Surah 1: al-Fātiḥa
بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيم
In the name of God, the All-Merciful, the Ever-Merciful.
In terms of allusion and in keeping with the tasting of the lords of recognition, the bi of bism [“In the name”] alludes to the “splendor” [bahāʾ] of Unity, the s to the “brilliance” [sanāʾ] of the Self-Sufficient, and the m to the “kingship” [mulk] of the Divinity. His splendor is self-standing, His brilliance self-sustaining, and His kingship everlasting. His splendor is eternal, His brilliance generous, His kingship tremendous. His splendor is with majesty, His brilliance with beauty, His kingship without decline. His splendor steals the heart, His brilliance increases love, His kingship has no annihilation.
B is His kindness [birr] to His servants, s His secret [sirr] with His friends, m His favor [minna] toward His yearners. If not for His kindness, how could the servant make ready for His secret? If not for His favor, how could the servant reach union with Him; how could the servant find a place at the threshold of His majesty? If not for the beginningless affection, how could the servant be endlessly familiar?
How could water and clay have the gall to love
You had You not chosen them with Your beginningless gentleness?
Love is Your Essence, O God, this is the friends’ belief—
remembering Your description, O Lord, dispels the sorrow of the sorrowful!
This world is goodly only through His name, the afterworld goodly only through His pardon, and the Garden goodly only through His vision. If not for the message and name of God in this world, how could it be the servant’s home? If not for His pardon and generosity in the afterworld, the servant’s work would be difficult. If not for the heart-brightening vision of Him in paradise, what would make a poor man happy?
“O God, we see through Your marks, we live in Your recognition, we flourish through Your name, we are happy in Your remembrance, we are joyful through finding You. It is we who are prey to passion in Your snare.
Your perfumed chain is my heart’s snare,
Your ambergris breeze enslaves my heart.
Since the sermon of Your passion was read in my name,
you’d say the whole world follows my heart’s pleasure.
In the name of God. It has been said that the name [ism] derives from “brand” [sima]. In other words, he who says “In the name of God” receives that stamp and is marked by that brand.
Be the elect servant of the king—with his brand
you’re safe from police by day and patrols by night.
He who finds a name finds it from His threshold.
Be one of His, brother—don’t worry about anyone else.
When the servant says, ‘In the name of God,’ its meaning is ‘I have branded myself with the brand of my Lord.’ O Lord, I have Your brand and am happy with it, but I lament at my own being. O Generous One, remove my being from before me, so that Your being may set all my work aright.
“O God, when Your light lit the lamp of recognition, my heart increased. When Your testimony became my spokesman, my voice increased. When Your desire put my work in order, my effort increased. When Your being set my work aright, my being increased. O God, what have I seen from my own being other than trial and trouble? From Your being, all is bestowal and loyalty. O You who are apparent in kindness and plain in generosity, take what I have done as not done. Do as is fitting for You!”
Someone may say, “In the texts of the Book and the Sunnah God’s names are many, and all of them are great, beginningless, pure, and beautiful. What wisdom is there in beginning the tremendous Qur’an with these three? Of all of them, why did He choose these and not add any others?”
The answer is that He chose these three names and confined Himself to them for the sake of two meanings: First so that His servants’ work in His names would be easy and their reward would in no way be decreased. He knew that they do not have the capacity to remember and memorize all of His many names. Even if there are some who can do that, most cannot, and they would remain in regret at not doing it. Hence, He combined the meanings of those names in these three names. Their meanings are of three sorts: one sort belongs to majesty and awe, another to blessing and nurture, and the third to mercy and forgiveness. All that is majesty and awe is placed in the name God, all that is blessing and nurture is in the name All-Merciful, and all that is mercy and forgiveness is in the name Ever-Merciful. Thus, it is easy for the servant to say them. His rewards will be many, and God’s clemency and mercy are boundless.
The second reason is that the Lord of the Worlds sent Muṣṭafā to the creatures, and at that time the creatures were three groups: idol-worshipers, Jews, and Christians. The idol-worshipers knew something of the Creator’s name God and this name was famous among them. That is why He says, “If thou were to ask them, ‘Who created the heavens and the earth?’ they would say, ‘God’” [31:25]. Among the Jews, the name All-Merciful was recognized. That is why ʿAbdallāh ibn Salām said to God’s Messenger, “I do not see a name in the Qur’an that we were reading in the Torah.”
He said, “And what is that?”
He said, “The All-Merciful.”
