The Tafsir of Surah Al-Fatihah (Chapter 1)
Which was revealed in Makkah
The Meaning of Al-Fatihah and its Various Names
This Surah is called Al-Fatihah, that is, the Opener of the Book, the Surah with which prayers are begun. It is also called, Umm Al-Kitab (the Mother of the Book), according to the majority of the scholars. In an authentic Hadith recorded by At-Tirmidhi, who graded it Sahih, Abu Hurayrah said that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:
“Al-Hamdu lillahi Rabbil-`Alamin is the Mother of the Qur’an, the Mother of the Book, and the seven repeated Ayat of the Glorious Qur’an.”
It is also called Al-Hamd and As-Salah, because the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said that his Lord said:
“‘The prayer (i.e., Al-Fatihah) is divided into two halves between Me and My servants.’ When the servant says, ‘All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of existence,’ Allah says, ‘My servant has praised Me.'” (Recorded in At-Tirmidhi 8:283)
Al-Fatihah was called the Salah, because reciting it is a condition for the correctness of Salah – the prayer. Al-Fatihah was also called Ash-Shifa’ (the Cure).
It is also called Ar-Ruqyah (remedy), since in the Sahih, there is the narration of Abu Sa`id telling the the story of the Companion who used Al-Fatihah as a remedy for the tribal chief who was poisoned. Later, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said to a Companion:
“How did you know that it was a Ruqyah?” (Fath Al-Bari 4:529)
Al-Fatihah was revealed in Makkah as Ibn `Abbas, Qatadah and Abu Al-`Aliyah stated. Allah said:
“And indeed, We have bestowed upon you the seven Mathani (seven repeatedly recited verses), (i.e. Surat Al-Fatihah) and the Grand Qur’an.” (Surah Al-Hijr 15:87).
Allah knows best.
The Reason it is called Umm Al-Kitab
In the beginning of the Book of Tafsir, in his Sahih, Al-Bukhari said; “It is called Umm Al-Kitab, because the Qur’an starts with it and because the prayer is started by reciting it.” It was also said that it is called Umm Al-Kitab, because it contains the meanings of the entire Qur’an. Ibn Jarir said, “The Arabs call every comprehensive matter that contains several specific areas an Umm. For instance, they call the skin that surrounds the brain, Umm Ar-Ra’s. They also call the flag that gathers the ranks of the army an Umm.” He also said, “Makkah was called Umm Al-Qura, (the Mother of the Villages) because it is the grandest and the leader of all villages. It was also said that the earth was made starting from Makkah.”
Further, Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Hurayrah narrated about Umm Al-Qur’an that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:
“It is Umm Al-Qur’an, the seven repeated (verses) and the Glorious Qur’an.” (Ahmad 2:448)
Also, Abu Ja`far, Muhammad bin Jarir At-Tabari recorded Abu Hurayrah saying that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said about Al-Fatihah:
“It is Umm Al-Qur’an, Al-Fatihah of the Book (the Opener of the Qur’an) and the seven repeated (verses).” (At-Tabarani 1:107)
Virtues of Al-Fatihah
Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal recorded in the Musnad that Abu Sa`id bin Al-Mu`alla said, “I was praying when the Prophet called me, so I did not answer him until I finished the prayer. I then went to him and he said, ‘What prevented you from coming?’ I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah ! I was praying.’ He said, `Didn’t Allah say’:
“O you who believe! Answer Allah (by obeying Him) and (His) Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life?”
He then said:
“I will teach you the greatest Surah in the Qur’an before you leave the Masjid.” He held my hand and when he was about to leave the Masjid, I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! You said: I will teach you the greatest Surah in the Qur’an.’ He said, “Yes.”:
“Al-Hamdu lillahi Rabbil-`Alamin”
It is the seven repeated (verses) and the Glorious Qur’an that I was given.” (Ahmad 4:211) Al-Bukhari, Abu Dawud, An-Nasa’i and Ibn Majah also recorded this Hadith.
