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Sūrah Fātihah
Qur'anic Exegesis
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)


This sūrah is a prayer to seek guidance from the Almighty for the straight path – a prayer which was the wish of every upright person in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (sws). After the Jews and the Christians had distorted the face of religion through their innovations and deviations, it was in fact the desire of every heart to receive fresh guidance. The Almighty articulated this desire through the tongue of His Prophet (sws) in these eternal and matchless words.

In other words, the prayer for fresh guidance after the Torah and the Injīl is the topic of this sūrah. Consequently, its relationship with the Madīnan Sūrahs of the first group is that of brevity and detail; however, with regard to its topic, it is a very appropriate preface to the Qur’ān as well.

Viewed thus, it becomes evident that this is the first sūrah that was revealed to the Prophet (sws) in Makkah.

 Text and Translation

 بِاِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَانِ الرَّحِيمِ

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ الرَّحْمَانِ الرَّحِيمِ مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ (١-٣)

إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ  اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ  صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ (٤-٦)

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.1

Gratitude2 is only for Allah3, the Lord of the world4; the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful5; Master of the Day of Judgment6. (1-3)

[Lord] You alone we worship and only Your help we seek7. Set us firm8 on the straight path9. The path of those you have blessed10, not of those who have earned your wrath11, nor of those who have gone astray12 . (4-6)





1. This verse occurs at the start of every sūrah except Sūrah Tawbah in the same manner as it occurs here. Consequently, though it is a verse of the Qur’ān and has been placed before the sūrahs at the behest of the Almighty, it is not a part of any sūrah including Sūrah Fātihah. It has an independent status at all these places. The words ‘اِقْرأَهُ عَلَى الَّناس’ are understood to be implied in it. The overall rendering would thus be: ‘In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious the Ever Merciful, O Prophet read out this sūrah before the people’. Viewed thus, the particle ‘ب’ indicates authority and the verse itself is a manifestation of a prediction made in the Old Testament regarding the Prophet Muhammad (sws). According to this prediction, he would present the words of God before people in the very name of God:

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put My words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to My words that the prophet speaks in My name, I myself will call him to account. (Deuteronomy, 18:18)

2. The original Arabic word used is ‘اَلْحَمْد’. In the Arabic language, this word is used to acknowledge the greatness and favors of someone and if the person who expresses this word is also benefiting from the said favors, the element of gratitude automatically enters the meaning of the word. It is evident from 7:42, 10:10 and 14:39 that in the expression ‘اَلْحَمْدُ لِلّه’ the word ‘اَلْحَمْد’ is used to connote gratitude. In this particular sūrah, it portrays the sentiments of gratitude and appreciation that one is filled with or should be filled with after viewing the unfathomable providence and profound mercy of the Almighty together with reminder of the Prophets of Allah regarding the reward and punishment that is to take place in the Hereafter.

3. The word ‘اللَّه’ has been constructed by prefixing the article ‘ال’ to the word ‘اِلَه’. Before the revelation of the Qur’ān, in pre-Islamic Arab society this name was always used for the Almighty specifically as the Creator of the Universe and of every living being. The people of Arabia practiced polytheism, yet they never equated any of their deities with the Almighty.

4. The original Qur’ānic words used are ‘رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ’. The word ‘رَبّ’ means ‘the Cherisher’, ‘the Sustainer’. As a natural outcome of this meaning, the word came to be used in the sense of ‘Lord’ and ‘Master’, and such was the predominance of this usage that it no longer came to be used in the Arabic language in its original meaning. The attribute ‘رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ’ and other attributes mentioned thereafter are actually the basis for the expression of gratitude with which the sūrah begins. Even so, these attributes have not been mentioned in a corroborative way. They are rather mentioned as an acknowledgement of an obvious reality. The implied meaning being that gratitude is for He who is the Lord of the universe. Since we are His creation, therefore He is our Lord as well. As soon as we enter this world, we are cherished and sustained by Him. Various means and resources have been directed by Him to carry out this task even before our arrival. As long as we remain alive, we witness how fervently the sun, the moon, the winds and various other elements of nature continue to serve our needs. They diligently serve us because He in whose hands are their reins does not let them deviate in the slightest manner from their sphere of activity and from the purpose of their creation.

