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The Theme of Surah al-Fatihah

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By Sh Ahsan Hanif

Surah Fatiha

Sūrah al-Fātiḥah is described as the ‘Mother of the Qur’an’ and the ‘Seven oft-repeated verses’. It is recited in every unit of every prayer. It is one of the chapters of the Qur’an that we memorised as children and one of the chapters that we will teach to our children. But just what makes this chapter so important? From the 114 chapters of the Qur’an, why is this the first chapter? What makes it so special? What is the message of this chapter?

Each and every one of the 114 chapters of the Qur’an has a single theme and subject. Every topic within that chapter will then relate to that single theme. So what is the theme of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah?

Overview

The theme of this chapter covers the basic tenets of Islam, being; belief in Allah (swt), following the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and the purification of the soul and exalted character that those principles should bring about. In many ways, Sūrah al-Fātiḥah is a summary of the main themes of the Qur’an. The scholars have mentioned that the Qur’an is broadly divided into 3 main themes. A third of the Qur’an speaks about Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), a third about the Prophets and past nations, and a third about the halal and haram.

To know Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

Let us analyse Sūrah al-Fātiḥah. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) dedicates the first three verses of this chapter to speaking about Himself. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions His lordship, His creation, His power, His Names and His Attributes. Allah (swt) says in the first three verses, “All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all that exists. The Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. Owner of the Day of Judgement.”

All three of these verses are dedicated to increasing our knowledge of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), because through the increase in knowledge we increase in our love, devotion and submission to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). It is human nature to learn about what we love most, and to love what we know most about. It is for this reason that we often love our parents, spouses and children most. We often love and are patriotic to our countries as they are most familiar to us. In terms of food, we often rate our own cuisine as most beloved to us as we’ve known it longest. Yet as Muslims, our love for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) should far outstrip all of the above. Indeed, this is a claim we often make, and for the most part sincerely. But in reality, and after deep thought, the question arises, what and how much do we know about Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)?

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wants us to learn about Him and thereby come closer to Him. This is why Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) praises the scholars in the Qur’an, “Indeed only the scholars truly fear Allah”. This is because their knowledge of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), His names, attributes, power and abilities increases them in piety and righteousness. It is for this reason that most of the passages and chapters of the Qur’an which have added virtues relate to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Look at Āyat al-Kursī, the last two verses of Baqarah, Sūrah al-Ikhlāṣ, Sūrahs Falaq and Nās, all of them speak about Allah.

The pinnacle and height of that knowledge is to understand Tawḥīd; the abilities of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) which make Him alone worthy of all worship, and to seek nearness to Him by knowing, understanding and living by His names and attributes. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) shows this in verse number 4 of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah, “You alone do we worship and from You alone do we seek assistance”.

To follow the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) then speaks about the second principle of Islam; to follow the Prophet. This too requires knowledge and learning about the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), his life, character, sacrifices and way, as only through this can we increase on our love for him. That increase in love will then spur us into emulating him and clinging to his example. For this reason, Sūrah al-Fātiḥah only consists of one duʿā’, a duʿā’ which we make at least 17 times a day, “Guide us to the Straight Path”. The straight path is the path of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his Sunnah. A third of the Qur’an reminds us of the stories of the past Prophets and nations so that we may take heed from them. It is warning to not fall into the same errors as those nations who rejected their Prophets and a glimpse into the delight awaiting those who do follow them. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is the best of the Prophets, and for us the best example to follow.

Halāl and Harām

Adhering to these first two principles; love and submission to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and love and following the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) leads to a better character, a purer heart and soul and a greater example for others. These are the people who adhere to the commandments of Allah and stay away from His prohibitions, to which the third category of the Qur’an is dedicated; the ḥalāl and ḥarām. The results of doing this is attaining Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) favour, grace and blessings, whereas the results of turning away from this path is misguidance and Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wrath and anger. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the final verse of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah, “The path of those whom You have favoured, not those who have earned Your anger nor those who are misguided”.

Conclusion

Thus the beauty and message of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah is the comprehensive summary of the message of the Qur’an. Each and every time we recite Sūrah al-Fātiḥah, whether in or out of the prayer, it should be a reminder of these three core principles of Islam, for which the Qur’an was revealed and the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) sent.