Also, Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Hurayrah said, “The Messenger of Allah went out while Ubayy bin Ka`b was praying and said, ‘O Ubayy!’ Ubayy did not answer him. The Prophet said, ‘O Ubayy!’ Ubayy prayed faster then went to the Messenger of Allah saying, ‘Peace be unto you, O Messenger of Allah!’ He said, ‘Peace be unto you. O Ubayy, what prevented you from answering me when I called you?’ He said, `O Messenger of Allah! I was praying.’ He said, ‘Did you not read among what Allah has sent down to me,’
“Answer Allah (by obeying Him) and (His) Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life.”
He said, `Yes, O Messenger of Allah! I will not do it again.’ The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:
” Would you like me to teach you a Surah the likes of which nothing has been revealed in the Tawrah, the Injil, the Zabur (Psalms) or the Furqan (the Qur’an)?”
He said, ‘Yes, O Messenger of Allah!’ The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said, “I hope that I will not leave through this door until you have learned it.” He (Ka`b) said, ‘The Messenger of Allah held my hand while speaking to me. Meanwhile I was slowing down fearing that he might reach the door before he finished his conversation. When we came close to the door, I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah ! What is the Surah that you have promised to teach me’ He said, “What do you read in the prayer.” Ubayy said, ‘So I recited Umm Al-Qur’an to him.’ He, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:
“By Him in Whose Hand is my soul! Allah has never revealed in the Tawrah, the Injil, the Zabur or the Furqan a Surah like it. It is the seven repeated verses that I was given.”
Also, At-Tirmidhi recorded this Hadith and in his narration, the Prophet said:
“It is the seven repeated verses and the Glorious Qur’an that I was given.” At-Tirmidhi then commented that this Hadith is Hasan Sahih.
Furthermore, in the chapter about the virtues of the Qur’an, Al-Bukhari recorded that Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri said, “Once, we were on a journey when a female servant came and said, `The leader of this area has been poisoned and our people are away. Is there a healer among you’ Then a man whose healing expertise did not interest us stood for her, he read a Ruqyah for him, and he was healed. The chief gave him thirty sheep as a gift and some milk. When he came back to us we said to him, `You know of a (new) Ruqyah, or did you do this before’ He said, `I only used Umm Al-Kitab as Ruqyah.’ We said, `Do not do anything further until we ask the Messenger of Allah.’ When we went back to Al-Madinah we mentioned what had happened to the Prophet . The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:
“Who told him that it is a Ruqyah? Divide (the sheep) and reserve a share for me.” (Fath Al Bari 8:671)
Also, Muslim recorded in his Sahih, and An-Nasa’i in his Sunan that Ibn `Abbas said, “While Jibril (Gabriel) was with the Messenger of Allah , he heard a noise from above. Jibril lifted his sight to the sky and said, `This is a door in heaven being opened, and it has never been opened before now.’ An angel descended from that door and came to the Prophet and said, `Receive the glad tidings of two lights that you have been given, which no other Prophet before you was given: the Opening of the Book and the last (three) Ayat of Surat Al-Baqarah. You will not read a letter of them, but will gain its benefit.”’ This is the wording collected by An-Nasa’i (Al-Kubra 5:12) and Muslim recorded similar wording (1:554).
Al-Fatihah and the Prayer
Muslim recorded that Abu Hurayrah said that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him said,
“Whoever performs any prayer in which he did not read Umm Al-Qur’an, the his prayer is incomplete.” He said this thrice.
