This surah is seen to be a precise table of contents of the Qur’anic message. It is very important in Islamic worship, being an obligatory part of the daily prayer, repeated several times during the day.
The surah has many names, each one indicating a different aspect of its meaning. In the eyes of the Arabs, if a thing had many names, it was an indication of its importance. The names include Umm al-Kitaab (Mother of the Book) and Surah al-Hamd (Surah of Praise), and it is mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’an as As-sab al-Mathani (The Seven Oft-Repeated [Verses]) because of the fact it is repeated several times in the course of each of the five compulsory daily prayers.
It is established in at-Tirmidhi, on the authority of Abu Hurairah, that the Prophet (SAW) said “[The chapter commencing with] “Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds” is the Mother of the Qur’an, the Mother of the Book, the Seven Oft-Repeated Verses and the Great Qur’an.”
Umm al-Kitaab was the name given to the surah by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in view of the fact the surah contains all the fundamental principles laid down in the Qur’an:
- the principle of God’s oneness and uniqueness, of His being the originator and fosterer of the universe, the fount of all life-giving grace, the One to whom man is ultimately responsible, the only power that can really guide and help;
- the call to righteous action in the life of this world (“Guide us to the straight path”);
- the principle of life after death and of the organic consequences of man’s actions and behaviour (expressed in the term “Day of Judgement”);
- the principle of guidance through God’s Prophets and Messengers (“the path of those You have blessed”) and flowing from it, the principle of the continuity of all true religions (implied in the allusion to people who have lived – and erred – in the past);
- and finally, the need for voluntary self-surrender to the will of the Supreme Being, and thus, for worshipping Him alone. It is for this reason this surah has been formulated as a prayer, to be constantly repeated and reflected upon by the believer.
Al-Fatihah was one of the earliest revelations bestowed upon the Prophet (SAW). Some authorities, including Ali ibn Abi Talib (RA) were of the opinion that it was the very first revelation; but this view is contradicted by authentic Hadith quoted by both Bukhari and Muslim, which unmistakably show that the first five verses of Al-Alaq constituted the beginning of revelation. It is probable, however, that whereas the earlier revelations consisted of a few verses each, Al-Fatihah was the first surah revealed in its entirety at one time, and this would explain the view held by Ali (RA) and others.
The virtues of Al-Fatihah are perhaps best explained in Muslim, who records on the authority of Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (SAW) said “Allah, the Glorious and Exalted said “I have divided the prayer between Myself and My servant equally and My servant shall be granted what he asked for.” Therefore, when the servant says ‘Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds’, Allah says “My servant has praised Me.” When he says ‘the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy’, Allah says “My servant has extolled Me.” When he says ‘Master of the Day of Judgement’, Allah says “My servant has glorified Me.” When he says ‘it is You we worship; it is You we ask for help’, Allah says “this is between Me and My servant and My servant shall have what he requested.” When he says ‘guide us to the straight path: the path of those You have blessed, those who incur no anger and who have not gone astray’, Allah says “this is for My servant and My servant shall have what he asked for.””
Al-Fatihah is such an important part of the Qur’an that it has specific rulings attached to it, not shared by any other chapter of the Qur’an. The opinion of the majority of the scholars, among them Malik, ash-Shafi’i and Ahmad, is that it is obligatory to recite Al-Fatihah in the prayer, and that the prayer is invalid without it. Their opinion is based on many proofs, and from amongst them, the sayings of the Prophet (SAW) that:
“There is no prayer for the one who does not recite the Opening of the Book.” (Bukhari)
“Whosoever performs a prayer in which he does not recite the Mother of the Book, then it is deficient, it is deficient, it is deficient, it is incomplete.” (Muslim)
“The prayer is not valid in which the Mother of the Qur’an is not recited.” (Muslim)
However, according to Abu Hanifah and others, it is not obligatory to recite Al-Fatihah, rather any portion of the Qur’an would be sufficient, based upon the saying of Allah and of his Prophet (SAW) that:
“…so recite as much of the Qur’an as is easy for you…” 73:20
“When you stand to pray, say the takbir and then recite what is easy for you of the Qur’an.” (Bukhari)
The point is not to debate the fiqh of prayer, rather to show the importance this surah holds.
