Surah Al Fatihah: The Opening

1. In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

2. All the best praise belongs to Allah, the Creator and the Sustainer of all the worlds.

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

3. The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

 4. Master of the Day of Judgment.

  مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ

 5. It is You we worship and it is You we implore for help.

 إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ

 6. Guide us along the straight path.

 اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ

 7. The path of those on whom You have bestowed your favors, those who incur no anger and have not gone astray.

 صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ

Commentary

General introduction to the surah

Surah Fatihah comprises of seven verses. Every devout Muslim recites it in every Rakka of the daily five prayers. This means one who is regular in prayers recites it and prays to Allah in these words, at least 32 times a day. This prayer becomes the most fundamental psyche of a believing Muslim; like Bios is the most fundamental operating system of any Windows based personal computer.

This surah has been referred in the Quranic verse, “We have given you (Muhammad) the seven oft-repeated verses and the great Quran.” (15:87)

It was revealed in the very early part of the Meccan period of the prophet Muhammad’s ministry.

According to Muhammad Abdel Haleem, “This sura is seen to be a precise table of contents of the Qur’anic message. It is very important in in Islamic worship, being an obligatory part of the daily prayer, repeated several times during the day.”

Muhammad Asad writes in the introduction to the surah:

According to Bukhari, the designation Umm al-Kitab 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 Qur’an: the 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 surah has been formulated as a prayer, to be constantly repeated and reflected upon by the believer.

According to Syed Hossein Nasr and associates, in the introduction to this surah:

The primary meaning of al-Fatihah is ‘The Opening,’ which indicates the surah’s function as ‘the opening of the Book’ (Fatihat al-kitdb) and as the first surah to be recited in each cycle (rak‘ ah) of all the canonical prayers as well as the manner in which it serves as an opening for many functions in everyday Islamic life. It can also be taken as a reference to this surah’s ability to open one’s breast to faith in God.

The Fatihah is often believed to be a synthesis of the Quran’s message and to be its most important surah. Hence it has been given the title Umm al-kitab, ‘Mother of the Book,’ a term also applied to other aspects of the Quran (3:7) and to the celestial archetype of the Quran and in fact all sacred scripture (see 13:39; 43:4). It is also known as ‘The Mother of the Quran’ (IK, T), a reference to its containing the meaning of the entire Quran (IK). Other titles are ‘The Seven Oft—Repeated’ (al-Sab‘ al-mathani, 15:87); ‘The Cure’ (al- Shifa’), because it is said to have healing powers for both body and soul; and ‘The Foundation’ (al-Asas), because it serves as a foundation for the whole of the Quran. Also known as Surat al-Hamd, ‘The Chapter of Praise,’ and Surat al-Salah, ‘The Chapter of the Prayer,’ the Fatihah is recited at the beginning of each cycle of prayer by all Sunnis and many Shiites. In Shiite law one is allowed to recite the Fatihah in the third and fourth cycles or to recite, ‘Glory be to God, and praise be to God. There is no god but God, and God is great.’ It is also recited by Muslims on occasions as diverse as a funeral, a wedding, the birth of a child, the inauguration of an official event, the signing of contracts, and the commencement of an individual endeavor, such as the beginning of a journey. In some lands, funeral services are referred to as Fatihah, because they mark an opening from one life to another.

To know the traditional commentaries referred to by Seyyed Hossein Nasr as alphabets, please see About us page.

Malik Ghulam Farid introduces the surah in the following words and he puts this at the end of his commentary of the surah:

Al-Fatihah reveals a beautiful order in the arrangement of its words and sentences. It is divided into two halves. The first half pertains to God, the second to man, and the different parts of each portion correspond to one another in a remarkable manner. Corresponding to the name ‘Allah’ which stands for the Being possessing all noble attributes in the first half, we have the words, Thee alone do we worship, in the second half. As soon as the devotee thinks of God as being free from all defects and possessing all perfect attributes, the cry, Thee alone do we worship, spontaneously rises from the depths of his heart. And corresponding to the attribute “Lord of all the worlds” are the words, Thee alone do we implore for help, in the second part. When a Muslim knows God to be the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds and the Source of all development, he at once takes shelter in Him, saying, Thee alone do we implore for help. Then, corresponding to the attribute Al-Rahman, i.e., the Giver of innumerable blessings and the Liberal Provider of our needs, occur the words, Guide us in the straight path, in the second; for the greatest of the blessings provided for man is guidance which God provides for him by sending revelation through His Messengers. Corresponding to the attribute Al-Raheem i.e., the Giver of the best rewards for man’s works in the first part, we have the words, The path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy favors, in the second, for it is Al-Raheem Who bestows merited blessings on His favored servants. Again, corresponding to ‘Master of the Day of Judgment’ we have, Those who have not incurred Thy displeasure, and those who have not gone astray. When man thinks of giving an account of his deeds, he dreads failure; so, pondering over the attribute, Master of the Day of Judgment, he begins to pray to God to be saved from His displeasure and from straying away from the right path.

