English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 1: Al-Fatihah — The Opening (Revealed at Makkah: 7 verses)

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Introduction:

Al-Fātiḥah or The Opening is the quintessence of the whole of the Holy Quran. It formed an essential part of the Muslim prayers from the earliest days of Islam. The chapter is headed by the words Bi-smillāh-ir-Raḥmān-ir-Raḥīm (“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful”), which also head every other chapter of the Quran except the ninth. The first three verses speak of the four chief Divine attributes, namely, providence, benefi­cence, mercy and requital, and the last three lay open before the Great Maker the earnest desire of man’s soul to walk in righteousness, without stumbling on either side, while the middle verse is expressive of man’s entire dependence on Allah. These Divine attributes disclose Allah’s all-encompassing benefi­cence and care, and His unbounded love for all of His creatures, and the ideal to which the soul is made to aspire is the path of righteousness, the path of grace, and the path in which there is no stumbling.

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Translation:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.1

1:1 Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds,2
1:2 The Beneficent, the Merciful,
1:3 Master of the day of Recompense.3
1:4 You do we serve and You do we beseech for help.4
1:5 Guide us on the right path,5
1:6 The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favours, 6
1:7 Not those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray.7

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Commentary:

  1. The phrase is equivalent to: I seek the assistance of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. The word Allāh is a proper name applied to the Being Who exists necessarily by Himself, comprising all the attributes of perfection. Raḥmān (“Beneficent”) and Raḥīm (“Merciful”) both signify tenderness requiring the exercise of beneficence, the former indicating the greatest prepond­erance of the quality of mercy, and the latter being expressive of a constant repetition and manifestation of the attribute. Ar-Raḥmān is the Beneficent God Whose love and mercy are manifested in the creation of this world, and ar-Raḥīm is the Merciful God Whose love and mercy are manifested in the state that comes after, in the consequences of people’s deeds. Thus the former is expressive of the utmost degree of love and generosity, and includes both the believer and the unbeliever for its objects, while the latter is expressive of unbounded and constant favour and mercy, and relates specially to the believer.
  2. Rabb (“Lord”) is the Author of all existence Who has not only given to the whole creation its means of nourishment but has also beforehand ordained for each a sphere of capacity and within that sphere provided the means by which it continues to attain gradually to its goal of perfection. There is no single word in English carrying the significance of the word RabbNourisher to perfection would be nearest. Thus the very first words of the Quran — Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds — are in consonance with the cosmopolitan nature of the religion of Islam, which requires belief in prophets of all nations.
  3. The adoption of the word master is to show that Allah can forgive His servants, because He is not a mere king or a mere judge, but more properly a Master. The word yaum (“day”) is applied in the Holy Quran to any period of time, from a moment (55:29) to fifty thousand years (70:4), and may therefore indicate an indefinitely small or indefinitely large amount of time. In describing God as Master of the day of Recompense, the Holy Quran lays stress, on the one hand, on the fact that the Divine law of recompense of deeds is working every moment, and thus makes man feel the responsibility of what he does, and gives prominence, on the other, to the quality of forgiveness in Divine nature as God’s dealing with man is like that of a Master Who is essentially merciful.
  4. Here the way is pointed out through which man can attain to real great­ness. It is through ‘ibādat (service) of God which means obedience combined with complete humility, and through seeking help from God. The idea of ‘ibādat in Islam is not a mere declaration of the glory of God, but the imbibing of Divine morals and receiving their impress through humble service to God.
  5. Hidāyat (guidance) means not only showing the way but also leading one on the right way till one reaches the goal.
  6. Those upon whom favours are bestowed are the four classes mentioned in 4:69, namely, the prophets, the truthful, the faithful and the righteous. It is in the footsteps of these spiritual leaders of the world that the Muslim aspires to walk, the chief aim of his life thus being not only his own spiritual perfection but to try also for the spiritual perfection of others.
  7. Muslims are warned here that even after receiving Divine favours they may incur Divine displeasure and go astray from the path which leads to the goal of perfection. The Jews provide an example of a people failing in righteous deeds, failing to carry out the spirit of the doctrine while retaining the doctrine, and the Christians an example of a people corrupting the doctrine itself. The Muslims are thus taught a prayer that they may neither fail in good deeds while retaining the letter of the law, nor corrupt the doctrine, and that they may be kept on the middle path, avoiding either extreme.

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