“With the Name of Allah, The All-Merciful, The Most Merciful.” 1:1
A point of debate between the scholars is with regard to the basmAllah, and whether this verse forms part of Al-Fatihah, whether it forms part of all the chapters of the Qur’an (bar Surah Tawbah) or whether it is an independent verse from all the chapters of the Qur’an, and is simply there to differentiate between the chapters. According to most of the authorities, this invocation constitutes an integral part of Al-Fatihah, and is therefore the first verse. In all other chapters, bar one, the invocation precedes the surah and is not a part of it, and Allah knows best. All the scholars are in agreement that whether one recites the basmAllah aloud or in silence, his prayer is still valid.
The virtues of the basmAllah are many:
Imam Ahmad reports on the authority of Abu Tamimah who said “I was riding behind the Prophet (SAW) when his mount stumbled and so I said “May Satan perish!” Upon hearing this the Prophet (SAW) said “Do not say ‘May Satan perish’ for when you say this Satan becomes exultant and grows in stature and says ‘It was by my power that I injured him.’ But when you say ‘With the Name of Allah’ he becomes humiliated and grows small until he ends up the size of a fly.””
Abu Dawud reports on the authority of Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said “There is no wudu for the one who does not commence by mentioning the Name of Allah.”
Bukhari reports on the authority of ibn Abbas (RA) that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said “If, when one of you wishes to go to his wife he says ‘With the Name of Allah, O Allah! Protect us from the Satan and keep the Satan away from what You will provide us’ then if it is decreed that they should have a child out of that act, Satan will never be able to harm him.”
Al-Khatib reports on the authority of Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said “Every important matter that is not begun with ‘With the Name of Allah’ is deprived of good.”
Ibn Mas’ud said “Whosoever wishes to be saved from the nineteen Angels over Hellfire then let him recite ‘With the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful.”
“[All] praise is [due] to Allah , Lord of the worlds.” 1:2
The meaning of ‘hamd’ is that of praise arising from ones own volition and from love and veneration of the one being praised. It also carries the meaning of rida, contentment, the opposite of dhamm, which is to blame. It is more general and inclusive than shukr, which is to give thanks, as it encompasses this meaning as well as that of praise. On top of this, shukr is only ever expressed in response to a favour, whereas hamd can also be expressed as a spontaneous act of dhikr, remembrance of Allah.
Ibn Abbas (RA) said “AlHamdulillah is the statement of gratitude.”
Ali (RA) said “AlHamdulillah is a statement that Allah chose to be directed to Himself and something that He loves.”
Al-Jaba’i said “The most superior form of gratitude is to say alHamdulillah.”
Throughout the Qur’an we find the Prophets expressing gratitude in this way:
“And when you have boarded the ship, you and those with you, then say, ‘Praise to Allah who has saved us form the wrongdoing people.'” 23:28
“Praise to Allah , who has granted to me in old age Ishmael and Isaac. Indeed, my Lord is the Hearer of supplication.” 14:39
“And We had certainly given to David and Solomon knowledge, and they said, “Praise [is due] to Allah , who has favored us over many of His believing servants.”” 27:15
“And say, “Praise to Allah , who has not taken a son and has had no partner in [His] dominion and has no [need of a] protector out of weakness; and glorify Him with [great] glorification.”” 17:111
And the people of Paradise, may Allah make us from amongst them, will say:
“And they will say, “Praise to Allah , who has removed from us [all] sorrow. Indeed, our Lord is Forgiving and Appreciative.” 35:34
“Their call therein will be, “Exalted are You, O Allah ,” and their greeting therein will be, “Peace.” And the last of their call will be, “Praise to Allah , Lord of the worlds!”” 10:10
The word hamd has been preceded by the definite article, al, to include all the different manners of praise and specify them for Allah. This meaning is further expressed in the hadith where the Prophet (SAW) said “O Allah! To You belongs all praise and thanks in its entirety, to You belongs the dominion in its entirety, in Your hand is all goodness in its entirety and to You returns the affair in its entirety”. By saying alHamdulillah, the servant is praising and thanking Allah alone due to His greatness, unity and perfection, His Asmaa was-Sifaat (Names and Attributes) and His innumerable favours and blessings.