Shaykh Ahsan Hanif, PhD, was born and raised in Birmingham, UK. He memorised the Qur’an at a young age and at the age of 17 received a scholarship to study at the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia. As well as attaining an ijazah in the Qur’an and a diploma in Arabic, Shaykh Ahsan graduated from the Faculty of Shari’ah Studies in 2006. Upon his return to the UK he attained his PhD from the University of Birmingham. He is currently an imam at Green Lane Masjid, Birmingham as well as the head of the Qur’an & Hadith Studies Department for AlMaghrib Institute. He has spoken at Islamic conferences in various countries, published translations of Arabic works and is a presenter of IslamQA for Islam Channel.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Maisa

    December 4, 2015 at 2:23 AM

    I have very little knowledge but what I know I would like to share. In the last verse, according to Arabic grammar , it will be translated as and not among those whom anger has been shown, as maghdoob is mafool, and it will not be translated as on whom you hv shown anger. If I m wrong plz correct me.

  2. Avatar

    Kent Bayley

    December 4, 2015 at 3:46 AM

    By halal you mean the barbaric and cruel practice of killing animals. I note to apparently Allah get pretty hostile if you do the wrong thing. I have no idea how you people turn failures into heroes and darken the world. Islam is a complete program of subjugation and this poorly written offering reinforces that cult like mentality.

    • Avatar

      fatih

      December 6, 2015 at 2:29 PM

      I dunno if this is barbaric and cruel…

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dU3O5rykwe4

    • Avatar

      Tadar

      December 8, 2015 at 10:11 PM

      Read “THE SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS”? All forms of being within creation have what we call life in it. And whether one believes in a Supreme Being or not does not change the fact that all living things must eat. And what do they eat, other things that have life, or had life in them. For one to live something must die. And when done with the proper attitude one avoids getting a big head about taking life. All cells are less than 1% different in their physical makeup, and they all communicate.

      • Avatar

        Kent Bayley

        December 9, 2015 at 2:36 AM

        What on earth are you going on about. I am talking about the barbaric way Muslims butcher cattle. Its cruel and primitive. I have no idea what you are talking about but I guess you must be a Muslim. Oh dear.

    • Avatar

      Abeerah

      September 4, 2016 at 5:05 AM

      I have a question if you think that about Islam then what are you doing in a Islamic site ???!!!!

  3. Avatar

    fatih

    December 4, 2015 at 3:47 PM

    @ maisa

    I think you are right, because “your anger” would be Idafah and that is not the case.

    I remember a Video of NAK when he said that Earned anger means that they have earned anger form evebody. Like Allah, the engels, past generations, future generations.

  4. Avatar

    Aafia

    December 5, 2015 at 1:24 AM

    @Kent Bayley
    May Allah guide you. Are you a Vegetarian?
    By the Way Halal Meat are healthy than other methods of Slaughtered Meat because the blood doesn’t coagulate inside the Animal.Morever since the Carotid Artery is cut the Animal doesn’t feel much Pain as it does in other Methods.
    You need more research brother.

    • Avatar

      M.Mahmud

      December 5, 2015 at 3:54 AM

      It is stunning insults to the Messenger are allowed on this forum.

      1) Animals must be killed in a humane way-Muslims do a nice clean cut which ought to remove the pain.

      2) if the animal shakes it isnt necessarily due to pain but it can be just a normal reaction after death.

      3) stunning isnt banned by all scholars and not all Muslims have access to stun gun technology. Muslims live in poverty. It does not mean they ought to stop eating animals

      3) as for civilization, the most primitive and savage of Muslims is better then the most “civilized” of disbelievers because the former is eligble for Paradise and the latter will never enter it.

      • Avatar

        Aly Balagamwala

        December 5, 2015 at 6:26 AM

        Dear Mahmud

        It is stunning insults to the Messenger are allowed on this forum.

        They are not… just that moderators are humans and need time to get to comments that are in violation… usually it is once a day.

      • Avatar

        Kent Bayley

        December 5, 2015 at 3:57 PM

        You mean your imaginary paradise where the men get 72 virgins and the women get nothing. Is this the paradise to which you refer. Without love you will get nothing.

      • Avatar

        Mustafa

        December 6, 2015 at 10:21 PM

        (You mean your imaginary paradise where the men get 72 virgins and the women get nothing. Is this the paradise to which you refer. Without love you will get nothing.)