Abu Hurayrah was asked, “[When] we stand behind the Imam?” He said, “Read it to yourself, for I heard the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, say:
“Allah, the Exalted, said, ‘I have divided the prayer (Al-Fatihah) into two halves between Myself and My servant, and My servant shall have what he asks for.’ If he says, ‘All praise and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of existence.’ Allah says, `My servant has praised Me.’ When the servant says, ‘The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.’ Allah says, `My servant has glorified Me.’ When he says, ‘The Owner of the Day of Recompense.’ Allah says, `My servant has glorified Me,’ or `My servant has related all matters to Me.’ When he says, ‘You (alone) we worship, and You (alone) we ask for help.’ Allah says, `This is between Me and My servant, and My servant shall acquire what he sought.’ When he says, ‘Guide us to the straight path. The way of those on whom You have granted Your grace, not (the way) of those who earned Your anger, nor of those who went astray), Allah says, `This is for My servant, and My servant shall acquire what he asked for.”’ (Muslim 1:296, An-Nasai in Al-Kubra 5:11,12)
Reciting Al-Fatihah is required in every Rakah of the Prayer
All of these facts testify to the requirement that reciting the Qur’an (Al-Fatihah) in the prayer is required, and there is a consensus between the scholars on this ruling. The Hadith that we mentioned also testifies to this fact, for the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him said:
“Whoever performs any prayer in which he did not recite Umm Al-Qur’an, his prayer is incomplete.” (Ahmad 2:250)
Also, the Two Sahihs recorded that `Ubadah bin As-Samit said that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him said,
“There is no prayer for whoever does not recite the Opening of the Book.” (Muslim 1:295)
There are many other Hadiths on this subject. Therefore, reciting the Opening of the Book, during the prayer by the Imam and those praying behind him, is required in every prayer, and in every Rak`ah.
The Tafsir of Isti’adhah (seeking Refuge)
“Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and stay away from the foolish (i.e. don’t punish them). And if an evil whisper comes to you from Shaytan (Satan), then seek refuge with Allah. Verily, He is Hearing, Knowing.” (Surah Al-A’raf 7:199-200)
“Repel evil with that which is better. We are Best-Acquainted with things they utter. And say: “My Lord! I seek refuge with You from the whisperings (suggestions) of the Shayatin (devils). And I seek refuge with You, My Lord! lest they should come near me.” (Surah Al-Mu’minoon 23:96-98) and
“Repel (an evil) with one which is better, then verily he with whom there was enmity between you, (will become) as though he was a close friend. But none is granted it except those who are patient – and none is granted it except the owner of the great portion (of happiness in the Hereafter, i.e. Paradise and of a high moral character) in this world. And if an evil whisper from Shaytan tries to turn you away (O Muhammad ) (from doing good), then seek refuge in Allah. Verily, He is the Hearing, the Knowing.” (Surah Fussilat 41:34-36)
These are the only three Ayat that carry this meaning. Allah commanded that we be lenient human enemy, so that his soft nature might make him an ally and a supporter. He also commanded that we seek refuge from the satanic enemy, because the devil does not relent in his enmity if we treat him with kindness and leniency. The devil only seeks the destruction of the Son of Adam due to the vicious enmity and hatred he has always had towards man’s father, Adam. Allah said”
“O Children of Adam! Let not Shaytan deceive you, as he got your parents [Adam and Hawwa’ (Eve)] out of Paradise.” (Surah Al-A’raf 7:27),
“Surely, Shaytan is an enemy to you, so take (treat) him as an enemy. He only invites his Hizb (followers) that they may become the dwellers of the blazing Fire.” (Surah Fatir 35:6) and,
“Will you then take him (Iblis) and his offspring as protectors and helpers rather than Me while they are enemies to you What an evil is the exchange for the Zalimun (polytheists, and wrongdoers, etc)” (Surah Al-Khaf 18:50).
The devil assured Adam that he wanted to advise him, but he was lying. Hence, how would he treat us after he had vowed:
“By Your might, then I will surely, mislead them all. Except Your chosen servants among them (i.e. faithful, obedient, true believers of Islamic Monotheism).” (Surah Sad 38:82-83)
Also, Allah said:
“So when you [want to] recite the Qur’an, seek refuge with Allah from Shaytan, the outcast (the cursed one). Verily, he has no power over those who believe and put their trust only in their Lord (Allah). His power is only over those who obey and follow him (Satan), and those who join partners with Him.” (Surah An-Nahl 16:98-100).
