The Holy Qur'an (Maulana Muhammad Ali)/1. The Opening

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Revealed at Mecca

(7 verses)


1. Allah, the Lord of the whole creation, brings the creation to its goal of completion. 2. His loving beneficence and mercy are exercised both before and after man makes himself deserving of them. 3. His dealing with man is as that of a master with his servants, and therefore His law of requital is characterized by forgiveness. 4. Men's dependence on Him and His assistance of man. 5—7. Prayer for being kept always on the right or the middle path and not to be diverted to either side.

General Remarks.

The Fátiḥah or the Opening is known under various other names. It is spoken of as Sab’an minal Mas̲áni or the Seven Oft-repeated Verses in the Qur-án itself (15:87) because its seven verses are constantly repeated by every Muslim in his prayers at least thirty-two times a day. It is spoken of as the Fátiḥat-ul-Kitáb or the Opening of the Book in a saying of the Holy Prophet in which it is said that "No prayer is complete without the recitation of Fátiḥat-ul-Kitáb" (AD, Tr.). Hence it is also called Súrat uṣ Ṣalát, i.e. the chapter of Prayer, being essential to every prayer whether performed in congregation or in private. It is also called Súrat-ud-Du’á, i.e. the chapter of Supplication, because the entire chapter is a supplication or a prayer to the Great Master, and because as a prayer it not only occupies the highest place among the prayers of other sacred books, but also among those taught by the Holy Qur-án itself. It is also called Ummul-Kitáb, i.e. the Basis of the Book, because it contains the whole of the Qur-án as it were in a nutshell. Some of the other names given to this chapter are the Praise, the Thanksgiving, the Foundation, the Treasure, the Whole, the Sufficient, the Healer, and the Healing.

Al-Fátiḥah or Fátiḥat-ul-Kitáb contains seven verses in a single section, and was revealed at Mecca, being without doubt one of the earliest revelations. Muir, who divides the whole of the Meccan revelation into five periods, places the Fátiḥah in the first period—though he is mistaken in placing it before even the 96th chapter, for which there is overwhelming evidence as being the first revelation. It is, of course, impossible to give the exact date or even the exact order in which the various chapters were revealed, but there is not the least doubt that the Fátiḥah must be placed among the earliest revelations. It is referred to in 15:87 as the Seven Oft-repeated Verses, a name by which this chapter is generally known, and the 15th chapter, which is undoubtedly Meccan, can by no means he placed among the latest Meccan revelations. Again, it is a fact that the Fátiḥah formed an essential part of the Muslim prayers from the earliest days when prayer was made obligatory for the Muslims, and there is a vast mass of evidence showing that this happened very early after the Prophet's call. For not only is the fact referred to in the earliest revelations, such as the 73rd chapter, but there are also other historical incidents showing that prayer was observed by the earliest Muslim converts. The Holy Prophet’s removal to the house of Arqam is a historical fact of undoubted truth, and it occurred at the latest in the fourth year of his preaching, and this removal was necessitated by the troubles caused to the Muslims on account of their saying prayers in places which were not safe from the interference of the unbelievers. Thus the story of Sa'd, who "retired for prayer with a group of believers to a valley near Mecca," and the occurrence of an affray with some of his neighbours, as narrated by Muir, may be taken as a preliminary to the choice of Arqam’s house so as to avoid interruption.

The chapter is headed by the words Bismilláh-ir-Raḥmán-ir-Ráḥim, which also head every one of the other 114 chapters of the Holy Qur-án with the exception of one only, the ninth, while the same sentence occurs once in the middle of a chapter, viz. in 27:30, thus occurring 114 times in the Holy Qur-án. The phrase has besides acquired such a wide usage among the Muslims that it is the first thing which a Muslim child learns, and in his everyday affairs the Bismilláh is the first word which a Muslim utters.

The Bismilláh is the quintessence of the chapter Fatiḥáh, in the same manner as the latter is the quintessence of the Qur-án itself. By commencing every important affair with the Bismilláh the Muslim in fact shows in the midst of his everyday life affairs that the right attitude of the human mind towards the Great Mind of the universe is that it should always seek a support in the Mighty One who is the source of all strength, and thus Divine Unity finds expression in the practical life of man in a manner unapproached anywhere else in the history of religion.

