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Surah al-Fatihah - Interpretation of Bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim

Bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim {In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful}

Among various peoples and communities, there is a custom of beginning an important work with the name of one of the leading figures of that community who is respected and admired, so that the task would be started and pursued with blessing and auspiciousness.


Of course, each person acts according to his or her correct or corrupt ideas and beliefs. Some people commence their tasks with the name of idols and taught while others do the same with the name and assistance of God and the saints of God. Nowadays, it has become the custom that in constructing important buildings, distinguished figures are the first to strike the pickaxe on the ground. Prior to the Battle of the Trench, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was also the first to break the ground in digging the trenches.


Bismillah {In the Name of Allah} is the beginning of the book of revelation. Bismillah is not only the beginning of the Qur’an but rather the beginning of all heavenly scriptures. Bismillah has been the epigraph of the work of all the prophets (PBUH). When the ark of Nuh (Noah) (PBUH) was about to set out amidst the waves in the storm, he asked his followers to embark and then he said: “In the Name of Allah it shall set sail and cast anchor.”‌[1]


When Hadrat Sulayman (Solomon) (A.S) invited the Queen of Sheba (Bilqis) toward God, he began his invitation letter with the phrase, Bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim {In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful}.[2]


Hazrat ‘Ali (A.S) says: “Bismillah is the source of blessing in work, and abandoning it leads to the lack of success of affairs.”‌[3]


He (A.S) also said to someone who was writing the phrase, “Bismillah”‌: “Jawwiduha”‌ {Inscribe it well}. [4]


The recital of “Bismillah”‌ at the beginning of every work has been enjoined””eating, sleeping, riding on an animal (or a vehicle); marriage and matrimony, and many other tasks. Even if an animal is slaughtered without the utterance of “Bismillah”‌, consumption of its meat is unlawful {haram}. The secret behind this is that the food of a goal-oriented religious person must also have a divine connection.


Why do we start each task with “Bismillah”‌?


The products of a factory have the special logo and emblem of that factory. For example, a porcelain-producing factory puts its logo on all its wares, both big and small. Every country has its own flag hoisted above offices and garrisons, on ships and on office tables. In the same manner, the name of God and His remembrance is also the logo and emblem of the Muslim and the phrase, “Bismillah”‌ is the symbol and code of the Muslim.


In every activity, big and small; everywhere, in the mosque or factory; and anytime, in the morning or evening, this blessed phrase is uttered by Muslims, and thus, we read in the hadith: “Do not forget bismillah even in writing a couplet of a poem.”‌ Traditions about the reward of a person who teaches bismillah to a child have also been narrated. [5]


Is Bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim a part of Surah al-Fatihah and a distinct verse {ayah}?


Although some individuals have not regarded it as part of the surah or have abandoned mentioning it in the prayer, these people have been subjected to criticism by Muslims. For example, one day, Mu‘awiyah did not mention bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim in the prayer, and the people strongly protested, saying: “Did you steal an ayah or forget it?”‌[6]


In his tafsir {Qur’anic exegesis}, Fakhr ar-Razi enumerates 16 proofs substantiating the fact that bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim is a constitutive part of Surah al-Fatihah and Alusi also expresses this view in his tafsir. Ahmad ibn Hanbal has equally stated in his Musnad that bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim is a part of the surah.


According to the Ahl al-Bayt [7] (A.S) of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) who were a hundred years senior to the leading fuqaha {jurists} of the Ahl as-Sunnah, who attained martyrdom in the way of Allah and whose infallibility {ismah} and purity have also been stipulated in the Qur’an, the phrase, bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim, is itself a distinct verse and is part of the surah.


The infallible Imams (A.S) insisted on reciting aloud bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim during prayer. Imam al-Baqir (A.S) thus says regarding those who were not reciting it during prayer or not regarding it as part of the surah: “They stole the best verse!”‌[8]


In his commentary on Surah al-Fatihah, ‘Allamah Shahid Mutahhari identifies Ibn al-‘Abbas, ‘Asim, Kasa’i, Ibn ‘Umar, Ibn Zubayr, ‘Ata’, Tawus, Fakhr ar-Razi, and as-Suyuti as among those who have regarded bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim as part of the surah.


Of course, there is no bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim at the beginning of Surah al-Bara’ah (Surah at-Tawbah). According to Hazrat ‘Ali (A.S), it is because bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim is a phrase of security and mercy and it is not consistent with the declaration of disavowal {bara’ah} of the polytheists.


Bismillah {In the Name of Allah}


Bismillah is the indicator of divine baptism {sibghat Allah}, and the mark of our monotheistic orientation. Bismillah is the code of tawhid {monotheism} while the name of others is the code of kufr {infidelity} and the name of God along with others is the sign of shirk {polytheism}. We should not place the name of others beside the Name of God or put the names of others in the place of God’s Name. The meaning of “Celebrate the Name of your Lord”‌[9] is that even the Name of God should also be free from any sort of polytheism.


Bismillah is the secret of eternity and perpetuity, and anything that is devoid of the “divine color”‌ is perishable.[10]


Bismillah is the code of love for God and reliance on Him.


Bismillah is the code for keeping aloof from vanity and the expression of impotence in the presence of God.


Bismillah is the code for ensuring actions with the name of God.


Bismillah is the code for the sanctification of actions.


Bismillah is the code for the perpetual remembrance and glorification of God””“O God! I will never forget You in any situation.”‌


Bismillah is the expression of man’s objective””“O God! You are my aim; not the people, not the world and not capricious desires.


Bismillah means that we seek help from Him alone and not from others.


Bismillah is indicative of the fact that the content of the surah has been revealed from the Genesis of Truth {mabda’-e haqq} and the Embodiment of Mercy {mazhar-e rahmat}.




[1] Surah Hud 11:41.


[2] Surah an-Naml 27:30: “It is from Solomon, and it begins in the name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful.”‌


[3] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 76, p. 385.


[4] Kanz al-‘Ummal, hadith 29558.


[5] Tafsir Burhan, vol. 1, p. 43.


[6] Mustadrak al-Hakim, vol. 3, p. 233.


[7] Ahl al-Bayt: according to authentic hadiths recorded in both the Sunni and Shi‘ah sources, the term Ahl al-Bayt, and interchangeably Itrah and Al, is a blessed Qur’anic appellation that belongs exclusively to the Prophet, ‘Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Hussein (A.S). The members of this Family of five, with the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) at its head, were the ones alive at the time the Qur’anic verses regarding their virtue were being revealed to the Prophet (PBUH). However, nine other Imams from the descendants of Imam Hussein (A.S) are also included in this chosen Family, the final one being Imam Mahdi (A.S).{Trans.}


[8] Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, vol. 3, p. 177; vol. 4, p. 85.


[9] Surah al-A‘la 87:1.


[10] Surah al-Qasas 28:88: “Everything is to perish except His Face.”‌




Source: A Commentary on Prayer by Muhsin Qara’ati

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