The coherence in this sūrah is like a multifaceted gem. It
can be studied in many distinct aspects. I shall take upon explaining all the
facets of coherence in the sūrah one by one.
The First Aspect:
The first aspect of coherence in this sūrah stems from its
status as the preface to the Qur’ān and the fact that it, in a concise manner,
covers all fundamental themes of the Book (the unicity of God, the sharā’i‘
(laws) and the Last Judgment). It is in consideration of the fact that the sūrah
covers the primary themes of the Book the scholars have called it al-mūfiyah
(the complementing one). On top of being a preface to the Qur’ān, housing all
the fundamental themes of the Book, it is a miniature Qur’ān. This is because a
preface to a book is an independent and complete discussion, and yet is always
included as an addition to the book. This, however, is in only one aspect. A
preface, in another aspect, is part of the book it inaugurates.
That the sūrah is an independent miniature Qur’ān in itself
has been gleaned upon by the authorities in the Qur’ān tafsīr. They base this
conclusion on their interpretation of the following verse which stresses God’s
extraordinary benevolence on the Prophet (sws): “We have given you seven
oft-repeated ones and the great Qur’ān (sab‘an min al-mathānī wa al-Qur’ān al-‘azīm).”(15:87)
The scholars, from the earliest times to this day hold that
the words sab‘an min al-mathānī (the seven oft-repeated ones) refer to Sūrah al-Fātihah.
Notice how the Almighty specially calls it the great Qur’ān. This means that
this sūrah has an independent status. If someone holds that the wāw of ‘aṭaf
(particle wāw meaning “and” in the verse) is not used to connote gloss and
therefore, the most plausible implication is “we have given you these seven
verses, and in addition to it, the great Qur’ān” then again, as per this
interpretation too, this sūrah is considered a chapter in addition to the Qur’ān.
Thus, whatever interpretation of the particle wāw we opt for, the sūrah can be
proved to be an independent comprehensive entity. It is based on this that we
can understand why the sūrah was not written in the codex of ‘Abdullāh ibn
Mas‘ūd (rta), for the Qur’ān was to be written on the hearts of the believers.
Gabriel brought the Qur’ān to the Prophet (sws) who then taught it to the
Companions (rta). They learnt it from him as an oral word. That is why they
themselves had to record it on pages in the form of a book. Thus if it is
correct that ‘Abdullāh ibn Mas‘ūd (rta) did not inscribe it in his codex, it is
because he considered the fact that the sūrah was written in the heart of every
believer. They recite it everyday more than thirty-two times. Whatever is
frequently uttered by the tongue of a person does not need to be recorded in
written form. It is there in the physical body and the spirit of the person. No
despot can snatch it from him. He does not need to write it on a material which
needs to be moved and carried separately while at home or on a journey
vulnerable to theft and loss.
The Arabs would therefore not put to writing what they
could remember and repeat orally. The Qur’ān too has been preserved and secured
in this very manner. There are uncountable number of huffāẓ (memorizers) of the
holy Qur’ān in the ummah. God has always increased the number of huffāz in the
A similar case is found with the Torah as well. The nation
of Israel was required to memorize and secure the statement of the unicity of
God in every possible manner. The rest of the Book was given to them in written
form. This later part was forgotten and lost. Similarly the Almighty Allah made
this sūrah a part of the prayer and decreed that all the believers should write
it on their hearts. This is what ‘Abdullāh ibn Mas‘ūd (rta) had in mind when he
did not write it in his personal codex. Generally people did not understand his
view. They believed he did not consider it part of the Qur’ān. He is quit of the
charge of doing so with such evil intention.
How does the sūrah cover all the fundamental teachings of
the Qur’ān? The Qur’ān teaches us three fundamental themes: tawhīd (unicity of
God), al-sharā’i‘ (divine laws), and the Last Judgment. If we proceed to discuss
these themes in detail, trying to cover all the Qur’ānic parts dealing with
them, it would put us in an unending discussion. We do not afford such an
exhaustive survey of the matter. This matter will reveal itself to those who
study the Qur’ān with deliberation.
I do not mean to say that some of the Qur’ānic verses
exclusively deal with tawhīd, some with rulings and some with the Afterlife.
Contrarily, all these themes are mixed in different parts of the revelation.