Another special feature of the prayer contained in this Surah is that it appeals to the inner instincts of man in a perfectly natural manner. There are two fundamental motives in human nature which prompt submission, viz., love and fear. Some people are touched by love, while others are moved by fear. The motive of love is certainly nobler but there may be — indeed there are — men to whom love makes no appeal. They only submit through fear. In Al-Fatihah an appeal has been made to both these human motives. First come those attributes of God which inspire love, ‘the Creator and Sustainer of the world,’ ‘the Gracious’ and ‘the Merciful.’ Then in their wake, as it were, follows the attribute, ‘Master of the Day of Judgment,’ which reminds man that if he does not mend his ways and does not respond to love, he should be prepared to render account of his deeds before God. Thus the motive of fear is brought into play side by side with that of love. But as God’s mercy far excels His anger, even this attribute which is the only fundamental attribute designed to evoke fear, has not been left without a reference to mercy. In fact, here too God’s mercy transcends His anger, for it is  implicit in this attribute that we are not appearing before a Judge but before a Master Who has the power to forgive and Who will punish only where punishment is absolutely necessary.

In short, Al-Fatihah is a wonderful storehouse of spiritual knowledge. It is a short Chapter of seven brief verses, but it is a veritable mine of knowledge and wisdom. Aptly called ‘Mother of the Book,’ it is the very essence of the Qur’an. Beginning with the name of Allah, the Fountain-head of all blessings, the Chapter goes on to narrate the four fundamental attributes of God, i.e., (1) The Creator and Sustainer of the world; (2) The Gracious, Who provides for all the requirements of man even before he is born and without any effort on his part for them; (3) The Merciful, Who determines the best possible results of man’s labor and Who rewards him most liberally; and (4) Master of the Day of Judgment before Whom all will have to give an account of their actions, Who will punish the wicked but will not treat His creatures as a mere judge but as a master, tempering justice with mercy, and Who is eager to forgive whenever forgiveness is calculated to bring about good results. This is the portrait of the God of Islam as given in the very beginning of the Qur’an—a God Whose power and dominion know no bounds and Whose mercy and beneficence have no limitations. Then comes the declaration by man that, his God being the Possessor of such lofty attributes, he is ready, nay eager, to worship Him and throw himself at His feet in complete submission; but God knows that man is weak and liable to err, so mercifully He exhorts His servant to seek His help at every step in his onward march and for every need that may confront him. Finally, comes a prayer—comprehensive and far-reaching — a prayer in which man supplicates his Maker to lead him to the straight path in all matters, spiritual or temporal, whether relating to his present or future needs. He prays to God that he may not only successfully stand all trials but, like His ‘Chosen Ones,’ do so with credit and become the recipient of His most bounteous favors; that he may for ever go on treading the straight path, pressing on nearer and yet nearer to his Lord and Master without stumbling on the way, as did many of those who have gone before. This is the theme of the Opening Chapter of the Qur’an which is constantly  repeated, in one form or another, in the main body of the Holy Book.

Commentary of individual verses

1:1

The very first verse of the holy Quran is often called Bismillah (بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ). Invocation of this first verse is employed by all devout Muslims to consecrate all licit actions or activities, from eating, to travel, to starting a new project. From the Quranic perspective all things that are not performed for the sake of God and in His name could be devoid of blessing. (68:17-41; 2:173; 5:3)

The Quran is a treasure of Divine knowledge to which access cannot be had without the special favor of God: None shall touch it but the purified (56:79). Thus Bismillah has been placed at the beginning of every Chapter to remind a Muslim that in order to have access to, and benefit by, the treasures of Divine knowledge, contained in the Quran, he should not only approach it with a pure heart but should also constantly invoke the help of God. The verse Bismillah also serves another important purpose. It is a key to the meaning of each individual Chapter, as all questions affecting moral and spiritual matters are related in one way or the other to the fundamental Divine attributes Rahmaniyyah (grace) and Raheemmiyyah (mercy). Thus each Chapter, in fact, forms a detailed exposition of some aspects of the Divine attributes mentioned in the verse. (F)

Other religions may have had similar teachings or verse. The Quran states that Solomon used the same words, as this verse (بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ), in his letter to the Queen of Sheba (27:30).

This speaks of universality of prophethood as the Quran says, there have not been any people to whom a Teacher has not been sent (35:24) and that the Quran is a repository of all permanent truths contained in the previous revealed Books (98:14).

For the commentary of ‘the Most Gracious’ (Al-Rahman الرَّحْمَٰنِ) and ‘the Most Merciful’ (Al-Raheem الرَّحِيمِ) please see the third verse of this surah.

1:2

“All the best praise belongs to Allah, the Creator and the Sustainer of all the worlds,” this verse in the very beginning of the Quran puts us into a full frontal debate between the atheists on the one hand and the Abrahamic faiths, Islam, Judaism and Christianity on the other hand.