        Men and women will be completely satisfied. As Allah says,

        لَا يَسْمَعُونَ حَسِيسَهَا ۖ وَهُمْ فِي مَا اشْتَهَتْ أَنفُسُهُمْ خَالِدُونَ
        They will not hear its perceptible (hissing) sound, and they are eternally (abiding) in whatever their selves craved for. (Literally: lusted for) (Dr. Ghali)

        And the Muslims enjoying themselves in Paradise have eternity and wont JUST be busy with sensual pleasures 24/7. There will be family/friends fun and more. There will be plenty of other types of joy to add to it. That is for Muslims alone and no one else. Of course they have love-they are love one another and are loved in Paradise. They are the only people in the next life who are loved and have love.

        • Avatar

          Kent Bayley

          December 9, 2015 at 3:35 PM

          Oh dear……..you poor lost soul.

    • Avatar

      Maisa

      December 5, 2015 at 4:26 AM

      You must have seen some ignorant muslims who might be using barbaric methods to kill animals. But you must not have seen any muslim desregarding other religions and on top of it the Lord. What education your religion has given to you is very disappointing who is ready to degrade the lord for the animals without taking the pain to research. Actually when you see muslims doing something wrong you blame the religion , but it is simply that they havent studied their religion well. But islam is degraded. Then by seeing your mentality , it reflects the teachings of your religion who has love for the animals then the lord. Islamic method of sacrificing animals is the best method which gives least pain to the animals as compared to other religions methods who simply throw living animals in the machine or give them electric shocks . If by civilized nations you mean people humiliating God then than please change the definition of civilization.

  5. Avatar

    M.Mahmud

    December 5, 2015 at 3:49 AM

    The way you translated ulama can be a cause of confusion for Muslims
    Firstly, its possible the poor villagers who know little of Islam are the most fearful of Allah due to the knowledge of Himself He provided them

    Secondly, its possible many scholars are arrogant and self rightious and not fearing Allah.

    Allah alone judges which Muslim has more taqwa than another. Only the ones fear Allah are actually Ulama-and this can be a layman in a village or a faqih in a city.

  6. Pingback: » Why ‘The Cow’?

  7. Avatar

    shoaib

    April 2, 2016 at 5:17 PM

    @kent if you have an explanation of your denial than do provide them. and if you’re answer less in this manner than i assume its a debate between literate and illiterate. and from my point of view, you’re the one who’s showing illiteracy. as you are just denying without a valid reason. from my pont of view, you’re the lost soul. illiterate always speaks uselessly while the wise stay’s quite.

  8. Avatar

    Zia-e-Taiba

    November 12, 2016 at 7:48 AM

    Nice Article!! Everybody should also visit the link for complete online Quran Tilawat with Translation

  9. Avatar

    Hafiz saad

    June 21, 2019 at 2:06 AM

    The online Quran classes are all-encompassing and involves all the things in any field: all the spiritual strength and motivation that life needs, the principle of life, the rules, the principles of life, the principles of religion, the work from faith to merit, from society to life, from the individual to the collective, from moral character to etiquette, from command to prohibition, from the story to history, from economy to culture, education, It also includes aspects of astronomical geography, political-military, national, war and peace, science and art, biology, botany, linguistics, and more.

  10. Avatar

    Reading Quran in Arabic

    June 21, 2019 at 2:13 AM

    Learning Arabic and reading quran in arabic. what’s the end result wish you would like to attain from the learning? does one simply want to be able to speak to the native Arabs throughout your vacation, or does one wish to browse and perceive sacred writing or the classical text? in all probability you’re a lot of interested to jot down some easy sentences in Arabic. Please be terribly clear on the supposed learning outcome, as every outcome would require totally different learning intervention.

  11. Avatar

    Al Fatihah

    July 2, 2019 at 2:27 AM

    Quran Is The Blessed Kalam Of Allah Almighty. What Is The Great Status Of الحمد للـه رب العالمين Has That Quran Pak Starts With It? Starting Quran Kareem With It Shows Its Greatness.

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The Spirituality Of Gratitude

Shaykh Tarik Ata

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Gratitude

The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?

What Does Shukr Mean?

Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).

Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461).[1] That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.

The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.

Blessings Even in Hardship

One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.

