Al-Fatihah (الفاتحة)is the opening surah (chapter) of the Noble Qur'an which has 114 surahs of various lengths ranging from 288 ayaat (verses) in Surah Al-Baqarah to 3 ayaat in Surah Al-Kawthar. The Noble Qur'an was revealed over approximately 23 years.
Surahs in the Qur'an are classified as either Makkan or Madinean depending on whether they were revealed in Makkah Al-Mukarramah or in Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah respectively. Al-Fatihah was one of the early surahs revealed in Makkah, and it was revealed as a complete surah in the present order of its ayaat.
Al-Fatihah gets its name from the Arabic base-word (verb) fataha which means he opened. Al-Fatihah therefore means “The Opening One”, i.e. “The Opening Surah”. It has several other names which reflect its attributes. It is thus called Umm Al-Kitab or “The Mother of the Book”, as umm i.e. mother is here a word that denotes the origin and starting point, and kitab i.e. book refers to the Quran. It is also called Umm-Al Qur'an or The Mother of the Quran,
Another name of Al-Fatihah is Al-Saba Al Mathani (السبع المثاني)or the seven-oft repeated ones reflecting the fact that the seven verses of Al-Fatihah are the only verses of the Qur'an which must be read in every prayer. In Arabic al-saba
means the seven and al-Mathani
means the oft-repeated. It is as such also called simply Al-Mathani referring to its repetition in prayer. This is also a very unique name as it is distinguished in Allah’s mentioning it in ayah 87 of Surah Al-Hijr: وَلَقَدْآتَيْنَاكَ سَبْعًا مِنَالْمَثَانِيوَالْقُرْآنَالْعَظِيمَ
“And indeed, We have bestowed upon you seven of Al-Mathani (seven repeatedly recited verses) and the Grand Quran”.
According to several well-known authoritative interpreters of the Quran, the seven repeatedly recited verses refer to the verses of Al-Fatihah. This is, therefore, an interesting testimony; for although Al-Fatihah is part of the Quran, the Lord Subhanah Wa-Taala (SWT) (i.e. glory and exaltation to Him) indicates its special significance by saying “….seven of Al-Mathani (seven repeatedly recited verses i.e. Surah Al Fatihah) and the Grand Quran.” Furthermore, the seven verses are in this ayah identified as a great gift from Allah (SWT) in addition to the Glorious Quran.
In fact, one of the names of Al-Fatihah is Suarh Al-Salat i.e. the Surah of Prayer(سورة الصلاة).
There is a very important Hadīth-e- Qudsi of the Prophet (may the blessings and peace of Allah be with him)about Al Fatihah: On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleasedwith him) from the Prophet (May the blessings and peace of Allah be with him), who said:
“A prayer performed by someone who has not recited the Essence of the Qur'an (i.e Al-Fatihah, the first Surah of the Quran) during it is deficient (and he repeated the word three times), incomplete. Someone said to Abu Hurayrah: [Even though] we are behind the imam? He said: Recite it to yourself, for I have heard the Prophet (May the blessings and peace of Allah be with him) say: Allah (mighty and sublime be He, has said: “I have divided prayer between Myself and My servant into two halves, and My servant shall have what he has asked for. When the servant says: Al-hamdu lillahi rabbi ‘l’-alamin, Allah (mighty and sublime be He) says: My servant has praised Me. And when he says: Ar-rahmani ‘r-rahim, Allah (mighty and sublime be He) says: My servant has extolled Me, and when he says: Maliki yawmi ‘d-din, Allah says: My servant has glorified Me – and on one occasion He said: My servant has submitted to My power. And when he says: Iyyaka na’budu wa iyyaka nasta’in, He says: This is between Me and My servant, and My servant shall have what he has asked for. And when he says: Ihdina ‘s-sirata ‘l-mustaqim, sirata ‘lladhina an’amta ‘alayhim ghayri ‘l-maghdubi ‘alayhim wa la d-dallin, He says: This is for My servant, and My servant shall have what he has asked for. (This was related by Muslim.)
