Surah 1 Al-Fatihah (The Opening)

The Opening - Al Fatihah

1. In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful.

2. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds.

3. The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

4. Master of the Day of Judgment.

5. It is You we worship, and upon You we call for help.

6. Guide us to the straight path.

7. The path of those You have blessed, not of those against whom there is anger, nor of those who are misguided.

Quran with Word Explanation

  • بِسْمِ
  • In (the) name
  • ٱللَّهِ
  • (of) Allah,
  • ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ
  • the Most Gracious,
  • ٱلرَّحِيمِ
  • the Most Merciful.
  • ٱلْحَمْدُ
  • All praises and thanks
  • لِلَّهِ
  • (be) to Allah,
  • رَبِّ
  • the Lord
  • ٱلْعَٰلَمِينَ
  • of the universe
  • ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ
  • The Most Gracious,
  • ٱلرَّحِيمِ
  • the Most Merciful.
  • مَٰلِكِ
  • (The) Master
  • يَوْمِ
  • (of the) Day
  • ٱلدِّينِ
  • (of the) Judgment.
  • إِيَّاكَ
  • You Alone
  • نَعْبُدُ
  • we worship,
  • وَإِيَّاكَ
  • and You Alone
  • نَسْتَعِينُ
  • we ask for help.
  • ٱهْدِنَا
  • Guide us
  • ٱلصِّرَٰطَ
  • (to) the path,
  • ٱلْمُسْتَقِيمَ
  • the straight.
  • صِرَٰطَ
  • (The) path
  • ٱلَّذِينَ
  • (of) those
  • أَنْعَمْتَ
  • You have bestowed (Your) Favors
  • عَلَيْهِمْ
  • on them,
  • غَيْرِ
  • not (of)
  • ٱلْمَغْضُوبِ
  • those who earned (Your) wrath
  • عَلَيْهِمْ
  • on themselves
  • وَلَا
  • and not
  • ٱلضَّآلِّينَ
  • (of) those who go astray.