There are a number of hadith which show us the virtues of expressing hamd:
Anas bin Malik (RA) reported the Prophet (SAW) said “Indeed Allah is pleased with His servant when he eats some food and praises Him for it or when he drinks a drink and praises Him for it”. (Muslim)
He (RA) also reported that the Prophet (SAW) said “Allah does not grant a servant a favour for which he says alHamdulillah except that what he offered in praise was better and more virtuous than what he took of the favour”. (ibn Majah) al-Bayhaqi commented on this by saying this is because a servant does not attain the station of being able to express hamd except by His divine accord. Therefore, the ability to express hamd is better than the initial blessing itself.
Abu Musa al-Ash’ari reported that the Prophet (SAW) said “Purity is half of faith, [the statement] alHamdulillah fills the scales and [the statement] subhanAllah walHamdulillah fills what is between the heavens and the earth.” (Muslim)
Jabir bin Abdullah reported that the Prophet (SAW) said “The most excellent of dhikr is [the statement] la illaha illAllah and the most excellent supplication is [the statement] alHamdulillah.” (Tirmidhi)
Samurah bin Jundub reported that the Prophet (SAW) said “The most beloved statements to Allah are four: subhanAllah, alHamdulillah, la illaha illAllah, Allahu Akbar…” (Muslim)
This hamd is all directed to the rabb, the master, owner, one who grants grace, one who sets about correcting and purifying, and one who nurtures and cultivates and sustains, through regulating the affairs and granting all types of favours and blessings. He is the One who nurtures and sustains His sincere friends by correcting and purifying their hearts, souls and manners.
Allah is ar-Rabb, the rabb, of ‘alamin. In the Qur’an, Allah indicates its meaning:
“Said Pharaoh, “And what is the Lord of the worlds?” [Moses] said, “The Lord of the heavens and earth and that between them, if you should be convinced.”” 26:23-24
“The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.” 1:3
Ar-Rahman and ar-Rahim express different aspects of mercy. Ibn al-Qayyim (RA), in his work Bada’i al-Fawa’id, said “al-Rahman points to an Attribute that is existent in Him, Transcendent is He, and al-Rahim points to its interaction with the recipient of mercy. If you wish to understand this, ponder carefully His saying
“He is Most Merciful to the believers.” 33:43
“The Most Merciful [who is] above the Throne established.” 20:5
for not once is it mentioned that he is Rahman with them [the believers]. This proves that ar-Rahman refers to One who is described with mercy whereas ar-Rahim is One who shows mercy”.
The majority of scholars, however, approach the differences with respect to the intensity of meaning, saying that ar-Rahman is more intense in meaning. Ar-Rahman is the One endowed with Mercy that extends to all of the creations in this world and the believers in the Hereafter, whereas ar-Rahim is the One endowed with Mercy that only extends to the believers on the Day of Judgement (as well as in this world) and Allah knows best.
In Allah’s mentioning of these two Names after mentioning that He is Rabb al-alameen, Lord of the worlds, lies an example of encouragement following admonition. The servant, us, then has a combination of fear as well as hope. Ibn al-Qayyim said “His Name, Allah, shows that He is taken as God and the object of worship; the creation take Him as their God by way of love, veneration and submission; and they resort to Him to fulfil their needs and at times of calamity. This is what necessarily leads on from the perfection of His Lordship and mercy which in turn include the perfection of sovereignty and praise”.
By understanding and accepting that He is our Lord, and we must submit to Him, this brings about a sense of fear. By immediately telling us that He is the Most Merciful, this brings about a sense of hope. Abu Hurairah (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAW) said “If the believers knew of the punishment of Allah, none would hope to attain His Paradise. If the disbelievers knew the full extent of the Mercy of Allah, none would despair of entering His Mercy.” True worship of Allah combines a sense of love, hope and fear.