Seeking Refuge before reciting the Qur’an
“So when you [want to] recite the Qur’an, seek refuge with Allah from Shaytan, the outcast (the cursed one).” meaning, before you recite the Qur’an. Similarly, Allah said,
“When you intend to offer As-Salah (the prayer), wash your faces and your hands (forearms)” (Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:6)
meaning, before you stand in prayer, as evident by the Hadiths that we mentioned. Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri said, “When the Messenger of Allah would stand up in prayer at night, he would start his prayer with the Takbir (saying “Allahu Akbar”; Allah is Greater) and would then supplicate,
“All praise is due to You, O Allah, and also the thanks. Blessed be Your Name, Exalted be Your sovereignty, and there is no deity worthy of worship except You.”
He would then say thrice,
“There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah.”
He would then say,
“I seek refuge with Allah, the Hearing, the Knowing, from the cursed Satan, from his coercion, lures to arrogance and poems.”
The four collectors of the Sunan recorded this Hadith, which At-Tirmidhi considered the most famous Hadith on this subject.
Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah recorded that Jubayr bin Mut`im said that his father said, “When the Messenger of Allah started the prayer, he said:
“Allah is the Greater, truly the Greatest (thrice); all praise is due to Allah always (thrice); and all praise is due to Allah day and night (thrice). O Allah! I seek refuge with You from the cursed Satan, from his Hamz, Nafkh and Nafth.”
Amr said, “The Hamz means asphyxiation, the Nafkh means arrogance, and the Nafth means poetry.”
Seeking Refuge with Allah when One is Angry
In his Musnad, Al-Hafiz Abu Ya`la Ahmad bin `Ali bin Al-Muthanna Al-Mawsili reported that Ubayy bin Ka`b said, “Two men disputed with each other in the presence of the Messenger of Allah and the nose of one of them became swollen because of extreme anger. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him said,
“I know of some words that if he said them, what he feels will go away, ‘I seek refuge with Allah from the cursed Satan.”’ (An-Nasai in Al-Kubra 10233)
There are many other Hadiths about seeking refuge with Allah. One can find this subject in the books on supplication and the virtues of righteous, good deeds.
Is the Isti’dhah (seeking Refuge) required?
The majority of the scholars state that reciting the Isti`adhah (in the prayer and when reciting the Qur’an) is recommended and not required, and therefore, not reciting it does not constitute a sin. However, Ar-Razi recorded that `Ata’ bin Abi Rabah said that the Isti`adhah is required in the prayer and when one reads the Qur’an. In support of `Ata’s statement, Ar-Razi relied upon the apparent meaning of the Ayah, “Then seek refuge.” He said that the Ayah contains a command that requires implementation. Also, the Prophet always said the Isti`adhah. In addition, the Isti`adhah wards off the evil of Satan, which is neccessary, the rule is that the means needed to implement a requirement of the religion is itself also required. And when one says, “I seek refuge with Allah from the cursed devil.” Then this will suffice.
Virtues of the Isti’adhah
The Isti`adhah cleanses the mouth from the foul speech that it has indulged in. It also purifies the mouth and prepares it to recite the speech of Allah. Further, the Isti`adhah entails seeking Allah’s help and acknowledging His ability to do everything. The Isti`adhah also affirms the servant’s meekness, weakness and inability to face the enemy of his inner evil, whom Allah alone, Who created this enemy, is able to repel and defeat. This enemy does not accept kindness, unlike the human enemy. There are three Ayat in the Qur’an that affirm this fact. Also, Allah said,
“Verily, My servants (i.e. the true believers of Islamic Monotheism) ـ you have no authority over them. And sufficient is your Lord as a Guardian.” (Surah Al-Isra’ 17:65).