They are not put independently and separately in the book. Thus, in Sūrah
Fātihah, these themes have been put as follows: The theme of tawhīd is put as a
crown on the entire sūrah. Subsequently, the themes of the law and the afterlife
are discussed as subsidiary of tawhīd. You shall find the details of these
points in the commentary on the sūrah in the following pages.
From the preceding discussion one can learn the wisdom
behind making this sūrah a necessary part of the salāh. Reciting Sūrah Fātihah
is like reading the entire Qur’ān in brief. Reading a short version of
something, after having learnt its detailed form, helps refresh the entire
discussion. Shortly I shall explain to you how this sūrah completes one’s salāh.
No salāh is better than that of one whose salāh includes this text. This is
perhaps because of this fact that the theme of this sūrah has been part of the
salāh even when it was not expressed in these exact words of miraculous beauty.
Thus, no salāh is possible without the theme this sūrah is expressive of. It is
precisely for this reason that the Prophet (sws) stated that the salāh is not
valid unless the worshipper recites Fātihah. The Prophet (sws) showed
unprecedented love for the ummah when he said that whoever did not recite this
sūrah in his salāh his worship would be incomplete. He repeated the word
“incomplete” three times. By this he meant to stress the importance of this
sūrah as part of the salāh. He emphasized that the salāh is not complete without
the recitation of this sūrah, and that the believer should not keep this sūrah
out of their salāh, like the Jews and the Christians had done. The Jews, it
should be noted, did not appreciate the importance of their Fātihah, in spite of
the fact that it was written in the Scriptures. It formed part of the salāh of
their prophets. I will deal with this matter in … section.
They ignored this supplication and introduced new ones in its place. They kept
changing their replacements and entered into disputes on this issue.
The Almighty Allah has showed great benevolence to the
ummah of the Last Prophet, Muhammad (sws). It is only because of God’s blessings
that no faction in this ummah has failed to acknowledge the importance of this
sūrah. All the believers recite it in their salāh. They are united on its status
as a part of the salāh just as they are unanimous on the number of daily
prayers, the rak‘āt (units) to be offered in each, and its complete form,
including the standing and sitting postures. The Almighty Allah has preserved
the form of the salāh just as He has saved the entire Qur’ān from alteration and
We thank God on saving this ummah from falling into such
error. He did not leave us fall into waywardness and error like the Jews and the
Christians. This proves that Islam is still helped and protected by God. Its
shades are expanding. Other nations continue to turn to it. God’s light still
falls and shines on it. The Book of God is there to lead us. It is a covenant
which we contracted with Him. The salāh serves as a reminder of this covenant,
as is evidenced by the Torah, the Gospels and the Qur’ān. This last fact shall
be explained in the commentary on the last part of Sūrah Fath.
I have only mentioned the above facts in order that you do
not lose sight of the central importance and extraordinary status of this sūrah,
as well as of the importance and status of the salāh, during which you recite
the sūrah with full devotion. This shall also help you ignore the views of those
who hold that Islam has lost God’s protection and that it is no longer under the
It is God Almighty Who sent the last of the Prophets,
Muhammad (sws), whom He promised His help. He then of course fulfilled His
promise. He helped the Prophet (sws) and perfected His blessings on him. The
Almighty says: “It is He who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the
religion of truth, that He may proclaim it over all religions, even though the
idolaters may detest it.” (61:9)
The glad tidings that the last Prophet (sws) would triumph
over his enemies was so prevalent and conspicuously mentioned in the earlier
scriptures that the Jews would pray for victory over the rejecters through the
promised Prophet (sws) even before the advent of Muhammad (sws). We see that the
earlier Scriptures praised those who would enter Jerusalem. The praise of these
people has again been mentioned in the Qur’ān, developing on the previous
scriptural statements. The Qur’ānic verse in the praise of this group is as
follows: “That is their description in the Torah. And their description in the
Gospel is like seed-produce that puts forth its sprout, then strengthens it,
till it becomes stout and stands firm on its stem, delighting the sower.”
Can a thing, the appearance of which has so profoundly been
foretold, be like a shade destined to recede into oblivion? Was it something
like a tree easily pulled out by the roots? Or was it merely a rainless cloud?
No. Never! It is only the untruth and falsity which are destined to vanish.
Truth, on the contrary, is destined to grow aloft.
