Al-Fatiha: The Most Comprehensive Prayer

Written by | Holy Quran, Islam, Prayer

Prayer, by definition, is “a solemn request for help or expres- sion of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.” (1)

The concept of prayer exists in every faith in one form or another. In Islam, prayer has different forms. Obligatory prayer (Salat) is the second pillar of Islam, a ritual offered 5 times daily by every practicing Muslim. There are prayers befitting to different occasions prescribed in the Holy Qur’an, and by the Holy Prophet (sa) of Islam, as well as prayers prescribed by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the Promised Messiah and Mahdi of this age.

The most comprehensive prayer prescribed in the Holy Qur’an appears in its opening chapter (surah) and it is recited from two to four times in every institutional obligatory as well as voluntary prayer. It is known as Surah Al-Fatiha.

Surah Al-Fatiha was revealed at Mecca, and from the very beginning, it formed part of the Muslim Prayer. This Surah (chapter) has been referred to in the Qur’anic verse, “We have indeed given thee the seven oft-repeated verses and the great Qur’an,” (2) which was revealed at Mecca. Accord- ing to some reports, the Surah was also revealed a second time at Medina. The time of its first revelation may be placed very early in the Prophet’s ministry.

Although this Surah is known primarily as Al-Fatiha, it has been given a number of additional names, ten of which are as follows:

“Al-Fatihah-tal-Kitab, As-Salat, Al- Hamd, Ummul-Qur’an, Al-Qur’anul-‘Azim, As-Sab‘ul-Mathani, Ummul-Kitab, Ash-Shifa’, Ar-Ruqyah, and Al-Kanz.”(3)

  • Fatihatul-Kitab (Opening Chapter of the Book) signifies that the Surah, having been placed in the beginning, serves as a key to the whole subject-matter of the Qur’an.
  • As-Salat (The Prayer) signifies that it forms a complete and perfect prayer and constitutes an integral part of the institutional Prayers of Islam.
  • Al-Hamd (The Praise) signifies that the Surah brings to light the lofty purpose of man’s creation and teaches that the relation of God to man is one of grace and mercy.
  • Ummul-Qur’an (Mother of the Qur’an) signifies that the Surah forms an epitome of the whole of the Qur’an, contain- ing, in a nutshell, all the knowledge that has a bearing on man’s moral and spiritual development.
  • Al-Qur’anul-‘Azim (The Great Qur’an) signifies that although the Surah is known as Ummul-Kitab and Ummul-Qur’an, it nevertheless forms part of the Holy Book and is not separate from it, as mistakenly considered by some.
  • As-Sab‘ul-Mathani (The Oft-repeated Seven Verses) signifies that the seven short verses of the Chapter virtually fulfill all spiritual needs of man. It also signifies that the Chapter must be repeated in every Rak‘at of Prayer.
  • Ummul-Kitab (Mother of the Book) signifies that the prayer contained in the Chapter was the cause of the revelation of the Qur’anic Dispensation.
  • As-Shifa (The Cure) signifies that it provides a remedy for all the legitimate doubts and misgivings of man.
  • Ar-Ruqyah (The Charm) signifies that it is not only a prayer to ward off disease but also provides protection against Satan and his followers and strengthens the heart of man against them.
  • Al-Kanz (The Treasure) signifies that the Surah is an inexhaustible storehouse of knowledge.

Al-Fatiha Referred to in a Prophecy of the New Testament.

It is interesting to note that this very name occurs in a New Testament prophecy.

In Revelations 10: 1-2 it is written:

“I saw another mighty angel come down from  heaven… and he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth.”(4) The Hebrew word for ‘open’ is fatoah which is the same as the Arabic word Fatiha.

Revelations 10: 3-4 says:

“And when he (the angel) had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.”

The seven thunders represent the seven verses of this chap- ter. Christian scholars admit that the prophecy refers to the second advent of Jesus Christ, and this has been established by concrete facts. (5)

The Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), who claimed to have fulfilled the prophecy relating to the second advent of Jesus, constantly had in his hands the little chapter, Al-Fatiha, and wrote several commentaries on it. He deduced arguments of his truth from its contents, and often referred to it in his speeches and writings and always used it as a model prayer, exhorting his disciples to do the same. He deduced from the seven short verses of this chapter the truths that were not known before. It was as if the chapter had been a sealed book until its treasures were discovered by Hazrat Ahmad (as). This, then, fulfilled the prophecy contained in Revelations 10:4:

“And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, “Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered and write them not.” This prophecy referred to the fact that the Fatoah or Al Fatiha would, for a time, remain a closed book, but that a time would come when it would become open.”(6)

Subject Matter

According to the description of the subject matter of Surah Al-Fatiha by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad, Khalifatul-Masih II (ra), as translated in the five-volume commentary of the Holy Qur’an, the chapter contains the essence of the entire Qur’anic teaching. It comprises all the subjects dealt with at length in the body of the Qur’an. The chapter starts with a description of the fundamental attributes of God, the pivot around which all the other divine attributes revolve, the basis of the working of the universe and of the relations between God and man.

The following attributes—Rabb (the Creator, Sustainer and Developer), Rahman (the Gracious), Rahim (the Merciful), and Malik Yaum al-Din (Master of the Day of Judgment)—signify that after creating man, God endowed him with the best capacities and capabilities and provided the means and material needed for his physical, social, moral and spiritual development. Further, He made a provision that all labors and endeavors of man should be granted ample reward.

The chapter goes on to say that man has been created for ibadat, i.e., the worship of God and the attainment of His nearness, and that he constantly needs His help for the fulfillment of this supreme objective of his creation.