The atheists claim that this universe or multiverse is by itself and there is no Creator and of course the believing Jews, Christians and Muslims, cannot agree to a proposition, which would be a complete antithesis of their religions.  Thousands of  books and movies have been made on this issue and if not thousands, hundreds of videos debating this issue are in YouTube. Any reasonable commentary on this verse would need to be of encyclopedic proportions. But, please rest assured that is not our intent here.

Not to speak of the classical or the traditional commentaries, even the most recent commentary published in 2015, by Syed Hossein Nasr and his associates, does not touch on this all important issue.

Nasr is Professor emeritus of Islamic studies at George Washington University. Here, we have taken the liberty of reproducing his commentary of the verse, in its entirety and it is less than a page of his more than 1900 page book. While we agree with every little detail that he has said, we also want to underscore what is missing, as noted above:

Praise translates al-hamd, which indicates extolling  the Praiseworthy (mahmud) and giving thanks to Him for all of the favors He has bestowed in this world and for the reward that will be given in the next world. In this vein, the Prophet is reported to have said, ‘When you say, ‘Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds,’ you will have thanked God and He will increase your bounty’ (T). But whereas thanks (shukr) is given for what one has already received, praise is given for the qualities the One Who is praised possesses prior to having bestowed anything and is thus more universal (Q). Praise (al-hamd) is rendered in the definite rather than the indefinite to indicate that all forms of praise and all gratitude belong to God (T). It is said that God has praised Himself in this opening address so that human beings can praise God in the speech of God, since God knows that they cannot praise Him fully in their own words (Qu). Regarding the inability of human beings to praise God fully, the Prophet is reported to have addressed God, saying, ‘There is no way to enumerate the praise due to Thee; Thou art as Thou hast praised Thyself’ (Qu).

Similar to the basmalah (بِسْمِ اللَّهِ) Praise be to God is a frequently repeated formula recited by Muslims on many occasions throughout their daily lives. But whereas the basmalah is employed to consecrate a deed at its beginning, Praise be to God (الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ) is employed to thank God for an act or event upon its completion. According to traditional Islamic etiquette, whenever one is asked how one is feeling, the correct response should be Praise be to God, no matter one’s condition.

Reference is made to God as Lord throughout the Quran and as Lord of the worlds some forty—two times. Lord renders rabb, which refers to a master who is obeyed (sayyid), to one who puts matters in their proper order, and to one who possesses something. In reference to God it thus means that He is the Master without peer, Who arranges the affairs of all His creatures and to Whom all of creation belongs (T). Some also relate Lord (rabb) to ‘cultivation’ (tarbiyah), since God is the Caretaker (murabbi) of all things as well as the Trainer and Caretaker of our souls, hearts, and spirits (Qu).

The worlds refers to various levels of cosmic existence and the communities of beings within each level. Some say it refers to four communities: human beings, jinn, angels, and satans (Q), while others say it refers only to human beings and jinn, since the Prophet is referred to as a warner unto the worlds (25:1), and only jinn and human beings are in need of a warner (Q). It may also refer to the different generations of human beings, to all of the species in creation (Q, T), or to God’s being the Sovereign over every level of creation from the earth through the seven heavens, as in those verses that refer to God as Lord of the heavens and the earth (13:16; 17:102; 18:14; 19:65; 21:56; 26:24.; 37:5; 38:66; 43:82; 44:7; 78:37). Thus some say that in the most universal sense the worlds refers to all existent things other than God (IK, Q). In this vein, the commentator Fakhr al-Din al-Razi notes that there is infinite space beyond this world and that God can actualize all possibilities, even worlds and universes of which we have no knowledge. The verse thus refers to God being the Lord of all that can be seen or imagined and of all that cannot be seen or imagined by human beings. In this sense, the verse conveys that God is Lord of all ‘space,’ not only physical space, and therefore of all that exists, no matter what the nature of that existence may be. For this reason, there is no thing, save that it hymns His praise (17:44).

To know the traditional commentaries referred to by Seyyed Hossein Nasr as alphabets, please see About us page.

Once again, we agree with every thing said above. While we cannot offer an encyclopedic commentary as it is beyond our and our reader’s human frailties, we want to offer a few key points that will open gateway to a sea of knowledge on this all central issue between theism and atheism: Is God or Allah the Lord or the Creator of this universe?

The word Rabb (رَبِّ) according to the Arabic-English Lexicon by Edward William Lane means Lord, master, possessor, a guardian, someone who raises and fosters an orphan and last but not the least, bringing a thing to a state of completion by degrees. So, we feel confidant in translating it as Creator or Sustainer.

The name Allah is found in the holy Quran some 2800 times and the word Rabb (رَبِّ) occurs about 960 times.[1] This highlights that the Quran is about Monotheism and to understand that it is critical to understand the four most important attributes of Allah, mentioned in this surah, the first being: Rabb (رَبِّ).

1.  Mathematics is the language of the universe and to the theist mind it speaks of orderliness and purpose in our universe

Do you know which verses Dr. Abdus Salam quoted in his Nobel lecture, when he received Nobel Prize in physics in 1979?

