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Is the Basmala a Quranic Verse?

The opinions of the Muslims who emphasize personal reasoning (ahl al-ra'y) have differed on this. Malik and al-Awza'i have said that the verse is not a part of the Qur'an and have unanimously forbidden its recitation in the obligatory [prayers] whether it be at the beginning of sura al-Hamd or the sura after it, or whether it (the prayer) is recited loudly or silently. Yes, they have allowed it's recitation in the supererogatory prayers.

As for Abu Hanifa, al-Thawri and their followers, they recited it at the beginning of the mother of the Qur'an (sura al-fatiha) but they made it compulsory to recite it silently even when the prayers are recited loudly. This shows their agreement with Malik and al-Awza'i; maybe it proves it since we do not know the reason for reciting it silently in the prayers recited loudly except if it (the basmala) is not a part of the mother of the book.

But al-Shafi'i recited it (the basmala) loudly in the loud prayers and in the silent prayers he recited it silently. He counted it as a verse in the opening [chapter] of the book. This is [also] the opinion of Ahmad b. Hanbal, Abu Thawr and Abu 'Ubayd. Differing reports have been reported from al-Shafi'i as to whether it is a verse in every chapter except for sura al-Bara'a (chapter 9) or whether it is not a verse except for the mother of the book. Both reports have been transmitted from him. But the researchers amongst his companions have agreed that the basmala is a part of all the chapters. They have interpreted away the two sayings reported from their Imam, al-Shafi'i.

As for us - the Imami community - we have agreed, in following the Imams of guidance of the family of the Prophet hood - that it is a complete verse in the sab' al-mathani (the seven most repeated verses) and of every chapter in the great Qur'an except for [the chapter of] al-Bara'a (chapter 9) and that one who omits it intentionally in the prayer, his prayer becomes invalid whether it be an obligatory or recommended prayer. [We have also agreed that] it is essential to recite it loudly when the prayer is offered loudly and that it is recommended to recite it loudly in the silent prayers and that it is part of a verse of sura al-Naml (chapter 27). The textual proofs of our Imams in all of this are overwhelming and it's meaning successively transmitted .The contents are clear to refute their opposition to it (the basmala) like the saying of Imam Abu 'Abd Allah al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, "What is it with them? They depend on the greatest verse in the book of God, the Almighty, the most Glorious, and they claim it is an innovation if they declare 'In the name of God the most merciful, the most beneficent' openly."

Our argument is based on the path of the masses and it's authentic traditions which are many:

First: What has been established from Ibn Jurayj from his father from Sa'id b. Jubayr from Ibn 'Abbas on the saying of the most High: "We have given you the seven most repeated verses." He said: "The opening [chapter] of the book, in the name of God most beneficent, most compassionate; Praise be to the Lord of the Universe and he recited the chapter." Ibn Jurayj said: "I said to my father: 'Did Sa'id tell you from Ibn 'Abbas that he said: 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' is a verse?' He replied: 'Yes.'" This hadith has been reported by al-Hakim in his al-Mustadrak and al-Dhahabi in his al-Talkhis; they have both declared that its chain of transmission (isnad) is correct.

Second: What has been correctly reported from Ibn 'Abbas. He said: "When Gapiel used to come to the Prophet (P) and would recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' he would know that it was a chapter [to be revealed]."

Third: What has also been correctly reported from Ibn 'Abbas who said: "The Prophet did not use to know the end of a chapter until 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' was revealed."

Fourth: What has also been correctly reported from him: "The Muslims did not know the end of a chapter until 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' was revealed. When 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' was revealed they realized that the chapter had ended."

Fifth: What has been correctly reported from Umm Salama. She said: "The Prophet (P) used to recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent, Praise be to God the Lord of the Universe' to the end of the chapter, he would recite it word by word." It is also reported from Umm Salama by another chain that she said: "Indeed the Prophet of God (P) would recite in the prayer 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' and would count it as a verse. Praise be to God, the Lord of the Universe [would be] two verses, the most beneficent, most merciful, three verses, the master of the day of judgement, the fourth, You alone do we worship and from You alone we seek help, and he gathered five fingers."

Sixth: What has been correctly reported from Na'im al-Mijmar. He said: "I was behind Abu Hurayra and he recited 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' then he recited the mother of the Qur'an until he reached 'and amongst those who have gone astray' and he said: 'amin' and the people said: 'amin' When he recited the greetings (salam) he said: 'By Him in whose hand is my soul, I am portraying the prayer of the Prophet of God (P).'"

