Tafsir of Surah al Fatihah - The Opening (Surah 1)

by 'Abdur-Rahmân ibn Nâsir as-Sa'dî

Translated by Abű Rumaysah

1) In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful. 2) All praise (and thanks) are for Allah, the Lord of the worlds. 3) The All-Merciful, the Most Merciful. 4) Master of the Day of Judgement. 5) You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help. 6) Guide us (to and on) the Straight Path. 7) The Path of those You have blessed, not of those who have incurred anger, nor of those astray.

1) “In the Name of Allah,” meaning: I begin with every Name belonging to Allah, Most High. This is because the word Name is singular and in the genitive form; therefore it subsumes all of Allah’s Beautiful and Perfect Names. “Allah,” He is the God who is worshipped: the one deserving worship to the exclusion of everything else because of His qualities of divinity, attributes, all of which are perfect. “The All-Merciful, the Most Merciful,” these are two Names proving that He, Most High, is one who possesses a great and all-encompassing mercy that includes everything and embraces every living being. He has decreed it for those who fear Allah, those who follow His Prophets and Messengers: these have unrestricted mercy; anyone else only has a portion of this mercy.

Know that one of the principles agreed upon by the Salaf and their Imams is to have faith in Allah and His Attributes, and in the rules determining how they are to be received. So, for example, they believe that he is Rahman and Rahim, possessing the quality of mercy which is extended to its recipients. Therefore, all blessings are one of the resultant effects of this mercy. This principle holds true for all of His Names. It is said concerning the Name, All-Knowing: He is All-Knowing, possessing the quality of knowledge by which He knows everything. He is All-Powerful, possessing the quality of power which makes Him omnipotent etc.

2) “All praise (and thanks) are due to Allah,” this verse eulogises Allah through His perfect Attributes and His actions, all of which are based upon beneficence and justice. To Him belongs perfect and complete praise in every sense. “Lord of the worlds,” the Lord is the One who nourishes and sustains the whole of the creation, meaning everything besides Allah, by the very fact of His creating them, His granting them favour after favour, and His gracing them with immense blessings, the absence of which would preclude any possibility of creation surviving. Every blessing they possess is from Him, Most High.

His sustaining creation is of two types: general and specific. The general refers to His creating the creation, providing for them, and guiding them to all that they need in order to have them survive in this worldly life. The specific refers to His sustaining His friends (awliya´) with faith, allowing them conform to it, perfecting and completing it for them, repressing all that would make them turn away from it, and curbing any barriers that may be set up between them and Him. The reality of this can be expressed as, ‘Granting them the divine accord to every good and safe-guarding them against all evil.’ Perhaps it was due to this that most of the supplications made by the Prophets employed the word ‘Lord’: all they wanted and asked for was covered by His specific lordship.

His saying, “Lord of the worlds” proves that He alone is the Creator and that all affairs are regulated by Him as is the provision of blessings. It also proves that He is completely Rich Beyond Need and that creation is in total and dire need of Him alone in every sense and in every possible way.

3) “The All-Merciful, the Most Merciful.”

4) “Master of the Day of Judgement,” a master is a person who has the quality of ownership, from the consequences of which is the ability to command and prohibit, reward and punish, and to dispose of his subjects and possessions in any way he wishes. In this verse, mastery has been appended to the Day of Judgement, the Day of Rising, the Day on which man will be judged for his actions – the good and the bad. This is because on that Day the completeness and perfection of His mastery, justice and wisdom will be made clear to all. Moreover, man will realise that any mastery of created beings has ended, so much so that kings, ministers, slaves and the free-born will all be the same: all of them yielding to His greatness, rendered in complete submission before His magnificence, expectant of His recompense, hoping for His reward and fearing His punishment. The point of mentioning His mastery in this context is to emphasise it, otherwise He is Master of the Day of Judgement and all other days.

5) “You Alone we worship and You Alone we ask for help,” meaning that we single You out Alone for worship and seeking help. This is because mentioning the object at the head of a verb is a method of constraint (hasr), i.e. affirming what is mentioned in the sentence and negating it for anything that falls outside. Therefore, it is as if the person has said, ‘We worship You and we do not worship anything else. We ask You for help and we do not turn to anyone else for help.’

Mentioning worship before asking for help is by way of mentioning the general before the specific, and to show that attention should be given to His right over the right of His servant. “Worship” is a collective noun that subsumes all actions and sayings, outward and inward, that Allah loves and is pleased with. Seeking help, isti`ana, is to depend upon Allah, Most High, in acquiring that which would benefit and repressing that which would harm, along with having the certainty that He will actually assist the petitioner.

Living the worship of Allah and seeking His help are the means to everlasting happiness and security from all evil; there is no path to victory except by meeting the requirements of these two pillars. Worship can only be considered to be true worship when done in the way taught by the Messenger (SAW) seeking thereby only Allah’s face. These two conditions have to be present for the action to be considered worship.

Seeking help has been mentioned after worship even though it is a part of worship because the servant is always in need of Allah’s help in all acts of worship: if Allah does not Help him, he will not achieve the goals he hopes to attain by enacting the obligations and avoiding the proscriptions.

6) “Guide us (to and on) the Straight Path,” show us and direct us to it, grant us the divine grace to traverse it. The Straight Path is the clear path that leads to Allah and His Paradise: it is the cognisance of truth and acting by it. Therefore, the verse means: guide us to the Path and guide us in the Path. Guidance to the Path means to come to Islam and abandon all other religions. Guidance in the Path means guidance towards all of the details of Islam in terms of knowledge and action. Hence, this supplication is one of the most comprehensive and most beneficial supplications, and this is why it is obligatory to supplicate to Allah with it in every rak`ah of prayer, especially since the servant is in continuous need of it.

7) This Straight Path is “the Path of those You have blessed” who are the Prophets, the Sincerely Truthful, the Martyrs and the Righteous “not” the path “of those who have incurred anger,” who knew the truth but abandoned it such as the Jews and others, “nor” the path “of those astray,” who abandoned the truth out of ignorance and misguidance such as the Christians.

This chapter, despite its brevity, has covered what no other chapter of the Qur´an has. It mentions the three types of Tawhid: Tawhid al-Rububiyyah, Unity of Lordship, gleaned from His saying, “Lord of all the worlds”; Tawhid al-Ilahiyyah, Unity of Divinity, which is to single out Allah Alone for worship, gleaned from the word “Allah” and from His saying, “You Alone we worship and You Alone we ask for help”; and Tawhid al-Asma´ wa’l-Sifat, Unity of the Names & Attributes, which is to affirm the Attributes of Perfection for Allah, Most High, which He has affirmed for Himself and His Messenger has affirmed for Him, without ta`til (denying the Attributes), or tamthil and tashbih (likening the Attributes to creation) as is proven by His saying, “all praise (and thanks)” as already mentioned.

It also affirms Prophethood in His saying, “guide us (to and on) the Straight Path” because this guidance is not possible without a message. It affirms recompense for ones actions in His saying, “Master of the Day of Judgement” and it affirms that this recompense shall be established upon justice, this is because the meaning of ‘din’ is recompense founded upon justice.

It affirms Qadr (the divine decree) and that the servant is the true performer of his actions contravening the stances of the Qadariyyah and Jabariyyah.

In fact this surah refutes all the people of innovation and misguidance in His saying, “Guide us (to and on) the Straight Path” because this is cognisance of the truth and enacting it, and every innovator and misguided person contradicts this.

It enjoins making the religion sincerely for Allah in terms of worship and seeking help in His saying, “You Alone we worship and You Alone we ask for help.”

All praise and thanks are for Allah, Lord of all the worlds.


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