He recited the following verses of the holy Quran.[2] He then gave the translation in English of the verses from surah Mulk:

    مَّا تَرَىٰ فِي خَلْقِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ مِن تَفَاوُتٍ ۖ فَارْجِعِ الْبَصَرَ هَلْ تَرَىٰ مِن فُطُورٍ

ثُمَّ ارْجِعِ الْبَصَرَ كَرَّتَيْنِ يَنقَلِبْ إِلَيْكَ الْبَصَرُ خَاسِئًا وَهُوَ حَسِيرٌ

No incongruity or flaw can you see in the creation of the Gracious God. Then look again: Do you see any flaw? Yes, look again, and yet again, your sight will only return back to you fatigued, confused and defeated.  (67:3-4)

Different people have and will marvel at these verses and the beauty, harmony, order and complexity of nature, in different ways but to us it speaks of the miracle that mathematics can so effectively predict and represent nature. On this theme we want to share a NOVA documentary, brief story of the 2016 Nobel prize in physics and an article by Eugene Wigner, Nobel Laureate in physics, 1963.

Three physicists born in Britain but now working in the United States were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016 for research into the bizarre properties of matter in extreme states, including superconductors, superfluids and thin magnetic films.

David J. Thouless of the University of Washington was awarded half of the prize of 8 million Swedish kronor, or about $930,000, while F. Duncan M. Haldane of Princeton University and J. Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University shared the other half.

The scientists relied on advanced mathematical models to study “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter,” in the words of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.

According to the famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell, in the Study of Mathematics:

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty, a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry.

The Nobel prize of 2016 shows us once again, to borrow the title of Eugene Wigner’s article: The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences. The PDF file of his article is available here.

Wigner sums up his argument by saying that “the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it.” He concludes his paper with the same question with which he began:

The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.

We conclude this section with a quote from Albert Einstein, which to us represents one line commentary of the Quranic verses quoted above: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”[3]

2.  What is the difference between science and metaphysics

In every Western university, researchers of different faiths and of no faith are working on thousands if not millions of projects together, proving once for all that for the study of nature or science per se you do not need a religion or lack there of. It does, however, require a shared understanding that the laws of nature are discoverable and reproducible and are not magical or whimsical, a shared understanding of humanity that has gradually reached a consensus among whole of humanity over the last 2500 years.

Science is shared by the whole of humanity, while metaphysics is different for each religion or atheism. Metaphysics then is the philosophical inferences or conclusions or the added ‘spin’ on the genuinely observed reality of nature that each group puts on the facts or observations of science.

All of us are not always so precise in our communication. We often muddle one reality or concept with other ideas. We bait and switch, until we can confuse our readers and people who put any author or authority on a pedestal, are ultimately confused by them. Both religious and irreligious authorities are guilty of creating their own facts by free mixing of science and metaphysics. The guilt of religious experts, at least of those not belonging to our particular sect is obvious to most but scientists can be equally guilty.

Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, who have been the most well known spokespersons for atheism in the last decade or more, do not hesitate to constantly bleed and intermix their atheism into their science. The same science that makes religiously inclined even more devout and committed to God.

Scientist often present science as a perfect discipline which is always in the search of truth. This may be broadly true but is not perfectly true. Prof. Stephen G Gould writes:

I am a strong advocate of the general argument that ‘truth’ as preached by scientists often turns out to be no more than prejudice inspired by prevailing social and political beliefs. I have devoted several essays to this theme because I believe that it helps to ‘demystify’ the practice of science by showing its similarity to all creative human activity.[4]

In other words scientists are no saints or seekers of the perfect truth. They do spin self serving metaphysics around the precise scientific truths. A little wise dissection by the insightful scholars can separate science from the metaphysics.

So we can learn science from the best science teachers, even if they are atheists, we can just ignore their metaphysics, when they present it in the guise of science.

Physics one can learn from the documentaries made by Nova and PBS and biology we can learn from the documentaries of Sir David Attenborough and there are dozens of them and here we reproduce a couple:

The metaphysics of believers is described in surah Ale-Imran:

And to Allah belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth; and Allah has power over all things.

In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of the night and the day there are indeed Signs for men of understanding; those who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth: “Our Lord, Thou hast not created this in vain; nay, Holy art Thou; save us, then, from the punishment of the Fire. (3:189-191)

3. Our Biophylic universe is the best scientific argument for there being a Creator of our universe

The odds of a life containing or biophilic universe as opposed to a lifeless universe are one in ten raised to five hundred. Some mind boggling odds. Now that is a scientific fact, how do we react to this would be metaphysics. To an open mind it speaks of our universe beginning from a profound consciousness rather than a mindless empty hollowness or nothingness.