This verse also shows that Allah, the Lord of the worlds, sustainer and nurturer, does not do so because He is in need of creation or our worship, but out of His Mercy. Hence His Lordship if one of mercy and justice, not one of subjugation and oppression. Just as Allah is Merciful to us, we too should be merciful to creation. The Prophet (SAW) said:
“ar-Rahman shows Mercy to the merciful. Have mercy on those who are on earth and the One who is above the heaven will have Mercy on you.” (Tirmidhi)
“Whoever is merciful, even when it comes to slaughtering a bird, Allah will show him Mercy on the Day of Judgement.” (Bukhari)
“Master of the Day of Judgement.”
There are two distinct ways of reciting the first word of this verse, Maalik, as in the script above, or Malik. Both have authentic and continuous transmission from the Prophet (SAW), as well as Abu Bakr and Umar (RA).
- Malik (the King) – the verse would mean that on the Day of Judgement, kingship would belong to Allah alone and not to any of the creation who before used to be kings on earth. On that Day they will come to know with certainty that they are in reality powerless, helpless and vulnerable, and that sovereignty, power and authority belongs entirely to Allah alone.
“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah , the One, the Prevailing.” 40:16
- Maalik (the Owner) – the verse would mean that on the Day of Judgement, everything would belong to Him and no one else, that no one else will be able to voice an opinion or enforce a ruling as they used to do on earth.
“The Day that the Spirit and the angels will stand in rows, they will not speak except for one whom the Most Merciful permits, and he will say what is correct.” 78:38
“He knows what is [presently] before them and what will be after them, and they cannot intercede except on behalf of one whom He approves. And they, from fear of Him, are apprehensive.” 21:28
Both meanings are valid and important in their own ways, emphasising Allah’s Kingship and Ownership over all that has been in existence. He is the Lord of the worlds, the Sustainer, the Provider. There is no true King besides Allah. It is unlawful to call anyone by the name of Malik al-Amlaak, the King of Kings. Bukhari and Muslim reported on the authority of Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (SAW) said “On the Day of Resurrection Allah will hold the earth and fold the heaven with His right hand. Then He will say ‘I am the King, where are the kings [who reigned] on the earth?'”. Ahmad (RA) reports that the Prophet (SAW) said “The person towards whom Allah displays the most anger, and the most despicable on the Day of Resurrection is the one who was named king of kings for there is no Malik except for Allah”.
The word yawm refers to a period of time, not specifically to a day as in common usage and understanding:
(from the beginning of the 5th line in the script to the first 1/5th of the 6th line) “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.” 5:3
“He arranges [each] matter from the heaven to the earth; then it will ascend to Him in a Day, the extent of which is a thousand years of those which you count.” 32:5
The word deen in this context means reckoning or recompense, meaning the recompense of their actions with complete justice:
“That Day, Allah will pay them in full their deserved recompense, and they will know that it is Allah who is the perfect in justice.” 24:25
“That when we have died and become dust and bones, we will indeed be recompensed?” 37:53
Ibn Abbas (RA) explained yawm-id-deen saying “The Day on which the creations are judged – the Day of Resurrection. He will recompense them for their actions; if they were good then it will be good, if they were bad then it will be bad except for that which He forgives for indeed the only order [on that Day] will be His order”.
“And what can make you know what is the Day of Recompense? Then, what can make you know what is the Day of Recompense? It is the Day when a soul will not possess for another soul [power to do] a thing; and the command, that Day, is [entirely] with Allah.” 82:17-19
The placing of this verse in the Surah shows that Allah is the Lord, completely Merciful, the Owner and the King. It shows that His Lordship is complete and perfect. However, after being reminded in the previous verse that He is Merciful, we are told in this verse that He is the Judge. Therefore, not only should we love Him for nourishing and sustaining us, and for His compassion and mercy to us, but also hold Him in awe, knowing our ultimate happiness or misery rests with Him alone.
