. Surah 1- Al-Fatiha
. In The Name of Allah, the Compassion, the Compassionate

The Commencement


(1) All Gratitude is devoted to Allah, the Lord of all Universe

(2) The Compassion, the Compassionate. 

(3) Arbiter of the time to be reckoned with.

(4) You only do we worship, and your help only do we seek

(5) Show us the passage.

(6) The way of those who have gained your favor.  Not the way of those who have gained it not.  Nor who have lost their way.

Commentary

The Qur’an, an unparalleled meaning system for peaceful reconciliation (Islam) is best exemplified by this Surah, at its beginning which is made up of twenty nine words divided into seven groups of words called Ayahs or manifestations.

    A Surah, however, is not a chapter in a book as some may think because the Qur’an is not a book as books go.  The Qur’an, being what it means in Arabic, an ever growing consciousness through correct and rational reading in the Universe.  Each part of it no matter how big or small may be conveys the same meaning of the whole.  A Surah therefore is but an enclosure of consciousness made up of many manifestations each of which would also be an enclosure of meaning in itself.  The words in such enclosures, however, have both face values and much more hidden values and meanings.  Even single letters in this context, may well be more significant than usual as may be seen in the seemingly innocent coded letters at the beginning of many surahs.

    A Surah is made up of Ayat (plural for Ayah).  Each Ayah represents a manifestation of the consciousness.  Each manifestation is an enclosure of meaning as well.  The words representing the enclosure have multiple meanings from the very obvious to the very innate.  Single letters have special significance as observed in the mysteriously coded letters at the beginning of many Surahs.

    Nowhere is this meaning system more clearly seen than in Al-Fatiha, the “Commencement”.   It is representative of the whole Qur’an which took twenty three years of the mature life of Muhammad, bless his soul, to be articulated.  Just as the whole Qur’an can be read in it, so the whole of the Surah can be read in its first sentence, the so-called “Bismillah”.  And this sentence can be read in the first Arabic word of “Bismi”, literally meaning in Arabic “in My Name”.  This first word also can be read in the first Arabic letter “Bi” which means “by Me”.  And so it is.  For without Him, this whole system of meaning collapses.

    The miracle of Al-Fatiha was that it was inspired at the beginning stages of Muhammad’s prophetic life.  It did not come at the end of the twenty-three year long reading of the Qur’an as an abstract of a preceding discourse.  It came at the beginning of it encapsulating what was to come in twenty-three years.  It was like a keynote for a great and long word-action symphony to be played.  And it did.  Inspired after the first four short Surahs of the Qur’an, Al-fatiha was like a clarion call from the realm of the Absolute to be recited with devotion on a daily basis.  The Commencement is recited with devotion daily at the beginning of every act of prayer in the ideological and physical bringing of the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth.

It is recited at the beginning of every prayer, and it is the most repeated Surah (or a set of words in any language) on earth.  A practicing Muslim recites it at least Seventeen times a day, during prayers.  Of the more than One Billion Muslims on Earth, almost one half observes prayers on a daily basis.  Therefore, Al-Fatiha is recited almost Eight Billion times a day.  It is the most powerful hymn and prayer on earth.  It is the Commencement of the Human consciousness.  We invoke Al-Fatiha to elevate us to stand up tall with our hearts and minds seeking what is higher than the earth we walk on.

    It was inspired complete with all Ayahs.  The first Surah in fact to be inspired by the prophet complete with all its Ayahs all at one shot.  It declared the Oneness of the Sustainer of all the natural cosmic systems.  It declared the Unity of Existence.  The particle and the whole are one and the same.  It showed the proper orientation of man in this system.  God’s realm encompassed the Absolute and the Relative.  He is the Compassion, the Compassionate, whose creation of humankind is an act of compassion on His part, without which His Absoluteness could not have been identified with compassion.  The Creator and the Created share in the compassionate act of creation.

