Exploring Surah al-Fatihah

understand-quran-exploring-El-FatihaBy Uzma Alan

Why is Surah al-Fatihah so precise yet such an important surah? Al-Fatihah is a prayer, a dialogue between the abd (slave) and his Rabb, the Creator of everything.

Surah al-Fatihah, known in Arabic as as-sab al-mathani, i.e. “the seven repeatedly recited ayaat” is a short yet comprehensive surah. In its seven ayaat it encompasses all the themes of the Quran. The prayer remains incomplete if this Surah is not recited in the Salah.

Beginning Surah al-Fatihah

The Surah opens up with basmalah, the saying that must be recited before beginning any work. By reciting the words BismiAllahi rrahmani rraheem, a Muslim seeks the blessings of the Most Gracious— “Ar-Rahman”— and the Most Merciful— “Ar-Raheem”, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

This is a sunnah that our beloved Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam taught us. In the Quran in Surah al-Isra ayah 110, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala states, Say [O Muhammad], Invoke Allah or invoke the Most Gracious [ar-Rahman].

Ayah 2: Learning the Etiquette of Du’a

After invoking the graciousness and mercy of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala we utter a few words in His praise. This is similar to any business or official correspondence we may do in our daily lives; when we write a letter to someone we don’t begin with complaints or grievances.

In ayah two, we learn the etiquette of making du’a. We can put forward our request abruptly and selfishly with complete disregard to the Being we’re addressing or we can take time to think through our words and then present them beautifully.

We beautify our du’a by saying, Alhamdu lillahi rabbi lAAlameen which means: All praises and thanks (be) to Allah, (the) Lord (of all) the world. 

Ayahs 3 and 4: Stating the Attributes

We then proceed to the next ayaat where we describe a few of His attributes. We say, ArRahmani ArRaheem meaning, The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, and Maliki yawmi alddeen(The) Master (of the) Day (of the) Judgment.

One may well wonder about the difference between being gracious and being merciful. The Quran itself answers this question. In Surah Al-Imran ayah 152, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala states that He is Most Gracious to the “believers” and in Surah al-Baqarah ayah 143, He tells us that He is full of kindness and His mercy is for all of mankind regardless of what they may choose to follow.

This is an important aspect. He has not extended His graciousness to the mushrikeen and other disbelievers, yet He has not limited His mercy to the Muslims only. Subhan’Allah!

Ayah 4 and 5: Acknowledgment

In ayah 4, we’re acknowledging that there will be a day when we’ll return to our Creator and give account for every deed we’ve done. That will be the day when we’ll be told, iqra kitabika, i.e. read your book.

How many of us would be gladdened to read it out loudly in front of that large audience, the entire creation? Acknowledging that our Hereafter depends on our life in dunya, we remind ourselves that we cannot spend our lives blinded by ignorance.

Immediately after, we recognize our weakness. We acknowledge that it’s Him we worship and from Whom we seek help. Worship here is not confined to prostrating five times a day, fasting in a specific month, going for Hajj, etc. These are rituals that distinguish us from the non-believers. Worship is a broad term that covers a variety of acts such as, reverence, devotion, intense love, submission, obedience, servitude, and adoration.

In this ayah, we’re admitting that we’re “slaves” and He is the “Master”. What does a slave do? A slave:

  • Submits to his Master’s commands
  • Strives to please his Master, not the people
  • Listens to and obeys his Master and not anyone else

In today’s time, when we refuse to submit to His commands or live our lives according to His instructions, we can’t claim iyyaka nabudu, i.e., “we worship only You”. Whoever takes precedence over Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala in your life (aoothubillah) becomes your master.

Ayah 6: Prayer for the Righteous Path

After praising Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, identifying His attributes and acknowledging our slavery to Him, we make the du’a ih’dina l-sirata l-mustaqeema. Sirat in Arabic is used for path, whereas mustaqeem means straight. Hence, in this ayah we request guidance towards the straight path.

Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-din Al-Hilali write in their “Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an” that guidance is of two types. Guidance of taufeeq where Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala opens up one’s heart to receive the truth and the Guidance of irshadthrough preaching by Allah’s Messengers and pious preachers who preach Islamic Monotheism.

Ayah 7: Being Specific in Du’a: Setting Up Role Models

Continuing our du’a we say, sirat alladhina an’amta alayhim ghayri lmaghdubi alayhim wala l-dalina, which means, The path of those on whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray.   

This part indicates that we must set up role models for ourselves. Who do we want to idealize? Those on whom Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is showering His blessings or those who evoked His anger or went astray?

By making this du’a in a way we’re seeking refuge from emulating the behavior of these two groups of people. Books of tafseer tell us that the Jews were immensely disobedient and ungrateful to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala despite His countless favors on them. Hence, they evoked His anger. On the other hand, Christians instead of following the teachings of Prophet Eesa aalyhi sallam went astray.

Narrated by Adi bin Hatim radhiAllahu anhu: I asked Allah’s Messenger sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam about the statement of Allah ghayri lmaghdubi alayhim, he replied, ‘they are the Jews’. And wala l-dalina. He replied, ‘the Christians, and they are the ones who went astray’. [At-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud]

Concluding Surah al-Fatihah with Aameen

Aameen is like a full-stop at the end of the sentence. It seals our du’a. Many people utter aameen in a rush, not knowing the benefit of reciting loudly. This may be truer if you have never offered a prayer in congregation. That’s the only time when the musalleen actually speak up during Salah. A hadith narrated by Abu Huraira radhiAllahu anhu tells us when the Imam says sirat alladhina an’amta alayhim ghayri lmaghdubi alayhim wala l-dalina then you must say aameen for if one’s utterance of aameen coincides with that of the angels then his past sins will be forgiven. [Bukhari]

Has this article added anything new to your knowledge? Was it beneficial to you? If yes, then today when you perform your salah try being conscious of every ayah that you recite. Take your time and recite it from your heart. Do you know that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala responds to each ayah that we utter? Wouldn’t you want to hold conversation with Him?