5. The original Qur’ānic words used are ‘الرَّحْمَان’ and ‘الرَّحِِيْم’. Although both these words are attributes from the root word ‘رَحْمَة’, there is a great difference in their meanings. While explaining this difference, Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī writes:

The noun ‘رَحْمَان’ (Rahmān) is in the intensive form of ‘فَعْلان’ (fa‘lān), (eg: ‘سَكْرَان’ (Sakrān) and ‘غَضْبَان’ (Gadbān)), while the noun ‘رَحِيْم’ (Rahīm): is an adjective of the form ‘فَعِيْل’ (fa‘īl) (eg: ‘عَلِيْم’ (‘Alīm) and ‘كريم’ karīm)). A look at the usage of the Arabic language shows that the form ‘فَعْلان’ (fa‘lān) expresses great fervency and enthusiasm, while the form ‘فَعِيْل’ (fa‘īl) expresses steadiness and perpetuity. In other words, the first depicts vigor and the second constancy in God’s mercy. A little deliberation shows that the Almighty’s mercy on His creation possesses both these characteristics. The enthusiasm and warmth is complemented by permanence. It is not that His attribute of ‘رَحْمَان’ (Rahmān) induced Him to create, and He later forgot to foster and sustain His creation. Indeed, He is nourishing and taking proper care of them because He is ‘رَحِيْم’ (Rahīm) as well. Whenever a person invokes His help, He hears his calls and accepts his prayers. Also, His blessings are not confined to this world only. Those who lead their lives according to the path prescribed by Him shall be blessed with eternal life and joy. It must be conceded that all these aspects cannot be comprehended without an integrated understanding of these attributes. (Islāhī#, Amīn Ahsan, Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān, 2nd ed., vol. 1, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), pp. 48-9)

After a mention of ‘رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ’, the reality which both the above attributes reveal is that it cannot be concluded that the Almighty, who has made such an elaborate arrangement to nourish and sustain this universe, has any selfish interests in its creation. Furthermore, He has no desire to establish and maintain a ‘kingdom’ for Himself, nor does he need assistance in sustaining it. When this is so, then without any doubt the only reason for our creation is His abounding mercy. It is His continual mercy that we are perpetually benefiting from.

6. The implied meaning being that it is the requisite of His continual mercy and provision of sustenance to His creatures that one day He set up His court of justice, in a manner where he wields supreme authority and everyone bows to Him in total submission. He would then decide all cases by Himself and no one would be able to influence His decisions in any manner.

7. The word ‘عِبَادَة’ is primarily used in Arabic for ‘humility’ and ‘submission’. In the Qur’ān, it is specifically used for the humility and servility a person shows to His Creator. The basic manifestation of this trait is definitely worship, however, since man in this world is also a ‘man of action’, this worship necessarily relates to his deeds. Worship requires a person to lower his outer self to the being before whom his inner self has also bent down; the ruler of his inner self should also rule his deeds and actions, leaving no sphere of human activity an exception to this submissiveness. It is this very worship which, according to the verse, a person cleansing it from any slightest tinge of polytheism, should express specifically for the Almighty. Consequently, the verse does not merely say that we human beings worship the Almighty; it emphasizes that we worship only the Almighty and seek His help only. After this great acknowledgement obviously there is nothing that a person can give to others and there is nothing for which he needs to ask of others. Consequently, in atters of worship and in other affairs of life He asks only the Almighty for help. A little deliberation shows that this seeking of help from the Almighty, in the form of a promise and an acknowledgement, is a natural outcome of the sentiment of gratitude with which the sūrah began.

8. The verb ‘اِهْدِنَا’ occurs here without the preposition ‘اِلَى’. A suppression of this preposition adds emphasis to meaning of the verb. The expression ‘اِهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ’ now does not simply mean ‘give us guidance’. It means: ‘set our hearts on this path; instill in us the desire to tread this path, give us the resolve, determination and facility to stay on this path and guide us forever through whatever circumstances we encounter while traversing it’.

9. The Qur’ānic words used are ‘اِهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ’. The article ‘ال’ signifies ‘عهد’ (definition). That is the straight path whose explanation has been made in the following verse.

10. The implied meaning being: ‘O Almighty guide us to the path which you showed those whom you blessed with your guidance – those who whole heartedly accepted this guidance in such a manner that they received all your favors’. It is evident from 4:69 that this refers to the noble group of Messengers, their companions, witnesses to the truth and pious Muslims.

11. This refers to people who rejected divine guidance because of arrogance and haughtiness or if they accepted, did so without the willingness of the heart. They not only rejected the Messengers of God through whom the Almighty wanted to reform them but sometimes went as far as to torture and even kill them. Consequently, they became worthy of the wrath of God in retribution of their sins. This is in fact a reference to the Jews of the Pre-Islamic times. In the succeeding sūrah, it is they who are presented with a charge sheet of their crimes, in a manner that they cannot deny it.

12. This refers to people who distorted the face of religion through their innovations and deviations such that they, at the advent of the last Prophet (sws), were themselves unable to recognize it. This is a reference to the followers of Jesus (sws). Sūrah Āl Imrān the sūrah which succeeds Sūrah Baqarah presents a charge sheet of their crimes in a manner that they are left with no excuse to deny it.

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