Photo from William Hamblin and Daniel Peterson: Reciting from the Quran
BenRoyston, 20 May 2017
Below is an explanation of the translation of Surah Al-Fatiha supplemented with a simple verse by verse explanation by Imam Kamil Mufti. He writes for ‘New Muslims‘, a website that is designed for those who have just assumed Islam. It was last modified on 03 Feb 2015.
Each part of his explanation is interspersed with further commentary added from the writer’s, own understanding on 15 May 2017.
Surah al-Fatiha is the first surah of the Quran and is recited in each prayer, as the Prophet, may Allah praise him, declared,
“There is no (valid) salah without the opening chapter of the Book.” (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)
On accepting Islam, a person should first memorise the Fatiha to be able to perform the prescribed prayers. Its meaning should be learnt and contemplated every time we offer salah.
Al Fatiha is the opening verse of the Quran, the verse that unlocks the prayer and establishes the conduit between God and His invokers and supplicants, that is: those who worship Him.
The requirement to recite Al-Fatiha in Prayer is essentially true, as Imam Kamil says. However, there was once a man who had accepted Islam, who came to the Prophet complaining that he had difficulty memorising Al Fatiha, so the Prophet, may Allah praise him, told him,
“Say: (in Arabic) Glory be to Allah, praise be to Allah, there is no god except Allah and Allah is Most great, there is no god except Allah and there is no power and no strength except with Allah.” The man … said, “This is for my Lord, what is there for me?” He said, “Say: (in Arabic) O Allah, forgive me, have mercy on me, guide me, and grant me provision and good health.” (Sunan An-Nasai and Sunan Abu Dawood)
There is always an easier way allowed by God when what is required is too difficult to do or cannot be met.
TEXT, TRANSLITERATION, TRANSLATION, AND EXPLANATION
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ
- Bismillahir rahmaanir raheem
In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.
The Quran begins with the proper, unique, and personal name of God – Allah. ‘I begin with the name of Allah’ means a Muslim begins his recitation seeking the help of Allah. Allah is the God of mankind who alone deserves worship. No one else can take the name ‘Allah.’ Allah is the Most Gracious (ar-Rahman) Lord whose mercy extends to all creation. He is also especially Merciful (ar-Raheem) to the faithful.
In the name of Allah, the Gracious and Merciful.
Here, the supplicant and invoker calls upon two of the most prominent of God’s qualities encompassed in His name (Allah) – the quality of Grace – God’s ability to provide Mercy – nurture through Forgiveness and Pardon for wrong doing in this life – which results in one’s Provision and further Guidance to a greater or lesser extent and Grace (entry into the levels of Paradise).
الْحَمْدُ للّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
- Alhamdu lillahi rabbil Aalameen
(All) praise is (due) to Allah, Lord of the worlds
Allah deserves to be praised for the perfection of His qualities, material gifts, and spiritual blessings. Therefore, people should praise Him for everything He has given them. He alone deserves it. He is the Lord of the worlds, meaning He made everything that exists, maintaining it at every moment. He is the Lord who nourishes the believers with faith and good works.
All praise is to Allah, Lord of the worlds.
Here, the worshippers affirm that their praise is reserved in the first place to the Lord of all the levels of Creation.
The domains of the Seen and Unseen, the Orb we live on and all the other orbs in this Solar System and beyond, and the Pre-life decree, the Worldly life and the Afterlife. Muslims believe that the Worlds also refer to other dimensions or alternate realities that may exist as well as the dimension we live in.
- Ar rahmaanir raheem
The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful,
‘Most Gracious’ (Al-Rahman) and ‘Merciful’ (ar-Raheem) are two of the many names of Allah.
The Merciful, The Gracious.
Note that the Imam also translates Al-Rahman as “The Most Gracious” although the text of the Translation of the Quran he is using translates it as “the Entirely Merciful”.
I have left out the superlative inflection as God’s Grace and Mercy incomparable (in its infinity) to that of any of His Creatures. I have also applied the term Gracious to Al-Raheem and Merciful to Al-Rahman for two reasons. In the Christian religion, Grace is what God grants on Judgement Day to those He accepts into His Kingdom.
