Tafsir Zone - Surah 1: al-Fatihah (The Opening)

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Fatihah 1:1

Overview (Verse 1)

The sūrah opens with the phrase:

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. (Verse 1)

This is recognized by the majority of scholars as a verse of the sūrah, in its own right, completing its verses into seven. There is, however, a difference of opinion over whether this is so with respect to all other sūrahs of the Qur’ān in which the same words appear as the opening phrase. Some scholars maintain that it is to the Fātiĥah that the following Qur’ānic statement refers: “We have given you seven oft- repeated verses and this sublime Qur’ān.” (15: 87)

The very first verses of the Qur’ān revealed to Prophet Muĥammad, which begin with: “Read in the name of your Lord...” (96: 1) establish the Islamic etiquette of invoking the name of God at the beginning of every action. This is also in line with the fundamental Islamic principle that God is “the first and the last, the outward and the inward.” (57: 3) He is indeed the real being, the origin and the raison d’être of all that exists. In His name, therefore, every movement and action is made, and in His name everything begins.

The divine attributes of the Compassionate, al-Raĥmān, and the Merciful, al-Raĥīm, encompass all aspects and meaning of mercy, and can only be used together with respect to God Almighty. It would be appropriate to use the attribute of al-Raĥīm in reference to a human being, but the Islamic faith requires that use of al-Raĥmān is exclusive to God. As for the debate over which of the two adjectives denotes the wider meaning of mercy and compassion, it does not concern us here. We can conclude, however, that when combined, they encompass all aspects and dimensions of mercy.

As the invocation of God’s name at the beginning of every action constitutes the first fundamental principle of the Muslim faith, the restriction of the use of al-Raĥmān and al-Raĥīm to God alone constitutes the second principle and defines the relationship between God and man.