Then God sent down, “Call upon God or call upon the All-Merciful” [17:110].
Among the Christians, the recognized name was the Ever-Merciful. Since these three groups were being addressed and these three names were recognized among them, God sent down these three names at the beginning of the Qur’an in keeping with their knowledge and perception, and He did not add any to them.
As for the wisdom in beginning with God, then the All-Merciful, then the Ever-Merciful, it is this: He sent this down in keeping with the states of the servants, who have three states—first creation, then nurturing, and finally forgiveness. God alludes to creation at the beginning through power, All-Merciful alludes to nurturing through the continuity of blessings, and Ever-Merciful alludes to forgiveness at the end through mercy. It is as if God said, “First I created through power, then I nurtured through blessings, and at last, I forgave through mercy.”
“O God, Your name is our permit, and Your love our equipage. You are our security and we see Your gentleness face-to-face. O God, Your bounty is our banner, and Your embrace our refuge. O God, You are the shelter of the weak and await the strivers at the road’s end. You witness the faithful—what if You add and do not take away? O God, exalted is he whom You want! If he flees, You come into the road for him. Blessed is he to whom You belong—will You indeed ever be ours?”
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
1:1 Praise belongs to God, the Lord of the Worlds.
This is the praise of the lovingly kind God, the Creator who provides daily provisions, the One in name and mark, the Lord who is found without seeking, recognized without being found, loved without being seen. He is powerful without contrivance, self-standing without the changing of states, safe from a decline in kingship, transcendent in essence and attribute, without beginning and end, described by the description of majesty and the attribute of beauty. He saw the servants’ incapacity to recognize His measure and He knew that as much as they tried, they would not arrive. As much as they hoped, they would not recognize. The exalted Qur’an gives witness to their incapacity: “They measured not God with the rightful due of His measure” [6:91]. In the perfection of His exaltedness, majesty, and holiness, He made them His deputies in laudation of Him, taught them how to praise Him, and gave them permission to do so. Otherwise, who would dream of saying “Praise belongs to God” if He had not said it Himself? Who in the whole world would have the gall to say, “Praise belongs to God”?
the face has itself as a moon,
the eye has itself as collyrium.
Who knows You? It is You who know You, You.
No one knows You—You alone know You.
O worthy of Your own laudation, O giver of thanks for Your own bestowal! In my essence, I am incapable of Your service, and with my own intellect, I am incapable of recognizing Your favor. In my entire self, I am incapable of joy in You, and with my own ability, I am incapable of what is worthy for You. O Generous! I am seized by the pain whose cure is You. I am a servant of the laudation that is worthy of You. What do I know of You? You know. You are what You said You are—that is You.
Know also that praise is of two sorts: one at seeing blessings, the other at seeing the Beneficent. That which is at seeing blessings extols Him, puts His blessings to work through obedience, and girds up the loins in thanking Him so as to increase blessings today and convey to paradise tomorrow. Thus, the Prophet said, “The first to be called to the Garden will be those who fully praise God in every state.” This is the final end of him whose praise is at seeing blessings.
As for him whose praise is at seeing the Beneficent, the tongue of his state says,
“Poverty did not drive us from the land of our kinsmen— we came to find happiness at encountering You.”
“O idol, we didn’t come to look at the world!”
The two worlds became lost in friendship, and friendship became lost in the Friend. Now I cannot say that it is I, nor can I say that it is He.
I have an eye, all of it filled with the form of the Friend.
Happy am I with my eye so long as the Friend is within it.
Separating the eye from the Friend is not good—
either He’s in place of the eye, or the eye itself is He.
The Lord of the Worlds, that is, the nurturer of the world’s folk and the one who assigns their daily provision. The portion of one is the nurture of the body, the portion of another is the nurture of the heart. He is the nurturer of one person’s body with blessings, the nurturer of another’s heart with the Patron of Blessings. Blessings are the portion of him who does not put aside struggle in service. The mystery of the Patron of Blessings is the portion of him whose hope is to see Him. Wanting to see the Friend is the attribute of the Men. Who is more victorious than he who sees the Friend face-to-face?
Great is the aspiration of the eye that wants to see You—
is it not enough for an eye that You see him who sees You?
The nourishment of the friends’ hearts, which they put to work as the nurture of their spirit and which is conveyed to them night and day from the Exalted Presence, is what was said by the world’s paragon: “I spend the night at my Lord; He gives me to eat and drink.”
