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Bismillāh al-Rahmān al-Rahīm
Qur'anic Exegesis
Amin Ahsan Islahi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)

Meaning of the Verse

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.

Historical Status of the Verse

A study of the Qur’ān reveals that since ancient times there has always been a mention of the meanings encompassed by this verse in revealed scriptures in one form or another. It may be the first time that these meanings have been framed in such a sublime diction in the Qur’ān, yet what they convey is so close to human nature that one strongly feels that the Almighty must have revealed them in the very beginning. There could not have been more suitable words which a person might utter before he commences any sort of routine, chore or errand. The Prophet Noah, when his followers were boarding the ark, had said something quite similar, as has been mentioned in the Qur’ān:

“And he said: Embark therein! It will cast anchor. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.” (11:41)

Similarly, the Prophet Solomon had begun his letter addressed to the Queen of Sheeba with these blessed words, as had been quoted by the Qur’ān;

“It is from Solomon and begins with God, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.” (27:30)

The Prayer Nature of the Verse

The verse is not an informative statement, and, like Sūrah Faatihah, is actually a prayer.

It is a voice which emanates from the heart of every right-minded person. A more beautiful expression of emotions in words so akin to human nature could not have been imagined. If a person consciously utters this prayer before any piece of work or routine, it makes him aware that what he is about to undertake must not be against the Almighty’s liking; on the contrary, it must be in accordance with the way of life prescribed by Him. Also, by virtue of this prayer he seeks help from two great attributes of God-Rahmaan and Raheem. Both these attributes secure him the blessings and help of the Almighty: he is protected from the ill-effects of his undertaking and receives strength and courage to carry out his task to completion; he is shielded from the onslaughts of Satan, and his work becomes beneficial for him in the world and a means to please the Almighty in the Hereafter. Anything done without this prayer certainly fails to reap all these blessings, as the Prophet (sws) himself is said to have said.

These blessings and favours can be acquired generally in every enterprise a person sets out to do. However, if one commences the recitation of the Qur’ān with this prayer, there are certain other aspects also which should be kept in consideration:

(1) A person who does so actually fulfils the Almighty’s directive revealed foremost: ‘Read in the name of thy Lord who created you’ (96:1)

(2) This verse reminds him of the reality that the power of speech, which he has been blessed with, is the greatest favour of the Almighty on him because of which is actually became for him to receive the Qur’ān. This is indicated by the attribute Rahmaan stated in it. In Sūrah Rahmaan, it has been explicitly said that it is the Almighty’s Graciousness which created man, endowed him with the power of speech and taught him the Qur’ān:

“[God] Most Gracious! who taught the Qur’ān. He created man and taught him speech.” (55:1-4)

(3) The verse verifys a certain prediction about the Prophet (sws) and the Qur’ān, which has been stated in previous Divine Scriptures. According to it, the Prophet (sws) shall teach his people in the name of Allah. The quote the Old Testament:

“I will raise them up a prophet from their brethren, like unto thee, and will put My words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass that whoever will not hearken unto My Word which he shall speak in My name, I shall take their account from him.” (Deuteronomy”, 18:18-19)

(4) Just as the Qur’ān is manifestation of the Almighty’s Graciousness, it is the attribute of Graciousness of the Almighty also which shall help in understanding the difficulties of the Qur’ān and a reader will be able to comprehend its true message. It will also prevent him from being led astray by evil thoughts as well as by Satan’s incursions.

Epithets of God in the Verse

Three epithets of the Almighty have been mentioned in the verse: Allah, Rahmaan and Raheem. we shall briefly explain them.

ALLAH: The word Allah has been made by prefixing the article alif laam to the word ilaah. From the earliest times, this name has always been specifically used for the Almighty as the Creator of the Universe and every living being. This connotation of the word existed in pre-Islamic times as well in Arabia. The people of Arabia, though, practised polytheism, yet they never equated any of their deities with the Almighty. They had always acknowledged Him as the sole Creator of this world. They including the sun, the moon and the stars. It is He who sends down rain and it is He who provides sustenance to His creation. They worshipped other deities, only because they wrongly believed that these deities were close to God and could intercede for them. Their views have been stated in detail in the Qur’ān.

