Table of Contents
The Opening - Al-Fâtihah
This is the only sûra which consists of a prayer or act of worship. It is used
daily by Muslims in the formal worship of ALLAH (the Salât) and on many other
occasions. So it is called "Sab'an minal Masani" or "The Seven
Oft-repeated Verses", said to contain the quintessence of the whole Koran.
Early Muslims thought it was an individual prayer of Muhammad and it was omitted
in the codices of Ibn-'Abbâs and Ibn-Mas'ûd. Different versions are recorded.
It is difficult to date, but it is probably fairly early, perhaps around the
fourth year of Muhammad's mission, ca.613 CE. According to Ibn'Arabî, the first
three verses refer to ALLAH. The middle to ALLAH and the believer and the last
three to the believer.
1 ALLAH :
The Absolute Divine Being (who exists necessarily by Himself) is called
"ALLAH", expressing all attributes of perfection. This word is often
translated as "God". But, "God" is a translation of the
Latin "Deus" and the Greek "Theos". In the Torah
however, the name of the Absolute Being is "YHVH ALHYM" (Jahweh
Elohîm). The first word "YHVH" reflecting the ineffable transcendent
essence of the Absolute Being and "ALHYM" the various Divine energies,
manifestations or the Presences of the Divine (cf. the "shekinah" in
the qabalah). In the Alexandrian Septuagint, the plural
"Elohîm" was translated as the singular "Theos" (Deus,
God). Because of this confusion, "ALLAH" is better not rendered as
"God", for this diminshes the radical theological departure from the
biblical tradition heralded by this all-comprehensive Divine Name. In this
redaction, this supreme word is left untouched. A good approximation would have
been the literal, i.e. "The God" (however, the "al" before
"ilah" is inseparable from it). Before the Koran, the tribal
Arabs adhered to a henotheism in which 360 deities (one for each day) were
worshipped, headed by a supreme deity allowing the others next to it (cf. the
Ancient Egyptian system). But, there was no idol with the name
"ALLAH". The Koran showed that ALLAH can have no other next
to Him and this declaration of unity ("shahadah") is the essence
of the Islamic doctrine.
The phrase "in the Name of ALLAH" (the "bismillah") is
placed before all sûras except one (sûra 9). Only in the Opening is it counted
as a verse. It is used by Muslims before all important actions.
2 the Merciful :
Mercy (rahmân) is the Divine Name expressing the manifestation of everything.
It is associated with the command : "Be !". The Name
"Ar-Rahman" is also used as a proper name applicable only to the
Absolute Divine Being, and used in the Koran as an alternative for ALLAH
(cf. sûra 17). One should realize that the generative command encompasses every
thing (good as well as evil).
3 the Compassionate :
Compassion (rahîm) is the Divine Name expressing the Mercy that comes after its
manifestation in the creation of the world, i.e. in the consequences of the
deeds of the human being. So, Mercy is manifested before the human being comes
into existence, namely in the creation of things necessary for his life here and
so they exist without any human being having deserved them. Compassion however,
manifests when he has done something to deserve Divine favour. Divine generosity
is witnessed in Mercy. His Compassion is evidenced as constant favour for the
good done. Mercy is cosmological. Compassion is anthropological. The connection
suggests that the human being is essential to make the cosmos aware of itself.
Compassion is associated with the prescriptive command, i.e. the Divine Wish
that humans should walk the straight path. This is not implied in the Divine
Will, which engenders both the straight and the crooked. In Sufism, Mercy is the
Divine Will engendering the cosmos, whereas Compassion is the response of the
human being, i.e. the ability to "return" to the origin of all by
doing good. Without the perfected human, the cosmos would come to an end, for
only the human being can stop praising his Creator and defile himself. Indeed,
the other creatures are always in the natural state of praise the Creator
fashioned them in and hence can never deviate from the straight path.
4 Lord :
The Divine Name "Lord" (Rabb) conveys not only the idea of bringing-up
or nourishment, but also that of regulating, completing and accomplishing. The
evolution of the crudest to the highest perfection is implied. To make things
go from one condition after another until completion is realized, is the
work of the Lord. In Sufism, the Lord is said to be interdependent with His
servant (for a "Lord" without a "servant" is pointless).