In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.

Allah knows best.

Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.

Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.

[1] Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.

Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude

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Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi

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Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that He has given us both the opportunity and ability to come here tonight to study and explore the meanings of His words in Surah Maryam. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accept this effort from all of us and place it on our scale of good deeds.

Alhamdulillah, in our last series we were able to complete the tafsir of Surah Al-Kahf. InshAllah, in this next series, we’ll be exploring the meanings, lessons, and reminders of Surah Maryam. Tafsīr is an extremely noble and virtuous discipline. The reason why it’s so noble and virtuous is that it’s the study of the divine speech of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). As mentioned in a hadith the superiority of the speech of Allah over all other speech is like the superiority of Allah over all of His creation. There’s nothing more beneficial and virtuous than studying the Quran. And by doing so we’ll be counted amongst the best of people. As the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “the best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”

All of us need to build a stronger relationship with the Quran. The Quran is full of wisdom and guidance in every single verse and word. It’s our responsibility to seek that guidance, understand it, contextualize it and more importantly act upon it. Tafsīr is such a unique science that it brings together all of the other Islamic sciences. While exploring a Surah a person comes across discussions regarding Arabic grammar and morphology, rhetoric, Ahādīth, fiqh, sīrah and all those studies that are known as the Islamic Sciences. One scholar described the Quran as an ocean that has no shore, بحر لا ساحل له. The more we study the Qur’ān the stronger our relationship with it will become. We’ll become more and more attached to it and will be drawn into its beauty and wonder. The deeper a person gets into tafsir and studying the more engaged and interested they become. They also recognize how little they truly know. It develops humility. That’s the nature of true knowledge. The more we learn the more we recognize we don’t know. May Allah ﷻ allow us all to be sincere and committed students of the Qur’ān.

Surah Maryam

Surah Maryam is the 19th surah in the Quran. It is a relatively long Makki surah made up of 98 verses. Some commentators mention that it’s the 44th Surah to be revealed, after Surah Al-Fatir and before Surah Taha. It has been given the name Maryam because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) miraculously at the beginning of the Surah. Just like other Makkan surahs, it deals with the most fundamental aspects of our faith. It talks about the existence and oneness of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), prophethood, and resurrection and recompense.

The Surah is made up of a series of unique stories filled with guidance and lessons that are meant as reminders. One of the main themes of this Surah is mercy… It has been mentioned over 16 times in this Surah. We’ll find the words of grace, compassion and their synonyms frequently mentioned throughout the sūrah, together with Allah’s attributes of beneficence and mercy. We can say that one of the objectives of the Surah is to establish and affirm the attribute of mercy for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why all of the stories mentioned also have to do with Allah’s mercy.

Another objective of the Surah is to remind us of our relationship with Allah ﷻ; the concept of Al-‘Ubūdiyyah. These are the two major themes or ideas of this Surah; the concept of Rahmah and the concept of ‘Ubūdiyyah (Mercy and Servitude).

The Surah can be divided into 8 sections:

1) Verses 1-15: The surah starts with the story of Zakariyya (as) and how he was given the gift of a child at a very old age, which was something strange and out of the ordinary.

2) Verses 16-40: mention the story of Maryam and the miraculous birth of Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) without a father and how her community responded to her.

3) Verses 41-50: The surah then briefly mentions one part of the story of Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), specifically the conversation he had with his father regarding the worship of idols. The surah then briefly mentions a series of other Prophets.

4) Verses 51-58: Mention Musa and Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Ismail 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Idrees 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) to show that the essence of the message of all Prophets was the same

5) Verses 59-65: compare and contrast the previous generations with the current ones in terms of belief and actions.

6) Verses 66-72: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) addresses the Mushrikoon rejecting their false claims regarding life after death and judgment.

7) Verses 73-87: continue to address the Mushrikoon and warn them regarding their attitude towards belief in Allah and His messengers. They also mention the great difference between the resurrection of the believer and the resurrection of the non-believer.

8) Verses 88-98: contain a severe warning to those who claim that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has taken a child. They also express that Allah is pleased with the believers and mentions that one of the objectives of the Quran is to give glad tidings to the believers and to warn the non-believers.

