“If Muslims begin to reflect deeply on the Fatihah, it would open the doors to the rest of the Quran.” (Nouman Ali Khan)
In part 1 of this series, we looked at the two things that we say before starting with the Fatihah. Today, let’s have a look at the first ayah of this amazing surah.
Al-hamdu li-llahi rabbi-l-‘alamin
“[All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds.”
Surah Fatihah is actually a prayer, a dua. And we begin the dua by praising and thanking Allah. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail.
The word hamd means more than just praise. It also includes the connotation of gratitude. We’re praising Allah for who He is and everything He does, and we’re thanking Him for everything He gave us personally. It’s the best beginning of a heart-to-heart conversation with Allah, which is what this surah is.
“The passionate cry of the human heart – so vividly captured in this surah – is born out of our direct experience and observation of various manifestations of Allah’s limitless beneficence and compassion,” says Dr Amin Ahsan Islahi in his book Pondering Over the Qur’an. “The effect of all this on us and our response form the very core of this surah.” (Dr. Islahi)
But wait, what about those times when life seems unbearable, when things go wrong, when we suddenly go bankrupt? Do we praise Allah for those times, and even thank Him?
Yes, absolutely. It’s very difficult, and it needs a complete change of perspective.
That’s what Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan explained in his lecture Rediscovering the Fatihah, “Alhamdulillah is not just something we say, it’s an attitude…. ’Ya Allah, as bad as this might seem, I’m sure there’s wisdom in it and there’s something good in this for me and I thank you for it.’” (Part 1)
Think about this – in the course of history, human beings have invented various kinds of gods and deities. They have also given them names and attributes that really belong to Allah alone, such as “the knower of hearts” (e.g. antarjami) or “provider of sustenance” (e.g. annapurna). But never in human history has anything or anyone been called Allah, except Allah.
Allah is His proper name, and thus it encompasses all His other names and attributes.
When a person, for instance, introduces herself as Aisha, it follows that all her qualities, such as student and mother, are embedded in that name. But if a person calls herself “student”, it doesn’t follow that she is also a mother, or that her name is Aisha.
Allah is above all examples. We praise and thank Him for each and every attribute He possesses.
The word rabb means more than Lord or Master. It combines together several meanings:
- Malik, Owner
- Murabbi, One who takes care
- Mun’im, Giver of gifts
- Qayyim, One who maintains the existence. If He lets go, it will all fall apart.
- Sayyid, One who has full authority
To make it easy to understand, let us take a silly example. Suppose you got a cat as an Eid present. Now you are its malik (owner). But, in order to earn the title of rabbu-l-qitt (lord of the cat), you need to, first of all, take care of its well-being. You need to feed it at regular intervals, provide it with plenty of water, keep it warm, etc. Secondly, you need to make it happy by treating it with catnip and playing ping-pong balls with it.
But, despite doing all that, you can never become its rabb, because you can’t become qayyim or sayyid.
Allah (swt) is above all examples. He owns us, body and soul, and has complete authority over us. He takes care of us every second. And on top of that, He gives us gifts. And if He stops taking care of us, we are going to fall apart, be destroyed, cease to exist. In short, we are nothing without Him. We need Him for our survival and well-being. We are His slaves (‘abd). He has the authority to give us orders, and we are bound to obey Him. And He isn’t like any other master. He is the Most Loving. He loves us like no one else loves us, not even our mothers. And despite our disobedience and transgressions, He forgives us and gives us gifts which we don’t deserve.
And He isn’t just our master. He is Rabb al-‘Alamin, the Master of all human beings, Jinns and angels. He owns, sustains, gives gifts, maintains the existence of and has full authority over all of his creations, and He never gets tired of it. Because He is the All-Powerful.