Each servant has his/her "Lord", i.e. the power of Divine bringing-up
limitated by the capacities of the servant to receive (cf. the water of life
taking the color of the glass in which it is poured). This Name conveys a Divine
activity which allows every creature, but in particular the human, to evolve
according to the Divine Wish. So we are not only called to the straight path,
but will also be fostered, regulated & completed if our Compassion is at
work (i.e. if we return the call of Mercy present in all of creation). Not
without surprise, "Rabb" has also been translated as
"father", but its connotations are too limited. The "Lord"
is far grander and nobler, and also always keeps the distance with His servant.
In Sufism, the perfected servant annihilates himself in his Lord who then
replaces the servant (or, in other words, the servant is nothing more than what
is remembered of him by ALLAH). Without this annihilation, the Lord towers above
5 Worlds :
The Arab word "âlamin" (root = 'ilm, meaning to know), indicates
literally that by means of which one knows a thing. It thus signifies
"world" or "creation". Broadly speaking, the plural
indicates that the Lordship of ALLAH extends over all possible creations and
worlds. In a more restricted use, it refers to any class or division of
created beings or of humanity. In this last meaning, it is suggestive of the
fact that ALLAH is the Lord of all the prophets of all nations, subverting all
narrow (geosentimental) views of the Divine.
6 the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate
The process of creation (Mercy) and return (Compassion) is at work in each of
these worlds. There is no place were this is absent. Hence, to consider a
person, place or situation as "outside" the reach of the Divine Names
of Mercy and Compassion is illusionary.
7 Master :
Master (Mâlik) has been translated as "King". However, ALLAH is more
than that. He is able to forgive His servants and is not guilty of any injustice
when He does that. Furthermore, a king is dependent of his kingdom (a
"king" without a "kingdom" is pointless). Hence,
"mâlik" will be rendered as "Master", for a master has no
need to exert his mastership and can never loose it (a king may loose his
8 day of justice :
The word "day" (yaum) may imply a small or a large period of time. The
law of requital referred to in this verse is constantly at work and nothing
suggests that it will not come into force before a particular day. So the idea
that the "day of justice" is far away is illusionary. Of course, on
the last day, the final count is made, but this does not abrogate the fact that
ALLAH is the Master of justice every day.
9 to serve :
To serve ALLAH is the only spiritual goal to be realized. Various form of
service exist, as well as many types of servants. To serve and to worship have
to be distinguished. Deities next to ALLAH are worshipped and these are
non-entities for there are no deities next to the Merciful. To praise ALLAH and
ALLAH alone is the most important act of service. The servant is able to ask for
help and does so, but only to the Lord. No creature is able to help the human
being. No deities are able to help, for ALLAH alone is Divine.
10 the straight path :
Each human being has the ability to turn away from the straight path, the right
way, the Wish of ALLAH for each of His servants. If a crooked path is followed
and one repents and returns to ALLAH, the believer will find His Lord forgiving.
To follow the straight path is not a horizontal phenomenon (on the plane of the
outer, social life) but belongs to the vertical, inner plane of spiritual life
reflecting in a life well lived on Earth. Those who seek the straight path
outside, conform to the regulations of society. In Sufism, the straight path is
visualized above one's head. This implies an erect posture, aware that one's
Lord is the true regulator, not words on paper or the changing rules of society.
11 the blessed
The regulations of the Lord are direct. The good are blessed, the wicked
punished. The honesty of ALLAH is without equal. He knows what is in the hearts
of men and so judges accordingly. Intent and result are taken into
consideration. The blessed receive His Divine protection, whereas the damned go
astray and wander around with their incomplete and unfostered spiritual
12 the damned :
It is often claimed that here the Jews and Christians respectively are aimed,
but this can not be the case if the sûra is early Meccan. Hence, the phrase
suits the pagan Arabs, i.e. the polytheists.
initiated : 23 I 2002 - last update : 25 XI 2005
- version n°1