Also from Abu Hurayra who said: "The Prophet of God (P) would recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' loudly in the prayer."

Seven: What has been correctly reported from Anas b. Malik: He said: "Mu'awiya led the prayer in Medina, he recited it loudly and he recited in it 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' at the beginning of the mother of the Qur'an but he did not recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' for the sura after it until he completed that recitation. When he recited the salam, the Muhajirun and Ansar who had heard [the recitation] yelled from all sides: 'O Mu'awiya, did you steal [something] from the prayer or did you forget?' After that, whenever he prayed, he would recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' in the sura after the mother of the Qur'an.'" This hadith has been reported by al-Hakim in his al-Mustadrak and has met the conditions stipulated by Muslim. More than one author of the Musnad works have reported it like Imam al-Shafi'i in his Musnad. He added his comments to it which are interesting for us to cite. He said: "Mu'awiya was a ruler of great power and might. If the loud recitation of the tasmiya (basmala) had not been established amongst all the Muhajirun and Ansar companions, they would not have been able to exhibit their disapproval when he omitted the tasmiya."

We have a comment on this tradition which every researcher should take note of: One who examines this hadith will find proofs in it for our rulings on reciting the basmala and on not allowing the division of the sura which is recited in the prayer after the mother of the Qur'an since there was no reason for their refuting it except based on our ruling on the two issues.

Eight: What has been correctly reported from Anas also from another chain. He said: "I heard the Prophet (P) reciting in the prayer 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' loudly."

Ninth: What has been correctly reported from Muhammad b. al-Sirri al-'Asqalani: He said: "I prayed behind al-Mu'tamir b. Sulayman the morning and evening prayers an amount which I cannot [even] count; he used to recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' loudly before the opening [chapter] of the book and after it [at the opening] of the sura. I heard al-Mu'tamir saying: 'I will not desist from following the prayer of my father.' And my father said: 'I will not desist from following the prayer of Anas b. Malik.' And Anas said: 'I will not desist from following the prayer of the Prophet of God (P).'" I figure from this and other traditions that they used to recite, after the mother of the book, the complete sura [starting] with the basmala upto its end, as is our ruling, this is proven by many [other] traditions.

From al-Qatada: He said: "Anas b. Malik was asked: 'How was the recitation of the Prophet of God (P)'? He replied: 'It was elongated, then he recited 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' and he elongated the rahman, he [also] elongated the rahim.'"

From Hamid al-Tawil from Anas b. Malik, he said: "I prayed behind the Prophet (P) and behind Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman and 'Ali; and all of them would recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' loudly."

All these traditions and those before them have been reported by the leader of the muhaddithun (hadith reporters) Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah al-Hakim al-Nisaburi in his al-Mustadrak. He says at the end [of these traditions] "I have cited this tradition as a testimony to what preceded it. These traditions, which we have cited, are opposed to the tradition of Qatada from whom our Imams report - and the words are from Anas - He said: "I prayed behind the Prophet (P) and behind Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman, and I did not hear any of them recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent.'" Al-Hakim then said: "This chapter has [traditions] from the Commander of the faithful, 'Uthman and 'Ali, Talha, Ibn 'Ubayd Allah, Jabir b. 'Abd Allah, 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar, al-Hakam b. 'Umayr al-Thamali, al-Nu'man b. Bashir, Samura b. Jundab, Burayda al-Aslami and 'A'isha, the daughter of the truthful one (may God be pleased with them) all of them are reports I have in a chapter which I have left out for the sake of pevity; I have apidged from them what is germane to this chapter. Similarly, I have mentioned [them] in the chapter on the companions, the successors and their followers (may God be pleased with them) who recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' loudly."

I say: Al-Razi mentions in his Tafsir al-Kabir that al-Bayhaqi narrated [traditions] on reciting "In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent" loudly in his Sunan from 'Umar b. al-Khattab, Ibn 'Abbas, Ibn 'Umar and Ibn al-Zubayr. Then al-Razi says in these words: "As for 'Ali b. Abu Talib's (may God be pleased with him) reciting the tasmiya loudly, this has been established by mutawatir [traditions], one who follows 'Ali b. Abu Talib in his religion is properly guided." (Al-Razi said): "The proof of it is the saying of the Prophet of God (P) 'O God let the truth revolve where 'Ali goes.'"