Extensive description of the Surah

Makkah Period
It is commonly accepted that this sūrah was revealed during the
Makkah period of Muhammad’s Prophethood. Some Traditions say that it was also revealed on a second occasion in Madīnah. The majority of scholars hold that the verses first in order of revelation are the initial five verses of Sūrat al-‘Alaq (96), but the first sūrah to be revealed in its entirety is Sūrat al-Fātihah. In one respect, the Basmalah is the “seed” of Sūrat al-Fātihah, which, in turn, is the “seed” of the whole Qur’ān. With its marvelously terse and comprehensive words, it balances praise and petition perfectly, and it establishes four main themes or purposes of the Qur’ānic guidance – (1) establishing the Existence and Unity of God, (2) Prophethood, (3) the Resurrection and afterlife, and (4) worship and justice. It is called Sūrat al-Fātihah because it is the opening chapter of the Qur’ān. It also has other names such as “the Seven Doubly-Repeated (Verses)” because of its glory and distinction, and because it must be recited in the first two rak‘ahs of each of the Prescribed Prayers (the Salāh); “the Mother of the Book,” because it is the seed of the whole Qur’ān; and “the Treasure,” because it contains many precious truths.
1. This blessed phrase (Bi’smi-llāhi’r-Rahmāni’r-Rahīm translated as “in the Name of God,
the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate,” called the Basmalah), is one of the symbols of
Islam. Muslims begin every good deed, and individual daily actions, that are not religiously
forbidden, such as entering one’s workplace, or eating, by uttering it. All things and beings come to life and survive through it. The particle bi- here means both in and with, so that everything, dependent on the laws of the All-Merciful, does whatever it does in and with
His Name. A minute seed under the earth germinates and pushes through soil and stone to
grow into the sunlight, depending on the laws of the All-Merciful, and begging the (special) compassion of the All-Compassionate. Human beings, favored with free will, should always do good and do so in God’s Name and to please Him, beginning the effort in and with the Name of God.
According to some scholars, the Basmalah is counted as the first verse of every Qur’ānic
sūrah (chapter) except the ninth. According to the Hanafī school of Law, it is a verse, but
not counted as the first verse of every sūrah. It is the first verse of Sūrah al-Fātihah, the
opening sūrah of the Qur’ān, and it is written before every sūrah because of its importance
and its being blessed, and so as to separate the sūrahs from each other. It is, in any case, a
rope of light extending from the Supreme Throne of God to the hearts of people. Whoever
holds fast to it in awareness of its meaning and is enlightened by it can rise to the highest
point of human perfection.
2. The word “name” translates the Arabic ism. It is derived from the root SaMā (s-m-v)
meaning to be high, exalted, or VaSaMa, meaning to be a sign. (We may call to mind
samāwât, meaning skies or heavens, because of their being high.) The nominal phrase, “the
name of God,” reminds us that God is exalted as the Divine Being having names, One
Whom we may address, and we mean and remember only that Divine Being when we
mention the name God.
Knowledge of God (in the sense of the Arabic ‘ılm) is impossible in respect of His Being
or Essence (Dhāt). Because there is none like or comparable to Him, it is therefore impossible to grasp or comprehend His Essence. However, we can recognize God or have some
knowledge of Him (in the sense of the Arabic ma‘rifah) through His works, acts, Names,
Attributes and Essential Qualities (shu‘ūn). Awareness of His works (what we see in the
world, His creation) leads us to become aware of His acts, and that awareness leads us to
His Names and Attributes which, in turn, lead us to His Essential Qualities, and thence to
awareness of the One Who has these Qualities.
Journeying to the Divine Being can be through either reflection on God’s works – the
universe, including human beings in particular, with the physical and psychological composition particular to each – or through the disciplines of the “heart,” following a Sūfī way.
Combining the two is always safer and preferable. (Regarding the Sūfī way or Islamic
Sufism, see Fethullah Gülen, Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism (translated)).
3. Allāh, translated as God, is the proper Name of the Divine Being Who creates and
administers His creatures, individually and as a whole; Who provides, brings up, sustains,
protects, and guides each and all; Who causes to perish and revives each and all; Who rewards or punishes, etc. All His Attributes are Attributes of absolute perfection, and He is
absolutely free from any and all defects. He is Unique and Single, having no like or resemblance, and nothing is comparable to Him. He is absolutely beyond any human conception:
Eyes comprehend Him not, but He comprehends all eyes (6: 103).
God is the Unique, Single Being with the exclusive right to be worshipped and to be made the sole aim of life. He is loved in and of Himself. Everything is dependent on Him and
subsists by Him. Every truth has its source in Him. His Existence is so manifest that one
may doubt one’s own existence but one cannot and should not doubt His. Eyes cannot see