Stephen Hawking, the most well know physicist of our times, wrote a book with Leonard Mlodinow, the Grand Design, it was published by Bantam Books, New York in 2010. He concludes the fifth chapter with the following passage:

The laws of M-theory therefore allow for different universes with  different apparent laws, depending on how the internal space is  curled. M-theory has solutions that allow for many different internal spaces, perhaps as many as 10*100 (ten raised to the power of 100) which means it allows for 10*500 (ten raised to the power of 500) different universes, each with its own laws. To get an idea  how many that is, think about this: If some being could analyze the laws predicted for each of those universes in just one millisecond and had started working on it at the big bang, at present that being would have studied just I0*20 of them. And that’s without coffee breaks.

Centuries ago Newton showed that mathematical equations could provide a startlingly accurate description of the way objects interact, both on earth and in the heavens. Scientists were led to  believe that the future of the entire universe could be laid out if only we knew the proper theory and had enough computing power. Then came quantum uncertainty, curved space, quarks and extra dimensions, and the net result of their labor is 10*500 universes, each with different laws, only one of which corresponds to the universe as we know it. The original hope of physicists to produce a single theory explaining the apparent laws of our universe as the unique possible consequence of a few simple assumptions may have to be abandoned. Where does that leave us? If M-theory allows for 10*500 sets of apparent laws, how did we end up in this universe, with the laws that are apparent to us? And  what about those other possible worlds?

Let us accept every thing Hawking stated as a fact. But, do we have to worship and genuflex to the minds of the great physicists, until better physicists are born with greater insights and brains with greater computing powers? Or could we look through the scholarly deception and realize that there is a greater reality underlying the apparent visible reality of our universe, which requires 10*500 universes to explain our biophilic universe. These almost infinite universes, which are called multiverse, remind us, “All the best praise belongs to Allah, the Creator and the Sustainer of all the worlds.”

God is Al Baatin or Hidden. He does not work or create by his physical hands or through magical intervention, rather through unchanging laws of nature, which remain constant and are open to our study.

Another good book on the theme of biophilic universe is one by Prof. Paul Davies: The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life?

The author, however, is agnostic. A little tweaking of his metaphysics makes his description of science, just right for the metaphysics of the theists.

4.  We can learn from every good Jewish, Christian and Muslim teacher

God or Allah being the Creator is a shared theme by all the Abrahamic faiths. The best teachers who can talk about God from their personal experience of revelation or having their prayers heard come from the Muslim faith. But, the best teachers to use science to show that there ought to be a Creator for our universe come from the Western universities, mostly with Christian faith and very occasionally Jewish or Muslim faith.

So, we need not be shy to learn from them or even use their resources in our dialogue or even debate with agnostics or atheists, with a slight addition. The official view of the Trinitarian Christianity is that Jesus has two natures and is both perfect man and fully divine.  If we can hold them tightly to that position then Jesus the perfect man was not born until the beginning of the first century of the common era, to mother Mary. So he cannot be the creator of our universe that is more than 13 billion years old. The Christian apologists may have different tricks up their sleeve but for the non-Christians this simple logic is fairly self-evident. As evident as anything can be! Therefore when the Christian scholars, writers or debaters talk of God the Creator, they are talking of Eternal God of Judaism and Islam. No more no less and we can use their scholarship to advance our understanding.

The holy prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, said that a word of wisdom is the lost property of a believer, he or she accepts it wherever he or she finds it. So, the Muslim readers have no choice but to benefit from whatever useful and correct information provided by anyone regardless of his or her religion. The pertinent Hadith is the last in this collection of forty Hadiths: Forty gems of beauty.

5. Naturalism and Al-Baatin God of Islam

The third verse of the surah Hadid talks about four different attributes of God: the First, the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden:

هُوَ الْأَوَّلُ وَالْآخِرُ وَالظَّاهِرُ وَالْبَاطِنُ ۖ وَهُوَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

“He is the First and the Last, and the Manifest and the Hidden (Al Baatin), and He knows all things full well.” (57:3)

The previous commentators talk extensively about three of these four attributes, but are relatively silent about the Hidden الْبَاطِنُ (Al Baatin). Among other things it perhaps implies that God is hidden behind the laws of nature.

The success of scientific enterprise in the last few centuries has shown humanity the power of trying to understand nature in a consistent and reproducible manner, excluding belief in supernatural, in likes of jinns and demons. Encyclopedia Britannica describes naturalism as:

Naturalism, in philosophy, a theory that relates scientific method to philosophy by affirming that all beings and events in the universe (whatever their inherent character may be) are natural. Consequently, all knowledge of the universe falls within the pale of scientific investigation. Although naturalism denies the existence of truly supernatural realities, it makes allowance for the supernatural, provided that knowledge of it can be had indirectly—that is, that natural objects be influenced by the so-called supernatural entities in a detectable way.

Naturalism presumes that nature is in principle completely knowable. There is in nature a regularity, unity, and wholeness that implies objective laws, without which the pursuit of scientific knowledge would be absurd. Man’s endless search for concrete proofs of his beliefs is seen as a confirmation of naturalistic methodology. Naturalists point out that even when one scientific theory is abandoned in favour of another, man does not despair of knowing nature, nor does he repudiate the “natural method” in his search for truth. Theories change; methodology does not.[5]

Despite prevailing naturalism in science, the believing Christians have traditionally understood miracles to be violation of the natural law, as such they have much to fear from naturalism. The Muslims should have no such fear of naturalism, as we believe miracles to be within the scope of Natural Laws.