    The first sentence in the Commencement is an opener or a call for humanity to commence exercising consciousness: “In the Name of Allah the Compassion, the Compassionate.”  The same opening Ayah used for all Surahs in the Qur’an, except one.  The direct connection of man to God is invoked in this Ayah through the emotion of compassion.  The straight course of man to the Creator, which man seeks in this deep hymn to Him, is one of compassion.  It is the course sought by people who are to gain God’s favor and which is missed by those who gain His displeasure and go astray.  One may say that the crux of the message is mercy, the message of Islam.  It is distinguished from the message of love in many ways.

    Reading the Commencement so many times in every act of prayer permeates the underpinnings of the whole Qur’an.  It enables one to remember all that is to be remembered by reading the whole Qur’an.  It sparks flashes of the whole cosmic unity and humanity’s historic panorama.  It grounds the emotions in the bond of the evolution of human consciousness and civilization.  One may find that repeating the Commencement is an excellent memory building process.

    No other English rendition of the Qur’an made a difference between Ar-Rahman (the Compassion) and Ar-Raheem (the Compassionate).  One is of course Absolute and the other is Relative.  One is the invisible and the other is the visible.  Treating both as synonyms and misreading the absolute for a relative leads one to miss a great deal of the meaning of the Qur’an.  In no other religion was the man-God relationship so well defined and articulated as in the Compassion-Compassionate relationship.  In mercy, the relationship is at once put right.  God, the Arbiter of the day of reckoning, controls the passage to Him through Compassion.  And He has taught man to seek favor with Him through the Commencement as the Lord’s prayer, and by following a straight course to His Compassion.

Al-Fatiha (Commencement) is widely used by Muslims and Arabs in almost every aspect of their daily lives and culture.  At the dinner table, “In the name of Allah the Compassion, the Compassionate” is invoked at the beginning of every meal.  “All Gratitude is devoted to Allah, the Lord of all Universe” closes the meal and signals that one may be excused from the dinner table.  Any time a business deal is being transacted, counting the cash begins with “In the name of Allah the Compassion, the Compassionate”.  Intent to consummate the union of a couple is declared by all parties concerned through reciting Al-Fatiha, aloud and together.  It is the grounding of the vow made between people.  Why and how would such a simple series of invocations permeate such a vast and previously diversified culture of varied peoples.  One has to contemplate and think of the human concepts of creationism.  Al-Fatiha is the opening key to human consciousness.  We invoke it at the beginning of our daily routines so we may have some Godliness in it.  Godliness in the sense of everlasting, non-deceitful, and reflective of laws of justice in our relationships. 

    Al-Fatiha is an Oath that one takes.  “All Gratitude is devoted to Allah, the Lord of all Universe”, recognizes only one source of any benevolence that comes our way.  The source is not any other man, woman, institution, country or government.  It is just Allah.  It is a promising oath that one takes to be grateful only to God.  That does not mean that one must bite the hand that feeds him.  It means that one must diligently work and progress from being fed to feeding himself to feeding others.  There is a progressive nature to the promise of the oath.  The highest level of existence in the human consciousness is when one can proclaim that all of his demigods are dead and only Allah reigns supreme in his heart and mind.  It is the first article of Faith in Islam and all too often repeated in a parrot-like manner with little recognition to its meaning.  “La Ilaha Illa Allah” in Arabic is traditionally translated as “there is no god but Allah.”  The translation implies a childish competition going on between gods and that Allah wants such attention as to block out all other gods.  This is none sense and medieval superstition and ignorance.

    Progressing in the path of consciousness requires the dissolution of many demigods along the way.  A demigod is an encapsulating powerful concept that enslaves a human being to its service.  Most human beings are enslaved by demigods.  It is a fact of human existence, whether the demigod presents itself as money, man, woman, status, property, capitalism, marxism, democracy, theocracy, autocracy, etc...   Demigods help in paving the path of consciousness and the seeker of absoluteness may only feel a slight glimpse of the promise of Allah.  The first article of faith is one’s promise to always seek the highest level of consciousness through a simple declaration that proclaims all demigods are dead and Allah reigns supreme in the heart and mind.  And Muslims also proclaim that Muhammad achieved a “Messenger” status in communion with the Consciousness.  “La Ilaha Illa Allah” is a declaration that “I bear witness to the unity of Existence”, in every thought, emotion or action I take.

