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Exegesis of al-Fateha (The Opening)

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Islamic Articles - Holy Quran

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A survey of the tafseer in al-Mizan

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful (1). All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds (2). The Beneficent the Merciful (3). The Master of the Day of Judgment (4). Thee do we worship and Thee do we beseech for help (5). Guide us to the straight path (6), the path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors, not of those inflicted by Thy wrath, nor of those gone astray (7).

In the exposition of Surah al-Fateha (chapter of the Opening), the importance of beginning every talk and action with the name of Allah, the most High, is mentioned just like Allah began His speech with His own Name. In this way that talk or 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. This reality has also been hinted in the universally accepted tradition of the Prophet: "Every important affair, not begun with the name of Allah, shall remain incomplete (al-abtar)…." The word al-abtar (translated here as "incomplete'') means a thing whose end is cut off, an animal whose tail is severed.

Then the `Allamah explains how the word "Allah" has become the proper name of God. 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).

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.

Before unfolding the meaning of "al-hamd", the difference between "ar-Rahman" and "ar-Rahim" is explained as follows: "ar-Rahman" is on a paradigm, which is used for magnification and exaggeration. "ar-Rahim" is on a 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. "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. There are numerous verses in the Qur'an that hint to this fact.

In the meaning of the word, "al-hamd", it is clear that Allah is good in His names and good in His actions; and that every good and beauty emanates from Him. Therefore, Allah is praised for His good names as He is praised for His good actions. Every praise, uttered by any speaker for any good deed is in reality addressed to Allah only; because every good (which is the object of praise) emanates from Him only. In short, to Him belongs the species of the praise and all and every praise.

The praise means to attribute, to ascribe; and Allah has declared that He is above all that His servants ascribe to Him. There is not a single verse in the Qur'an that ascribes the action of "praise" to anyone except Allah and some of the prophets (who were doubtlessly freed from sins). As for other creatures, the Qur'an never says that they "praise" Allah - they always "glorify Allah with His praise". Allah says: . . . and the angels declare His glory with the praise Of their Lord. . (42:5); and the thunder declares His glory with His praise . . . (13:13); and there is not a single thing but glorifies Him with His praise . . . (17:44).

So far as His purified servants are concerned, Allah treats their utterance of praise as though He Himself has said it, because they are free from sins and defects. And He quotes lbrahim (a.s.) as saying: Praise be to Allah, Who gave me in old age Isma'il and Ishaq (14:39). Therefore, the divine word, "All praise is due to Allah", is a sort of training to the servant - a training without which he could not know how to declare the praise of Allah.

Further, we are told that the verse: "Thee do we worship", shows that the whole chapter is revealed on behalf of man. Allah teaches him in this chapter how to praise his Lord and how to show his allegiance to, and humility towards, Him. And the phrase, "All praise is due to Allah", further strengthens this inference.

In the sentence: "..the Lord of the Worlds", "ar-Rabb" is the Master who manages the affairs of His servant. The word thus connotes the idea of ownership. Allah is "ar-Rabb"- the Lord of everything because the Lord is the owner who manages the affairs of, and looks after, the owned thing - and only Allah has this attribute.

"The Master of the Day of Judgment": It was explained above the meaning of ownership, that is, mastership. The word "al-malik" is derived from al-milk (possession, to possess). Some reciters have read this word as "al-malik" (the sovereign, the king); it is derived from al-mulk (country; kingdom). The king is the one who has the authority to manage his nation's affairs; nevertheless he does not own the nation or the country. In other words, he holds the authority for management and administration. The fact remains that Allah is the Master as well as the King, and both words are equally correct, as far as divine authority is concerned. ``Allamah Tabataba'I says that Allah used the word "al-malik" in reference to a certain "day"; therefore, linguistically, it would be more proper to say, "the King of the Day of Judgment".

In the exposition of the verse, "Thee do we worship and Thee do we beseech for help", the `Allamah says that when a servant of Allah worships Him, he stands before the Lord as a slave stands before his master. That is why worship is diametrically opposed to arrogance and pride - but it is not so opposed to polytheism; after all, a slave may be jointly owned by two or more masters. Allah says: …..and he should not join anyone in the worship of his Lord (18:110). From this we learn that polytheism - joining someone in the worship of Allah - is a possibility, and that is why it has been made a subject of this prohibition. Allah does not forbid an impossible thing. Allah also says: …Verily those who are arrogant to My worship shall soon enter Hell, disgraced (40:60). The expression "arrogant to My worship" has been used in this verse because arrogance does not exist with worship. Allah has total and all-encompassing authority over His servants unlike a master who has only limited authority over his servants. Therefore, Allah does whatsoever He wills with them and about them. Allah's ownership is unconditional and unlimited; and the servitude of His creatures is likewise. This "ownership" is true and exclusive on both sides: The Lord has the exclusive ownership, and the slave has the exclusive servitude.

The construction of the sentence, "Thee do we worship", points to this exclusiveness - the object, "Thee", has been placed before the verb, and worship is mentioned without any condition. The owned thing exists and subsists because of, and with, its owner. In this sense, it should not divert an onlooker's attention from its owner. An example is given that if you are looking at a house belonging to Zayd, you may lose sight of Zayd if you are looking at it merely as a house; but if you are looking at it from the perspective that it is the property of Zayd, you cannot wean your thoughts from him. The exposition of this verse concludes by a statement that the complete verse gives a single meaning, and that is "worship with purity of intention". Actually, the second sentence, "and Thee do we beseech for help", removes the possible misunderstanding that as the servant describes the worship as his own act, it could create an impression that he thought to be independent in existence, power and will. The fact is that a servant of Allah is only a slave and a slave owns nothing.

