Pondering Over the Qur’an

Pondering Over the Qur’an
Tafsir of Bismillahi-r-Rahmani-r Rahim and Surah al-Fatiha

Islahi’s tafsir, translated into English by Mohammad Saleem Kayani, demonstrates that a logical sequence and coherence exists in the divinely inspired arrangement of the Qur’an’s surahs and between the verses in each surah. Islahi does not digress into scholastic or legalistic issues, but merely focuses on the analysis of key words, using many examples from the Qur’an and hadith.

He contends that the principle of coherence (nazm) lies at the core of Qur’anic exegesis, transforming every surah into a distinct unit, binding all its parts together. Historically speaking, the idea of coherence is not new and has always been present in the works of various scholars such as Al Khattabi (319-388/931-998), Al Baqillani (388-403/950-1013), Al Jurjani (d. 471/1078), and az Zamakhshari (467-538/1075-1144).

Islahi shows that every surah has its unifying theme (amud) and must be interpreted in that context. Furthermore, a logical link exists between one surah and the subsequent one. It is through this perspective, that Islahi provides the exegesis of Bismillahi-r-Rahmani-r-Rahim and Surah al Fatiha.

He gives some advice to those embarking on the journey of understanding the Qur’an. Islahi advises that readers of the Qur’an should have sincere intentions, accept the Qur’an as a sublime book, be ready to change morally and spiritually through embracing Qur’anic guidance, study the Qur’an with an open mind and receptive heart, and supplicate to Allah for guidance and help.

Islahi suggests that the opening verse to every surah in the Qur’an, Bismillahi-r-Rahmani-r-Rahim, is a prayer that invokes the conscious yearning of human nature to the Divine in a short beautiful phrase. Reciting Bismillahi-r-Rahmani-r-Rahim reveals that an individual intends to act in accordance with Allah’s will.

It literally means In the Name of Allah, the Original Creator of the Heavens and Earth who is Rahman, merciful in a passionate or fervent way, and Rahim, merciful in a perpetual, continuous or constant way. Each of the two attributes show aspects of his mercy, one stressing the overwhelming compassion, and the second stressing its constant nature.

Islahi defines Bismillahi-r-Rahmani-r-Rahim as the sacred opening to each surah, contrary to the jurists of Makkah and Kufa, that hold that the verse is a constituent part of Surah al Fatiha and other surahs in the Qur’an.

Surah al Fatiha is in the form of a supplication and it reflects the innate need we have for divine guidance. The first verse has to do with expressing gratitude or thanks to Our Sustainer (Rab) for the infinite blessings He has bestowed upon us. He is the Sustainer and owner of all creation. The second verse calls upon his divine attributes, Ar Rahmin and Ar-Rahim, which have already been defined. The third verse claims that Allah alone will be the Sovereign over the Day of Recompense, which will be a reward for the good and a punishment for evil and wickedness. This verse clearly indicates how just Allah is because on this day good will be distinguished from evil and evil-doers will be distinguished from devout worshippers.

The fourth verse, You alone we worship and You alone we call upon for help, demonstrates the submissiveness and humility that an individual ought to feel in front of his or her Creator. The duty of man is to worship the Sustainer and call upon none else and in return, the Sustainer will help him and bless him.

The first four verses deal with the individual’s rights towards the Creator while the following verses deal with the rights that the individual humbly seeks from Allah.

In the fifth verse, the supplicant asks Allah to not only show him but to grant him a will and desire to pursue the right or straight path. It also implies that once Allah has guided the supplicant there, that Allah would give the supplicant enough strength and endurance to stay on the path.

The sixth verse defines the straight path as the path that Allah has led his faithful servants to. Explaining this straight line, the Prophet, sallalahu alahi wa sallam, drew a straight line and some crooked lines on either side saying, “This (straight line) is the path of Allah and these are the crooked alleyways, at the head of each of which stand a satan calling people to it.”

The path is further described in the seventh verse, as that one not taken by those who have incurred Divine wrath nor strayed from the straight way. Those who have incurred Divine wrath include two groups of people. The first are those who were given Divine Guidance from Allah and not only rejected it but also persecuted those who chose to follow it. The second group refers to those who responded reluctantly to the Divine Guidance and either lost part of their teachings or distorted it to suit their interests.

The other group of people, dallin, alludes to those people who committed excesses in their religion and made up a whole new religion on false beliefs, desires, and whims. The Qur’an describes them as people lead astray and leading others astray.

Surah al Fatiha initially deals with Tawheed, belief in Oneness of God. Tawheed makes us realize the bountiful sustenance that Allah has provided for us. Then, the Surah refers to the Akhira, Hereafter, the inevitable coming of a day when all people will be judged equitably and justly.

In search of Tawheed and excelling in the Akhira, the Surah offers the searcher a noble objective in life to fulfil the purpose for which he or she was created.

Surah al Fatiha is the introduction to the Qur’an as well as the essence of the Qur’an. It explains the basis of Divine Law and defines the broad framework of religion. The reason for its revelation is to guide all human beings.

Islahi finds a relationship between each subsequent Surah and draws on an important point. He finds that Surah al Fatiha ends with “Guide us the straight way-the way of those whom You have favoured those who have not incurred Your displeasure, and those who have not gone astray.” Immediately afterwards, follows Surah al Baqara with the words “Alif Lam Mim, this is the Book (of Allah); there is no doubt that it is from Allah and a guidance for those who fear Him.” It is as if the divine guidance that we ask for in Surah al Fatiha is given straight away in the subsequent surah, Surah al Baqara.

Islahi’s Qur’anic exegesis is insightful and enriching. He provides a basic means to reading and interpreting the Qur’an. His analysis of key words helps capture the apparent and hidden meanings within the text.

Ustadh Mohammed Saleem Kayani’s English translation of Islahi’s Tadabbur–e-Qur’an is to be commended for making a rich tradition of Urdu tafsir literature - in particular the Farahi-Islahi school - accessible to English readers in a compact and concise form.