Him because of the density and plenitude of His manifestations. His Light is a veil before
the eyes. He is worshipped because He is worthy of it as God— not the other way round;
that is, He is God because He is the object of worship.
Without (belief in) God, life is torment within torment, intellect is pure retribution, ambitions are pure pain, attainments are losses, union is separation, love is suffering, pleasure
is distress, and knowledge is whim. He is the cure for the afflicted, and the remedy for
wounded hearts. Hearts attain peace and come to rest by remembering and mentioning
Him. Whoever has found Him has found everything; whoever has lost Him has lost everything.
4. The expression “the All-Merciful” translates the Arabic ar-Rahmān. Ar-Rahmān is an
essential Attribute of God, the precise rendering of which into another language is impossible. Though an Attribute in essence, ar-Rahmān can be used almost interchangeably with
the name God, for it is applied to none other than God. It means the One with infinite
mercy Who embraces the whole of creation with mercy, grace and favor, including all of
humanity, without discrimination between believers and unbelievers, giving life, maintaining, providing, and endowing with the capacities necessary for each. God has created the
universe out of, and as the manifestation of, the mercy embodied by His Name, the AllMerciful.
The universe is the work of the All-Merciful, and God’s Mercy embodied by the All-Merciful embraces the creation in its entirety. There are two aspects of Divine manifestation
pertaining to the universe. One is His universal manifestation, with all of His Names related
to the universe. It may be understood by analogy with the sun’s manifestation throughout
the world with its light, including the seven colors in it and heat. This is called the manifestation of Oneness (at-tajallī al-Wāhidiyah). The (attributive) Name the All-Merciful is the
source of this manifestation. It is the source of the magnificent order of the universe such
that everything is in absolute obedience to God, bound by the laws of the All-Merciful. A
particular instance and visible symbol of it is the enlivening of the earth, with the plants
and animals therein, together with the provision and sustaining and administration thereof
in perfect harmony and mercy. All of that is owed to and dependent on the manifestation
of God as the All-Merciful.
5. The other aspect of Divine manifestation may be understood by analogy with the sun’s
particular manifestation on each thing according to the capacity of that thing. This is God’s
particular manifestation on each thing with one or a few of His Names, with the other
Names subordinated to them. This manifestation is the result of God’s being ar-Rahīm,
translated as “the All-Compassionate,” and is called the manifestation of Unity (at-tajallī
al-Ahadiyah). God embraces the whole of creation as ar-Rahmān (the All-Merciful),
without discrimination between belief and unbelief, truth and falsehood, right and wrong,
beauty and ugliness, or good and evil; while as ar-Rahīm (the All-Compassionate), He has
special mercy for faith, justice, truth, right, beauty and good, both in this world and, particularly, in the Hereafter. No one has any part in his coming into existence, the determination of his place or date of birth and death, race, color, physical features and the functioning of his body. These are all dependent on the absolute choice of God as the All-Merciful and,
therefore, cannot be the grounds of superiority or inferiority—of discrimination among
people. By contrast, the conscious inhabitants of the earth (jinn [see sūrah 46, note 10]
and humankind) have a choice between belief and unbelief, justice and injustice, right and
wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood—, as exercised by their free wills— and are,
therefore, accountable for their preferences. Being ar-Rahīm, God helps those who prefer
faith, right, justice, and good in this world and rewards them with eternal happiness in the
Hereafter. But for ar-Rahmān (the All-Merciful), we would not have come into the world.
But for ar-Rahīm (the All-Compassionate), we would not be able to use our free will to
make the right preference, comprehend the marvelous works of God’s art, know what faith,
religion and Prophethood are, or attain true, eternal happiness in Paradise.
2. All praise and gratitude6
(whoever gives these to whomever for whatever reason and in whatever way from the first day of creation until eternity) are for
God, the Lord7
of the worlds,8
6. As one must understand Qur’ānic concepts in order to understand the Qur’ān, we give a
brief explanation. The Arabic word translated as “praise and gratitude” is hamd. It encompasses both meanings and carries other connotations as well. We give praise on account of
some particular praiseworthy achievements or qualities; we feel gratitude for some particular good done. But in relation to God, hamd affirms that God is eternally worthy of praise
and gratitude because He is God eternally, eternally Merciful and the Lord of all creation.
Whether His favors are recognized as such by His creatures or not, He must still be praised
and thanked. Thanking is required by loyalty to God because of His favors, while praise is