Sufficient for our proof that the basmala is a Qur'anic verse at the beginning of every chapter except for al-Bara'a is the fact that since the coming of the Qur'an to this day all the companions, the successors and all the followers and the followers of their followers in all the generations of this umma are agreed on this by a consensus which they implement by writing the basmala at the opening of every chapter except for al-Bara'a.

They wrote it (the basmala) just as they wrote all the other verses without any distinctive mark [distinguishing it] even though they all agreed that they would not write anything but the Qur'an in it. Otherwise [they would have] a clear distinctive mark [separating it from the Qur'an] thus ensuring that nothing which is not a part of it (the Qur'an) could be mixed with it. Do you not see how they separated from it (the Qur'an) the names of it's chapters and the symbols of it's thirtieth (ajza') and sixtieth part and its quarters, fifths, tenth parts? They put these outside the chapters in such a way that it can be known that they are outside the Qur'an, thus preserving it and being cautious of it. Maybe you are aware that the umma is hardly united on an issue as completely as it is united on this. This in itself is a proof that "In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent" is an independent verse at the beginning of every chapter, the previous and later generation have written it at its beginning, thanks be to God for [showing] the correct [way].

Also, amongst the famous transmissions of the Prophet of God (P) is his saying: "Every matter of importance which does not begin with 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' will fail and every important matter which doesn't begin with 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' is incomplete or mutilated." It is well known that the Qur'an is the best that Allah has revealed to His Prophets and Messengers and that every chapter in it is important and great. Allah has challenged human beings in it but they failed to ping forth something like it. Is it then possible for the Qur'an to be incomplete? God is most High and His wise criterion (the Qur'an) is most great, His chapters are above all of that completely.

Prayer is [the path to] success, it is the best act as is recited from the highest minarets and pulpits, those in deserts and cities know this. Nothing can equal or compare with it (the prayer) after faith in God, the most High, and in His books and Messengers and the last day. Is it allowable for God, the most High, to legislate it incomplete and mutilated? No pious or corrupt person will dare say this but the pious Imams Malik and al-Awza'i and Abu Hanifa, may God be pleased with them, were negligent of this obligation. Every one who strives to derive rulings from the shari'a proofs is excused and rewarded whether he is right or he errs.

The argument of our opponents on the issue

 

They have argued in [several] ways: One: If the basmala was a verse of al-fatiha then it would mean the repetition of the [words] "most merciful, most compassionate" in the fatiha (since they also occur in the fatiha). Moreover, if it (the basmala) was a part of every chapter, this would mean it would be repeated in the Qur'an 113 times. The answer: Circumstances may require that due to the great importance of the issue and to stress and pay attention to it. There is a lot of this [type of repetition] in the wise book. It is sufficient for you [to note] the chapters of al-Rahman (55), al-Mursalat (77) and al-Kafirun (109). What is more important in this world and the hereafter and deserves more stress and consideration than the name of God most beneficent, most compassionate? Were the Prophets sent and angels descended and heavenly books revealed except by the name of God most beneficent, most compassionate? Guidance is by Him, the most High and Glorious. Were the heavens and earth and those who live in them established except by the name of God most beneficent, most compassionate? "O human beings, remember the blessings of God upon you, is there a creator apart from God, who sustains you from the heavens and earth, there is no god but Him, so how come you fapicate [things]?"

Second: What has been reported from Abu Hurayra as a marfu'u tradition from the Prophet, who said: "God the most High says: 'I apportioned the prayer between Me and My slave into two halves. When the slave says: 'Praise be to the Lord of the Universe', the most High says: 'My slave has praised Me.' And when he says: 'The most merciful, beneficent', God the most High says: 'My slave has lauded me.' And when he says: 'The master of the day of judgement', God the most High says: 'My slave has glorified Me.' And when he says: 'I worship You alone and from You I seek help', God the most High says: 'This is between Me and My slave.'" The reason for it being used as proof is that "In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent" is not mentioned amongst the verses of the fatiha. If it was a verse the tradition would have mentioned it.