Nevertheless, we are not suggesting to embrace naturalism in its totality, as sometimes it even implies a negation of a Transcendent God or any revelation from Him. For example Wikipedia has to say:

Naturalism is ‘the idea or belief that only laws of nature (physical law) (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) and forces operate in the world; the idea or belief that nothing exists beyond the natural world.’ Adherents of naturalism (i.e., naturalists) assert that natural laws are the rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe, that the changing universe at every stage is a product of these laws.

Naturalism can intuitively be separated into a [metaphysical] and a methodological component.’ Metaphysical here refers to the philosophical study of the nature of reality. Some philosophers equate naturalism with materialism. For example, philosopher Paul Kurtz argues that nature is best accounted for by reference to material principles. These principles include mass, energy, and other physical and chemical properties accepted by the scientific community. Further, this sense of naturalism holds that spirits, deities, and ghosts are not real and that there is no ‘purpose’ in nature. Such an absolute belief in naturalism is commonly referred to as metaphysical naturalism.

In contrast, assuming naturalism in working methods, without necessarily considering naturalism as an absolute truth with philosophical entailments, is called methodological naturalism. The subject matter here is a philosophy of acquiring knowledge.[6]

We, like many other Muslims, are all for methodological naturalism, as God of Islam is الْبَاطِنُ Al-Baatin or hidden and we can never catch His hand or hands working in our material world, as He is not material and He is subtle and He has Himself told us:

He is the First and the Last, and the Manifest and the Hidden الْبَاطِنُ (Al Baatin), and He knows all things full well. (57:4)

And:

Eyes cannot reach Him but He reaches the eyes. And He is the Incomprehensible, the All-Aware. (6:103)

And:

And assuredly, We have created man and We know what his physical self whispers to him, and We are nearer to him than even his jugular vein. (Al Quran 50:16)

But, we do not believe in metaphysical naturalism, as we believe in some things, which are beyond the realm of the natural. Whereas, we do not believe in supernatural jinns, demons and ghosts, we do believe in one supernatural being that is not material and not explained by strict materialism. The Quran in countless places describes the Transcendent God, His creation of the universe and His continued Providence, His revelation to humans in dreams and otherwise.

6. We should not create God of the gaps

God of the gaps is a theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God’s existence. The term was invented by Christian theologians not to discredit theism but rather to point out the fallacy of relying on teleological arguments for God’s existence. Some use the phrase to refer to a form of the argument from ignorance fallacy.

The concept, although not the exact wording, goes back to Henry Drummond, a 19th-century evangelist lecturer, from his Lowell Lectures on The Ascent of Man. He chastises those Christians who point to the things that science cannot yet explain—”gaps which they will fill up with God”—and urges them to embrace all nature as God’s, as the work of “… an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology.”[7] [8]

If God has created the universe, then one can be certain that in keeping with His infinite entity, He would have left innumerable ways to influence the universe so that His divinity is not suspended in any way at any time.

In other words God influences our world through natural means only. We should find our God not in the unknowns or what the modern science has not discovered yet. Rather we should find the Creator God in the beauty, complexity and improbability of His Creation. For example as discussed above, the odds of a life containing or biophilic universe as opposed to a lifeless universe are one in ten raised to five hundred. This is how we find ‘God – the Creator’ by study of our beautifully organized universe.

The question arises, what are those natural means within the Natural Law that provide for Providence of God, through which God could influence our material world. This leads us to our next subject of Quantum physics.

7.  Quantum physics provides both for our free will and Providence of God

It is said that Pierre Simon Laplace had presented Napoleon with a copy of his work, who had heard that the book contained no mention of God. Napoleon, who was fond of imposing embarrassment, received it with the remark, “Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.” Laplace is said to have replied, “Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.” And so it goes. The apparent so called self-sufficiency of our physical universe has caused many a scientist, since Laplace to move away from the idea of a Creator of the universe or the God Hypothesis.

Given his complete confidence in both methodological and metaphysical naturalism, Laplace claimed:

We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.[9]

Despite Laplace tall claims, in the three great Monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, God is viewed as a supreme, transcendent being, beyond matter space and time, and yet the foundation of all that meets our senses that is described in terms of matter, space, and time. That is the Al Baatin or the Hidden God of Monotheism.  Furthermore, this God is not the god of deism, who created the world and then left it alone, or the god of pantheism, who is equated with all of existence. The Islamic and the Judeo-Christian God is a nanosecond-by-nanosecond participant in each event that takes place in every cubic nanometer of the universe.  He has full knowledge of all things.  God listens to every thought and participates in each action of his very special creation.