Courtesy: ‘The eyesight did not swerve, nor did it trespass’ [53:17].
The creatures of the world want paradise, but paradise wants Salmān, as in the report: “Surely the Garden is yearning for Salmān.” Therefore, He will not give him to paradise tomorrow, for He will pass him over the Fire and set him down in the Presence of Unity at the station of face-to-face vision. “The patient poor will be God’s sitting companions on the Day of Resurrection.” If you want this day, come outside of yourself like a snake from its skin. Do not approve of anything for yourself but His threshold, for the settledness of the hearts of His friends in the courtyard of holiness.
You need to have ʿAdhrā’s face and to sit at Wāmiq’s door,
you need to have Abū Dardā’s passion and go forth like Salmān.
1:2 The All-Merciful, the Ever-Merciful.
He is the All-Merciful inasmuch as He vivifies, the Ever-Merciful inasmuch as He displays. The vivification is through acts of kindness, the display through lights. He is the All-Merciful who eases the road of wage-earning, the Ever-Merciful who lights up the candle of friendship in the road of the friends. The wage-earner is always toiling in hope of houris and palaces, the friend is inundated by light in the sea of face-to-face vision.
The day I reach union with You
I will disdain the state of the paradise-dwellers.
He is the All-Merciful who gives the strivers the success of struggle, and the Ever-Merciful who gives the finders the realization of contemplation. The former is the state of the desirer, the latter the state of the desired. The desirer goes forth with the lamp of success and reaches contemplation, the desired goes forth with the candle of realization and reaches face-to-face vision. Contemplation is the lifting of the barriers between the servant and the Real, face-to-face vision seeing each other such that the servant does not become absent for a moment: He gazes at love with the eye of response, he gazes at the Present with the eye of presence, he gazes at the Solitary with the eye of solitude. Through distance from himself, he becomes near to His nearness, through losing himself he becomes familiar with His apparentness, through absence from himself he becomes present with His generous presence. For He is not far from the strivers, nor lost by the seekers, nor absent from the desirers.
Have mercy on the creatures’ hearts and come out from the veil
so that the seventy-two creeds may end their disputes.
مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ
1:3 The owner of the Day of Doom.
This alludes to the permanence of the kingship of unity and the subsistence of the all-compellingness of the divinity. In other words, the day of every king’s empire ends and disappears, his kingship finishes, and his state changes. But God’s kingship is permanent, today and tomorrow, for it never comes to an end or disappears. In the two worlds, nothing and no one is outside of His kingship and ruling power. No one has a kingship like His kingship. Today He is the Lord of the Worlds and tomorrow the Owner of the Day of Doom, and none of the creatures is like this.
How wonderful! How can the servant do anything? For in the two worlds, ownership and kingship are God’s, without associate, partner, requirement, or need. So where is the servant’s choice? He who has no ownership has no ruling power. And thy Lord creates what He wants and chooses. They have no choice [28:68].
It has been said that doom here is reckoning and reward. He is saying, “The owner and caretaker of calling the servants to account am I.” Thus no one else will become aware of the servants’ defects, lest they be shamed. Even though calling to account is itself to drive home severity, not lifting the veil during the accounting is nothing but generosity. He wants to show generosity after He drives home severity. This is the custom of God: Whenever he strikes a blow of severity, He places on it the balm of generosity.
إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ
1:4 Thee alone we worship, and Thee alone we ask for help.
This alludes to two of the religion’s great pillars, around which revolves the traveling of the religious. The first is to adorn the soul through worship and self-purification. It is to keep oneself adorned with worship that has no eye service and obedience that has no hypocrisy. The other is to purify the soul of associating others with God and of paying attention to power and strength. It is to purify one’s own soul, to keep it cleansed of associationism and corruption, and not to depend on one’s own power and strength.
“Adornment” alludes to everything in the Shariah that ought to be, and “purification” alludes to everything in the Shariah that ought not to be.
Look carefully at these two short words: When someone’s heart has familiarity and brightness, he will understand from them all the laws of the religion. The words of Muṣṭafā will be verified for you: “I was given the all-comprehensive words and my speech was made very concise.”
Thee alone we worship. It has been said that this is sheer tawḥīd, and that it is the belief that nothing other than God is worthy of worship. The worshiper knows that Lordhood is fitting for God and that He is an object of worship without peer, for He is unique and one.