The revelation of the Bismilláh seems to have soon followed the first revelation of the opening verses of Chapter 96, for it forms a part of even the shortest chapter revealed to the Holy Prophet. Moreover, the words of the Bismilláh show a deep connection with the account of the first revelation as given by the Holy Prophet himself. He was in the well-known cave of Hira when the first message came to him. This message was brought by an angel, who asked the Holy Prophet to read. "I am not one who can read," was the reply. The request and the answer were repeated thrice, when the angel said: "Read in the name of your Lord Who created, He created man from a clot; read and your Lord is most Honourable" (Bkh). And as the Prophet, who on the most trustworthy testimony did not know either reading or writing, was able to read with the help of the Lord, even so is every Muslim taught to seek the help of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, in everything that he seeks to do. The Bismilláh must thus have immediately followed the very first revelation.

Besides the word Alláh, which in the Arabic language is the proper name of the Divine Being, there occur in the Bismilláh the two chief attributive names Ar-Raḥmán and Ar-Raḥím, which signify respectively the Beneficent One Who exercises His love towards all His creatures in providing for them before they come into existence, and the Merciful One Who deals mercifully with His servants in making their humble deeds bear fruit. Thus, in addition to the dependence of man on his Divine Maker, the Bismilláh teaches the absolute and transcendental Unity of the Divine Being in the use of the word Allah, which was never applied to any other object of worship by the Arabs, and His great and unbounded love and mercy for His creatures in the use of the two words Ar-Raḥmán and Ar-Raḥím. So great is His love that He requires no compensation for its exercise, as the Christian doctrine of atonement teaches, and so great is His mercy that He can make the deeds of man bear an unbounded fruit, and the gift of His salvation is therefore permanent and not temporary, as taught by the Vedic religion.

Rodwell’s suggestion that the Bismilláh in the form in which it appears in the Holy Qur-án was first taught to the Quraish by the poet Umayya of Táif seems to have been due to some misconception, for there is unimpeachable testimony to show that the Quraish not only did not know the name Ar-Raḥmán of the Divine Being, to which they asserted themselves to be utter strangers (25:60), but that they were averse to the use of the Bismilláh itself in the form in which it was taught by the Holy Prophet. For so late as the sixth year of Hejira, when a truce was drawn up between the Muslims and the Quraish, Suhail ibn-i-’Amru, on behalf of the Quraish, refused to prefix Bismilláh-ir-Raḥmán-ir-Raḥím to the agreement, saying "I do not know this," and the agreement was therefore headed by Bismika Alláhumma, the form in common use among the Quraish (Tb). That some nations had some such form which they prefixed to their writings cannot be denied, but the mere existence among any other people, as the Jews or the Sabeans or the Zoroastrians, of any expression which they prefixed to their writings does not show that the Holy Prophet had borrowed the idea from here or there. It is in the choice of the words that the real beauty lies, for the real message of Islam was the perfection of religion, and this perfection is made clear in its Bismilláh, in the very first words with which it opens. Islam has never claimed that what it preached was never preached to the world before; on the other hand, it lays claim to purifying and making perfect the old doctrines (5:3). Even the words Bakhsháishgar and Dádár, meaning respectively the Pardoner and the Just, make no approach to the beauty of the two fundamental attributes of love and mercy made manifest in the words Ar—Raḥmán and Ar-Raḥím. The choice of these two attributes of love and mercy as the prime attributes of the Divine Being is sufficient comment on the misstatements of the carpers at Islam, who misrepresent the God of Islam as a Cruel and Wrathful Being.

The Fátiḥah has a special importance as a prayer, being an essential part of every prayer, whether offered in congregation or in private. Its Oft-repeated Seven Verses constitute the prayer for guidance of every Muslim at least thirty-two times a day, and therefore it has a much greater importance for him than the Lord's prayer for a Christian. And there is another difference too. The latter is instructed to pray for the coming of the kingdom of God, whereas the Muslim is instructed to seek for his right place in that kingdom, which had already come, the hint no doubt being that the coming of the Holy Prophet was really the advent of the kingdom of God about whose approach Jesus preached to his followers (Mark 1:15). Thus the prayer is a model prayer taught to the Muslims, and the objection as to the inconsistency of the form of address adopted here with the Divine authorship of the Book vanishes in the light of these facts. The numerous prayers contained in the Holy Qur-án follow the same rule and are never preceded by the word "say" or any other word to that effect. For instance, compare the prayer contained in the concluding verse of the 2nd chapter, and also the prayer contained in 8:7, 8 and 3:190-193 and elsewhere. That a form of prayer or supplication is meant for the supplicant is so clear that any introductory word commanding men to pray in that form would have been superfluous.

