Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’ān; Translated and Explained by Muhammad Asad (1980)
Al-Fātiḥah (The Opening)
This sūrah is also called Fātiḥat al-Kitāb (“The Opening of the Divine Writ”), Umm al-Kitāb (“The Essence of the Divine Writ”), Surat al-Ḥamd (“The Surah of Praise”) Asās al-Qurʾān (“The Foundation of the Qurʾān”), and is known by several other names as well It is mentioned elsewhere in the Qurʾān as As-Sabʿ al-Mathānī (“The Seven Oft-Repeated [Verses]”) because it is repeated several times in the course of each of the five daily prayers. According to Bukhārī the designation Umm al-Kitāb was given to it by the Prophet himself, and this in view of the fact that it contains, in a condensed form, all the fundamental principles laid down in the Qurʾān: he principle of God’s oneness and uniqueness, of His being the originator and fosterer of the universe, the fount of all life-giving grace, the One to whom man is ultimately responsible, the only power that can really guide and help; the call to righteous action in the life of this world (“guide us the straight way ), the principle of life after death and of the organic consequences of man's actions and behaviour (expressed in the term Day of Judgment”); the principle of guidance through God’s message-bearers (evident in the reference to “those upon whom God has bestowed His blessings”) and, flowing from it, the principle of the continuity of all true religions (implied in the allusion to people who have lived – and erred – in the past); and, finally, the need for voluntary self-surrender to the will of the Supreme Being and, thus, for worshipping Him alone. It is for this reason that this siirah has been formulated as a prayer, to be constantly repeated and reflected upon by the believer.
“The Opening” was one of the earliest revelations bestowed upon the Prophet. Some authorities (for instance, ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib) were even of the opinion that it was the very first revelation; but this view is contradicted by authentic Traditions quoted by both Bukhārī and Muslim, which unmistakably show that the first five verses of sūrah 96 (“The Germ-Cell”) constituted the beginning of revelation. It is probable, however, that whereas the earlier revelations consisted of only a few verses each, “The Opening” was the first surah revealed to the Prophet in its entirety at one time: and this would explain the view held by ʿAlī.
(2) All Praise is due to God alone, the Sustainer of all the worlds,2 (3) the Most Gracious, the
1 According to most of the authorities, this invocation (which occurs at the beginning of every sūrah with the exception of sūrah 9) constitutes an integral part of The Opening and is, therefore, numbered as verse 1. In all other instances, the invocation “in the name of God” precedes the sūrah as such and is not counted among its verses. – Both the divine epithets raḥmān and raḥīm are derived from the noun raḥmah, which signifies “mercy”, “compassion”, “loving tenderness” and, more comprehensively, “grace”. From the very earliest times, Islamic scholars have endeavoured to define the exact shades of meaning which differentiate the two terms. The best and simplest of these explanations is undoubtedly the one advanced by Ibn al-Qayyim (as quoted in Manār I,48): the term raḥmān circumscribes the quality of abounding grace inherent in, and inseparable from, the concept of God’s Being, whereas raḥīm expresses the manifestation of that grace in, and its effect upon, His creation – in other words, an aspect of His activity.
2 In this instance, the term “worlds” denotes all categories of existence both in the physical and the spiritual sense. The Arabic expression rabb – rendered by me as “Sustainer” – embraces a wide complex of meanings not easily expressed by a single term in another language. It comprises the