Al-Fatihah is also called Al-Wafiah (الوافية) or “The Complete One” as it cannot be split, or part read in prayer but must be when read completely as a whole. Interestingly, it is also called Al-Kafiah (الكافية)or “The One that Suffices” because it carries and provides the essence of the words of the Lord (SWT) i.e. the whole of the Quran. In that respect, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be with him) said, “Umm Al Qur'an suffices others but no other will suffice in its place!”
It has also been referred to as Al-Shafiyah (الشافية) i.e. “The Curing One” and Al-Shifa i.e. “The Cure”, most probably because it was used in conjunction with “Prophetic Medicine” for the purpose of curing the sick. Abdul-Malik bin Umair relates that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) said, “In the Opening of the Book there iscure from all illnesses” (Related in Sunan Ad-Darimi).
Furthermore the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) on the authority of Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “If you put yourself to rest on your bed and read the Opening of the Book and Say there is no God but Allah (i.e. read Surat Al-Ikhlas), then you would have secured yourself against all except death”.
Also in his book The Prophetic Medicine, Ibn Al Qayyim Al Jawziyya states: “In general, the contents of the Fatihah, which are: the sincerity of the adoration, the laudation of Allah, the entrust of one’s soul to him, the imploration of His whole graces that are: the guidance that brings favours and repulses the spite – all these elements constitute one of the most beneficial healing remedies”. Moreover, Al-Fatihah has also been called Al-Ruqiyah (الراقية)or “The Protecting One”; and Al-Waqiyah(الواقية) or the “Preventive or Protective One” as it protects its reader from harm.
Other names include Al-Kanz (الكنز)i.e. the Treasure; Al-Asas i.e. the Foundation; Al-Noor (النور) i.e. the Light; Surat Al-Hamd (سورة الحمد)i.e. the Surah of Praise; The Surah of Taleem Al-Mas’alah(سورة تعليم المسألة) i.e. the Surah of teaching of the meaning (of existence); Surat Al-Munajat (سورة المناجاة)i.e. The Surah of Soliloquy (between man and the Creator) as well as Surat Al-Tafweed (سورة التفويض)which means the Surah of Delegacy. Some writers have noted that Al-Fatihah has in excess of 20 names and this is possible as it possesses such a multitude of integrated concepts, aspects and immense depth of meaning.
Interestingly, and most importantly, Al-Fatihah is a dialogue and a protocol of approach of mankind to the Creator, the Sustainer and the True Guide. Al-Fatihah is about the Truth and about how mankind approaches Allah (SWT), first by reading in His Name, then by being grateful to Him whilst recognising His mastery over absolutely everything in All Worlds, recognising His greatest attributes, also realising that He is the Master of the Day of Reckoning, then confessing to Him (and Him alone) that it is to Him one prays and to Him (and Him alone) does one ask for ultimate support and then ask after this that He may show one the way to the straight and right path, the path of the righteous and not the path of the unrighteous and ultimately doomed.
In his book The Opening Chapter of the Quran, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad expresses:
“God is here invoked in His attributes, the manifestations of which man beholds day-in day-out, however much he may, through in-difference, neglect to reflect over them. Here you have man’s admission of his absolute dependence on God, his acknowledgement of the divine kindness shown to him, his earnest yearning to be saved from the pitfalls of life and to be led along the straight path.”
Abdul Basit notes in his book The Essence of the Quran: “In fact these seven verses form a complete unit by themselves. This beautiful chapter is so thorough, comprehensive, and universal that in brief it contains basic teachings of the Glorious Quran. Many Western scholars, even Christian missionary workers, have been profoundly impressed by the universal characteristic and sublime style of prayer. The followers of the monotheistic religions, whether Jews or Christians, could all recite Surah Al-Fatihah without any reservation. It is this universal aspect of the Lord’s prayer that has attracted the attention of many non-Muslim scholars”.
He goes on to quote Alfred Guillaume, a noted orientalist remarking: “There is nothing in the official worship of Islam in which a Christian could not join, and one who understands the word of praise and adoration is tempted to do so.”
Finally, this article can be considered an introduction to Al-Fatihah and in future articles we hope to be able to elaborate further the interpretation of the seven wonderful Ayahs.