As a final reminder, as proven by the authentic hadith, we must remember that Allah’s Mercy proceeds His wrath; on that Day, He will be angry as He has never been before, but the mentioning of His Mercy before mentioning the Day of Judgement shows that His Mercy does indeed precede His Wrath. May Allah make us from among those who are spared His Wrath, and granted Jannat-al-Firdaus, ameen.
“It is You we worship and You we ask for help.” 1:5
Having praised Allah, we now acknowledge our servitude and desperate need of our Lord. This verse exemplifies the meaning of tawheed, that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, alone with no partners, la ilaha illAllah.
Linguistically, ibaadah, worship, is derived from ‘abada’, which means to be subservient and to subjugate. In Islam, the word ibaadah is a comprehensive term referring to everything, inward and outward, that Allah loves and is pleased with (ibn Taymiyyah). Its pillars are love, hope and fear. These are coupled with submission and humility.
Worship can only be considered true worship if performed according to the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), seeking the face of Allah only. These two conditions have to be present for any act to be considered worship. Umar (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAW) said “Indeed actions are by intentions and every person shall have what he intended. So the one whose migration was to Allah and His Messenger, his migration was to Allah and His Messenger; and the one whose migration was for some worldly gain, or a woman to marry, his migration was for that which he migrated to” (Bukhari and Muslim). This shows that any act, whether it is praying, fasting, or migrating and so on, can be for the sake of Allah if done with the correct intention. Sleeping, so that we have enough energy to wake up and pray the night prayer, for the sake of Allah, is an act of worship.
We must, however, be careful not to introduce any matters into the religion, as the religion was perfected and completed with the Message of the Prophet (SAW). A person cannot now say he would rather perform 5 rakaats for the Asr prayer as 5 is more than 4; this is not from the Sunnah. This is shown by the hadith recorded by Muslim on the authority of Aishah (RA) that the Prophet (SAW) said “Whoever does an action that we have not commanded, it must be rejected”. Even if there is a ‘good intention’ behind such an action, if it is not legislated in the Sunnah, then it is not an acceptable form of worship, and Allah knows best.
“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” 51:56
Our whole purpose of creation is to worship Allah, until our death. Only through worship can we relieve ourselves of difficulty and despondency. The reason for this is when a person busies himself with worshipping Allah, he is moving from interacting with creation to interacting with his Lord. This also leaves less time for us to sin. Ibn Abbas (RA) explained the first half of this verse of Surah al-Fatihah to mean “You [Allah] alone we single out in worship, fear and hope; You and no one else”.
We do not seek aid from anyone but Allah because all affairs in their totality is under the control of Allah alone. The object of the verb has been brought before the verb to stress this fact, and ‘You alone’ is repeated twice in this verse to emphasise that for both worship and seeking help, these matters are only to be directed to Allah, as He alone is worthy and capable. The Prophet (SAW) said “If you ask, ask of Allah, if you seek help, seek help with Allah” (Ahmad).
To ask for help means to have trust in, and dependence on, the one being asked; therefore it is not permissible to ask anyone else for help, or believe that anyone else can help us; Allah alone can. Any help we receive from creation is help from Allah, using the creation as the means to provide His help to us. Only Allah has control over these affairs. We should not be dependent on our boss at work to provide our salary and so on; we depend on Allah, as He is in control, and it is He Who provides the means for us, via our bosses at work, or whoever they may be.
“But if they turn away, [O Muhammad], say, “Sufficient for me is Allah ; there is no deity except Him. On Him I have relied, and He is the Lord of the Great Throne.”” 9:129
‘You alone we worship’ has been mentioned before ‘You alone we ask for help’ because worship is the intended goal of our creation, and seeking Allah’s help is a route to attaining that goal. We cannot even worship Allah without His helping us to do so.
“And if Allah should touch you with adversity, there is no remover of it except Him; and if He intends for you good, then there is no repeller of His bounty. He causes it to reach whom He wills of His servants. And He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” 10:107
Allah loves to be asked, to be hoped in and desired at times of need, to be supplicated frequently and resolutely. He is able to grant all of mankind all their requests without His dominion decreasing in the slightest. Created beings are the exact opposite and this is something we each need to ponder over. Allah says “invoke Me and I will respond”.