In the same way, Al-Raheem reserves entry into Paradise for the believers in God (Allah) and the unblameworthy (such as children who died before adolescence, those who died feeble-minded and those who never heard the message. Some say the ones who never heard the message includes those who never heard it delivered in the right context).
Al-Rahman, however, extends even to those in the mundane world who disbelieve and reject God and belief in Him. He exposes them to Guidance and Feeds them and Shelters them and makes them look out for each other. He also tests them so they reflect and warns them of the consequence of turning away from Him.
The root of both words is RaHaMa from which is also derived the word rahim, the womb which nurtures and develops our offspring until they are delivered into the mundane world.
مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ
- Maliki yawmid deen
Sovereign of the Day of Recompense.
Allah alone is the Master of the Day of Judgement, the Day when human beings will be rewarded for their deeds. Reciting this verse in every rak’ah of payer constantly reminds a Muslim of the coming Judgement, and encourages him to do good and stay away from sins.
The King, or Owner, of the Promised Day.
Malik or Maalik – the first means King, whilst the second means Owner. Both forms are used in different Qirat (ways of reciting the Quran). Malik reinforces the notion of Ruler-ship: the One with the power to decide and decree, whilst Maalik emphasises that everything belongs to Allah, even His creations, Heaven and Hell. Because He owns them and us, He can dispose of us as He wills in either place.
The Promised Day
Yawm id-deen – Yawm m means Day; id-deen refers to the Day Allah promised that we would be raised up from death in the hereafter to answer for our deeds in the mundane world. Deen can mean debt – the debt that we owe Allah (which we fulfilled or did not fulfil by our deeds) and the debt fulfilled (fully) by Allah. It can also mean religion – our duty to perform what we were made for (to worship Allah) and believe in what He warned us would happen after death (Resurrection) and Judgement which would leave us in Heaven (if we believed and submitted) or Hell (if we did not believe nor submit).
إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ
- Iyyaka naabudu wa-iyyaka nasta-een
It is You Alone we worship and You Alone we ask for help.
We only submit to You in worship and seek only Your help in everything we do. Everything is in Your hands. The verse tells us that a Muslim is not allowed to direct any act of worship, like prayer and asking for supernatural, help to anyone other than Allah.
The verse connects the heart with Allah and purifies it of pride and the desire to show-off.
It is You alone we worship and invoke and supplicate for aid
Iyyaka na’abadu and na’asta’een. The “Iyya Ka” means that (we are addressing) “nobody or nothing except O You”. It is the vocative case hail – hailing the one we have been extolling and recognising and invoking: Allah, Merciful and Gracious Lord, King, Owner (and Gateway to Good in the Promised Hereafter) “do we (n) Worship (obediently) and Request (‘abad and ‘asta’) (and depend on) for all our needs.
This ends the first part of the opening prayer, dedicated to invoking Allah and the reason why we are invoking Him or Her (Allah has no gender). After this invocation, we tell Him what we request – that is – we supplicate whom we have invoked.
اهدِنَــــا الصِّرَاطَ المُستَقِيمَ
- Ih dinassiratal mustaqeem
Guide us to the straight path
Guide us and show us the straight path and make it easy for us. Make us firm on it till we meet You. The ‘Straight Path’ is Islam, the clear road leading to divine pleasure and Heaven shown by Muhammad, God’s last and final prophet. A slave of Allah cannot be happy and prosperous except by following it.
Guide us in the straight path
The request we make is for guidance. Hadi – guide – n -us! What kind of guidance? The next source of material wealth or benefit? Not at all: spiritual guidance to Al-siraat al mustaqiym.
The Straight Path
Imam Kamil rightly said this path is Islam: The path laid down by the Prophets in general and by Muhammed, may Allah praise him, in particular. He drew a straight line in the sand with a stick by way of illustration and said,
“This is the straight path of Allah.” Then the Prophet drew lines to the right and left and he said, “These are other paths and there are no other paths but that a devil is upon it calling to its way.” Then the Prophet recited the verse, “Verily, this is the straight path, so follow it and do not follow other paths.” (6:153) (Musnad Ahmad)
The path same path is obliquely referred to as “the way is narrow that leads to life” by Jesus just before he warns the people at the sermon on the mount to “do the Will of the Father.”
