Saturday, August 7, 2010

From Al-Mizan: Chapter 1 - Al-Fatiha (The Opening), Verse 1

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِِ


QUR'AN:    بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِِ  In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. 

People often take the name of one of their great and powerful personalities at the time of doing or beginning a work. By this association, it is believed, the work would achieve success, greatness and blessings; or that it would be a memorial to keep the named one's memory alive for ever. This is also observed in naming a child, a project, a house or an association - they give it the name of a deeply loved or highly respected person, so that his name would continue in this form; for example, a man names his son after his father, in order to perpetuate the father's memory.

This verse runs on the same line. Allah began His speech with His Own name - Great is His name - so that the ideas taught in this chapter be stamped by, and associated with it. Also, it teaches a lesson to mankind, showing them the perfect manner of starting all their talks and actions; it guides them to put the stamp of the divine name on all their activities; doing every work for the sake of Allah, associating it with His good names and attributes. In this way that action would neither be rendered null and void, nor remain incomplete; it has been started in the name of Allah, and negation and annihilation cannot reach that sacred name.

Allah has declared variously in the Qur'an that what is not for His Person must perish, is in vain; He Will proceed to the deeds not done for His sake and shall render them as scattered floating dust; He shall forfeit what they have done and shall nullify their deeds; and that nothing shall remain except His honored Person.

Therefore, what is done for the sake of Allah and performed in His name, shall continue and will not perish. Everything, every work and every affair shall have its share of eternity - as much as it is related to Allah. It is this reality that has been hinted at in the universally accepted tradition of the Prophet: "Every important affair, not begun with the name of Allah, shall remain incomplete..." The word 
al-abtar(translated here as "incomplete'') means a thing whose end is cut off, an animal whose tail is severed.

The preposition "bi" (in, with), in the phrase "In the name of Allah", is related to an implied verb, "I begin." This verse, at this particular place, begins the speech which is a single action; this singleness comes from the singleness of its meaning; that is, the meaning intended to be conveyed, the aim and purpose of the speech.

Allah has mentioned the purpose for which His speech the whole Qur'an - has been revealed: 
...indeed, there has come to you a light and a clear Book from Allah; with it Allah guides him who follows His pleasure into the ways of safety.. . (5:15 -16). There are other verses which show that the aim with which the Book - the speech of Allah - has been sent down is the guidance of the people.

Therefore, the full import of the sentence would be as follows: The guidance, total guidance is begun with the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful; He is Allah, Whom the servants return to; He is Beneficent, Who has opened the way of His All-encompassing mercy for believers and disbelievers alike, the mercy which provides them with all that is necessary and good for their existence and life; He is Merciful, Who has reserved His special mercy for the believers, the mercy which ensures their happiness in the life hereafter and their nearness to their Lord. Allah has said: 
...and My mercy encompasses all things; so I will ordain it (specially) for those who guard (against evil) and pay zakat, and those who believe in our signs (7:156). This explanation has been written, putting this verse in the framework of the whole Qur'an, of which it is the first sentence.

Again, Allah has repeatedly mentioned "chapter" in His speech. For example: Say: "Then bring a chapter like this... (10:38); Say: "Then bring ten chapters like it, forged. (11:13); And whenever a chapter is revealed... (9:86); (This is) a chapter which We have revealed... (24: 1). It shows that Allah Himself has divided His speech in various parts, each part being called a chapter. It naturally means that every chapter is a single unit in structure and in fullness of meaning; and that that unity is not found between various verses of a chapter or between one chapter and the other. It necessarily follows that the theme of every chapter is different from the other; every chapter is revealed with a certain aim in view, and when that aim is achieved the chapter comes to its end.

Therefore, the verse, "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful" coming at the beginning of every chapter, refers to the particular theme of that chapter.

Accordingly, this verse, at the beginning of this chapter of "The Opening", refers also to the theme of this chapter. It appears from its semantic flow that its purpose is to praise Allah and to pledge the believer's servitude (declaring that he worships only Allah and seeks help from Him only) and then to pray for divine guidance. This speech has been uttered by Allah, on behalf of His servant, so that the servant may learn how, by repeating these words, he may show his gratitude to, and servitude before, Allah.

