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Lesson - 5

Al-Fatiha:

Bis-mil-laa-hir Rah-maa-nir Ra-heem. In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Al-ham-du lil-laa-hi Rab-bil aa-la-meen. All Praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds,
Ar-Rah-maa-nir Ra-heem The Beneficent, the Merciful,
Maa-li-ki yaw-mid-deen. Master of the Day of Requital.
Ee-yaa-ka na -bu-du wa ee-yaa-ka nas-ta- een. Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help.
Ih-di nas si-raa-tal mus-ta-qeem Guide us on the right path,
Si-raa-tal la-zee-na an- am-ta a-lay-him. The path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favours,
Ghay-ril magh-doo-bi a-lay-him wa-lad-daal-leen. Not those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray.

Master of the Day of Requital

In the previous four lessons we had a brief glimpse of the profound knowledge and wisdom contained in the verses, Bis-mil-laa-hir Rah-maa-nir Ra-heem (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful) and Al-ham-du-lil-laa-hi Rab-bil ‘aa-la-meen (all praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds). Today we shall, by the grace of Allah, contemplate on the meaning of the verses: Maa-li-ki yau-mid-deen (Master of the Day of Requital) and Ee-yaa-ka na-bu-du (Thee do we serve). The word yaum is ordinarily translated as ‘day,’ i.e., the time between sunrise and sunset; however, in the Arabic language and also in the Holy Quran, it has been used to specify a time or period which may be very small or large. For example, the Holy Quran states:
"Kul-la yau-min Huwa fee shaan"
Every moment He is in a state (of glory) (55:29).

In this verse, the word yaum stands for a moment of time. Compare this with:

"yau-min kana miq-daro-hu kham-seena alfa sana-tin"
in the day the measure of which is fifty thousand years" (70:4).

In this verse, yaum represents fifty thousand years as stated. What then is the meaning of Maa-li-ki yau-mid-deen (Master of the Day of Requital)? There is no doubt that a day will come when mankind is to be judged and recompensed for all his actions, good or evil, including the secrets hidden deep down within his bosom. That day can either be a single day, the whole time during which a person is rewarded for his good actions, or the extended period during which he faces the consequences of his evil deeds and internal detriment. The Day of Requital also stands for every passing moment of time in which the reward or punishment for every good or evil action is being recorded, though most people do not have true knowledge of it. Thus we observe that a good action immediately leads to a feeling of contentment and joy, while an evil one causes restlessness, worry and anxiety in one’s mind. An honest person may go hungry, but he has the peace of mind and consequently a restful sleep at night. A dishonest person, on the other hand, is fearful of impending doom, and is uneasy and anxious. The reward and punishment for good and evil actions are therefore immediate, though man remains in denial in this life.

Concept of paradise and hell

The two types of paradise that are mentioned in the Holy Quran for those who guard against evil (muttaqi) are, by consensus, the paradise of this world and the Hereafter. The possessions of a righteous person in this world seldom include gardens with streams of running water (metaphorical language used in the Holy Quran for describing paradise); however, he is surely guaranteed peace and tranquillity of mind. On the contrary, an evil person may own a garden with streams of flowing water, but he is void of inner peace and serenity, and his heart is always burning with the desire to acquire more material wealth. A person having thousands is worried about making millions, and a millionaire is likewise eager to reach the billion mark. After death, the burning desire and greed of a worldly person manifests itself as the external fire of hell, as the Holy Quran tells us:
"It is the fire kindled by Allah, which rises over the hearts. Surely it is closed in on them, in extended columns" (104:6-9).
On the other hand, the one whose heart is a recipient of internal peace and tranquillity, i.e., the paradise of this world, will after his death enter the external blessings of heavenly paradise as the Holy Quran states:
"O soul thou that art at rest, return to thy Lord, well-pleased, well pleasing, so enter among My servants, and enter My Garden" (89:27-30).
The reward of heaven and the punishment of hell begin in this life, but are hidden from the physical eye. They assume a more apparent and palpable form in the life Hereafter. In both situations, that is in this life or the life Hereafter, this reward and punishment is not under man’s control, otherwise he could easily manipulate it to suit his advantage. The power to control this lies in the hands of One Who has been called "Master of the Day of Requital," in the chapter Al-Fatiha, and how very true it is!

The verses: "All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds; the Beneficent, the Merciful," draw man’s attention towards Allah, the Source of all goodness, the One Who guides and nurtures man from the lower to the higher stages of his development. Mercy is so preponderant in His nature that He provides for our physical needs before, and after, our coming into existence. He has also provided for our spiritual sustenance, by revelation of a complete and excellent guidance, the Holy Quran. If we act upon this guidance, His mercy will reward us manifold not only in this life, but also in the Hereafter. In the verse, "Master of the Day of Requital," mankind has been informed (which was very essential) that the way he spends his life in this world is his own responsibility. Whatever he thinks, speaks, or acts upon, the compensation for it starts in this very life; although in the Hereafter it assumes a more perceptible form. Thus, mankind is in need of Allah’s guidance and help for his existence and well being not only in this life, but also for the success and comfort of the life which occurs as a result of this.