About the Writer:

Uzma Awan is a communications professional and a freelance writer. Her interests are diverse. She is enthusiastic about Quran and intends to bring people closer to its study. She shares her knowledge via her blog.

19 Comments

  1. M.Atiqur Rahman January 21, 2013 Reply

    Indeed, Miss Uzma has done an excellent job by enlightening we Muslims while reciting Surah Al Fatiha, keep in mind and heart that Allah SWT responds the utterance of the Muslims when they recite specially in Salah. Allah not only listens the utterance of the reciters but sends His blessings word by word. My sincere prayer is for her long life and health and happiness. Ameen!

  2. Kureemun Mohammud Nawaz January 21, 2013 Reply

    MAASHAALLAH, very interesting lesson, may ALLAH showers his blessings on you & the entire Ummah. Ameen.

  3. rahmah January 22, 2013 Reply

    May ALLAH bless every muslim with the secret of Fatehah.Amin
    May each one of us tackle the root of the Fatehah recitation as a daily booster to start and end the day .
    Our day and nite will be embraced by Allah lov n care..Amin

  4. Sana Ibrahim January 22, 2013 Reply

    very knowledgable and very meticulously written , today we are aware of the great diffrence between mercy and graciousness….may allah reward u for this….

  5. Ahmaad Salih January 22, 2013 Reply

    WE CANNOT ennumerate the greatness and value of Surah Al Fatiha because the Quaran starts with this great surah. İ had the opportunity to listen a 3 and half hour speech by a mufti on this Surah and it was a breath cutting speech.İndeed İ can say that this SURAH is a CURE for everything in one word.

  6. munirat January 22, 2013 Reply

    May Allah increase u all in knowledge for making me to understand the difference btw being gracious & being merciful.

  7. Simi Ahmad January 24, 2013 Reply

    Alhamdolillah ! very nicely explained.Mubrook !
    SURAH-AL-FATIHAH is a kullo DUA.
    If we have any problem & we just recite ” IYAKA- NABUDOO- WA – IYAKA- NASTAAEEN ” a lot , then the problem will be solved soon, InshaAllah.

  8. Saleem Siddiqi January 25, 2013 Reply

    remember us in your duas. and thanks for the above simple translation and explanation of surah Fatiha.

  9. Florence Fischer January 27, 2013 Reply

    While it is stated in the holy book of Qura’an that it is easy for Allah (Subhan wa ta’lah) to bring man back to life after death, people’s finger prints are particularly emphasized: “Yes, we are able to put together in perfect order the very tips of his fingers.” ( The Qura’an, 75:3-4) Everyone, including identical twins, has a unique fingerprint. In other words, people’s identities are coded at their fingertips. This coding system may also be compared to the barcode system that is used today.

  10. Abdul Bari January 31, 2013 Reply

    Remember us in your duas.

  11. Rocky Abdhal February 23, 2013 Reply

    جزاك اللهُ خيراً‎ شكرا

    أعوذ بالله من الشيطان الرجيم I seek refuge in Allah from the rejected Shaitaan (Evil)
    بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم In the name of Allah the most glorious ,the most merciful
    السلام عليكم May Peace be upon all of you
    First of all I thank almighty Allah who created the Earth,heaven and evrything including you and me for introducing me to you and you to me الحمد لله All praise to be Allah
    DO YOU KNOW THE MIRACLE OF SURATHUL FATHIHA or THE OPENING ? Tell others about It is worlds multi TERA hit as this Surah has been recited by uncountable number of people at least 17 times irrespective of their mother languge for the last 1400 years or a little more and this sura has been recited by millions of people at any given time on this earth (Non stop around the clock even at this moment while you are reading this ) SO THAT’WHY THE BIGGEST MIRACLE IS THE WORDING HAS BEEN IN PLURAL if you analyze This bit of news made my non muslim friends to take an interest in QUR’AN and with the help of Almighty ALLAH 14 of them has embraced ISLAM
    ما شاء الله الحمد لله ROCKY ABDHAL from JAPAN
    كفى المحسن احسانه وكفى المسئ اساءته A good person’s good deeds will save him ,and a bad person’s evil deeds will destroy him

    والسلام‎ في امان الله Be in Allah’s protection

    I do every good deed not to please anyone but to please the almighty creator of the earth ,the heaven and every thing including you and me (Allah الله )
    جزاك اللهُ خيراً‎ شكرا
    والسلام‎
    yours brother in Islam
    Rocky Abdhal

    Rocky & Jean Eikaiwa Kyoshitsu

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  12. Rocky Abdhal February 23, 2013 Reply

    17 TIMES A DAY

  13. Rocky Abdhal February 23, 2013 Reply

    Even though you reciting all alone but millions are reciting with you So it is worded plural Allahu Akbar

  14. Ashfaq December 2, 2013 Reply

    Very clear and wonderful explanation .subhanallah

  15. Yaqoob April 22, 2014 Reply

    32 Times a day At Least

  16. Yahaya Ibrahim May 8, 2015 Reply

    Jazzakumullahu khair

  17. Yahaya Ibrahim May 8, 2015 Reply

    Jazakumullahu Khair

  18. Pam June 21, 2015 Reply

    Alhamdulillah. May Allah bless you Uzma.

    What an incredible thought Rocky.

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