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنعَمتَ عَلَيهِمْ غَيرِ المَغضُوبِ عَلَيهِمْ وَلاَ الضَّالِّينَ
- Siratal latheena an Amta Alayhim ghayril maghdoobi alayhim walad daalleen
The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favour, not of those who have evoked (Your) anger or of those who are astray.
The path followed by those who were blessed – the prophets, the truthful, the martyrs, and the righteous. They are the guided. Do not let us follow the path of two. First, those who earned divine anger because they knew the truth but did not act on it, and that is the example of the Jews and whoever is like them. Second, do not let us follow the path of those who lost their way and were not guided, and that is the example of the Christians and their like. This is a prayer from a Muslim to purify his heart of stubbornness, ignorance, and misguidance. The verse also shows Islam is God’s greatest blessing. Those who know the way and walk on it are guided and, after the prophets they were, without doubt, the companions of Prophet Muhammad. It is recommended to say ‘Ameen’ after reciting Fatiha in the prayer. ‘Ameen’ means ‘O Allah, please accept.’
The path of those who have received your favours,
Those who have received the favours (that Allah) bestowed are those who are guided by Him – the ones who follow the straight path and narrow way to life.
Not of those who earned your anger nor of those who went astray.
Indeed, many scholars equate the maghdoub the Jews. Even Christians consider Jews to have lost favour with God due to hypocrisy (Matthew 23), and God portrays Jerusalem, or the people therein, to be a betraying wife in Jeremiah 3.
What it literally means is ghayr, meaning not or (set) apart (from), the people out of favour due to rebellion – thus angering their ruler: those who set themselves up as equals in dialogue with God, or set themselves against God. Agnostics would fall into this category, perhaps.
The dhaleen, however, refers to those who strayed – led astray, perhaps, by those rebellious ones with knowledge. Their hearts may be soft, rather than hard, yet they are misguided. These, perhaps, are the ones who follow their desires rather than the truth. Yet, perhaps, they are also the ones who have the potential to return; to make Tawbah, or to repent.
There are many more Christians than Jews who convert to Islam after they are convinced the Quran is God’s word, but some Jews do as well, so we cannot rigidly adhere to the scholars’ interpretation as to the groups they refer to. A key verse in the Quran that describes the People of the Book who return to guidance is in Surah 28, The Stories.
And We have conveyed to them the Word that they might be reminded. Those to whom We gave the Book before it – they are believers in it. And when it is recited to them, they say, “We have believed in it; indeed, it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed, (even) before (hearing) it, we were Muslims. (28:51-54)
And Allah says of these people:
Indeed, [O Muhammad], you do not guide whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills. And He is most knowing of the [rightly] guided. (28:56)
When the Imam recites this supplication in the prescribed prayer, the jama’a, or congregation, confirms their participation by saying Amen in the Arabic way, which is Ameen.
Ameen / Amen
In Arabic, Ameen is used to end a prayer heard if one wants to participate in its benefits, so the meaning would be “may Allah accept it for me (for us) as well!” The prayer then becomes as if you said it. Etymologically, it is associated with Truth, Trust (entrusting) and Faith.
The meaning is similar in Judaism and Christianity, a word God ordered the Jews to say at the end of congregational prayer. In the Gospel, Jesus often initiates a sentence with the word while teaching. In such cases, it is often translated as “Verily” or “Truly”. In the Gospel of Mark, the word is amen is reproduced phonetically as αμην, but in the Gospel of Luke the same synoptic verse begins by using the word αληθος “Truly“. (Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27). This shows us that the underlying meaning of the word “Amen” is Truth and Verity. It is a solemn affirmation. So, when Christians say, “Amen” they mean, “Yes, before God I agree with that; I believe that to be true; I want that to be so“. That is very similar to the meaning given to “Ameen” in the Arabic of Muslims.
Like the Lord’s Prayer, this prayer is the fundamental basis of salah, the formal prayer performed to a formal pattern, whether the obligatory prayers in the mosque or the extra voluntary prayers performed at home.