Some hostile critics have suggested that such a prayer is suited only for blind and sinful men groping in the dark to find out the way. Surely it is a very distorted view of the sublime words, which express the natural yearning of the sincere soul to be kept on the right way and to be saved from stumbling. The prayer contained in this chapter is the sublimest of all the prayers that exist in any religion, and occupies the first place among all the prayers contained in the Qur-án itself. A chorus of praise has gone forth for it from the greatest detractors of the Holy Qur-án, and they have been compelled to "admire its spirit." The entire chapter is composed of seven verses, the first three of which speak of the four chief Divine attributes, viz. providence, beneficence, mercy, and requital, thus giving expression to the grandeur and praise of the Divine Being, and the last three lay open before the Great Maker the earnest desire of man’s soul to walk in righteousness without stumbling on either side, while the middle one is expressive of man’s entire dependence on Allah. The attributes referred to are those which disclose Allah's all-encompassing beneficence and care, and His unbounded love for all of His creatures, and the ideal to which the soul is made to aspire is the highest to which man can rise, the path of righteousness, the path of grace, and the path in which there is no stumbling. If, on the one hand, the narrow views which addressed the Divine Being as the Lord of a particular nation are swept off before the mention of His equal providence and equal love for all mankind, nay for all the creatures that exist in all the worlds, and the idea of paternal care and affection contained in the word Father dwindles into insignificance before the all-embracing beneficence and love of the Rabb of all existence Who provides and regulates the means of existence, nourishment, and perfection of the creatures long before they come into existence, there is, on the other, the high aspiration of the soul for an unbounded spiritual rise unhampered by all considerations of cares of the body which craves for the "daily bread," and even of solicitude for forgiveness of wrongs done and injuries inflicted, for the soul seeks to rise to a place where wrongs and injuries are not known. It makes the soul aspire to the great spiritual eminence to which arose those to whom Allah was gracious, the prophets, the truthful, the faithful, and the righteous (4:71). It sets before the eye that high goal, the goal of Divine grace wherein is no displeasure and which is beyond the reach of error. With all its beauty, even the Lord's prayer sinks into insignificance before the all-comprehensiveness and majestic glory of the Fátiḥah, and one would in vain turn over the pages of sacred books to find anything approaching the grand and sublime ideas contained in this chapter of the Holy Qur—án.

The four attributes of the Divine Being mentioned here are, moreover, a refutation of the wrong conceptions of the fundamental principles of faith met with in some of the prominent religions of the world. The name Rabb, for instance, which signifies Divine providence, indicates that all things in creation are so made as to attain gradually to a state of perfection within their spheres of capacity, and thus points out the erroneousness of the doctrine of the "Fall of man," which upholds that an original state of perfection has given place to degeneration. The designation of the Divine Being as Lord of the worlds gives a death-blow to all narrow views of the spiritual blessings and their limitation to certain territorial bounds, racial distinctions, or particular times, and thus makes clear that the highest of these blessings, the gift of Divine revelation, could neither be limited to a particular country nor to a particular nation, nor yet to a particular age. The attribute of loving beneficence in Ar-Raḥmán is a refutation of the doctrines of atonement and sonship, as it directs attention to the fact that benefits are conferred on man by the Divine Being without exacting any compensation from him, Ar-Raḥmán being the Beneficent Lord whose manifold blessings are conferred on man without his ever having done anything to deserve them. The attribute of mercy in Ar-Raḥím points out the error of the Vedic doctrine which teaches that the Divine Being is unable to give manifold and unlimited reward for limited acts of man and that therefore his salvation, even when it has been earned after going through innumerable states of life, must be shortlived, for Ar-Raḥím signifies the Merciful Being Who multiplies rewards to an unlimited extent. And the last attribute, mastership of the day of requital, is directed against those doctrines which deny the quality of forgiveness in the Divine Being, the most prominent of these being the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, for Málik is not the king or the judge whose duty is to hold the balance equally between two parties, but He is the Master, and those that are guilty are only His creatures, Whom He can wholly forgive without any idea of injustice or favouritism being attributed to Him.