Only Allah is to be served with humility

After becoming aware of these attributes of the Divine Being, the soul of the suppliant cries out spontaneously, "Ee-yaa-ka- na‘-bu-du wa ee-yaa-ka nas-ta-‘een" — Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help. These being the verses of Al-Fatiha that follow. I have translated na‘-bu-du as ‘to serve’ or ‘obey’, although most people misunderstand its meaning to be recitation of prayers. In fact the Arabic word salaat has been used for prayer in the Holy Quran. The dictionary meaning of the word ‘ibadat (noun of na‘-bu-du) is obedience with humility. Allah has clearly differentiated between the meaning of ‘ibadat and salaat in the Holy Quran in verse:
"So serve Me, and keep up prayer for My remembrance (fa‘-budni wa- aqi-mis-salaata li-zikri)" (20:14);
and in the verse:
"Did I not charge you, O children of Adam, that you serve not the devil (Alam a`had ilaikum ya bani adama an laa ta‘budu shaitan)?" (36:60).

In this verse ta‘budu (serve) from `ibadat can certainly not mean prayer because no one performs the prayer service before the devil assuming the traditional postures of qiyam (standing with folded hands), ruku (bending over), or sajda (prostration). The real meaning of ‘ibadat in this context is exactly what the dictionary tells us that is ‘serving and obeying,’ in this case the devil, which most human beings unfortunately do. It is a unique ability of the Arabic language that with a choice of a few words a very comprehensive and excellent meaning is conveyed. This is why it has been selected by Allah as the language of His final revealed scripture, the Holy Quran which is a book of complete guidance. We have seen an example of this in the use of the word Rabb (One Who nurtures unto perfection). Also we have just seen how the extensive subject of obedience with humility is addressed with the use of the word ‘ibadat. It is necessary to know all of this, because obedience can be of two kinds. One form is accomplished under duress and with infliction of chastisement. The other kind is purely voluntary and accomplished with humility. Compare the example of a child, who studies because he is afraid of being punished by his teacher with the one who considers the teacher as his benefactor and complies with his instructions, with enthusiasm and humility. Both of these cannot derive similar benefit from their teacher; certainly the one who is humble and obedient benefits the most.

The same rule applies to parental guidance for children. Allah’s mercy for mankind undoubtedly exceeds far beyond that of parents. In fact He is responsible for inspiring mercy in the hearts of parents for their offspring. Who can be a greater benefactor of man than Allah? No one knows more than Him what is beneficial or harmful for the human race. Parents, teachers and worldly leaders are liable to human error; however, Allah is Subhan (free of all faults). In fact according to verse, "Al-ham-du lil-laa-hi .(All praise is for Allah)," He possesses all attributes and excellence to the degree of perfection. All Praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Requital. Whatever He commands for mankind to be carried out is beneficial for him and what He forbids is harmful. Therefore, one can only benefit from His Rabubiyat (nurture unto perfection) by humbly submitting to His command.

Asking for Divine assistance

In spite of good intentions, man’s effort may be lacking or faulty. This may be because of forgetfulness, lassitude, or lack of knowledge regarding Divine commandments. The devil is also continuously trying to incite man, who is liable to fall to his temptation, particularly so during periods of trials and tribulations. This is why the subsequent verse is, "Thee do we beseech for help." In this verse one begs Allah for His protection and help, and the strength required for complete submission in order to obtain full benefit of His blessings and save oneself from loss and deprivation.

It is worth noting that in the verses, "All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Requital," Allah is addressed in the absent form. This is because when one starts reciting the Al-Fatiha, Allah is absent from the mind’s eye. These verses with their profound meaning and wisdom, when recited with full concentration, bring before the mind’s eye the full excellence and goodness of the Divine Being. This being the reason for addressing Allah in the present tense in the subsequent verse, "Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help." In order to create a concept of the Divine Being during prayer, people made idols, images or pictures of their prophets. These devices present a very poor and degrading concept of the Divine Being. Does this concept compare at all with the one presented by the verses of Al-Fatiha? — the concept which defines the grandeur, power, excellence and goodness of the Divine Being and how mankind benefits from it. When this powerful concept is presented to the mind of the suppliant, his heart cries out spontaneously, "Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help." In this way those true feelings which are essential for prayer are generated in the heart.

Another point is worth noting that in the verse, "Thee do we serve," the plural (‘we’) is used although one is praying individually. This is because this prayer is recited several times in the obligatory prayers, which are enjoined to be said in congregation whenever possible. Also when reciting non-congregational portion (sunnah) of the prayer one is frequently in the company of other Muslims in the mosque. Even if this is not the case one should include his friends, relatives, and members of the congregation in his prayer, for no other prayer excels the Al-Fatiha in terms of blessings in this life and the Hereafter.

Another reason for using the plural in the above mentioned verse is that man is a collective body composed of different faculties. All of these including his eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet, mind etc., should submit before Allah with complete humility, then only can one truly say, "Thee do we serve." Similarly Allah’s help is asked for in, "Thee do we beseech for help," because without His grace these faculties can stray away from the right path. Sometimes the eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet are involved in sinful behavior and the mind is frequently involved in all kinds of detriment. May Allah protect us from these dangers. Ameen.


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