Thursday, September 20, 2018

Al-Faatihah: a re-examination (Halaqah notes)

Note:  The following is an edited version of presentation we gave on the opening chapter of the Qur'an. While it does have much the same content as our previous lectures [ for which, see Al-Faatihah: It's relevance for modern life ], more information is conveyed in this halaqah. In particular, the concepts of Tadabburdu'aa and 'ibaadah are examined and highlighted.] Please note that unless otherwise indicated, the translation has not been given.This will allow the reader to consult the translation of choice.


"A Scripture, which We (Allah) have sent forth to you ( O Muhammad), a book of blessings, in order that you may do tadabbur regarding its signs (verses), and that people of understanding will take to heart" ( Q 38:29)

 کِتٰبٌ اَنۡزَلۡنٰہُ اِلَیۡکَ مُبٰرَکٌ لِّیَدَّبَّرُوۡۤا اٰیٰتِہٖ وَ لِیَتَذَکَّرَ اُولُوا الۡاَلۡبَابِ

This verse, sent forth to an uneducated Prophet (An Nabi Al Ummi), is given in order to provoke or inspire thinking, contemplation on a deeper level. This is a process which is called tadabbur (Yadabbaruu in the original text). The Qur'an is not simply a collection of words. The Quranic language has meanings that we are supposed to not only think about, but to consider the bigger picture.

Elsewhere, the Qur'an speaks on believers who, in whatever position they are in, upon contemplating the universal order of things, assert "Our Lord, You have not created all of this without purpose" ( Q 3:191).

This is a scripture which is actually for the acquisition and use of scientific knowledge, and just as science and medicine are fields that require deep study and effort, the Book of Allah likewise deserves that attention.

Among the ways one can study and gain from the Qur'an: [1] Read it slowly. [2] Take notes [3] When you come across texts you find appealing and useful, use those texts in your salaah. After a few days, you would have memorized it as well as the translation. [4] Read daily, even if only 10 verses a day. (Footnote 1)

Soorah Al-Faatihah

Soorah Al Faatihah is not only a prayer text, but it serves as the perfect introduction to the remaining of the Qur'anic text. Modern books have an introduction or preface, in which the author outlines his basic thesis, and the Qur'an operates here on the same format.

This Soorah is also known by titles such as The Opening of the Scripture (Faatihatul Kitaab), Sooratul Hamd (The chapter of praise), The Chapter of Prayer (Soorah As Salaat) and the Chapter of Supplication (Soorat Ad-du'aa).

[1] Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem.

It begins in God's name, not that of Muhammad, Jesus, Trinity or any other controversial name or concept. Anyone who believes in God can accept this formula as an axiomatic truth. Ar-Rahman is usually translated as "The Merciful" and "Ar-Raheem" as "The Compassionate".

Both words come from Rahema ("He was merciful") or simply Rahmah ("Mercy). The term Ar-Rahman, being upon the Fi'laan pattern in Arabic, denotes an intensive act. In other words, God is extreme in His Mercy. Ar-Raheem, upon the pattern of Fa'eel, denotes repetitiveness. In other words,Mercy is a part of God's pattern of doing things, it is among the Divine qualities, visible here as well as the world to come.

This statement, known as the Basmala, is so important because the Prophet ('alayhis salaatu was salaam) is reported to have said that anything of importance should be initiated with it, otherwise, a chance exists that it will -in fact- be deprived of Allah's mercy. 

[2] Alhamdulillaahi Rabbil 'aal ameen

'Rabb" is not simply "Lord". It is "Caretaker". That which provides for a thing till it's completion. This title shows that Allah is caring, his care is universal.  "...His throne encompasses the heavens and the earth.." ( Q 2:255) "..Our Lord, you do encompass all things in Mercy and Knowledge" ( Q 40:6)

[3] Ar Rahmanir Raheem [4] Maalike Yawmid deen.

The grammar here is a continuation of the first verse (ft.2), in other words, it is the same stream of thinking or idea, not a second sequence. We are reminded four times of Allah's mercy, yet here we are reminded of judgement day.

The Quranic pattern is to connect seemingly disparate subjects or qualities. In this case, it is done with the Divine qualities.

