTICAL STEPS
The Prophet (SAWS) says, “The worshipper only earns for his prayer as much as he has been concentrating on it.” How would you feel then, if you were only rewarded for half, or a quarter, or an eighth of your prayer? Do not take this information like reading any old article. Absorb it. Feel it. Ingrave the meanings in your heart. In each and every prayer, take your time to remember and reflect. Practically….(examples)
-In the 2nd verse: -For each rak’a in prayer, designate different blessings to deeply think about when you are praising Allah. Start with Islam in the 1st rak’a. Then health for the 2nd. Then knowledge for the 3rd…etc.
-In the 7th verse: Remember those Allah has guided. In the 1st rak’a remember the prophets: Ibrahim, Adam, Nuh and Muhammad (saws). For the 2nd rak’a reflect on great men like Abu-Bakr and the companions (ra). In the 3rd raka’a remember Salahu-deen and the other heroes of Islam. In the 4th raka’a think of the righteous Muslims living around you, your role models. Therby you are remembering countless role models who are on the straight path, a path you ask Allah to be guided on.
-Likewise remember the nations before us who have incurred Allah’s wrath and who have gone astray – bani Israel, the kuffar and other corrupt nations.
Hence this should give you an overall feeling of submissiveness and closeness to Allah, and a firmer pledge to follow Him – No Allah, I don’t want to be like the bad role models, I want to be of the righteous on the straight path…
Do you now realize the greatness of Surat Al-Fatiha?
Sources & Further Reading:1. Sheikh Shafi Usmani’s Tafsir: http://www.islamibayanaat.com/MQ/English-MaarifulQuran-MuftiShafiUsmaniRA-Vol-1-Page-29-81.pdf
2. Commentary by Sheikh Fadhlalla Haeri: http://www.nuradeen.com/Reflections/SuratAlFatiha1.htm
3. Some thoughts on Surat Al Fatiha by Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim Al Jawziyyah in “Al-Madaarij”: http://www.sunnahonline.com/ilm/quran/0006.htm
4. Commentary by Abu’l-Aala Maududi in “The Meaning of the Qur’an”: http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/maududi/mau1.html#S1
5. Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir http://www.tafsir.com/default.asp?sid=1&tid=1
6. Amr Khaleds “Quranic Reflections”: http://www.amrkhaled.net/articles/articles1179.html
7. The Quran – A new translation, M.A.S Abdel Haleem, Oxford University Press, p. 3
The first source has like 50 pages on surat Al-Fatiha or something like that. This tarbiya was only a taster! I cut it down also from the tarbiya given at LSE which can be accessed in the lse isoc website (soon inshaAllah), or just email me if you want the full document 🙂