I have also said that the seven verses of the Fátiḥah contain the whole of the Qur-án in them. It is for this reason that in 15:87, already quoted, it is spoken of as the Great Qur-án (Bkh). And so in fact it is, as the name Umm-ul-Qur-án, a name given to it by the Holy Prophet himself, shows (Bkh). For the Qur-án is a Book which declares the glory of Allah and teaches the right way to man, and both these themes find expression in the Fátihah. The fundamental principles of faith, the prime attributes of the Divine Being, which are the basis of all other attributes, the relations which ought to hold between man and his Creator, are all contained in their essence in the seven short sentences of which this wonderful chapter is made up. And to crown all, this chapter opens with the broadest possible conception of the Lordship (this word is intentionally adopted in the place of Fatherhood) of the Divine Being and the brotherhood of man, nay of the oneness of all creation, for the unity of the creation necessarily follows the unity of the Creator.

In[1] the name of Allah,[2] the Beneficent, the Merciful.[3] بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ ۝١
1 (All)[4] Praise is due to Allah, the Lord[5] of the Worlds.[6] الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ ۝٢
2 The Beneficent, the Merciful, الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ ۝٣
3 Master[7] of the day[8] of requital. مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ ۝٤
4 Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help. إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ ۝٥
5 Guide us on the right path, اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ ۝٦
6 The path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favours,[9] صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ
Or, other than. 7 Not those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray.[10] غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ ۝٧
  1. I retain the ordinary translation of the particle bá, but I must warn the reader that the sense of this particle is not the same in Arabic as the sense of the word in in the equivalent phrase in the name of God, in in the latter case signifying on account of, whereas the bá in Arabic signifies by, or through, or, to be more exact, with the assistance of. The phrase is in fact equivalent to: I seek the assistance of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful (AH).
  2. Alláh, according to the most correct of the opinions respecting it, is a proper name applied to the Being Who exists necessarily by Himself, comprising all the attributes of perfection (TA-LL), the al being inseparable from it, not derived (Msb-LL). Aḷ-iláh is a different word, and there is nothing to show that Allah is a contraction of Aḷ-iláh. The word Alláh is not applied to any being except the only true God, and comprises all the excellent names (TA-LL), and the Arabs never gave the name Allah to any of their numerous idols. Hence, as being the proper name of the Divine Being, and not having any equivalent in any other language, I have adopted the original word in this translation.
  3. Ar-Raḥmán and Ar-Raḥím are both derived from raḥmat, signifying tenderness requiring the exercise of beneficence (Rgh), and thus comprising the idea of love and mercy. Ar-Raḥmán and Ar-Raḥím are both active participle nouns of different measures denoting intensiveness of significance, the former being of the measure of fa’lán and indicating the greatest preponderance of the quality of mercy, and the latter being of the measure of fa’íl and being expressive of a constant repetition and manifestation of the attribute (AH). The two words have been explained by the Holy Prophet himself, and though the words are different, the ultimate significance is the same as that which is the result of the grammatical consideration. He is reported to have said: "Ar-Raḥmán is the Beneficent God Whose love and mercy are manifested in the creation of this world, and Ar-Raḥím is the Merciful God Whose love and mercy are manifested in the state that comes after" (AH), i.e. in the consequences of the deeds of men. Thus the attribute of mercy in Ar-Raḥmán is manifested before man comes into existence in the creation of things that are necessary for his life here, and therefore without his having deserved them, while the same attribute in Ar-Raḥím is manifested when man has done something to deserve it. Thus the former is expressive of the utmost degree of love and generosity, the latter of unbounded and constant favour and mercy. Lexicologists agree in holding that the former includes both the believer and the unbeliever for its objects, while the latter particularizes more the believer (LL, Rgh, LA, TA). Hence I render Ar-Raḥmán as meaning the Beneficent God, because the idea of doing good is predominant in it, though I must admit that the English language lacks an equivalent of Ar-Raḥmán even making an approach to giving expression to the all-comprehensive love and goodness manifested in that word. It may also be noted that Ar-Raḥmán, though manifesting an attribute, is like a proper name and applicable only to the Divine Being. The word is, in tact, used as an alternative with Allah, very clearly so in 17:110. Hence it is not applied to denote the quality of mercy in man, though Ar-Raḥím is so applied. The only exception mentioned by the lexicologists is that Musailma the Liar was called the Raḥmán of Yamámah by his followers, but such a use of a proper name has always been considered allowable. As the word Raḥmán as a name of the Divine Being was quite new to the Arabs (25:60), the followers of the Liar may have applied it to him as a retort to the Muslims.
