Ramadan Reflections on Surat al-Fatihah, the Grand Opening
By Ismail Kandar for MuslimMatters.org
This year, I am enjoying the benefits of praying Tarawih (night prayers of Ramadan) behind Mufti Ismail Menk and listening to his powerful Tafseer (explanation of the Quran) afterwards. On the opening night, Mufti Menk brought up an issue which always amazes me, the unique method in which the Qur’an begins. This made me reflect on the opening pages of the Qur’an.
Surah Al-Fatiha and the first three pages of Surah Baqarah are an amazing and unique method of starting a book. Perhaps, it is because we recite Surah Fatiha everyday, multiple times, that many of us do not take these verses seriously. Yet, the reason this Surah is emphasized so much is because it is the most important chapter of the Qur’an. It is Faatihatul Kitaab (The opening chapter of the book), Sab’a Mathaani (the seven oft-repeated verses 15:87) and Ummul Kitaab (the essence of the book 13:39). It is the Surah that when recited, Allah replies to each verse. It is the most important du’a that we can make.
The first half of Surah Fatiha is a declaration of Tawheed (Oneness of Allah) in all of its forms: tawheed of Rububiyyah (Lordship) ”All praise to Allah, the Rabb (Lord) of the universe,” (1:1), tawheed of Asma Wa Sifaat (names and attributes) “Most Gracious, Most Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgement,” (1:2-3) and tawheed of Ibaadah (worship), “You alone we worship and you alone we ask for help.” (1:4)
The second half of Surah Fatiha is the most important du’a a person could ever make, “Guide us to the straight path!” (1:5) The Surah then explains what is the staight path and what is not. The straight path is that which was shown to us and followed by those whom Allah has favoured, which Allah explains in another verse, “whoever obeys Allah and His messenger, then they will be with those whom Allah has favoured from the prophets, truthful, matyrs and righteous.” (4:69) This verse refutes the claim by some people that you can find your own way towards Paradise without following the people of the past. True salvation lies in following the Salaf As-Saliheen (The righteous predecessors) and their understanding and practice of the Qur’an.
Allah then shows us two types of misguidance. The first form of misguidance is to earn Allah’s wrath by knowingly rejecting the truth and the other form is to go astray by choosing to remain ignorant. So we need to realize that choosing to remain ignorant can not excuse us for our sins and deviations, and if we knowingly reject the truth, we will be cursed by Allah. The only option left is to seek the truth and ask Allah to guide us to the straight path.
Answers in Surat Al-Baqarah
Amazingly, the very next Surah begins by answering this du’a for guidance. “This is the book in which there is no doubt! It is a guidance for those who are God-conscious.” (2:2) Three things are interesting about this verse. Firstly, show me one other book which begins by declaring its own perfection. No human author would dare readers from the beginning by making the claim that there is nothing doubtful in his book, this immidiately makes skeptics look for mistakes. The Qur’an, being the perfect word of Allah, begins with this challenge, a unique and powerful starting point.
Allah then explains to us that this Qur’an is the answer to our du’a (prayer) for guidance but the condition is that we approach this Qur’an with Taqwa (God-consciousness). This is why not everyone benefits from reciting the Qur’an. Allah warns us on the next page to not be from those who only recite ritually or with an evil intention as “it is the same whether you warn them or not, they will never believe.” (2:6) This verse is aimed primarily to those who choose to reject Islam, but like all verses we need to apply it to ourselves and make sure we do not possess any of the qualities that Allah dislikes.
The first three pages of Surah Baqarah describe three types of people in terms of belief and relationship with Allah. Allah goes into detail describing those who have Taqwa and attain success, then briefly mentions those who choose to disbelieve, and finally He mentions in even more detail, the hypocrites. It is for us to study these verses and put into the practice the qualities of the successful while being careful to guard ourselves from possessing the qualities of the disbelievers or hypocrites.
After all of this, Allah mentions the first commandment in the Qur’an, the most important commandment and the benefit of obeying it. Allah says, “O mankind, worship your Lord who created you and those before you so that you may attain Taqwa.” (2:21) The first and most important commandment is to uphold Tawheed by worshipping Allah alone as it is through this that we can attain Taqwa and through Taqwa that we can attain guidance from the Qur’an.
I ask Allah to grant all of us Imaan (faith), Taqwa and a deeper understanding of the Qur’an. Ameen.