Another example of this is when we are told about Allah as "The forgiver of sins, one who accepts repentance, (yet) the stern in punishment.." {Q 40: 3}.

The Qur'an does this in order for the reader to have a balanced understanding of the Divine reality. You love your children , yet there are times when you have to punish them. Punishments from (good) parents are meant to rectify bad behavior and instill certain morals/lessons. Allah does the same.

[5] Iyyaka Na'budu wa Iyyaka Nas-ta'een.

Worship is only for Allah. In terms of worship, the Prophet said that calling upon Allah, even outside of formal salaah, is worship. Another hadeeth words it as the core of worship (Mukhkhul 'Ibaadah).

With this in mind, we go to the Qur'an "And when My servant asks you about Me, then I am close. I respond to the call (Daa'ee) of those who call to Me, so let them listen to ME, and believe in ME, so that perhaps they will attain maturity." { Q 2:186).

In other words, it is good for our development to call upon Allah. It is a part of character and skill building.

Notice that the Qur'an also says "And seek assistance (Ista'eenuuu) through patience and prayer, verily, Allah is with those who patiently persevere" (Q 2:153).

The same "seeking of assistance" is in both verses. God says to seek assistance through the quality or attribute of patience.

So it is not that God needs our salaat or our du'aa. Rather, we stand in need of it.

"Indeed, prayer restrains from immorality and repugnant actions..." ( Q 29:45).

[6] Ihdenas seeratal Moostaqeem

We tend to say "The straight path" is "Qur'an and Sunnah". However, if we are already "upon Qur'an and Sunnah", why do we pray for it daily?

It is true that Mufassirron have assigned particular names  to the term "straight path" ( such as the path of the companions of the Prophet), however, we propose two other avenues by which to explore this. The first being that since Al-Faatihah is an introduction to the remainder of the Quranic revelation, "The straight path" is found throughout the commands/values/religious truths in the Qur'an. Many commentators have- for example, connected the request "guide us on the straight path' to "This is the Scripture, in which there is no doubt, a Guide for those who have reverence for   Allah" ( Q 2:1).

The second avenue- one which is preferred by this writer- is that this very Soorah- Soorah Al Faatihah -  tells us what constitutes "The straight path".

[7] Seeratal Ladheena an 'amta 'alayhim, Ghayril Maghdoobe 'alayhim wa lad daaaleen"

"The straight path" is that which contains the qualities of Ni'mah (blessing, grace, happiness) and is devoid of that which brings forth Divine anger, chastisement, and punishment.

The straight path is identified with guidance, which prevents one from straying, getting lost, in life and in one's mind.

The discarding of values is an indication of being astray. Being addicted to harmful drugs is an indicator or being astray. The worship of other than Allah ('Azza wa Jall} is an indicator of being astray.

So Soorah Al-Faatihah invites us to examine our lives, our actions, to find if we are on the straight path. We are to examine all those areas of life, such as job, marriage, anything of importance.

In this regards, we should now understand the hadeeth (Abu Dawud)  in which the Prophet is reported to have said that Al-Faatihah is a healing (Shifaa). It is a healing because when pondered upon, it can bring healing to our issues in life.

We can also see why he- upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah- said that any prayer in which Al-Faatihah is excluded is "Incomplete"


[1] This recommendation has been given by this writer many times, based upon personal experience and benefit. The number of verses mentioned (10 verses) is not based on any text, but rather is based upon what we think everyone has the capacity to do,regardless of their unique circumstances.

[2] Here we are talking about Majroor bil Kasrah. The "bi" [arabic for "in" with" or "by"] in the Basmala, is a preposition,  influencing  the rest of the mentioned texts to end in kasra. Many do not take the Basmala formula as an actual verse of the Soorah, but rather as a headline. While we disagree with that, even if we ignore the Basmala, the text which follows it (Alhamdulillaahi Rabbil 'aal ameen) also has a preposition in it ("Li", which means "for" or "to"), thus, the explanation we have advanced would still be valid, i.e. that "Ar Rahmanir Raheem, Maalikee yawmid deen" is  a continuation of the stream or flow which preceded it.