Part 5 – Verse Number 4 of Surat Al-Fatihah

We’ve come to the middle of Surat al-Fatihah. The first three verses were a statement about Allah, His love and mercy, and His complete authority over the Day of Judgment. Now, we come to ourselves. What is the relationship between Allah and me? How should I talk to Him? Allah teaches us this in the following ayah.

Iyyaka na‘budu wa iyyaka nasta‘in

“It is You we worship and You we ask for help.”

This ayah is not a command from Allah to be His slaves. It’s a statement we ourselves make. Why? Because we have already acknowledged that Allah deserves all praise, He is the Master of the whole universe, He loves and cares for us, and He makes decisions for us on the Day of Judgment.

As Dr. Abdel Haleem says in his commentary on this verse, “Who is more worthy of being singled out for worship and seeking help, other than the caring Lord of all the Worlds, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy, & the Master of the Day of Judgement? Because there is judgement, the judgement should be prepared for by worship.”

Na‘budu

Ibadah in the Quran denotes,

“the submissiveness and humility that a person ought to show towards his or her Creator and Sustainer.”

(Islahi 73)

Ibn Kathir defines ‘ibadah’ as implying “the utmost love, humility and fear.”

We have been introduced to Allah as our Rabb (Master). It naturally follows that we are His slaves and that we submit ourselves to Him and obey Him. But, unlike slavery in this world, we submit ourselves into slavery to Allah by our own will.  

“You have to make a choice,” says Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan in his commentary on this verse. “Nobody can make you be Muslim. You have to come to Allah yourself. And why should you come to Allah? Because of the first three ayat of the Fatihah. That’s enough for you…. Each of those are plenty of reasons by themselves, but all together, more than enough to say, ‘Ya Allah, I’m your slave. I don’t want to do what I want to do anymore; I want to do what you want me to do.”

This pledge isn’t to be taken lightly. We can’t just declare ourselves slaves of Allah and have it done with. Being Allah’s slave means we spend each and every second of our day and each day of our life in complete obedience to Him. Before taking the tiniest step, we ask ourselves, “Will this be pleasing to Allah or displeasing to Him?” It influences our worship, our monetary transactions, our behavior towards our family, our marriages, our education, job, play – everything. And it’s not easy. We stumble every so often. We are overwhelmed. We sin. We despair. We are depressed. We feel the urge to give up.

And that’s why we need help in this journey. And who can help us? Allah SWT can. 

“This supplication for help may specifically relate to worship or it may refer equally well to other affairs of life. The human being does indeed stand in need of Allah’s help to guide and show him how to worship properly.  We need the power, ability, & patience especially when it comes to obeying Him in all aspects and affairs of life. That is a most difficult test, and at times even the toughest people lose heart and flounder.”

(Islahi 73-74)

Point to Ponder: At present, what do you need help in? What are you doing about it? (It will help you to get your answers ready before proceeding.)

Nasta‘in

Ustadh Nouman paraphrases this statement as:

“Please help. I can’t do it on my own.”

Now, when it comes to seeking Allah’s help, we are prone to go to two extremes. The first is that we just sit there watching movies and don’t apply for jobs and then ask Allah to land us a job; as if jobs drop from the sky.  

“Isti’anah is when you are already trying, you could not finish, then you ask for somebody’s help….. [It] requires that you are doing work first yourself…. The Sahaba had to go into battle, meet the enemy, and then the angels came.” (Nouman Ali Khan)

On the other hand, sometimes we give our best to our jobs; we work overtime and ruin our marital lives. And then when we get the promotion, we pat ourselves on the back and feel very proud. “We start thinking we get this because we deserve it or that we earned it ourselves.”

In reality, our success depends on two things – we do what we can and then Allah helps us with the rest. We can balance between the two by reminding ourselves of nasta’in.

Iyyaka

The structure of this ayah in Arabic is unusual. In Arabic, you don’t usually start a sentence with the pronoun first. Why is it so here?

“The precedence in this sentence of the object iyyaka (You alone) interjects into the supplication a sense of exclusivity, indicating that just as worship of Him is an exclusive prerogative of Allah alone, so must all our supplications for help be addressed to Him alone. This is a categorical rejection of all forms of polytheism. After acknowledging our primary duty and obligations towards Allah alone, we have virtually nothing left to offer anyone else, nor any justifiable excuse to call upon anyone apart from Him.”

(Islahi 74)

We don’t submit ourselves to anyone; we don’t prostrate before anyone; and we don’t ask help from anyone, except Allah. Does that mean you don’t ask your teacher to help you with your assignment? Of course. The help that we ask exclusively from Allah is what no human being can help you with.

In Summary:

Asking help from Allah entails three things:

  1. You ask divine help from no one else.
  2. You do what you can first.
  3. You make dua to Allah, because no matter how hard you try, success is in His control.

In the following articles, we’ll look at the specific dua for help that we make to Allah in the Fatihah, Insha’Allah.

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