After having established that Allah deserves praise, that He should be loved, after having pondered some of His Names and Attributes, and Actions, after having combined within ourselves desire and dread of Him, the intelligent person will now turn to such a one and direct his worship to him (al-Baqa’i).
“Guide us to The Straight Path” 1:6
After praising Allah, the servant then proceeds to ask of Him from His bounty and blessings. The word hidaayah linguistically means direction and guidance and is used in two senses in the Qur’an:
- Guidance of clarification and direction, not taking into account whether the person is seeking guidance
- Specific guidance which is Allah bestowing His Grace upon the servant by keeping him upon the Way of Truth.
A path, tariq, cannot be regarded to be a true path, siraat, unless five conditions are met:
- that it is straight
- that it leads to the intended goal
- that it is close to the objective
- that it is expansive enough to accommodate those traversing it
- that it has been signposted as being the actual route to the goal
The fact that the Path is straight shows that it is a close path, as the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that it leads to the object. The Path has been appointed for all those who traverse it, therefore it is wide enough to accommodate them and the fact that the Path has been adjoined to the One who has blessed them, Allah, shows that it has been signposted (Ibn al-Qayyim). The phrase ‘The Straight Path’ has the definitive article, al (al-siraat al-mustaqeem), to indicate that it is most deserving of being described as being straight and a siraat.
The Straight Path is the path that one journeying to Allah traverses and it is none other than obedience to Allah and His Messenger (SAW). The definitions of it, by the Salaf, all revolve around this basic fact:
- The Book of Allah (Ali ibn Abi Talib and others)
- Islam (ibn Abbas and others)
- The Religion of Allah other than which He will not accept (ibn al-Hanafiyyah)
- The Prophet (SAW) and the two Khalifs who followed him (Hasan al-Basri and others)
- The Path to Paradise (Sa’id ibn Jubair)
So whoever follows these, has obeyed Allah and is on The Straight Path.
“The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray.” 1:7
Allah then clarifies what this path is, by pointing out those who traverse it, and is explained in greater detail in Surah an-Nisaa:
“And then We would have given them from Us a great reward. And We would have guided them to a straight path. And whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger – those will be with the ones upon whom Allah has bestowed favour of the prophets, the steadfast affirmers of truth, the martyrs and the righteous. And excellent are those as companions.” 4:67-69
Ibn Abbas commentated on this verse saying “[Those who you have favoured] by making them obedient to You and worship You from the Angels, the Prophets, the sincerely truthful, the martyrs and the righteous. This is like what our Lord, Exalted is He has said, “those will be with the ones upon whom Allah has bestowed favour…” The Salaf would say “Follow the path of truth and do not despair because of the few who traverse it, beware of the path of misguidance and do not be deceived by the many who traverse it”.
Al-Ghadab linguistically means anger, and is the opposite of rida, pleasure. Maghdub refer to the objects of anger. Dalaal linguistically means to divert from the intended goal or diverge from the true path, and it is the opposite of guidance. The Prophet (SAW) was asked by ‘Adi ibn Haatim about Allah’s saying “Those who have earned [Your] anger” and he (SAW) said “It refers to the Jews”. He (SAW) was then asked about “Those who have gone astray” and he (SAW) said “The Christians are those who have gone astray”. The Jews knew the truth and rejected it and deliberately introduced falsehood, whereas the Christians were ignorant and therefore misguided.
Surah al-Fatihah is a cure for the diseases of the heart and the body. Disease of the heart occurs due to two basic matters: the corruption of knowledge and the corruption of intent. These lead to misguidance and anger. This Surah is a cure, composed of six matters:
- Worshipping Allah Alone
- By performing what He commanded and legislated
- Not by following ones own desires
- Neither by following the mere opinions of people
- By asking for Allah’s help to enact this
- And not relying on oneself
May Allah guide us all to The Straight Path, aameen.