And Thee alone we ask for help. This is an allusion to the recognition of the recognizers. It is recognizing that He is solitary in all acts and that the servant cannot get along by himself without His help. The root of this tawḥīd and the basis of this recognition is that you recognize the Real’s being and oneness; then His ability, knowledge, and loving kindness; then His beautiful doing, friendship, and nearness. The first is the foundation of the submission, the second is the foundation of faith, the third is the foundation of self-purification.
The road of the first recognition is to see the governance of the Artisan in loosening and tying the artifacts. The road of the second recognition is to see the wisdom of the Artisan in oneself and to recognize the correspondences. The road of the third recognition is to see the gentleness of the Patron in doing deeds and putting aside sins. This is the playing field of the recognizers, the alchemy of the lovers, and the path of the elect.
Someone may ask, “What is the wisdom in putting the words Thee alone at the beginning? Why did He not say, ‘We worship Thee’? That would be more concise and have the same meaning.”
The answer is this: This is God’s alerting the servant that he should not let anything come before God. When he looks, he should look from God to himself, not from himself to God. He should look from God to his own worship, not from his own worship to God.
“It is thus that the recognizer finds seeking from finding, not finding from seeking. He finds the cause from the meaning, not the meaning from the cause. The obedient person finds obedience from self-purification, not self-purification from obedience. The disobedient person finds disobedience from chastisement, not chastisement from disobedience.”
The reason for this is that the traveler has gone forth from what has preceded him—neither ability nor incapacity is in his hands. No one can get ahead of God in any deed. Anyone who fancies that he can get ahead of God knows nothing of God. This is why Muṣṭafā said to Abū Bakr when they were in the cave, “Grieve not; surely God is with us” [9:40]. He put the remembrance of the Worshiped One at the front and observed the courtesy of the address. Hence, he was more excellent than Moses who said, “Surely with me is my Lord” [26:62]. Moses looked from himself to God, and Muṣṭafā looked from God to himself. The latter is the center point of togetherness, and the former dispersion itself. How different they are!
“They should look from Him to Him, not from self to Him, for the eyes belong to what they saw at first and the heart to the first Friend.”
اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
1:5 Guide us on the straight path.
This is the wellspring of worship and the marrow of obedience. It is the supplication, asking, pleading, and imploring of the faithful. It is seeking straightness and firm fixity in the religion. It means: “Lead us to this path, make us travel upon it, and make us firm in it.”
The faithful are saying, “O God, show us Your road, then make us go forth on the road, then take us from traveling to being pulled.” These are the three great roots: first showing, then traveling, then being pulled.
Showing is what the Exalted Lord says in “He it is Who shows you His signs” [40:13]. Traveling is what He says in “You shall surely ride stage after stage” [84:19]. Being pulled is what He says in “We brought him near as a confidant” [19:52].
Muṣṭafā asked God for showing. He said, “O God, show us things as they are.” About traveling he said, “Travel! The solitary will be the preceders.” About being pulled he said, “One attraction of the Real is equivalent to all the deeds of jinn and men.”
In this verse, the faithful ask for all three of these from God, for not everyone who sees the road travels the road, and not everyone who travels the road reaches the destination. Many there are who hear but do not see, many there are who see but do not recognize, and many there are who recognize but do not find.
Concerning words, “Guide us,” it has been said, “Cut off our secret cores from witnessing the others, display in our hearts the dawning lights, isolate our intentions from the defilement of traces, take us beyond the way stations of seeking and inference to the courtyards of proximity and union, prevent us from taking repose in likenesses and shapes by treating us with the gentleness of finding union, and unveil to us thereby the witnessing of majesty and beauty.”
صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّآلِّينَ
1:6 The path of those whom Thou hast blessed, not of those who incur wrath, nor of the misguided.
It has been said that this is the road and traveling of the Companions of the Cave. The faithful want to say, “O Lord, complete for us our road without us, just as You were bountiful toward the Companions of the Cave and placed Your caress upon them. You placed them on the cushion of closeness and You Yourself undertook to pull them. You said, ‘Go into this cave and sleep well, for We have taken your sleep to be as the worship of the world’s folk.’ O Lord, give us a portion of that blessing and caress! Just as You with Your bounty completed their work without them, so also with Your bounty complete our work without us. For, whatever we do is to our loss, and whatever You do is the foundation of exaltedness in the two worlds.”
“O God, we cannot complete this work without You, nor do we have the gall to complete it away from You. Whenever we fancy, we have arrived, we fall back in the bewilderment of our account. O Lord, where will we find again that day when You belonged to us and we were not? Until we reach that day again, we will be in the midst of fire and smoke. If we find that day again in the two worlds, we will profit. If we find Your being for ourselves, we will be pleased with our own nonbeing.”
