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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Fatihah 1:5

Overview (Verse 5)

You alone do we worship and to You alone do we turn for help. (Verse 5)

This verse expresses another fundamental principle that follows logically from the preceding ones. It is also a decisive and crucial principle that draws a line between the freedom man gains in submitting to God and the abuse and debasement implicit in man’s servitude to man.

Once man has submitted himself to God and sought help and guidance from Him alone, he has achieved total liberation from the tyranny of all religious, intellectual, moral and political powers.

To the believer in Islam, human power falls into two categories: a rightly-guided power that recognizes God and abides by His directions, and an arrogant, rebellious one that does not admit to God’s sovereignty and authority. A Muslim is required to support and endorse the former, no matter how weak or disadvantaged it may be, and to reject and oppose the latter, regardless of its strength or dominance. The Qur’ān says: “Many a small band, by the grace of God, has vanquished a large one.” (2: 249) Such victory of the apparently weaker host could only be achieved when it relies on God, the source of all power.

Towards natural forces, a Muslim’s attitude is one of curiosity and friendliness rather than fear or hostility. The powers of man and the powers of nature are perceived as by-products of God’s own power, and subject to His will. They are, therefore, perfectly complementary and interdependent.

Islam teaches that God has created the physical world and all its forces for man’s own use and benefit. Man is specifically taught and directed to study the world around him, discover its potential and utilize all his environment for his own good and the good of his fellow humans. Any harm that man suffers at the hands of nature is a result only of his ignorance or lack of understanding of it and of the laws governing it. The more man learns about nature, the more peaceful and harmonious his relationship with nature and the environment.

Hence the notion of “conquering nature” can readily be seen as cynical and negative. It is alien to Islamic perceptions and betrays a shameless ignorance of the spirit in which the world has been created and the divine wisdom that underlies it.

Being always aware of God’s hand and role in shaping and running the world, Muslims have a positive, friendly and constructive outlook on man’s relationship with nature. Simply stated, it acknowledges God as the origin and Creator of all these forces, on the basis of the same set of axioms and laws. They are designed to function together, for a common purpose, in harmony, compatibility and mutual support. The forces of nature are essentially subservient to man, who is mentally and physically equipped to discern them, unravel their secrets, comprehend the laws governing them and, subsequently, to harness them to improve the quality of life on earth. The Qur’ān asserts: “He has all that is on the earth subservient to you.” (45: 13)

Such an outlook eliminates all traces of fear or isolation and allows, instead, a profound sense of belonging in which man is seen not only as an integral part of the overall design of the world, but also an essentially effective and influential one. Thus, his world becomes a friendly one. This is best expressed by the Prophet when he once faced Mount Uĥud, the scene of a bitter defeat for Muslims, and said, “How we love this mountain, and how it loves us!” This expresses in a nutshell the affinity the Prophet felt towards nature even in its most rugged forms.

Having established these fundamental principles, the sūrah points the way to certain practical means of responding to them, foremost among which is prayer