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The opening

In the name of God,
the Compassionate, the Merciful.

Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds,
most compassionate, ever merciful
King of the Day of Judgment.
You alone we worship
and you alone we ask for help.
Guide us to the straight path,
the path of those whom you have blessed,
not of those who have deserved Your anger
or of those who went astray.

Al-Fatiha, 1:1-7

Some thoughts

The first surah of the Quran is called 'Al Fatiha'. Most often this is rightfully translated as 'the opening'. We can indeed see it as a piece of text that functions as a portal, as a low arch that forces the one who wishes to enter the Quran to bow down, show humility and kneel in front of God – just like a Muslim prayer is performed.

It is of course to be expected that these words would not just be an introduction but also a prayer for only in this way they immediately bring the reader of the Quran to the peaceful spiritual surrender which is the very meaning of the word 'Islam'.

Al Fatiha is the key that unlocks all the other surahs within the Quran

Yet I believe we can also call these verses 'the opening' because Al Fatiha is in fact the key that unlocks all the other surahs within the Quran.

I have come to realise that every holy book can only be grasped when the reader has some keys that open the window of the broader perspective. That is to say, every holy book can only be properly understood when the reader is aware of the basic premises that form the undercurrent of the thoughts and truths it expresses. One of the keys that helps to understand almost all holy books is for example the knowledge that we need to leave behind the suffocating attachments of our ego if we wish to become free souls. Another example is that the New Testament cannot be truly understood without the key of the realization that God is a God of love and that His love sustains creation. And Al Fatiha is yet another such example since this small surah is the most subtle and impressive summary of the whole of Quran.

Let us therefore have a closer look at the seperate verses. The first and most important aspect is a remarkable repetition in these otherwise very concise and non-repetitive verses: God is not only addressed as Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim (the compassionate and the merciful) in the first verse but he is also described as such in the second. This repetition immediately shows which aspect of God is the most important throughout the Quran and as such it is implied that all other interpretations we make of different verses of the Quran have to be consistend with these principles. The fact that God is addressed as Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim at the start of almost all surahs is a clear emphasis thereof. 

God's presence in this world should not be seen as a demanding force but as a warm protective surrounding from which life originates

Thus, if God is the king of the day of judgement, as is written in the following verse, it isn't because he's a cold-hearted ruler but because he's an embracing king who cares for the world. His justice stems from his benevolence. The very use of the phrasing 'Ar-Rahman' and 'Ar-Rahim' shows this most clearly since these words are related to the Arabic word for 'womb' (rahim) thus invoking the notion that God's presence in this world should not be seen as a demanding force but as a warm protective surrounding from which life originates.

However, if God is truly caring, truly protective and truly life-giving, He needs to be just as well. That is why the Quran at various points also expresses the idea that our actions will be weighed. The holy book is very straightforward about it: in the end, our soul will have to answer to God. He is not only a King, but he is also indeed 'the King of the day of Judgement'. That is to say: at one point in time our lives will be put in front of a 'mirror of the divine'. We will be confronted with how much we deviated from the attributes of the divine. We will look upon ourselves and will see the image of what we have been. At that moment, those that chose to do evil will be frightened by their own ugliness, but those that chose to be benevolent will see the divine light shine through them.

Those that deserved God's anger are in that sense the people who consistently chose the path of arrogance, anger and aggression. Those that went astray are the people who were ignorant of the divine aspect of life because they were too self-absorbed. And those that walked the path of God are the people who might have made mistakes but eventually always chose to try to forgive, who aimed for peace and who were benevolent themselves.

One of the central aspects of the faith of Islam therefore consists in believing that there is no escape from this compassionate justice of the 'mirror of the divine'. And the reason why there is no escape is very simply because there is no God but God. As it says in the first verse: God is the true master of all the worlds. This is not an expression of pompous grandeur but of subtle faith for what it says is not 'bow and tremble' but rather 'God's compassion is the true law of this universe'. So if God is the lord of all the worlds, it's exactly because He is the ever benevolent and not because He's an aggressive or indifferent creator.

It is the initial claim of the Quran then that, unlike what so many people think, wealth, nor status, nor power rule our world. What truly rules our world is compassion, love and gentle divinity. And those that ignore these virtues will, in the end, be confronted with their own ugliness while those that live in accordance with them will find true peace.