This pledging of servitude is the important work which the servant of Allah intends to do; and which he begins in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. In this context, this verse would mean: In Thy name, I pledge my servitude to Thee.

In this first verse of this chapter, therefore, the preposition, "in", is related to the implied verb, "I begin"; and the aim is to perfect the sincere servitude by addressing the pledge to Allah Himself. Some people have said that the implied verb is "I seek help" (by); although this view is not objectionable, but "I begin" is more appropriate - the chapter explicitly seeks divine help, "and Thee do we beseech for help"; therefore, it is not necessary in the beginning.
"al-Ism" (name) is the word that points to the named thing or person. It is derived from as-simah (sign, identifying mark) or as-sumuww(height, eminence). In any case, it is the word by which an individual thing or person is spoken of or spoken to. Naturally, it is other than, and separate from, the named thing.

"Allah" (the divine name) was originally al-Ilah; the "I"; in the middle was omitted because of frequent use. al-Ilah is derived from alaha (he worshipped) or from aliha or waliha (he was bewildered). It is on paradigm of al-fi'al in meaning of al-maf'ul (object-noun). For example, al-Kitab means al-Maktub (the written); likewise al-Ilah means al-Ma'luh that is, the One who is worshipped, or the One about whom minds are bewildered.

Quite clearly, it has become the proper name of God. It was commonly used in this meaning in Arabic long before the Qur'an was revealed. The fact that even pre-Islamic Arabs used this name for God, may be inferred from the following verses: "And if you should ask them who created them, they would certainly say: Allah..." (43:87). "...and they say: This for Allah - so they assert - and this is for our associates" (6:136).

Other divine names may be used as adjectives for this name; for example, "the Beneficent and the Merciful Allah"; also, this name is used as subject of the verbs derived from other divine names; for example, "Allah knew", "Allah had mercy", "Allah gave sustenance" etc. But the word, "Allah", is never used as adjective to any other name, nor is the verb derived from it used to describe other names. It is a clear proof that it is the proper name of God.

The divine existence, in as much as Allah is the God of everything, presupposes that He should have all the attributes of perfection; and, as a result, this name points to all perfect attributes. That is why it is said that the name, "Allah", means "the Person Who is the Essential Being, and Who encompasses all the attributes of perfection." But the fact is that it is the proper name of God and no other meaning (except that related to worship or bewilderment) has been taken into consideration here.

ar-Rahman ar-Rahim (The Beneficent, the Merciful) are two adjectives derived from ar-rahmah (mercy).

When you see someone suffering from a deficiency which he cannot remove. by himself, the reaction which you experience and which tells you to provide him with what he needs in order to make up his deficiency, is called mercy. Ultimately, mercy means giving and bestowing to fulfill other's need. It is this latter meaning in which this attribute is used for Allah.

ar-Rahman" is on a paradigm which is used for magnification and exaggeration. "ar-Rahim" paradigm of as-Sifatu'l-mushabbah (perpetual adjective, inseparable attribute). Therefore "ar-Rahman" (translated here as "the Beneficent") relates to that all-encompassing mercy that is bestowed upon the believers and the unbelievers alike. It is used in the Qur'an, mostly in this meaning. Allah says "The Beneficent (God) is firm in power" (20:5). "Say: As for him who remains in error, the Beneficent (God) will surely prolong his length of days..." (19:75)"ar-Rahim" (translated here as "the Merciful"), on the other hand, is more appropriate for that mercy which shall remain for ever, the perpetual inexhaustible mercy that shall be bestowed on the believers in the life hereafter. Allah says: ...and He is Merciful to the believers (33:43); surely to them (i.e., the believers) He is Compassionate, Merciful (9:117). That is why it is said that the mercy of "ar-Rahman " is common for the believers and the unbelievers, and that of "ar-Rahim" is reserved for the believers.


  1. Asalaam Alaaykum wr wb

    Thank you for your contribution!

  2. Thank you Azad Raza, I now have more reasons to use in explaining to my non-muslim friends why we say Besmillah Ar-Rahman Ir-Rahim before starting anything...Jazakallah Khair