    The simple recognition of the absolute power of Whole Consciousness surrenders the Human Will as part of that whole.  There is no human will that is separate from the Whole Consciousness.  This recognition allows humankind the blessings of humbleness and humility, thereby making it really human.  Human Will Power is relatively changing according to the zest with which the collective Will seeks knowledge.  Our perception of the Absolute is always relative.  Thus, humanity’s continuous challenge of creating new values in society occurs through the breakdown of old norms and the adoption of new understanding. 

    The genuine recognition of One source of any benevolence marks the Commencement.  It is the beginning of the path of progress from uncivilized behavior to civility, observing Principles of Co-Existence in our methods and relationships.  God may have created a perfect world in six days and then rested on the Seventh.  The counting of days maybe highly symbolic but what is relevant is how we create our own world with some Godliness in it.  Every individual has a Commencement in her/his life, marking the dawning of the connection with civilization, and the binding responsibility to carry on the human message.  The symbolism contained in the traditional Abrahimic story of the creation of the world  carries enormous contemplative potential.  It should never be reduced to a literal understanding.  Any one understanding, including this one, can not be presented as “The Understanding.”  “You only do we worship” means that we continuously question our own perceptions, break them down, and replace them with more representative ones.  The rigid perception is the most enslaving of all demigods.  It leads one in a direction as farther away from Allah as can be. 

     Al-Fatiha offers a simple prayer of hope and an ocean of contemplation for the intellectual seeker.  The Heart and Reason are the two guiding faculties of man offering him salvation from the unknown challenging events of daily existence.  Rigidly fixing our own perceptions about the people around us, political parties, governments, regimes, etc... causes our fall from the Garden of Bliss and out to the barren path of ignorance.  Knowledge is in a state of constant hunger for new information.  Cutting off the supply of pertinent information and replacing it with mystical out of this world explanations blocks the path to Allah.  Knowledge requires action to confirm it, modify it, or refute it.  Those who know must act, and if they don’t act they again fall from the Garden of Bliss and out to the desolate desert of meaninglessness.  Cut off and isolated from His path.

    The Qur’an urges us continually to subject ourselves to the Commencement and self-renewal.  The simple prayer of “Show us the passage”, allows us to purge ourselves of misconceptions, myths, untruths and forms of disguised falsehoods.  We must go through the demigods to reach God.  We can’t simply disregard a temptation to be pure.  We have to face it, work with it, befriend it, possibly go through it, and finally overcome its enslaving power in order to steer our life’s journey onto the righteous path that allows us a glimpse of Him. 

    “The way of those who have gained your favor”.  The Commencement is a prayer to dedicate ourselves to finding Allah.  We are continuously searching for a glimpse of Him.  That is a metaphorical expression for revelation and inspiration.  The words of humans belong to the relative world.  The relative world changes and so do our words and forms of expression.  At the time the Bible was written, humanity’s form of expression had reached a certain level that prompted a certain type of story telling.  Humanity’s ability for expression has now reached a level commensurate with understanding the Qur’an’s level of expression.  The Qur’an, poetically, cut out the irrelevance and the page-filling genealogy found in the Bible.  It extracted the pure essence of values thereby describing the Absolute in the most advanced form of relative expression. 

    The Commencement is humanity’s quiet outcry against its own condition and a prayer to rise towards practicing compassion.  The line separating Human beings from the Animal Kingdom is Compassion.  It is in the heart and in the mind.  A principle achingly felt by the heart and a method to be practiced by reason.


.. .Ibrahim AbuNab (1931-1991)