required by being a sincere servant aware of Who God is and what servanthood means.
It should be noted that all praise and thanks are due to God alone, and are His alone.
Wherever beauty, excellence and perfection occur, the ultimate source is God. No created
beings, whether angels or humans, heavenly or earthly objects, have anything other than a
dependent excellence, beauty or perfection. Where these qualities occur, they are, in reality, simply favors from God. Thus, if there is one to Whom we should feel indebted and
grateful, it is the Creator of everything, Who is in reality the Creator of that to which we
respond with praise and gratitude, and not its apparent possessor.
When we say “All praise and gratitude is for God,” we also mean that it is God in Whom
we seek refuge when we are in danger, to Whom we pray for help when we are in difficulty
or in need, and Whom alone we adore and worship.
7. The word “Lord” is used to translate Rabb. It has three sets of related meanings: (i)
Upbringer, Trainer, Sustainer, Nourisher; (ii) Lord and Master; (iii) He Who directs and
God’s being Rabb means that every being (and every part of every being) – from elements
or inanimate objects to plants, animals and humanity, and all other beings in other worlds
– is raised, sustained, directed and controlled by Him until it achieves its particular perfection, the purpose of its creation. This means that what we commonly call the “natural laws”
are, in reality, designations or descriptions for God’s exercise of His Lordship, of His being
Rabb. A complementary kind of God’s bringing up or training of humanity is His sending Prophets and religions. It follows that, in affirming God as the sole Upbringer, Trainer,
Sustainer, Nourisher, Lord and Master of all beings (at-tawhīd ar-Rubūbiyah), we affirm
another dimension of faith in God’s Oneness and Unity.
8. “Worlds” translates the Arabic ‘ālamīn (singular, ‘ālam). The word comes from ‘alam,
‘alāmah, meaning something by which another thing is known. Thus, in this perspective,
every individual thing or set of things, from the tiniest sub-atomic particles to the largest
nebulae and galaxies, is a “world” and indicates God. The plural form (‘ālamīn) is particularly used for conscious beings, giving the sense that everything that is created is as if conscious, and signifying that its pointing to God’s Existence, Unity and Lordship is extremely
clear for conscious beings.
From another perspective, the “worlds” are classified as Lāhūt (the High Empyrean: the
pure, immaterial world of pure Divine Realities), Jabarūt (another of the immaterial worlds
where Divine realities are manifested in their pure, immaterial forms), Malakūt (the world
of the pure inner dimension of existence), Mithāl (the world of the symbols or ideal, immaterial forms of things) and Shahādah (the corporeal world, including the visible world
and the firmaments.) These worlds should be thought of as dimensions rather than distinct
locations: the Divine truths or realities manifested in material forms in this world are
manifested in other worlds in the forms peculiar to each.
The “worlds” are also classified as the world of spirits, this world, the immaterial world
between this and the next (al-‘Ālam al-Barzakh), and the eternal world of the Hereafter.
The “worlds” may also be taken to refer to different domains or “kingdoms” within this
earthly world, or other worlds beyond this earth.
3. The All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate,
4. The Master9
of the Day of Judgment.10
9. The word Mālik, here translated as “Master,” means both owner and sovereign. Although
God allows the existence of sovereigns in this world because He has endowed humankind
with free will, He will be the sole, absolute Sovereign on the Day of Judgment. (“Whose is
the absolute Sovereignty on that Day? It is God’s, the One, the All-Overwhelming (with
absolute sway over all that exist).” (40: 16).) In addition, ownership of the other world with
all its regions or sub-worlds, such as the Place of Supreme Gathering, the Bridge, Paradise
and Hell, belongs to God exclusively.
10. The “Day of Judgment” translates the Arabic phrase Yawm ad-Dīn. The word dīn is
usually rendered in English as “religion,” being derived from the verb Dā-Na (from d-y-n),
meaning to profess a religion. From the same radicals (d-y-n), the verb Dā-Na has another,
connected set of meanings – to borrow or be indebted, to be subjected or bound, to owe
allegiance, to be called to account, judged, or convicted. (The related noun is dayn, a debt or
liability, an obligation.) The Islamic concept of religion (dīn) encompasses all these meanings. God has brought us from the darkness of non-existence into the light of existence,
created us in the best pattern, and raised us to the highest point in the hierarchy of creation.
He has included in the dough of our existence certain elements that, however seemingly negative or destructive, will, when disciplined, cause us to rise to higher ranks of perfection.
So that we might discipline them with His help, and not be defeated by them, and so that
we might use all our capacities and the positive elements in our existence in the right way,
He has sent Prophets and revealed through them and through Books the rules of how we
should conduct ourselves. These are God’s trust or gifts to us, for which we owe Him the