It has also been saying, “Those whom Thou hast blessed with the submission and the Sunnah.” He tied the submission and the Sunnah together because, as long as the two are not joined, the servant will not have the straightness of the religion. It is mentioned in the traditions that Shāfiʿī said, “I saw the Real in a dream. He said to me, ‘Ask a favor of me, O son of Idrīs!’ I said, ‘Make me die in the submission.’ God said, ‘Say, “And in the Sunnah.” Ask for both from Me.’”
This is because there is no submission without the Sunnah, and whatever is with the Sunnah is the true religion. Hence Muṣṭafā said, “There are no words without deeds, no words and deeds without intention, and no words, deeds, and intention without hitting the mark in the Sunnah.”
It has been said that the submission is like a spring of water. Trees have no escape from a spring of water, and in the same way, the submission has no escape from the Sunnah. Every breast that comes to be adorned with the exaltedness of the submission has become a place where the light of the Sunnah has appeared to the submission. This is why the Lord of the Worlds says, “Is he whose breast God has expanded for the submission, so he is upon a light from his Lord…” [39:22]. It has been said that this is the light of the Sunnah.
It has come in the reports that tomorrow at the gathering place of the resurrection and the assembly of harshness when the folk of the seven heavens and the seven earths are mustered, everyone’s feet will be stuck in his own deeds, his head thrown down, helpless in his own work, confounded and bewildered, falling and getting up, thirsty and naked. All at once a fragrant and perfumed person will stroll out from the hiding places of the Unseen and disclose himself. The breeze of that fragrance will reach the nostrils of the folk of felicity. Everyone will become sweet-smelling and will rejoice. They will say, “Lord God, what fragrance and comfort is this? What beauty and perfection is this?” The address will come, “This is the face of the beauty of Our Messenger’s Sunnah. Whoever was a follower of the Sunnah in the house of the decree, I give him permission to set the foot of security in the pavilion of his exaltedness. Whoever was a stranger to the Sunnah in that house—I will send him down to the Fire. I will give him over to hell, for today also he is stranger and rejected.”
Not of those who incur wrath, nor of the misguided. O Lord, do not make us be among those whom You have turned over to themselves so that they have been wounded by the sword of separation and fastened by the nail of rejection.
Indeed, what burden can be pulled by a broken rope? What use is the striving of an unworthy servant, living in estrangement? Today he has fallen from the road and fancied the crooked road to be straight. Tomorrow the tree of despair will give fruit and disowned individuals will appear. The crier of justice will let out the call of disowning: “Their effort was misguided in the life of this world, and they were reckoning that they were doing beautiful artisanry” [18:104].
Luck has gone beyond the highest summit,
Kingdom’s throne is like that of Solomon.
When I measured in the scale of intelligence,
my bags were emptier than the storehouses of the lowly.
Let us now conclude the Surah of Praise with one of the subtle points of the religion. Know that this surah is called “the key to the Garden.” It is the key to paradise because the gates of paradise are eight, and the opening of each door is specific to one sort of knowledge from the Qur’an. Unless, you learn these eight sorts and unless you believe in them, the doors will not be opened to you. The Surah of Praise comprises those eight sorts that are the keys of paradise.
First is the mention of the Lord’s Essence: Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds. Second is the mention of the attributes: the All-Merciful, the Ever-Merciful. The third is the mention of the acts: Thee alone we worship. Fourth is the mention of the Return: And Thee alone we ask for help. Fifth is the mention of the purification of the soul from blights: Guide us on the Straight Path, and sixth is the adornment of the soul with good deeds. Both this adornment and that purification are clarifications of the Straight Path. Seventh is the mention of the states of the friends and God’s approval of them: The path of those whom Thou hast blessed. Eighth is the mention of the states of the estranged and the Lord’s wrath toward them: Not of those who incur wrath, nor of the misguided.
Each of these eight sorts of knowledge, by reason of the reports and traditions, is one of the doors of paradise, and all are found in this surah. Hence, if someone recites this surah with self-purification, the doors of the eight paradises will be opened to him—today the paradise of recognition, and tomorrow the paradise of approval in the neighborhood of the All-Merciful. “There will be nothing between them and gazing upon their Lord except the mantle of magnificence on His face in the Garden of Eden.” This is a sound report from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Thank you for reading!