Al Fatiha – The Qur’an – First Chapter
The first chapter of the Quran in fact starts with two divine names; the most Compassionate, the most Merciful. So let me give you the translations of this first chapter of the Quran.
In the name of God, the most Compassionate and the most Merciful
Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds/all creation
The Most compassionate , the Most Merciful
Owner of the day of Judgment
Thee alone we worship, Thee alone we ask for help
Show us the straight path
The path of those on whom You have bestowed Your grace, not the path of those who received Your wrath and those who have continued to go astray.
The first Chapter of the Qur’an is known as the “Fatiha,” which can be translated as “The Opening.” This chapter has several other names which has been used by Muslims and Muslim commentators specifically. One name that is not very well known is “Al-Shafiya,” which can be translated as “That which Heals.” Another name of this chapter is “Al-Wafiya” which can be translated as “The Covering” or “the encompassing” . Another name of this chapter is known as “Umm Al-Kitab” which means “The Mother of the Book.” In fact it is very well-known that this chapter of the Quran is like a seed which contains the entire Qur’an. So in my talk today, I will use the most commonly used name for this chapter, the name, the Fatiha.
It has been said that the Fatiha contains the entire meaning of the Qur’an. In other words the entire meaning of the Qur’an is folded into the Fatiha and the Fatiha is folded into the Bismillah formula which is the first verse of the chapter, with which Fatiha starts. That is “Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim” or “In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.” This Bismillah is a divine formula that is mentioned almost in the beginning of every chapter of the Qur’an. It shows the mercy of God, and the compassion of God. Because the Qur’an starts with Fatiha and Fatiha starts with this statement, the Prophet asks believers to start all their good actions with this formula. This includes such things as eating, drinking, driving, reading, etc. When one says this formula, when a person begins an action, it is believed that because the person remembers God and invokes God’s names, this action specifically becomes blessed. This idea of remembering the divine name is found in the Qur’an extensively. One verse says;
“Remember Me, God, M with capital M, Remember Me and I will remember you and be grateful to Me and do not be ungrateful to Me”
When one starts with Bismillah, actions become fruitful, according to one saying of the Prophet. As a matter of fact, one prominent scholar of Islam says that everything says Bismillah; not just human beings, but also animals, trees, flowers, and even the stars are saying Bismillah which means when they do something, they do it in the name of God.
So what is the importance of the is formula that we called it Bismillah?
Its importance comes from the holy names of God. Especially two beautiful names of God are mentioned in this formula: one is the Most Compassionate and the other is the Most Merciful. That means in all our actions and endeavors; we rely on the compassion and the mercy of God. Through the reflection of the divine mercy human beings can make connection with the Divine, attain the knowledge of the Divine, and become closer to God which is very important principle in the mystical tradition of Islam. To become closer to God, of course spiritually and through your inner dimension.There are two famous hadith qudsi in which God says:
“I was a hidden treasure; I loved to be known; I created the creatures so that they will know Me.”
And the second hadith qudsi goes as follows:
“Those who seek nearness to Me seek nearness through nothing I love more than the performance of what I have made incumbent upon them. My servants never cease to seek nearness to Me through supererogatory works, extra works until I love them. Then, when I love them, I am their hearings through which they hear, their sight through which they see, their hand through which they grasp, and their foot through which they walk.”
So there are divine names. In fact there are 99 names of God as mentioned in one of the sayings of Prophet. What we have here are two divine names, especially these two divine names are important. They are examples for believers that believers also should be compassionate and merciful toward others. That this formula is mentioned one hundred and fourteen times in the Qur’an, encourages Muslims to be reflections of these Divine names.
The Qur’an states that the Prophet is a mercy for all creation. So basically the Prophet is the most important reflection of these two divine names. And Muslims are encouraged to imitate the Prophet. So therefore they also have to be reflection of these divine names, to be Compassionate, to be Merciful. The verse that speaks of the Prophet as a mercy is mentioned in the Quran. The verse says,
“O Muhammad, We have not sent you but as a mercy for all creation” (21:107).
Now let’s have a closer examination of this formula word by word. In this formula, we have the word “Allah,” because Bismillah means in the name of Allah. The word Allah is a proper name for God. In the United States, people who have no knowledge about Islam or are misinformed about Islam, and in fact not only in the United States, generally in English speaking world, these people think that “Allah” is a different God. It is important to know that Allah is the same God as the God of Moses, David, Jesus, Isaac, and Jacob. Arabic speaking Christians also call God Allah. Allah is the Creator of the heavens and earth. In the English speaking world, he is referred to as God, with a capital G. This concept of Allah is also in Judaism. Judaism uses Yahweh or Elohim to speak of God. The word Allah is frequently repeated in the Qur’an; in fact, in the Islamic mysticism it is one of the most repeated names of God, because a Qur’anic verse says,
“Surely in the remembrance of God, hearts can rest” (13:28).
This is also found in among early Christians. As St. Augustine (died 430 C.E.) for example says a similar statement,
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
So Allah is a kind of refuge for believers with this regard. And it is very well-known in the mystical tradition of Islam. Allah is one. Allah does not need anything and everything needs Allah, God. Again Muslim mystics would repeat the phrase of the first part of the shahada which means,
“There is no god but God, there is no deity by God/or Allah.”
Or as in Arabic, “La ilaha illa Allah.” This is the first statement of the testimony of faith in Islam. In this, God is the refuge for all who are in need. The weakness of the human being is amended by God’s power. As a child finds refuge in their mother’s arms, human beings – whatever they need – find refuge in God’s mercy. As the Qur’an says,
“Whatever is in heavens and earth, belongs to God” (2:284).
So believers are asked to pray and supplicate to Allah, to God by reciting these Divine names and make connection through these Divine names with God. For example, when one repeats the Divine name “Al-Karim,” or “The Most Kind,” one remembers with gratitude the bounties of God, as a kindness from the Divine.