Surah Alfatiha (first chapter of Qur’an) A Brief Commentary

Dr. Jaafar Sheikh Idris

 

Ramadan 1424, October 2003 

 

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

All praise is to God, Lord of all the worlds

Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Master of the Day of Judgment

You alone do we worship and you alone do we ask for help

Guide us to the right path

The Path of those on whom you bestowed your bounties

Not the path of those who incurred your wrath or those who went astray

These, Prophet Muhammad tell us, are the most important words that have ever been revealed by God to any Prophet; there is nothing like them in any scripture including the Qur’an. No wonder because by sincerely uttering these words you profess your belief in the most important facts about your Creator, and ask him to grant you the most important things you need to be a true servant of His. 

All praise is to God

When you state that all praise is to God you acknowledge the fact that only He has all the attributes of perfection and that only he is the bestower of all the bounties that any of his creation enjoys. And since gratefulness is the essence of worship, you are in effect also acknowledging the fact that only He is the one who deserves to be worshipped.

 Lord of all the worlds

The Arabic word for Lord, rub, conveys the meaning of being the one who owns, who creates, who sustains and who looks after all that exists. The only relationship between Him and every other existent is that of the Creator to the created. He cannot therefore be the father of anyone in any real sense; Creator and father is a contradiction in terms. You don’t create your child, you beget it. It is because of this that the Qur’an keeps reminding those who claim that God has children __   the Arabs who used to say that the angels are the daughters of God, the Christians who say that Jesus is the son of God, and a Jewish sect who used to believe that Ezra is the son of God __that God is the creator and owner of everything.   

Most Gracious, Most Merciful

The two Arabic words, Rahman and Raheem, for which these English phrases stand, are two intensive forms of a root which conveys the meaning of mercy. Rahman is more intensive than Raheem, and refers to God’s all-encompassing mercy, His mercy to all His creation in this life and the life to come. Raheem refers to His special mercy to the faithful. No created being can therefore be Rahman, but created beings can be described as raheem in a limited and special sense.

Master of the Day of Judgment

God is the Master of all days and all things, but while some people can have some limited mastership or even falsely claim to have it, no one can be, or claim to be master in any sense on the day of reckoning. On that day God will ask all of His creation: “To whom is sovereignty today?” And the answer will be “To God, the One, the … . This reminds us of the fact that this world is only a transient station on the road to the final abode where we shall either be rewarded or punished for what we do here. This in turn reminds us of the important fact this world a temporary place of test and that it is run according to a moral law to which the natural and social ones are only subservient. We should not therefore allow the immediate natural to blind us to the moral that is beyond.

 You alone do we worship and you alone do we ask for help

The foregoing verses were like an introduction to this one. It is as if you are saying: because we acknowledge the fact that all praise is to you, that you are the Lord of all the worlds, that you are most gracious and most merciful, and that you alone is the Master of the day of judgment, we hereby declare that we worship none but you and seek help from none except you.  This verse emphasizes the fact that what is important is not only that you worship God, but that you worship none besides Him, because none except Him deserves to be worshipped. To worship none but God entails __ among other things__ that you obey none but Him in any absolute sense, love no one as or more than you love Him and  pray to no one except Him. To seek help from none but God does not mean that you don’t extend or accept any help from any of God’s created beings in matters in which they have the power to help. It only means that you believe that even when you give or receive such help you believe that it is ultimately coming from God because nothing is this world happens without His will and power. So it is from Him alone that you are ultimately turning for help, and it is on him that you ultimately and absolutely depend.

Guide us to the right path 

 Having acknowledged all those truths about God, and having declared to Him that it is He alone that we worship and ask for help, we now go on to ask Him to grant us the thing that we need most: knowing and taking the shortest road that leads to Him. Having known who God is we are convinced that such guidance must come from Him, that it must be available to all who want to follow it, and that there must be no doubt about the fact that it is from Him. That guidance, we know, is no where to be found in any complete way except in God’s words, the words that He reveal to His chosen Prophets, people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. But we also know for sure that none of the books that contain that guidance is now at our disposal except one__ the Qur’an. It is to this Divine book that we must turn for a detailed description of the straight path that leads to our Lord. The straight path is necessarily one path; it does not change with the change of time or place. The words that describe it must therefore have the same meaning that the man to whom they were revealed had. With the increase of our knowledge, the richness of our experience, the depth of study and pondering we can continuously learn more from that basic meaning without contradicting it. Only the understanding and interpretation consistent with it is the correct one; all others must necessarily be false.

 

The Path of those on whom you bestowed your bounties

The straight path described in the Qur’an is not a theoretical path; it is an actual path that some people before us have taken. To be sure that we had a good understanding of it, we must see to it that we are following in their footsteps. If your destination is a well-known city to which hundreds of people go every day, and you find yourself alone on what you thought was the road to it, you know you must be mistaken

 Not the path of those who incurred your wrath or those who went astray

 

Just as you described that straight path in a positive way, you now describe it in a negative way. You ask your Lord to keep you away from the paths taken by two kinds of deviant people: those who know the truth about religion and yet refuse to act according to it, and are therefore hated; and those who make their religion subservient to their whims and opinions and are therefore gone astray. The Qur’an tells us in some detail about their main deviations, among the greatest of which is that they have no great respect for God or His words: they ascribe to Him imperfect, even insulting attributes; they distort His words at will to make them suit their own wishes or preferences; they side with the enemies of His religion against those whom they know to be nearer to it; they commit immoralities in the name of religion.

 

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