The Second Aspect
You have learnt that Sūrah Fātihah, as a preface to the
Qur’ān, comprehensively covers the primary Qur’ānic themes, which are three in
number. It is also a miniature Qur’ān in that it exhibits the form of coherence
of the entire Qur’ān. If you recite the sūrah, you can get a reflection of the
coherence of the entire Book. Seen in this perspective, this sūrah is like a
small mirror reflecting a huge object. This is thus another aspect of it being a
complete representation of the entire Qur’ān in a miniature form.
The details of this brief statement follow. When you
consider the Qur’ān in its entirety, you learn that it starts by an expression
of gratitude to God. Then you find it revealing the principles of Islam, in both
their exterior and interior dimensions. It develops on till the point in which
it completes the discussions with a mention of the help granted to the
believers. The disbelievers are finished and annihilated, and the prophetic
mission of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) culminates. The Sūrah of Tawhīd (112) has
been put at the end as a representation of the last covenant of God. At this
point, the divine city represented by the Qur’ān is fully constructed. Then
there are two bulwarks built around it for defensive purposes. Or, we can say
that two swords, or rather a double edged sword, are appointed to defend it.
These are the last two sūrahs of the Qur’ān, the so called mu‘awwidhatayn. We
can say that the Qur’ān is like an eternal garden which is watched over by two
guards holding shining swords in their hands. This issue shall be detailed out
in the discussion on the arrangement of the sūrahs.
If you imagine the Qur’ān this way and ponder over Sūrah
Fātihah, you will notice that the sūrah contains a stark similarity to the
entire Qur’ān in this sense. It starts by an expression of gratitude to God.
Then it takes up the theme of justice. Then we see two bases of worship. Then
there is a mention of the right guidance and straight path consisting of tawhīd
and sunnah. Then surfaces the theme of seeking refuge in God. This seeking of
refuge in God, just like the mu‘awwidhatayn, contains two aspects, both external
and internal. A detailed discussion on this correspondence between the themes of
the sūrah and that of the entire Qur’ān requires a great amount of detail. This
shall be clear to you once you have studied the commentary on the last sūrahs of
the holy Qur’ān. However, you will find some important points in this regard in
the explanation of the verses of the present sūrah.
The above, it is hoped, reveals that like the entire Qur’ān,
this sūrah too is an eternal garden protected by two guards. This similarity
between the two is not a baseless poetical imagination. It is, on the contrary,
based on firm foundations and clear evidence. This basis shall be explained with
the help of God.
The Third Aspect
This sūrah, the foundation block of the salāh, prefaces the
great Qur’ān. From its placement and relation to the Qur’ān, we can infer that
the salāh is the foremost directive of the religion. The one who does not offer
regular prayers indeed abandons the entire religion. This conclusion drawn from
the placement of the sūrah and its relation to the Book of God appears, after
all, to be a mere inference. However, when we study the religious directives
contained in the Qur’ān and the Sunnah this inference is established. Thus the
status of the salāh is edified seeing that God has made this sūrah the opening
of the last divine covenant that He contracted with human beings.
In my commentary on verse 152 of the second sūrah (Baqarah)
of the Qur’ān (“So remember Me, and I will remember you”), I have mentioned that
the divine covenant made with this ummah is kept intact through the salāh. When
we hold fast to the salāh, we in fact stick to the rope of God (the holy Qur’ān)
and also have a firm bond with Him. In return, God helps us over the enemies of
the religion. He protects us from the worst enemy (Satan) who is residing with
us. God has promised this in many places in His book. In the most clear of
words, this promise has been put in the following saying of the Almighty Allah:
“Surely the salāh keeps off indecency and evil.” (29:45)
The fact that abandoning the salāh had put some of the
earlier nations in error and waywardness is clear in the following verse: “A
later generation succeeded them who have lost the salāh and followed lusts. They
shall soon meet error.” ((19:59) This verse has been placed following a mention
of those whom God blessed, the Prophets and their followers. This points out
that abandoning the salāh means expulsion from the group that has God blessed,
or the party of God. In Sūrah Fātihah this has been emphasized. God taught us to
specially ask Him to put us on the path of this party of God. The above suffices
as an introduction. I shall take up this issue again and deal with it in detail
in my commentary on the following verses of Sūrah Hajj: “Those who, if we
granted them power in the land, establish the salāh, do their alms, enjoin good
and forbid evil.” (22:41) I will also deal with this theme in “Guard strictly
your prayers, especially the middle prayer.” (2:238) This issue will in addition
be taken up in the commentary on the initial verses of Sūrah Mu’minūn and Sūrah
(Translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)