Then we have a comprehensive prayer in which all the urges of the human soul find full expression. The prayer teaches us that we should always seek and invoke the assistance of God that He may provide us with the means required for our success in this life and the life to come. And as man is apt to derive strength and encouragement from the good example of those noble and great souls who led successful lives  in the past, he is taught to pray that just as those righteous and God-fearing men achieved the object of their life through God’s help and assistance, and their labors were crowned with success, God should open for him as well the avenues of moral and spiritual progress.

Finally, the prayer contains a warning that after having been led to the right path, man sometimes strays away from it, loses sight of his goal and becomes estranged from his Creator. We are taught to remain always on our guard and constantly seek God’s protection against any possible estrangement from Him.

This is the subject that is put in a nutshell in Al-Fatiha, and this is the subject with which the Qur’an deals fully and comprehensively, citing numerous examples for the guidance of the reader. (3)

Relation of Surah Al-Fatiha to the Rest of the Holy Qur’an

The chapter (Surah Al-Fatiha) not only forms the introduction to the Qur’an, it is an epitome of the whole Book. Thus, at the onset of any study, the reader knows in broad outline the subjects he should expect to find in the Qur’an. The Holy Prophet (sa) is reported to have said that the chapter Al-Fatiha is the most important of the chapters of the Qur’an. (8)

The Promised Messiah (as) has penned a wonderful exposition of Surah Al-Fatiha uncovering its hidden treasures of spiritual and temporal knowledge.

Photo by Gian D. on Unsplash

Surah Al-Fatiha and the Rose

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) had a revelation in which Surah Al-Fatiha was compared to a rose. The rose has such external and internal beauties that make this flower of such excellent quality that human resources fall utterly short of reproducing it’s like. He (as) relates that the excellence of Surah Al-Fatiha are in all respects similar to the wonders and excellence of the rose and that indeed they far exceed them.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) narrates the vision as follows,

“I beheld myself holding Surah Fatiha, which had an exceedingly lovely shape in my hand. The paper on which it was inscribed appeared as if it was loaded with countless red and delicate roses. Every time this humble servant of Allah recited a verse of the surah, a number of these roses rose into the air with a sweet cadence. These roses were very soft, big, bright, moist, fresh and sweet-smelling, filling the heart and head with fragrance as they soared, thus inducing a state of ineffable joyousness in mind altogether above and withdrawn from the world and all that it holds.” (9)

The Promised Messiah (as) in the discourse on Surah Al-Fatiha states that,

“There are four grades of excellence which it is the duty of every believer to aspire after. One who has no part in them at all is devoid of faith. That is why Allah, the Lord of glory, has appointed for Muslims the prayer: Guide us along the straight path, the path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy favors, so that they should keep supplicating for these four grades. In another place (4.70) the Holy  Qur’an explains that the favored ones are the Prophets, the righteous, the martyrs and the virtuous. The perfect man combines these excellences in his person.” (10)

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) further explains that God has appointed from the beginning two parties of Muslims and the expression “the favored ones” in Surah Al-Fatiha points to them. These parties are:

  1. The forerunners, that is the community of the Holy Prophet of Islam (sa); and
  2. The latter party, that is, the community of the Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian.(11)

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) reminds us that Allah has directed us to supplicate the following in our five daily Prayer services:

“Lord, guide us along the way of Thy favored servants. They are the Prophets, the righteous, the martyrs and the virtu- ous. The purpose of this prayer is that you should repair to whichever of these groups you should find in your day and should seek to derive profit from their company.”(12)

Surah Al-Fatiha comprises most comprehensively all that man needs to know concerning his origin and his end (life here and in the hereafter) and the purpose of his creation, that is, all the reasoning in support of the Existence of the Creator, and the need of Prophethood and Khilafat among His servants. Its chief import is that it furnishes tidings concerning the advent of the awaited Messiah and Mahdi.

{This article appears in the Fall 2018 issue.}

References:  

1.         Prayer: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer)

2.         The Holy Qur’an (15:88)

3.         Malik Ghulam Farid, “The Holy Qur’an; Translation and short commentary,” Page 1, Islam International publications Ltd, (UK) 2016. (https://www.alislam.org/quran/Holy-Quran-Short-Commentary.pdf)

4.         The Holy Bible: Revelations. 10: 1-2

5.         The Holy Bible: Revelations. 10: 3-4

6.         The Holy Bible: Revelations 10: 4

7.         Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad (ra), “Five Volume Commentary,” Page 2. Islam International publications Ltd., 1988. (English translation of

8. Tafseer-e Kabeer) (https://www.alislam.org/quran/five-vol/Part%2001.pdf) Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad (ra), “Five Volume Commentary,” Page 3. Islam International publications Ltd., 1988. (https://www.alislam.org/quran/five-vol/Part%2001.pdf)

9. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (as), “Commentary on The Holy Qur’an,” Surah Fatiha, Volume I, Page 5. Translated by Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, (https://www.alislam.org/quran/Commentary-on-Surah-Fatiha.pdf)

10. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (as), “Commentary on The Holy Qur’an,” Surah Fatiha, Volume I, Page 238, Translated by Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, (https://www.alislam.org/quran/Commentary-on-Surah-Fatiha.pdf)

11. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (as), “Tuhfa Golarviya,” pp. 80-81.

12. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (as), “Commentary on The Holy Qur’an,” Surah Fatiha, Volume I, Page 240. Translated by Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, (https://www.alislam.org/quran/Commentary-on-Surah-Fatiha.pdf)

Last modified: April 2019

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