The answer: This is contrary to the narration of Ibn 'Abbas, also attributed, with an incomplete chain of transmission, to the Prophet in which it is stated: "I have apportioned the prayer between Me and My slave; when the slave says: 'In the name of God most beneficent, most compassionate' God the most High states: 'My slave has invoked Me.'" The tradition is long but we see from it that it includes the basmala so the tradition of Abu Hurayra is refuted. Moreover, Abu Hurayra reported from the Prophet of God (P) that he recited "In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent" loudly in the prayer. He (Abu Hurayra) would recite it loudly and would say: "I am showing you the prayer of the Prophet of God (P)." His two traditions on this have been presented to you.

Third: What has been reported from 'A'isha: "The Prophet (P) would start the prayer with the takbir (glorifying God) and the recitation of 'Praise be to God, the Lord of the Universe." There is no argument for them based on this [tradition] because 'Praise be to God, the Lord of the Universe' has been made to be the name of this chapter just as you would say: "I recited: 'Say! He is the One Lord'" and so and so recited "We have given you a clear victory" etc. So the meaning of the hadith is that he (P) would begin the prayer with the takbir and by the recitation of this sura the beginning of which is "In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent."

Fourth: The tradition of Ibn Mughfil in which he states: "My father heard me when I was reciting 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' and he said: 'O my son, be careful of innovation, for I have prayed behind the Prophet of God (P), Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman and I did not hear even one of them recite it."

The answer: The Imams of the [science of] wounding and authenticating (al-jarh wa'l-ta'dil) do not know of Ibn Mughfil nor is there any trace of his tradition amongst them. Ibn Rushd has mentioned him when discussing the basmala in his book Bidaya al-Mujtahid but he omitted [to mention] what has been reported from Abu 'Umar b. 'Abd al-Barr in the text that Ibn Mughfil is an unknown person.

Fifth: The report of Shu'ba from Qatada from Anas b. Malik. He said: "I prayed with the Prophet of God (P), Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman and I did not hear anyone of them recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent.'" Similar to this is the hadith of Hamid al-Tawil also reported from Anas. He said: "I stood behind Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman and not one of them would recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent.'"

The answer: You have read our arguments on what has been correctly reported from Anas. It contradicts these two reports, so examine what we have mentioned before. Imam al-Razi has mentioned this report of Anas in the argument with his opponents. Then he says: "The answer to this is from several dimensions - First: Shaykh Abu Hamid al-Asfarayani says: Six reports have been reported from Anas on this topic. As for the Hanafis, they have reported three narrations from him one of which states: 'I prayed behind the Prophet of God (P) and behind Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman and they would start the prayer with 'Praise be to God, the Lord of the Universe.' The second one states: 'They did not used to recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' and the third one states 'I did not hear any one of them recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent.'" These three narrations are in agreement with the view of the Hanafis. He (al-Asfarayani) said: "Another three [reports] contradict these.

The first one is his (Anas') report that when Mu'awiya omitted 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' in the prayer the Muhajirun and Ansar rebuked him and this shows that [reciting] the basmala loudly was like a common practice, well established amongst them." And he said: "The second of them (the report) is reported by Abu Qalaba from Anas that the Prophet of God, peace be upon him and his family, and Abu Bakr and 'Umar would recite 'In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent' loudly" and the third of them (the reports) that he (Anas) was asked about [reciting] "In the name of God most merciful, most beneficent" loudly and persisting in it and he said: "I do not know this issue." Al-Razi said: "It is clear that the reports from Anas on this issue are greatly confused and haphazard; they are contradictory, so it is essential to refer to all the other proofs." Imam al-Razi says: "Also, there is another accusation in this and this is that 'Ali, on whom be peace, would recite the tasmiya in a loudly exaggerated form. When the Banu Umayya came to power they went to extreme lengths in prohibiting the loud recitation [of the basmala], striving to obliterate the memories of 'Ali, peace be upon him.

Al-Razi said: "Perhaps Anas was scared of them (the Umayyads) so for this reason his verdicts were confused." And he said: "Whenever we are uncertain of something, [one thing] we do not doubt is that when there is a contradiction between the likes of Anas and Ibn Mughfil and the verdict of 'Ali b. Abu Talib, peace be upon him, who remained [on the verdict] all his life, it is more appropriate to accept the saying of 'Ali." He said: "This is the decisive answer to the question." Then al-Razi said: "One who takes 'Ali as the Imam of his religion has surely clung firmly to his religion and his self." I say: Thanks be to God who has guided us to this, but for His guidance we would not have been guided.

Adapted from: "Questions on Jurisprudence" by: "Abdul Hussein Shareefaldin Al-Musawi"

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