debt of gratitude. Paying this debt requires, first of all, designing our life in accordance with
the rules God has established. In this sense, religion or dīn is the assemblage of Divine rules
that human beings must observe in order to attain to good and salvation. A day will come
when we will be called to account for our efforts in this regard, and we will be judged as
to how we acted in this world, and rewarded or punished accordingly. Of that day, the sole
Master is God.
As the lifetime of this universe is referred to as a “day”, so too the time when we are raised
to life after death and judged, and eternally recompensed for what we did in this world,
is also referred to as a “day.” That time is also the time when the realities of religion will
become clearly and fully manifest. That is another of the reasons why the Qur’ān calls that
“day” Yawm ad-Dīn, the Day of Judgment.
5.11You alone do We worship,12 and from You alone do we seek help.13
11. It is reported from God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, that God said:
“The half of al-Fātihah belongs to Me, while the other half to My servant” (Muslim,
“Salāh,” 38). The part up to this verse (i.e. verses 1–4) belongs to God. In it, the servant
addresses God, as it were, in the third person, praising Him. These four verses of praise
serve as a ladder to rise to His Presence and there attain the dignity of addressing Him in
the second person (verses 5–7). At this point, the servant addresses a petition to the One
praised with His most comprehensive Attributes in the preceding verses. According to the
Tradition mentioned above, verse 5 belongs to both God and the servant, whereas the following verses (6 and 7), when the servant prays to God for his/her most pressing need (i.e.
right guidance), belong to the servant.
12. The words “we worship” translate the Arabic na‘budu, first person plural in the imperfect tense of the verb ‘A-Ba-Da. It means doing something with energy and determination.
‘Ibādah is derived from it and, as a term, means adoration and submission. The verb ‘A-BaDa has two other important infinitives, both of which are deeply related with worshipping.
‘Ubūdah means humility and submission, and ‘ubūdiyah, doing the duty of worship in a
systematic way. “You alone do we worship” translates the meaning of the Arabic construction iyyā-ka na‘budu, which puts the pronoun “You” in an emphatic position; the same
emphasis is found in the next phrase also: iyyā-ka nasta‘īnu (instead of the usual nasta‘īnuka). Thus, the meaning here is that we worship God in awe and with utmost submission,
sincerity and humility, and in a systematic way. In so doing, we express our total devotion,
submission and subjection to God and declare our faith that none other than God deserves
worship, which expresses at-tawhīd al-‘ubūdiyah. The fact that na‘budu is in the first person plural, and in the imperfect tense, means that the duty of worship is not restricted to
one occasion only or discharged once only, but rather that it is due always, and due collectively as well as merely individually. Indeed, worship in congregation is preferable. The
collective aspect refers to (i) the individual person with all the systems and cells of his/her
body, (ii) the group(s) of believers who have come together at any place or time to worship
God, and (iii) to the whole body of believers throughout the world who have turned to the Ka‘bah to worship.
13. Since the relationship between the worshipping servant and God as the One Worshipped is not maintained in other religions with the strict clarity proper to it – especially
given the influence of the modern trends of humanism and individualism – it may give rise
to certain misconceptions, which we will try to clarify.
Servanthood in Islam means freedom from all other kinds of servitude and slavery. The
response of Rabī‘ ibn ‘Āmir, the envoy of the Muslim army’s commander, before the battle
of Qadīsiyah, when asked by the commander of the Persian armies about the meaning and
message the Muslims sought to proclaim, expresses well what servanthood means in Islam:
“We invite people from servanthood to false deities to servanthood to One God, from the
suffocating dungeon of the world to the exhilarating expanse of the heavens, and from the
darkness of false religions to the light of Islam.” (Ahmed Cevdet Paşa, 1: 391)
Servanthood in Islam is the only means to true human freedom and dignity. No one is
greater than any other in being a servant and, therefore, none is worthy of worship or adoration. Every created being, whether a Prophet or a common human, is equally removed
from being an object of worship. The Prescribed Prayer (the Salāh) and the Pilgrimage (the
Hajj) are public occasions that demonstrate this most clearly.
One who claims human freedom in rebellion to God may be a Pharaoh-like tyrant, but
he is one who will abase himself, in order to serve his interest, so far as to bow in worship
before the meanest thing. He may be haughty and arrogant, and yet so wretched as to
accept degradation for the sake of a momentary pleasure; unyielding in self-esteem, and
yet so ignoble as to kiss the feet of devilish people for the sake of some trivial advantage.
He may be conceited and domineering, but since he can find no point of support in his