We should state here that the believers, whom the human enemies kill, become martyrs, while those who fall victim to the inner enemy – Satan – become bandits. Further, the believers who are defeated by the apparent enemy – disbelievers – gain a reward, while those defeated by the inner enemy earn a sin and become misguided. Since Satan sees man where man cannot see him, it is befitting that the believers seek refuge from Satan with Whom Satan cannot see. The Isti`adhah is a form of drawing closer to Allah and seeking refuge with Him from the evil of every evil creature.
What does Isti’adhah mean?
Isti`adhah means, “I seek refuge with Allah from the cursed Satan so that he is prevented from affecting my religious or worldly affairs, or hindering me from adhering to what I was commanded, or luring me into what I was prohibited from.” Indeed, only Allah is able to prevent the evil of Satan from touching the son of Adam. This is why Allah allowed us to be lenient and kind with the human devil, so that his soft nature might cause him to refrain from the evil he is indulging in. However, Allah required us to seek refuge with Him from the evil of Satan, because he neither accepts bribes nor does kindness affect him, for he is pure evil. Thus, only He Who created Satan is able to stop his evil. This meaning is reiterated in only three Ayat in the Qur’an. Allah said in Surat Al-A`raf:
“Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the foolish (i.e. don’t punish them).” (Surah Al-A’raf 7:199)
This is about dealing with human beings. He then said in the same Surah:
“And if an evil whisper comes to you from Shaytan, then seek refuge with Allah. Verily, He is Hearing, Knowing.” (Surah Al-A’raf 7: 200).
Allah also said in Surat Al-Mu’minun,
“Repel evil with that which is better. We are Best-Acquainted with the things they utter. And say: “My Lord! I seek refuge with You from the whisperings (suggestions) of the Shayatin (devils). And I seek refuge with You, My Lord! lest they should come near me.” (Surah Al-Muminun 23:96-98).
Why the Devil is called Shaytan
In the Arabic language, Shaytan is derived from Shatana, which means the far thing. Hence, the Shaytan has a different nature than mankind, and his sinful ways are far away from every type of righteousness. It was also said that Shaytan is derived from Shata, (literally `burned’), because it was created from fire. Some scholars said that both meanings are correct, although they state that the first meaning is more plausible. This is why they call those who are rebellious (or mischievous) from among the Jinns and mankind a `Shaytan’. Allah said,
“And so We have appointed for every Prophet enemies – Shayatin (devils) among mankind and Jinn, inspiring one another with adorned speech as a delusion (or by way of deception).” (Surah Al-An’am 6:112).
In addition, the Musnad by Imam Ahmad records that Abu Dharr said that the Messenger of Allah said,
“O Abu Dharr! Seek refuge with Allah from the devils of mankind and the Jinns.” Abu Dharr said, “I asked him , ‘Are there human devils?’ He said, ‘Yes.’” (Ahmad 5:178)
Furthermore, it is recorded in Sahih Muslim that Abu Dharr said that the Messenger of Allah said,
“The woman, the donkey and the black dog interrupt the prayer (if they pass in front of those who do not pray behind a Sutrah, i.e. a barrier).” Abu Dharr said, “I said, ‘What is the difference between the black dog and the red or yellow dog?’ He said,
“The black dog is a devil.” (Muslim 1:365)
Also, Ibn Jarir At-Tabari recorded that `Umar bin Al-Khattab once rode a Berthawn (huge camel) which started to proceed arrogantly. `Umar kept striking the animal, but the animal kept walking in an arrogant manner. `Umar dismounted the animal and said, “By Allah! You have carried me on a Shaytan. I did not come down from it until after I had felt something strange in my heart.” This Hadith has an authentic chain of narrators.(At-Tabarani 1:111)
The Meaning of Ar-Rajim
Ar-Rajim means, being expelled from all types of righteousness. Allah said,
“And indeed We have adorned the nearest heaven with lamps, and We have made such lamps Rujuman (as missiles) to drive away the Shayatin (devils)” (Surah Al-An’am 67:5).