Quantum physics was a missing piece of information in physics that took away hard determinism and restored free will and Divine Providence.  It became an interface between the material and the immaterial, the profane and the sacred, the tangible and the intangible and of course a meeting point of the knowable and the unknowable.  The scientific aspect of Quantum physics can be best read in a scientific treatise but to appreciate the mystery and aura about it, one should bank on quotes of the leading experts in the field, until one becomes an expert in one’s own right.  So, here I reproduce a few:

Werner Heisenberg: “The atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.”

Niels Bohr: “Anyone not shocked by quantum mechanics has not yet understood it.”

Pascual Jordan: “Observations not only disturb what is to be measured, they produce it.”

Eugene Wigner: “When the province of physical theory was extended to encompass microscopic phenomena through the creation of quantum mechanics, the concept of consciousness came to the fore again. It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness.”

Albert Einstein: “I can’t accept quantum mechanics because I like to think the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.”[9]

Professor Daniel Robinson: “The prospect has been raised that consciousness and quantum physics are in some bizarre way interdependent. One of the most influential schools of quantum physics, the so-called Copenhagen school, has argued that the results of experiments at the micro level can be understood only in terms of the influence of the act of observation itself.”[10]

In other words, Quantum physics is the seat of consciousness, human soul, free will and Providence of God and by its very nature will remain unknowable to a significant degree, for all times to come.

8. The infinite treasures of the holy Quran

The Quran states in surah Kahf, “Say, ‘If the ocean became ink for the words of my Lord, surely, the ocean would be exhausted before the words of my Lord came to an end, even though We brought the like thereof as further help.’” (18:109)

Additionally, in surah Luqman we read, “And if all the trees that are in the earth were pens, and the ocean were ink, with seven oceans swelling it thereafter, the words of Allah would not be exhausted. Surely, Allah is Mighty, Wise.” (31:27)

In the past these verses may have seemed only metaphorically true or as poetic exaggeration, but in this day and age of information, and study of nature, with the paradigm we have suggested here, understanding of these verses begins to take even a literal meaning. For the details please see the respective verses.

Going back to the traditional understanding of this verse; Malik Ghulam Farid writes:

The verb Rabba means, he administered the affair; he increased, developed, improved and completed the matter; he sustained and looked after. Thus Rabb رَبِّ means, (a) Lord, Master, Creator; (b) One Who sustains and develops (c) One Who brings to perfection by degrees (Mufradat & Lane). When used in combination with another word, it may be used for persons or beings other than God.

He also enlists other verses of the Quran with similar wording or meaning: 6:1; 6:45: 10:10; 18:1; 29:63; 30:18; 31:25; 34:1; 35:1; 37:182; 39:75 and 45:36.

There are several verses which use the words the Creator (الْخَالِقُ), the Maker (فَاطِرِ / الْبَارِئُ) and the Fashioner (الْبَارِئُ) for Allah or their verbs: 6:14; 6:102; 7:11; 7:191; 12:101; 13:16; 14:10; 15:28; 15:86; 16:8; 16:20; 17:99; 25:3; 31:10-11; 35:1; 35:3; 36:81; 37:11; 39:62; 40:62; 42:11; 52:36; 56:59; 59:24; 77:20 79:27; and 80:18-19.

If God is not the Creator, then Theism has no foundation. Likewise, belief in hereafter loses the premise of the main intellectual proof offered in the Quran. On the other hand if our multiverse and our human lives are not an accident, atheism has no foundation whatsoever, only a psychological state to escape from accountability and hereafter. These are very common themes in the Quran in favor of Monotheism of the Abrahamic faiths. We conclude the commentary of this verse with a Quranic challenge to the non-believers: Were they created without a creative agency? Or are they the creators? Or did they create the heavens and the earth? Nay they are sure of nothing. (52:35-36) Also read: 56:57-74.

1:3

“The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.”

According to Syed Hossein Nasr and associates, as they explain the distinction between Al-Rahman  الرَّحْمَٰنِ and Al-Rahim  الرَّحِيمِ:

Together these two Names refer to two aspects of the Divine Mercy (rahmah): one essential and universal, the other attributive and particular. The first is that by which creation is brought forth, while the second is that by which God shows Mercy to those whom He will, as in 33:43: And He is Merciful (rahim) unto the believers. The essential and universal Mercy is that of the Compassionate, which God bestows upon all things through their very existence and is the Divine aspect referred to in 20:5: The Compassionate mounted the Throne; and 25:59: Then mounted the Throne, the Compassionate [is He]. The particular Mercy is that of the Merciful, through which each creature that exists is sustained and which varies in mode according to the manner in which this Divine Name or Attribute has become manifest. It is evident that Divine Names of beauty, such as ‘the Kind’ (al-Latif), ‘the Clement’ (al-Halim), and “the Beautiful” (aI-Jamil), are manifestations of Mercy. But in Divine Names of rigor, such as ‘the Powerful’ (al-Qadir), ‘the Avenger’ (al-Muntaqim), and ‘the Abaser’ (al-Mudhill), the manifestation of Divine Mercy is veiled by the inseparability of God’s Kindness from His Majesty and determinative power (qadar). God is thus said to be Compassionate toward all of creation and Merciful toward the believers (Tb).