Story

From various narrations, we learn that this surah was revealed near the end of the fourth year of Prophethood. This was an extremely difficult time for Muslims. The Quraysh were frustrated with their inability to stop the message of Islam from spreading so they became ruthless. They resorted to any method of torture that they could think of; beating, starving and harassing. When the persecution became so severe that it was difficult for the Muslims to bear it, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) gave permission to migrate to Abyssinia. “For in it dwells a king in whose presence no one is harmed.” 10 men and 4 women migrated in the 5th year of Prophethood secretly. After a few months, a larger group of 83 men and 18 women migrated as well. This migration added more fuel to the fire. It enraged the people of Quraysh.

Umm Salamah [rahna]narrated, “When we stopped to reside in the land of Abyssinia we lived alongside the best of neighbors An-Najashi. We practiced our religion safely, worshipped Allah without harm and didn’t hear anything we disliked. When news of our situation reached the Quraysh they started to plot against us…” They decided to send two delegates to persuade An-Najashi to send the Companions back by offering him and his ministers’ gifts. The plan was to go to each minister with gifts and turn them against the Muslims. So they went to each minister with gifts and said, “Verily, foolish youth from amongst us have come to the country of your king; they have abandoned the religion of their people and have not embraced your religion. Rather they have come with a new religion that neither of us knows. The noblemen of their people, from their fathers and uncles, have sent us to the king asking that he send them back. So when we speak to the king regarding their situation advise him to surrender them to us and to not speak to them…” The minister agreed.

Then they went to the king, offered him gifts and said the same thing… The ministers tried to convince him as well. An-Najashi became angry with them and said, “No, by Allah, I will not surrender them to these two and I don’t fear the plotting of a people who have become my neighbors, have settled down in my country, and have chosen me (to grant them refuge) over every other person. I will not do so until I summon them and speak to them. If they are as these two say I will give them up, but if they aren’t then I will protect them from these two and continue to be a good neighbor to them as long as they are good neighbors to me.”

al-Najāshī then summoned the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions. When his messenger informed the Prophet’s Companions that they were to appear before the king, they gathered together to discuss what they should do. One of them asked, “What will you say to the name (al-Najāshī) when you go to him?” They all agreed on what they would say to him, “By Allah, we will say what our Prophet ﷺ taught us and commanded us with, regardless of the consequences.” Meanwhile, al-Najāshī called for his priests, who gathered around him with their scrolls spread out before them. When the Muslims arrived al-Najāshī began by asking them, “What is this religion for which you have parted from your people? You have not entered into the fold of my religion, nor the religion of any person from these nations.”

Umm Salamah [rahna] narrated, “The Person among us who would speak to him was Jaʿfar ibn abī Ṭālib [rahnu] who then said, “O king, we were an ignorant people: we worshipped idols, we would eat from the flesh of dead animals, we would perform lewd acts, we would cut off family ties, and we would be bad neighbors; the strong among us would eat from the weak. We remained upon that state until Allah sent us a Messenger, whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and chastity we already knew. He invited us to Allah – to believe in His oneness and to worship Him; to abandon all that we and our fathers worshipped besides Allah, in terms of stones and idols. He ﷺ commanded us to speak truthfully, to fulfill the trust, to join ties of family relations, to be good to our neighbors, and to refrain from forbidden deeds and from shedding blood. And he ﷺ forbade us from lewd acts, from uttering falsehood, from wrongfully eating the wealth of an orphan, from falsely accusing chaste women of wrongdoing. And he ﷺ ordered us to worship Allah alone and to not associate any partners with him in worship; and he ﷺ commanded us to pray, to give zakāh, and to fast.” He enumerated for al-Najāshī the teachings of Islam. He said, “And we believe him and have faith in him. We follow him in what he came with. And so we worship Allah alone, without associating any partners with Him in worship. We deem forbidden that which he has made forbidden for us, and we deem lawful that which he made permissible for us. Our people then transgressed against us and tortured us. The tried to force us to abandon our religion and to return from the worship of Allah to the worship of idols; they tried to make us deem lawful those abominable acts that we used to deem lawful. Then, when they subjugated us, wronged us, and treated us in an oppressive manner, standing between us and our religion, we came to your country, and we chose you over all other people. We desired to live alongside you, and we hoped that, with you, we would not be wronged, O king.” al-Najāshī said to Jaʿfar [rahnu], “Do you have any of that which he came with from Allah?” Jaʿfar [rahnu] said, “Yes”. “Then recite to me,” said al-Najāshī. Jaʿfar [rahnu] recited for him the beginning of Surah Maryam. By Allah, al-Najāshī began to cry, until his beard became wet with tears. And when his priests heard what Jaʿfar [rahnu] was reciting to them, they cried until their scrolls became wet. al-Najāshī then said, “By Allah, this and what Mūsa (as) came with come out of the same lantern. Then by Allah, I will never surrender them to you, and henceforward they will not be plotted against and tortured.”

