the opening chapter
Chapter alFatiha (the opening) is the first verse of the Uthmani Quran. It’s referred to as the Mother of the Quran, and is required to be recited in every Muslim prayer. It can also be considered a prayer on its own. The entire Quran can be summarised by the opening chapter; the entire chapter can be summarised in the Basmala. According to Imam Ali, the entire Basmala (and thus the entire Quran) can be summed up in the letter baa: the first letter of the basmala; and baa (thus the Basmala and the Quran) can be summed up in the diacritic under the baa (ب) and that diacritic represents the Imamat.
All verses of the Quran (except for the ninth verse) start with the phrase: “In the name of God, the Kind, the Merciful.” Muslims are also encouraged to use this phrase at the start of good deeds, as a reminder that they’re doing what they do for God.
The phrase “In the name of God, the Kind, the Merciful” seems like a simple attribution. But in Arabic, it is grammatically set up to equivocate: i.e. all of God is good, and all that is good is God. According to Da’i Abu Hatim alRazi says that the word “alRahman” (the Good) cannot be used to describe anything is not God: it as a sort of astronomic kindness to the universe, from the atomic to the cosmic, the pious to the destitute, and everything in between. This kind of divine mercy toward the universe cannot be held by anything less than God because of its sheer magnitude. Whereas, still according to alRazi, the Mercy (alRahim) that this verse talks about refers specifically to God’s relationship with His believers. This kind of mercy is the kind spread to each other, even through terrestrial beings. The name (alRahim) is often ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad, as well.
The phrase “the praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds” emphasises not only the greatness of God but the humility of those that recite the verse. Again, Arabic grammar comes into play with the word alHamd (the Praise); it’s talking about some praise, it’s talking about all of the praise. This means that one shouldn’t praise anything that isn’t God. But this also works in a roundabout way: for example, if you give praise to a work of art, you’re actually a piece for God (practically, many works of art are religiously inspired; actually, any dedication is to a part of God’s creation), of God (all the materials, tools, and subjects come from God), and by God (through the artist and the gifts of their talent). This is a sentiment that Imam Shah Karim also reflects: that “those who have done well in a worldly manner should remember that it is due to Allah’s blessings, and you should be grateful and you should thank Allah in your prayers.”
day of judgement
God is also described as the presider over the Day of Judgement. On the Day of Judgement, all humans will have to stand before God and be held accountable for everything they’ve done throughout their lives. It’s important to note that, as part of this belief, God is the only one that can actually judge people for their actions, any terrestrial judgement from other people is insignificant to the final judgement from God. This notion also helps to reinforce the power that God has over the life of the individual, a notion that is emphasised in the next verse.
This is a reminder that the prayers, praise, and the supplications contained within the Du’a are only for God and for no one or nothing else. God is also the only one that can be sought in times of need; others can be sought after in some circumstances (and may potentially lead to disappointment), but only God can be sought after in all times of need.
the straight path
The last verse of chapter alFatiha not only asks God for His guidance to the Straight Path but also explains briefly what the Straight Path is. The Straight Path is one that comes from God and returns to Him. The guidance on this Straight Path is a gift from God because righteousness cannot be achieved on one’s own, but with the help of a spiritual guide (such as an Imam) or, in this case, by God Himself. Guidance on that path is extremely important because, according to the Quran, Satan and his minions border the path, trying to lead those who are unsure of their connection to God (or spiritual guide) astray.
Prostration is an action of humility: it involves one lowering themselves completely to the ground, making themselves as insignificant (physically and symbolically) as possible. The action represents succumbing to God, not only in current life but in the afterlife. While the physical action is important, it’s meaningless without the spiritual and emotional submission that comes with it. Prostration is thought to bring one closer to God.
In life, we rely on lots of things, most of which come (in some form or another) from God. For example, when you rely on a person, you have to remember that the person comes from God and you’re inadvertently relying on God. This kind of reliance is constant, as life is a constant struggle. So, we should always be looking for support from God. But we can’t rely on God completely because, according to the Quran, God only helps those who help themselves. So, while we’re not conducting miracles, the personal strength that we can muster also comes from God.
strength and protection
mercy for muhammad’s family
According to Islamic belief, there has never been a time throughout human history without a divine guide: either a Prophet or an Imam. The first Prophet was Adam (the first created human) and the last is Muhammad, between which there have been thousands of prophets, each with their own line of Imams. The final line of Imams continues through the present Ismaili Imam: Shah Karim alHussaini.