heart against death, misfortunes and innumerable enemies, he knows himself within as an
impotent, vainglorious tyrant. He may be a self-centered egoist who, in striving to gratify
his own carnal desires or personal interests or the advantage of his racial or cultural group,
quickly becomes a slave to those desires and interests.
As for the sincere servant of God, he is a worshipping servant who does not degrade himself to bow in worship, even before the greatest of the creatures. He is dignified and does
not regard as the goal of worship a thing of even the greatest benefit like Paradise. Also,
though modest, mild and gentle, he does not lower himself before anybody other than his
Creator. He is indeed weak and in want, and aware of his weakness and neediness. Yet he
is independent of others, owing to the spiritual wealth that his Munificent Owner has
provided for him, and he is powerful in that he relies on the infinite power of his Master.
He acts and strives purely for God’s sake and for God’s pleasure, and to be endowed with
virtues (The Words, “the 12th Word,” 147).
6. Guide14 us to the Straight Path,15
14. Ihdi-nā translated as “guide us” is from the verb HaDā, which means taking by the
hand and leading and guiding rightly, and gently. The noun hidāyah derived from it usually
means true or right guidance, and is the opposite of deviation or being astray. The verb HaDā is used both transitively and intransitively. God guides one either directly
or through a means. In most cases, He kindles faith in the hearts of people as a result of
their using their will and striving to find guidance. However, although God wants His
servants to desire guidance and strive for it, their desiring and striving are not the causes of
being guided. This seeming paradox is well expressed in the anonymous saying: “Although
He is not to be found by searching, only those who search for Him find Him” The primary
means of guidance is Prophets and Divine Books. In the absence of a Prophet, those who,
without deviation, follow in the footsteps of the Prophets, serve the same function. Their
character is made clear in the next verse.
15. The Arabic word translated as Path is sirāt. It is a way having ups and downs, one wide
in some of its parts and narrow in others, and difficult to walk on. It is described in a Prophetic Tradition as a path or bridge with ups and downs, one having walls on its sides, and
doors and windows opening on the outside. The walls are the rules of the Islamic Sharī‘ah,
which protect it from external attacks and save those following it from veering off. The
doors and windows are the openings to things forbidden. Those following the Path should
not follow these openings lest they go astray. (Ibn Hanbal, 4: 182-83.)
Sirāt is used in the Qur’ān in the singular; the word has no plural. This tells us that it is
the only road leading to God, although there are many roads (sabīl) leading to the Path.
It is qualified with the adjective straight, meaning that the Straight Path is the way of the
Qur’ān, with no crookedness at all (18: 1). It is the middle way having nothing to do with
any extremes. It is equally far from communism and capitalism in economy, from absolutism and anarchism in politics, from realism and idealism in philosophy, from materialism
and spiritualism in belief, and from being exclusively this-worldly or exclusively otherworldly in world-view. It is the middle way considering human psychology and the realities
of life and creation. In educating people, it disciplines and ennobles the intellect, saving it
from the extremes of demagogy, cunning and stupidity, and so leads to sound knowledge
and wisdom. The disciplining and ennobling of the faculty of anger and impulse of defense
saves that faculty from wrongdoing, oppression and cowardice, and leads to justice and
valor. The power or impulse of lust is saved through discipline from dissipation and hedonism, and grows into chastity.
7. The Path of those whom You have favored,16 not of those who have incurred
(Your) wrath (punishment and condemnation),17 nor of those who are astray.18
16. Even if one can, by studying creation and reflecting on it, work out that there must be
One Who has created it, none can discover what the Straight Path is through reasoning
Human beings have a distinguished place amongst created beings. They are usually drawn
to and desire what is the most beautiful. Meeting even their everyday needs requires multifarious skills and crafts. As social beings, they are obliged to share and exchange the
products of their labor with others. However, their innate impulses and powers, such as
intellect, anger, passion and lust, are unrestricted and, therefore, need some discipline. It
follows that human beings must be guided to a universal straight way far from all extremes,
a way that contains the correct rules to guarantee their happiness in both worlds. Even if all
people came together to establish these rules, they could not do so, for it requires knowing all human beings with the character, ambitions and fears of each, as well as the conditions
of both worlds. This is possible only for a universal intellect, which has been manifested as
Divine religion throughout history.
The greatest favor or blessing of God for humanity is the Religion. People attain happiness
in both worlds through it, and realize the aim of their creation. In order to be able to find