Allah also said,
“Verily, We have adorned the near heaven with the stars (for beauty). And to guard against every rebellious devil. They cannot listen to the higher group (angels) for they are pelted from every side. Outcast, and theirs is a constant (or painful) torment. Except such as snatch away something by stealing, and they are pursued by a flaming fire of piercing brightness.” (Surah As-Saffat 37:6-10).
There are several similar Ayat.
Bismillah is the First Ayat of Al-Fatihah
The Companions started the Book of Allah with Bismillah:
“In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.”
The scholars also agree that Bismillah is a part of an Ayah in Surat An-Naml (chapter 27). They disagree over whether it is a separate Ayah before every Surah, or if it is an Ayah, or a part of an Ayah, included in every Surah where the Bismillah appears in its beginning. The opinion that Bismillah is an Ayah of every Surah, except Al-Bara’ah [Surah At-Taubah] was attributed to (the Companions) Ibn `Abbas, Ibn `Umar, Ibn Az-Zubayr, Abu Hurayrah and `Ali. This is also the view of `Abdullah bin Al-Mubarak, Ash-Shafi`i, Ahmad bin Hanbal, (in one report from him) Ishaq bin Rahwayh and Abu `Ubayd Al-Qasim bin Salam. On the other hand, Malik, Abu Hanifah and their followers said that Bismillah is not an Ayah in Al-Fatihah or any other Surah. Dawud said that it is a separate Ayah in the beginning of every Surah, not part of the Surah itself, and this opinion was also attributed to Ahmad bin Hanbal.
Basmalah aloud in the Prayer
As for Basmalah aloud during the prayer, those who did not agree that it is a part of Al-Fatihah, state that the Basmalah should not be aloud. The scholars who stated that Bismillah is a part of every Surah (except chapter 9) had different opinions; some of them, such as Ash-Shafi`i, said that one should recite Bismillah with Al-Fatihah aloud. This is also the opinion of many among the Companions, the Tabi`in and the Imams of Muslims from the Salaf and the later generations. The proof that these scholars relied on is that, since Bismillah is a part of Al-Fatihah, it should be recited aloud like the rest of Al-Fatihah. Also, An-Nasa’i recorded in his Sunan, Ibn Hibban and Ibn Khuzaymah in their Sahihs and Al-Hakim in the Mustadrak, that Abu Hurayrah once performed the prayer and recited Bismillah aloud. After he finished the prayer, he said, “Among you, I perform the prayer that is the closest to the prayer of the Messenger of Allah .” (An-Nasai 2:134) Furthermore, in Sahih Al-Bukhari it is recorded that Anas bin Malik was asked about the recitation of the Prophet . He said, “His recitation was unhurried.” He then demonstrated that and recited, while lengthening the recitation of Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim. The Hadiths mentioned above provide sufficient proof for the opinion that the Bismillah is recited aloud. Other scholars stated that the Bismillah should not be recited aloud in the prayer, and this is the established practice of the Four Khalifahs, as well as `Abdullah bin Mughaffal and several scholars among the Tabi`in and later generations. It is also the Madhhab (view) of Abu Hanifah, Ath-Thawri and Ahmad bin Hanbal.
Imam Malik stated that the Bismillah is not recited aloud or silently. This group based their view upon what Imam Muslim recorded that `A’ishah said that the Messenger of Allah used to start the prayer by reciting the Takbir (Allahu Akbar; Allah is Greater) and then recite,
“All praise and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of all that exists.” (Ibn Abi Hatim 1:12).
Also, the Two Sahihs recorded that Anas bin Malik said, “I prayed behind the Prophet, Abu Bakr, `Umar and `Uthman and they used to start their prayer with,
“All praise and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of all that exists.”
Muslim (1:299) added, “And they did not mention,
“In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”
whether in the beginning or the end of the recitation.”
These are the opinions held by the respected Imams, and their statements are similar in that they agree that the prayer of those who recite Al-Fatihah aloud or in secret is correct. All the favour is from Allah.