  4. The al in al-ḥamd-u is for istighráq-ul-jins, i.e. the universal inclusion of the genus (AH), showing that all kinds of praise are included.
  5. The Arabic word Rabb conveys not only the idea of fostering, bringing-up, or nourishing, but also that of regulating, completing, and accomplishing (TA-LL), i.e. of the evolution of things from the crudest state to that of the highest perfection. According to Rgh, Rabb signifies the fostering of a thing in such a manner as to make it attain one condition after another until it reaches its goal of completion. Hence Rabb is the Author of all existence, Who has not only given to the whole creation its means of nourishment but has also beforehand ordained for each a sphere of capacity and within that sphere provided the means by which it continues to attain gradually to its goal of perfection. It will thus be seen that the word Rabb, which, for want of a better word, I render as Lord, conveys a far nobler and grander idea than the word ab or father, which has comparatively a very limited significance. The Muslim prayer therefore prefers the use of the word Rabb or Lord to that of ab or father in addressing the Divine Being.
  6.   The word translated as worlds is ’álamín, which is pl. of ’álam (from the root ’ilm, meaning to know), indicating literally that by means of which one knows a thing, and hence it signifies world or creation, because by it the Creator is known. In a restricted sense it is applied to any class or division of created beings or of mankind (LL). Hence ’álamín has been translated as "nations" in 2:47 and elsewhere. The all-comprehensiveness of the Lordship of Allah in the very first words of the Qur-án is quite in consonance with the cosmopolitan nature of the religion of Islam, which requires an admission of the truth of the prophets of all nations and thus subverts all narrow views of religion and of Godhead.
  7. English translations have usually adopted King as the translation of the word Málik, which is not strictly correct. Málik and malik are two different words from the same root, the former signifying master and the latter king. According to the rule of forming derivations in Arabic, an additional letter (as the alif in Málik) gives the meaning a greater intensity (AH), and hence a master is more than a king. The adoption of the word málik or master is to show that Allah is not guilty of injustice if He forgives His servants, because He is not a mere king or a mere judge, but more properly a Master.
  8. The word yaum is applied in the Holy Qur-án to any period of time, from a moment (55:29) to fifty thousand years (70:4), and may therefore indicate an indefinitely small or indefinitely large space of time. According to LL yaum is a time, whether day or night (Msb); time absolutely, whether night or not, little or not; also a day, meaning the period from the rising of the sun to its setting. According to Rgh the word yaum indicates a period of time, whatever period it may be, and this is the proper signification. As there are ample indications in the Qur-án that the Divine law of requital is working every moment, and there is nothing to support the idea that it will not come into force before a particular day, the law of requital referred to in this verse is therefore a law which is constantly at work.
  9. Those upon whom favours are bestowed are according to I’Ab the four classes mentioned in 4:69, viz. the prophets, the truthful, the faithful, and the righteous (AH). This shows that according to the Holy Qur-án, the favours that were bestowed upon the prophets, the gift of Divine revelation being one of the chief of them, can still be bestowed upon the righteous who follow the right way.
  10. The Holy Prophet is reported to have said: Those upon whom wrath is brought down are the Jews and those who go astray are the Christians (AH). Of course the words are only explanatory and do not limit the significance of the original words used. The Holy Prophet made the Arabs realize by the case of the two peoples whom they knew well how men sometimes desert the right or the middle path, leaning to either extreme, the Jews rejecting Jesus Christ, a righteous servant of God, as a liar, while the Christians went to the other extreme and raised that same mortal to the dignity of Godhead. Islam inculcated that the middle path was to be followed, neither leaning to the side of hatred nor being excessive in love, because the former brings down Divine wrath as it did in the case of the Jews and the latter leads a man astray as it led the Christians.