We quote a few verses:

“We worship them only that they may bring us nearer to God.” (39:3)

“And if you ask them: who has created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon [to His law]? They will reply: Allah. How are they then deluded away [from the truth]. It is Allah who gives abundantly to whom he pleases and gives sparingly [to whom he pleases]. Allah has knowledge of all things. If you ask them: who it is that sent down-rain from the clouds and therewith revived the earth after it became dead. They will say: Allah.” (29: 61-63)

Similarly, they regarded the Almighty as the One who has endowed man with all his abilities, who gives life and death to all, and controls and manages the affairs of the Universe:

“Ask them: who is it that sustains you from the sky and the earth, or who is it that has power over your hearing and sight and who brings forth the living from the dead and the dead from the living and who directs all affairs? They will say: Allah. Then ask: Are you not afraid of him?” (10:31)

Rahmaan and Raheem: The noun Rahmaan is of the intensive form fa’laan (eg: sakraan and gadhbaan), while the noun Raheem is an adjective of the form fa’eel (eg: ‘aleam and kareem). Some people contend that the form of Rahmaan is more intensive than Raheem and as a consequence they hold that the word Raheem is not necessary after Rahmaan, and, though it was not needed, it only serves to further emphasize the meaning of Rahmaan. In our consideration, this view is not correct. A look at the various usages in the Arabic language shows that the form fa’laam expresses great fervency and enthusiasm, while the form fa’eel expressed steadiness and perpetuity. Therefore, it is correct to regard one of these attributes as unnecessary, for the first depicts vigour and the second constancy in God’s mercy. A little deliberation shows that the Almighty’s mercy on His creation possess both these characteristics. The enthusiasm and warmth in it is complemented by permanence. It is not that His attribute of Rahmaan induced Him to create, and he later forgot to foster and sustain His creation. Indeed, He is nourishing and taking proper care of it because He is Raheem as well. Whenever a person invokes His help, He hears his calls and accepts his prayers. Also, His blessings are not confined to this world only. Those who shall lead their lives according to the path prescribed by Him, they shall be blessed with eternal life and joy. It must be conceded that all these aspects cannot be comprehended without an integrated understanding of these attributes:

Placement of the Verse in The Qur’ān

An important question about this verse concerns its actual location in the Qur’ān. The question arises because though it is placed as a separate verse at the beginning of every sūrah (except Sūrah Tawbah), it apparently does not seem a part of any sūrah baring Sūrah Namal, where it actually occurs within the text. Authorities are divided on whether it is a part of any specific sūrah or is just written at the beginning of every sūrah as a mark of distinction and gives it a solemn commencement. The reciters are jurists of Medina, Syria and Basra maintain that it is not a constituent verse of any of the Qur’ānic sūrahs including Sūrah Faatihah and only serves to separate each sūrah from the preceding and succeeding ones and also is a means to invoke the blessings of the Almighty. Imām Abū H*anīfa also holds this view.

On the other hand, the jurists of Mecca and Kufa contend that it is a constituent verse of all the Qur’ānic sūrahs including Sūrah Faatihah. Imām Shā’fī and his Followers are also of this view.

My teacher Imām Hamīd Uddin Farāhī regards it to be a part of Sūrah Faatihah and an opening of other Qur’ānic sūrahs. To me the view of the jurists of Medina seems correct. The reason is that the Qur’ān has been arranged through Divine guidance by the Prophet (sws) himself, and this verse is a part of this arrangement. It has been written in the same way at the beginning of SūrahFaatihah as well as of every other Qur’ānic surah. Therefore, the discrimination seems uncalled for. Quite obviously, it is an independent verse and is not a part of any surah.

(Translated from Islahi’s “Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān”)

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