and follow the true Religion, God points us towards some persons He has chosen among
people. He describes them as those whom He has favored. He presents the Straight Path
as their way, and He publicizes their identity in another verse (4: 69):Whoever obeys God
and the Messenger (as they must be obeyed), then those are (and in the Hereafter will be,
in Paradise) in the company of those whom God has favored (with the perfect guidance)
– the Prophets, and the truthful ones (loyal and truthful in whatever they do and say), and
the witnesses (those who see the hidden Divine truths and testify thereto with their lives),
and the righteous ones (in all their deeds and sayings and dedicated to setting everything
right). How excellent they are for companions!
One who sincerely searches for such people finds them, because they shine in the spiritual
and intellectual “heaven” of humankind.
17. The Qur’ān forbids us to follow the ways of two groups: those who have incurred God’s
wrath (punishment and condemnation), and those who are astray.
God’s wrath does not mean that God becomes angry in some way analogous to us. Rather,
His wrath means punishment and condemnation. We read in the Qur’ān that those who
kill a believer intentionally (4: 93), those who cherish evil thoughts about God (48: 6),
those who flee the battlefield (8: 16), those who have disbelieved after their belief (16:
106), and those who argue concerning God after He has been acknowledged (42: 16) have
incurred God’s punishment and condemnation. Again, those who disbelieved in God and
slew His Prophets (2: 61); those who refused to believe in Prophet Muhammad because of
envy and racist tendencies, even though they knew and recognized that he was a Prophet
(2: 90); those who took a calf for worship after they believed in God (7: 152, 20: 86); and
those who showed disrespect to the Sabbath, also incurred God’s wrath (punishment and
condemnation). Since those Jews who committed the sins and crimes mentioned had incurred God’s punishment and condemnation, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and
blessings, interpreted “those who have incurred (Your) punishment and condemnation,” as
referring to those Jews (at-Tirmidhī, “Tafsīr al-Qur’ān,” 2; Ibn Hanbal, 4: 378). However,
this is to exemplify a general truth – it does not exclude others who commit the same
crimes and share the same characteristics from the meaning of the expression. Those who
are of the same character as those Jews who incurred God’s punishment and condemnation, who follow the same way without being Jews, are certainly included in the meaning
of the expression.
We should note that most of the crimes of those Jews mentioned in the Qur’ān and their
incurring God’s punishment and condemnation are presented in the Old Testament in
much severer terms (Numbers, 16: 12–24, 31–35, 41–50; 21: 4–6; Deuteronomy, 4: 25–29;
9: 9–29.) Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, reproached them in Deuteronomy, 9: 24:
“You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.” And, according to the report of the New Testament, Jesus reproached them with still
harsher words: Matthew, 12: 34–35; 23: 2–7, 23–33.
18. The verbal noun meaning “astray” (dalāl) can refer to a broad range of straying from
the path – from the slightest lapse of a believer to complete deviation from the Straight
Path. As a term, it denotes returning to unbelief after belief and exchanging unbelief for
belief (2: 108); associating partners with God either in His Essence or His Attributes or
acts (4: 116); and rejecting faith in all or any of the pillars of faith, namely believing in the
Existence and Unity of God (including Destiny), in angels, in all the Divine Scriptures
and Prophets, without making any distinction among them with respect to believing in
them, and in the Resurrection and afterlife. The followers of Jesus had first obeyed Jesus
and followed his way heroically despite persecutions of the severest kind. However, since
many among them later lapsed into deviations, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and
blessings, interpreted “those who are astray” as referring to those Christians (at-Tirmidhī,
“Tafsīr al-Qur’ān,” 2).
The Messenger made clear to the Muslims how, through their particular beliefs and ways
of acting, people incur God’s punishment and condemnation and go astray. This is his
warning to the Muslims not to follow the same ways, so that they may be saved from being
included in those two groups: those who have incurred God’s wrath (punishment and condemnation), and those who are astray. It should be noted that all the Jews and Christians
are never all alike in the Qur’ān’s sight. Elsewhere it declares:(Yet) they are not all alike:
among the People of the Book there is an upright community, reciting God’s Revelations
in the watches of the night and prostrating (themselves in worship). They believe in God
and the Last Day, and enjoin and promote what is right and good and forbid and try to
prevent evil, and hasten to do good deeds as if competing with one another. Those are of
the righteous ones. Whatever good they do, they will never be denied the reward of it; and
God has full knowledge of the God-revering, pious. (Sūrah 3: 113-115)


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