In the beginning of every book there is a preface. The preface tells us what the book is going to be about. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala in His infinite Wisdom introduced us to the Qur’an through Surah al-Fatihah.
Surah al-Fatihah, known in Arabic as as-sab al-mathani i.e. “the seven repeatedly recited ayaat” is a short yet comprehensive surah. In its seven ayaat it encompasses all the themes of the Qur’an. The prayer remains incomplete if this Surah is not recited in the Salah.
Why is Surah al-Fatihah despite being so precise, an important surah? Al-Fatihah is a prayer, a dialogue between the “Abd” (slave) and his “Rabb” the Creator who is the Creator of everything.
Beginning Surah Al-Fatihah
The Surah opens up with basmalah, the saying that must be recited before beginning any work. By reciting the words BismiAllahi rrahmani rraheem a Muslim seeks blessings of the Most Gracious “Ar-Rahman” and the Most Merciful “Ar-Raheem”, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. This is a sunnah that our beloved Prophet ﷺ taught us. In the Qur’an in Surah Al-Isra ayah 110, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala states, “Say [O Muhammad], Invoke Allah or invoke the Most Gracious [ar-Rahman].”
Ayah 2: Learning the Etiquette of Du’a
After invoking the graciousness and mercy of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala we utter a few words in His praise. This is similar to any business or official correspondence we may do in our daily life. Whenever we are writing a letter to someone we don’t begin by complaints or grievances. We are rather vigilant about the words that we choose. If we want the other person to hear us out, we will make an effort to make him/her feel important. Ayah two teaches us just that.
In this ayah, we learn the etiquette of making du’a. We can put forward our request abruptly and selfishly with complete disregard to the Being we are addressing or we can take time carefully thinking our words and then presenting it beautifully. After all this is no worldly communication, but a dialogue with the One who is the Owner of everything; the One who is in authority and controls every matter.
We beautify our du’a by saying, Alhamdu lillahi rabbi lAAlameen which means “All praises and thanks (be) to Allah, (the) Lord (of all) the world.”
We are expressing our gratitude for His favors upon us.
Ayah 3 and 4: Stating the Attributes
We then proceed to the next ayaat where we describe a few of His attributes. We say, ArRahmani ArRaheem meaning, “The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful” and Maliki yawmi alddeen, “(The) Master (of the) Day (of the) Judgment”.
One may wonder, the difference between being gracious and being merciful. Qur’an itself answers this question. In Surah Aal-Imran ayah 152, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala states that He is Most Gracious to the “believers” and in Surah al-Baqarah ayah 143, He tells us that He is full of kindness and His mercy is for the entire mankind (regardless of what they may choose to follow).
Now this is an important aspect. He has not extended His graciousness to the mushrikeen and other disbelievers, yet He has not limited His mercy to the Muslims only. Subhan’Allah! And which of your Lord’s favors would you deny?
Ayah 4 and 5: Acknowledgment
In ayah 4, we are acknowledging that there will be a day when we will return to our Creator and give an account for every deed we performed. That will be the day when we will be told, iqra kitabika i.e. “read your book”. How many of us would be gladdened to read it out loudly in front of the large audience, the entire creation? How many of us would yearn for one moment of repentance? Just one chance so that we can fix the wrong in us. Acknowledging that our Hereafter depends on our life in dunya, we remind ourselves that we cannot spend our lives blinded by ignorance. We must wake up before it’s too late.
Immediately after, we recognize our weakness. Therefore, we acknowledge that it is Him Who we worship and from Whom we seek help. Worship here is not confined to prostrating five times a day, fasting in a specific month, going for Hajj, etc. These are rituals which distinguish us from the non-believers. Worship is a broad term which covers a variety of acts such as, reverence, devotion, intense love, submission, obedience, servitude, adoration etc.
In this ayah, we are admitting we are “slaves” and He is the “Master”. What does a slave do? A slave:
- Submits to his Master’s commands
- Strives to please his Master not the people
- Listens to and obeys his Master and not anyone else
In today’s time, when we refuse to submit to His commands or live our life according to His instructions, we cannot claim iyyaka nabudu i.e. “we worship only You”. Whoever takes precedence over Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala in our life (aoothubillah) becomes our master. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala keep us submissive to Him alone, aameen.
Ayah 6: Prayer for Righteous Path
After praising Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, identifying His attributes and acknowledging our slavery to Him, we make the du’a ih’dina l-sirata l-mustaqeem. Sirat in Arabic is used for path whereas mustaqeem means straight. Hence, in this ayah we request guidance towards the straight path.
Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-din Al-Hilali write in their “Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an” that guidance is of two types. Guidance of taufeeq where Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala opens up one’s heart to receive the truth and the Guidance of irshad through preaching by Allah’s messengers and pious preachers who preach Islamic Monotheism.
Ayah 7: Being Specific in Du’a; Setting Up Role Models
We don’t end our du’a after praying for guidance, but elaborate it further. Continuing our du’a we say, sirat alladhina an’amta alayhim ghayri lmaghdubi alayhim wala l-dalina which means “The path of those on whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray”.
This part indicates that we must set up role models for ourselves. Who do we want to idealize? Those on whom Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is showering His blessings or those who evoked His anger or went astray?
By making this du’a in a way we are seeking refuge from emulating the behavior of these two groups of people. Books of tafseer tell us that the Jews were immensely disobedient and ungrateful to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala despite His countless favors on them. Hence, they evoked His anger. On the other hand, Christians instead of following the teachings of Prophet Eesa aalyhi sallam went astray.
Narrated Adi bin Hatim radhiAllahu anhu, “I asked Allah’s Messenger ﷺ about the statement of Allah ghayri lmaghdubi alayhim, he replied, ‘they are the Jews’. And wala l-daleen he replied, ‘the Christians, and they are the ones who went astray’. [At-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud]
Concluding Surah al-Fatihah with Aameen
Aameen is like a full-stop at the end of our sentence. It seals our du’a. Many people utter aameen in a rush not knowing the benefit of reciting loudly. This may be truer if you have never offered a prayer in congregation. That’s the only time when the musalleen actually speak up during Salah. A hadeeth narrated by Abu Huraira radhiAllahu ‘anhu tells us when the Imam says sirat alladhina an’amta alayhim ghayri lmaghdubi alayhim wala l-daleen then you must say aameen for if one’s utterance of aameen coincides with that of the angels then his past sins will be forgiven. [Bukhari]
Has this article added anything new to your knowledge? Was it beneficial to you? If yes, then today when you perform your salah try being conscious of every ayah that you recite. Take your time and recite it from your heart. Do you know that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala responds to each ayah that we utter? Wouldn’t you want to hold conversation with Him? Recite slow and recite attentively.
One of our admins’ article, originally published at UnderstandQuran.com.