In the commentary of the verse, "Guide us to the straight path...nor of those gone astray", he says that Allah has commended the path that is straight and that it is the path taken by those upon whom Allah has bestowed His bounties and favors. Guidance has been asked for this path and it is the ultimate goal of the worship: The servant prays to his Lord that his worship, clean from all impurities, be performed in this path. Numerous verses are quoted from the Qur'an in this profound exposition of the verse under discussion to reach the following conclusions and we shall try to summarize them for the readers:

First: There are various ways to Allah, each differing with others in perfection, easiness and smoothness; it all depends on its nearness or remoteness from the "straight path", like the way of submission, of faith, of worship, of purity of intention or of humility before Allah. Some of the ways leading to the opposite direction are disbelief, polytheism, infidelity, etc. Allah has said: And for all are grades according to what they did… (46:19).
Second: The straight path controls all the ways. Likewise, the people of the straight path do enjoy complete authority to guide the other servants of Allah. Such people have been firmly established in the straight path by Allah. Allah says: ….and excellent are these as companions (4:69); Verily, your only Master is Allah and His Apostle and those who believe, those who keep up prayer and pay zakat while they are bowing down (5:55). The last mentioned verse was revealed about `Ali, the leader of the faithful (a.s.) according to al-mutawatir traditions.

Third: It has been mentioned in the first point that there are many ways leading to Allah. Consequently, guidance for one way would differ from those of the others. Each way has a special guidance of its own. This variation has been hinted in the following verse: And (as for) those who strive hard for Us, We will most certainly guide them unto Our ways…(29:69). A man strives "in the way of Allah"; and another strives "for Allah". There is a great difference between the two. The first tries to keep the way safe and free from all dangers; the second's attention is fixed on Allah only. It is this man who is praised in this verse - he strives hard for Allah; thereupon Allah guides him unto His ways.

Fourth: The straight path is preserved in the ways of Allah - the ways that are of various grades and levels. Allah may keep guiding a man from one way to the other which is of a higher grade, and then to a third one still higher. The prayer in the verse, "Guide us to the straight path" points to this very fact. If we keep this point of view, there would be no room for objection like the following: The one who utters this prayer is already guided aright - how can he pray afresh for guidance? The explanation given above clears away the mist of such objections.

Fifth: The people of the straight path are higher in rank than others, and their path is superior to the "ways" of the others. It is because they have that knowledge of divine attributes which is hidden from others. The following verse points to this fact: Allah will exalt those of you who believe, and those who are given higher knowledge in higher degrees (58:11).

Before the exposition of surah al-Fateha ends, there are discussions on a number of traditions relative to the surah. ``Allamah Tabatabai'I comments on a tradition from Imam ar-Rida (a.s.) that he said: "I heard the Apostle of Allah saying: `Allah, Mighty and Great is He, has said: "I have divided the Opening of the Book between Myself and My servant; so, its half is for Me and the (other) half is for My servant….". Comment: This tradition explains the chapter of the Opening in the frame of the daily prayer; this divine revelation has been sent, as though on behalf of the servants of Allah, to teach them the manners of servitude; to show them how to praise their Lord, and how to declare their allegiance to Him. It is a chapter made especially for the purpose of worship; and no other chapter comes near to it in this respect. It is also a chapter that contains all the basic realities such as Oneness of God, the prophethood, the resurrection and the guidance of mankind to its bliss in this world as well as in the next, in these very short, and at the same time very eloquent sentence.

There is a another tradition, worthy of mention, narrated in Man la yahduruhu `l-faqih and at-Tafsir of al-'Ayyashi that Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) said: "The straight path is Amiru `l-mu'minin (a.s.)." The same book quotes as-Sajjad (a.s) as saying: "There is no curtain between Allah and His proof, nor there is any screen for Allah against His proof. We are the gates of Allah, and we are the straight path, and we are the (treasure) chest of His Knowledge, and we are, the interpreters of His revelation, and we are the pillars of His Oneness, and we are the place of His secret."

`Allamah's Comment: There are other traditions of the same meaning and these traditions are based on the "flow" of the Qur'an, that is, application of the Qur'an verses wherever their meanings come true. It should be noted that the term, "flow" has been used many times in the entire exegesis and this principle has been taken from the traditions of the Imams of Ahlu `I-bayt (a.s.). It was the convention of the Imams of Ahlu `l-bayt (a.s.) that they apply a Qur'anic verse to all things it may be applied to. And this convention was correct and reasonable, because the Qur'an was revealed as "guidance to the worlds"; it guides the mankind to correct belief, correct ethics and correct action. In volume five of the exegesis in English, this principle of the "flow" of the Qur'an is mentioned during the conclusion of a lengthy, but very exciting and unprecedented discussion of the decisive and ambiguous verses and the meaning of "interpretation".

With this discussion of the principle of the "flow of the Qur'an", the exegesis of surah Fateha ends on page 60 of the first English volume.

Benedictions be on the blessed soul of 'Allamah Tabataba'I for guiding us in exploring and understanding this unfathomable ocean of meaning and ideas. We read it and benefit from it according to our limited talents and capacities.

Source: http://www.almizan.org

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