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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Fatihah 1:2

Overview (Verse 2)

Having invoked God’s name and acknowledged His infinite mercy, one is directed to praise God and recognize His absolute sovereignty over all beings:

Praise be to God, the Lord of all the worlds. (Verse 2)

Praise of God is the first feeling aroused in a believer’s heart at the mention of God. For man’s own existence is an aspect of God’s infinite grace, which engenders gratitude and reverence towards God. The manifestations of God’s munificence and generosity to man and other creatures abound everywhere and can be seen at every moment. To praise God at the beginning and at the end of every action is another fundamental principle of the Islamic faith. The Qur’ān says: “He is God; there is no deity but He. To Him belongs praise in the first and in the last...” (28: 70)

Nevertheless, God’s grace is such that when a believer says, ‘praise be to God,’ it is recorded for him as a good deed outweighing everything. `Umar ibn al-Khaţţāb, the Prophet’s Companion, relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) told how a man once said, “Lord, I praise You as befits the majesty of Your face and the greatness of Your power.” The two angels accompanying that man could not evaluate the remark and referred to God Almighty, who commanded them: “Register it in his record as he said it, and I shall reward him as he deserves when he returns to Me.”

The last part of this verse, “Lord of all the worlds”, expresses the belief in absolute universal Godhead which is at the very core of the Islamic concept of God. God is the sole, absolute and ultimate owner with full independent authority to act in the whole cosmos. He is the overall supreme master who has created the world and continues to watch over it, take care of it, and ensure its stability and well-being. This living and dynamic relationship between the Creator and the created is the perpetual fountain of life for all creation. God has not created the world and abandoned it to its own devices. He continues to be an active living authority over His creation, giving it what it needs for its continued and meaningful life. This applies to all God’s creation.

Acknowledging God’s absolute Lordship makes all the difference between clarity and confusion with regard to God’s absolute oneness. People often combined their acknowledgement of God as the sole creator with belief in multiple deities having authority in their life. It may seem absurd that people should ever hold such a belief, but this was true in the past and is still true today. The Qur’ān speaks of those who claim that they “only worship them [minor gods] so that they may bring us nearer to God.“ (39: 3) It also mentions that some Jewish and Christian groups who “have taken their rabbis and priests as gods alongside God.” (9: 31) Polytheism, or the worship of several deities or demigods besides the perceived ‘Grand Deity’, was widespread when Islam emerged in the 7th century in Arabia.

The affirmation of the absolute sovereignty and active authority of the One God over all creation was necessary to ensure man’s rationality and peace of mind, and to relieve him from the cruel bewilderment of polytheism. Man must be reassured that a vigilant and caring God is in charge of this world and will never abandon or forsake it.

At the advent of Islam, the world was full of erroneous beliefs and philosophies, and of false religions based on superstition, legend and mythology. Very little of it was true or even rational. As far as the concept of God and His relationship with man and the world was concerned, there was plenty of miserable confusion. This in turn led to confusion in man’s understanding of the world and of his own position and role within it.

The need for a rational, clear and consistent system of beliefs only becomes apparent when we study those dark periods of human history when there was no such system. We then realize how heavily such great myth and false beliefs weigh on man. There will be more on this when we come to study specific instances in the Qur’ān.

It is in the light of such need that Islam has taken great care to correct man’s beliefs and define very clearly the concept and nature of God and His attributes, and the relationship between Creator and creation.

This is embodied in the Islamic concept of God’s oneness, the essence and most fundamental principle of Islam. Much care has been devoted to establishing and elucidating the affirmation that God is the One, absolute and transcendent Lord and Master of all that exists. The other aspect of this concept to which Islam has given its greatest attention is the definition of God’s attributes, which has been the cause of much confusion, obfuscation and muddled religious and philosophical thinking through the ages.

The intensity, emphasis and detail with which Islam has dealt with the concept of God’s oneness, and all subjects related to it, can only be appreciated against the background of the great mass of erroneous beliefs and confused theologies that had accumulated in the course of history. From this perspective, Islam can readily be seen as a profound and timely act of divine mercy bestowed on humanity — mercy that is given with beauty, simplicity, clarity, harmony and full accordance with human nature.