So, Al-Rahman is gracious to all of humanity and makes no distinction between the sinner and the saint. Al Raheem also spelled as Al-Rahim is special favor to the believers and the devout, who serve God and pray to Him. However, as all prayers are not fulfilled, as those may not fit the laws of nature or God’s grand plan, the ultimate retribution is in the hereafter. If payback to the sinner and the saint was completed in this very world, there would be no need for the hereafter. Malik Ghulam Farid stresses this point that the greater emphasis of Al-Raheem is in the hereafter. He writes in the commentary of the very first verse of surah Fatihah:

 Whereas the word Al-Rahman would denote ‘mercy comprehending the entire universe,’ the word Al- Rahim would denote ‘mercy limited in its scope but repeatedly shown.’ In view of the above meanings Al-Rahman is One Who shows mercy gratuitously and extensively to all creation without regard to effort or work, and Al-Rahim is One Who shows mercy in response to, and as a result of, the actions of man but shows it liberally and repeatedly. The former is applicable to God only, while the latter is applied to man also. The former extends not only to believers and disbelievers but also to the whole creation; the latter applies mostly to believers. According to a saying of the Holy Prophet, the former attribute generally pertains to this life, while the latter attribute generally pertains to the life to come (Muhit), meaning that as this world is mostly the world of actions and the next world is the world where actions will be particularly rewarded, God’s attribute Al-Rahman provides man with material for his works in this life, and His attribute Al-Rahim brings about results in the life to come. All things that we need and on which our life depends are purely a Divine favor and are provided for us before we do anything to deserve them or even before we are born, while the blessings in store for us in the life to come will be given to us as a reward of our actions. This shows that Al-Rahman is the Bestower of gifts, which precede our birth, while Al-Rahim is the Giver of blessings which follow our deeds as their reward.

It is not given to humans to be able to precisely know how their actions will be rewarded in this world by the Al-Rahim, but, given this attribute it always gives them hope and optimism. But, they are reassured time and again in the holy Quran that if they believe and do righteous deeds, paradise will most definitely be their reward in the hereafter and they will dwell in there for eternity. This seems to be true for a very large majority of the believers.

However, there is a very special provision for the saintly, who excel in their spirituality, beyond the ordinary. God says:

As for those who say, ‘Our Lord is Allah,’ and then remain steadfast, the angels descend on them, saying: ‘Fear ye not, nor grieve; and rejoice in the Garden that you were promised. ‘We are your friends in this life and in the Hereafter. Therein you will have all that your souls will desire, and therein you will have all that you will ask for — An entertainment from the Most Forgiving, the Merciful.’ (41:30-32)

The Divine attribute mentioned here is  الرَّحِيمِ. So, some saintly believers may know of some of the blessings coming their way based on Divine revelation to them through true dreams and like.

Love and compassion towards the fellow beings is one of the overriding themes of the holy Quran. There are literally scores of verses in the Quran inspiring the believers to show compassion and be of service to fellow humans regardless of their religion or social status. In fact it constantly urges the believers to direct their attention to the orphans and the vulnerable.

The constant Quranic insistence on Monotheism and accountability is to transform us from self indulgent into a kind, humane and compassionate person. This is the essence of the Quran like all previous scriptures as well. Hillel, a famous first century Jewish Rabbi, when asked to give a commentary on the Torah, he said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

This is what the understanding of the Divine attributes of Al-Rahman  الرَّحْمَٰنِ and Al-Rahim  الرَّحِيمِ the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, is meant to cultivate in us.

Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times, has collected a large number of verses on the theme of human compassion: Two Hundred Verses about Compassionate Living in the Quran.

In conclusion of the commentary of this verse, one of the main Quranic themes is to transform the love of God to compassion for the fellow man. Read, how the Divine author describes His bounty to the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, to guide him towards the weak, vulnerable and down trodden:

Did He not find you an orphan and sheltered you, find you lost and guided you and find you in need and satisfied your need?

So, do not be harsh with an orphan and do not chide the one who asks for your help and share with others and talk about the blessings of your Lord. (Al Quran 93:6-11)

1:4

“Master of the Day of Judgment.”

The teaching most stressed in the holy Quran after Monotheism is our accountability in the hereafter. This is stressed in countless places in the holy Quran; which uses the first creation of the universe and the humans as a proof for the life to come.

In the following verse, Allah cites gravity and planetary motion as a pointer, towards His creativity and eventual hereafter:

Allah is He Who raised up the heavens without any pillars that you can see. Then He settled Himself on the Throne. And He pressed the sun and the moon into service: each pursues its course until an appointed term. He regulates it all. He clearly explains the Signs, that you may have a firm belief in the meeting with your Lord.  (Al Quran 13:2)

The Quran offers only one line of reasoning for the second creation, namely the first creation. Allah argues that one who has created this complex and awe inspiring universe and all  the life forms on our planet earth, should be able to recreate human life and of course the individual humans.

15 thoughts on “Surah Al Fatihah: The Opening

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