What Christians can learn

The contemporary Christian world often shows a tendency to forget the primacy of God.

The contemporary Christian world often shows a tendency to forget the primacy of God. This forgetfulness manifests itself in two forms: the obsession with Christ as God's image and the obsession with 'saving others'.

The first obsession is produced by constantly focussing on Christ's historical, spiritual and theological meaning so that they forget to see the Father that works through the Son. They are so blinded by being a Christian that they forget to follow God.

Sure, according to Christian tradition Christ will come at the end and separate the good from the wicked. But Islamic tradition upholds the same belief. For Muslims have understood that if Christ would do so, it is only because God will do so through Him. It is God which is the eternal judge, so above all we should open the ears of our heart and the eyes of our soul to God and try to feel what He inspires us to. All in all, that is also what Christ asked of us.

And if we do indeed focus our attention primarily on God as such, we will also see the obsession to 'save others' more clearly. For it is as if Christians often feel the need to 'sacrifice' themselves 'just like Christ did'. Yet we aren't Christ. We can perhaps try to be like Christ but we won't do so by sacrificing ourselves all the time to help others. Obsessively sacrificing ourselves 'to help others' is a mimicking of Christ's behaviour instead and not sincerely acting from Christ's spirit. We can only try to be like Christ by opening up to God and by living from God's love as much as we can. For it wasn't Christ's sacrifice that made Him Christ, it was his complete devotion to God. And it was God that sent Him to people, not his preconceived idea of what He should do to be 'a good Christian'.

Questions for Muslims

If the verses of Al Fatiha are the key that opens the meaning of the Quran and if these sentences are therefore the most profound expression of the essential truth of the message that was given to Prophet Muhammad – and many scholars agree with me on this – then why do so many Muslims all over the world cling to petty details to define their Islam? I might be mistaken, but it seems to me that Islam today is often (and perhaps even increasingly) being 'locked' instead of 'opened' by those who claim Islam is about rigorously following specific rules like wearing a headscarf, limiting your food to certain products, growing a beard like the prophet, and so on.

Sure enough, a lot of sociology of religion has described Islam as an orthopraxis, a religion that has a strong emphasis on following rituals and traditional rules. Just like Judaism. And I'm well aware of the fact that it is also often experienced in this way by many Muslims. But in fact, Al Fatiha shows that this perhaps shouldn't be the case.

It isn't the books, the scholars or the imams that can judge every aspect of life. Theirs is only a human interpretation of God's law, it isn't God's law itself

Al Fatiha clearly states that the divine is all forgiving. This means that even if we breach the rules, we can always return to the divine. Not in the least because the rules aren't always clear and because certain contexts often raise certain dilemma's. It is, in the end, only God who can judge whether we took the right decision or followed the correct rule in certain difficult times of our lives. For, as Al Fatiha clearly states: God is the master of the day of judgement, not we. And thus it isn't the books, the scholars or the imams that can judge every aspect of life for theirs is only a human interpretation of God's law, it isn't God's law itself.

So God is indeed the one who will be weigh our acts – or better said, his love is indeed the mirror in which our soul is reflected – but let us never forget that 'the judge' is but one of his 99 names. If 'the judge' is His name, it's because 'the forgiving' is His name as well. Like I said, this name is even repeated twice in Al Fatiha. Those that 'go astray' and those that 'deserve his anger' are therefore not those who sometimes skip a prayer or those who grow their beard too short. Al Fatiha does not mention any of these things. What it does imply, as I see it, is that those that deviate from God's path are those that deviate from his essential benevolence and compassion – those that live in anger, hate and rancour. Those that do follow his path are thus not determined by the length of their skirt or the fluency of their Arabic but by their portrayal of the attributes of forgiveness, love and respect.

Why then the exaggerated emphasis on rules? Why not see the peaceful devotion of Islam first and foremost as a refusal to be a cold-hearted ego and as an effort to live a life of embracing warmth? It seems rather evident to me that the cold-hearted are far less attuned to the message of Al Fatiha than those who show spiritual love – even when the cold-hearted follow every rule of the strictest of the strict and even when the lives of those who live from love do not take the exact shape tradition prescribes.