Describing what happened after the aforementioned discussion between al-Najāshī and Jaʿfar [rahnu], Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “When both ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullah ibn abī Rabīʿah left the presence of al-Najāshī, ʿAmr [rahnu] said, “By Allah tomorrow I will present to him information about them with which I will pull up by the roots their very lives.” Abdullah ibn Rabīʿah who was more sympathetic of the two towards us said, “Don’t do so, for they have certain rights of family relations, even if they have opposed us.” ʿAmr said, “By Allah, I will inform him that they claim that ʿĪsā ibn Maryam is a slave.”

He went to the king on the following day and said, “O king, verily, they have strong words to say about ʿĪsa (as). Call them here and ask them what they say about him.” al-Najāshī sent for them in order to ask them about ʿĪsa. Nothing similar to this befell us before. The group of Muslims gathered together and said to one another, “What will you say about ʿĪsa when he asks you about him?” They said, “By Allah, we will say about him that which Allah says and that which our Prophet ﷺ came with, regardless of the outcome.” When they entered into his presence, he said to them, “What do you say about ʿĪsa ibn Maryam?” Jaʿfar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “We say about him that which our Prophet ﷺ came with – that he is the slave of Allah, His messenger, a spirit created by Him, and His word, which he bestowed on Maryam, the virgin, the baṭūl.”

al-Najāshī struck his hand on the ground and took from it a stick. He then said, “ʿĪsa ibn Maryam did not go beyond what you said even the distance of the stick.” When he said this, his ministers spoke out in anger, to which he responded, “What I said is true even if you speak out in anger, by Allah. (Turning to the Muslims, he said) Go, for you are safe in my land. Whoever curses you will be held responsible. And I would not love to have a reward of gold in return for me hurting a single man among you. (Speaking to his ministers he said) Return to these two (men) their gifts, since we have no need for them. For by Allah, Allah did not take from me bribe money when He returned to me my kingdom, so why should I take bribe money. The two left, defeated and humiliated; and returned to them were the things they came with. We then resided alongside al-Najāshī in a very good abode, with a very good neighbor.”

The response was simply amazing in its eloquence. A believer puts the needs of his soul before the needs of his body. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts the Surah by saying,

Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts Surah Maryam with a series of five letters. There are many different saying or explanations regarding these five letters. The most correct opinion is that these are from the broken letters. There are 29 different Surahs in the Quran that start with the broken letters. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows their meanings so they are from amongst the Mutashaabihat, those verses whose meanings are hidden.

However, we do find that some great Companions, as well as their students, sometimes gave meanings to these words. For example, it’s said that it is in acronym and each letter represents one of the names of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Kaf is for Al-Kafi or Al-Kareem, “haa” is for Al-Hadi, “yaa” is from Hakeem or Raheem, “’ayn” is from Al-‘Aleem or Al-‘Adheem, and “saad” is from Al-Saadiq. Others said that it is one of the names of Allah and it’s actually Al-Ism Al-‘Atham or that it’s a name of the Quran. However, these narrations can’t be used as proof or to assign definitive meanings. They offer possibilities, but no one truly knows what they mean.

Now the question should come to our mind that why would Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) start of a Surah with words that no one understands?

1) To grab the attention of the listeners.

2) To remind us that no matter how much we know there’s always something that we don’t know.

3) These letters are the letters of the Arabic language and the Quran was revealed at a time that was the peak of eloquence of the language and it was their identity. The Quran was revealed challenging them spiritually and intellectually. The Arabs never heard these letters being used in such a majestic way.

4) To prove the inimitable nature of the Quran.

Allah then starts the story of Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was one of the Prophets sent to Bani Israel. He was the husband of Maryam’s paternal aunt. He was also one of the caretakers or custodians of Baitul Maqdis.

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