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Comments

i am really impressed by ur

Anonymous

i am really impressed by ur work. Muslim scholars actually dont have proper know how of reliogion...why? because they only consider literal meaning only...in condition that tHeir interests are safe. In 1990 ,Pakistan's Ulemas were involved in putting stop to INTEREST BASED BANKING. RECENTLY ULEMAS HAVE MADE PORK halal for those muslims living outside muslim country...althogh Holy Prophet(SAW) has said that halal is halal and haram is haram....
listen the muslims lack communication, and Allah's fear that is TAQWA...I might not have that trait too but atleast i have a feeling that Allah is watching me! then i never go 4 my benefit...all i do is go for Allah's will but throgh proper knowledge...
its 2 way process...religion to world and world to religion....the sources are
Quran
Hadith
World
which makes a triangle...and 4 that sum of 2 sides must be bigger than one side...
i hope u get my point....!

Thanks

Jonas Yunus

Thank you for your kind praise. 

And thank you for the interesting comment on Quran, Hadith and World being a triangle of which the sum of 2 sides must be bigger than one side alone. 

Your Welcome

maryam hameed

I hope my reply was helpful. I am the same person named as anonymus. please start uploading surah Baqara...ayat after an ayat...i like your passion and views for Quran!:D:)...it would b helpful 4 me 2. and if u need anykind of answers i'll try 2 clear them

...

Jonas Yunus

I won't be discussing complete Surahs but my view on a new surah-part (and most probably it'll be some sentences from Baqara) will be published soon.

...

maryam hameed

okay ...not a problem.

Good evening. I believe that

L.K.S.

Good evening. I believe that you are looking at the entire concept of Law from a very Christian perspective, even as you attempt to understand the Qur'an. The Fatiha is surely "The Opener", but it cannot be disconnected from the rest of what it opens, which seems to me to be what you are doing to a degree. In hopes of reaching some mutual understanding, I have a follow-up question for you:

You stated, "Al Fatiha clearly states that the divine is all forgiving. This means that even if we breach the rules, we can always return to the divine." Given that it is God who revealed the rules to which you are referring, what does "return to the Divine" mean?

Dear L.K.S, if I did not make

Jonas Yunus

Dear L.K.S, if I did not make it clear enough, I gladly do so now: of course I did not wish to disconnect Al Fatiha from the rest of the Qur'an. Quite the contrary. Like I wrote: "I believe we can also call these verses 'the opening' because Al Fatiha is in fact the key that unlocks all the other surahs within the Quran." This means that although Al Fatiha sheds a light upon all the other Surahs, at the same time it must be seen in the light of the whole Qur'an. It's a sort of 'summary' to me - but of course, if that is so, then it cannot be disconnected from the whole to which the summary refers.

To answer your question about 'returning to the Divine'. What I mean by that is that making mistakes does not damn you forever because it is always possible to refocus on God. Or, otherwise put, even if we take a side track sometimes, it's always possible to return to the straitght path.

'Sins', to me, are choices that block the divine to freely flow through our souls. When viewed like that, the forgiveness of God exists in the fact that we can always be 'deblocked' and that the Divine will always flow through the soul of the one who is open to it, even though his heart might have been shut for a while.

Before we continue, forgive

L.K.S.

Before we continue, forgive my bad manners. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and welcoming us into a conversation. And I greatly appreciate your reply.

Regarding my previous statement: By my assertion that you are disconnecting the Fatiha from the rest of the Qur'an, I mean that you seem to be taking an absolutist stance in interpreting Al-Rahman and Al-Rahim in a manner that ignores the implications of what follows it. As a summary of the entire Qur'an, what constitutes "going astray" and "invoking God's anger" must be understood according to how the Quran itself clarifies. So while you focus so intensively on what are undoubtedly two important and essential attributes, you seem to do say in a way that is somewhat dismissive of the Sacred Law. I dare say that you appear to be reading your own Christian conceptions into the verses, for while denying the orthopraxis nature of Islam by means of the Fatiha, I believe that the Fatiha itself indicates otherwise. After praising God and reminding of us both of His Beauty, then His Majesty, there is a request for guidance. What constitutes this guidance? The opening verses of the very next chapter tells us:

"Alif. Lam. Mim. This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a GUIDANCE for those conscious of Allah: Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them, and who believe in what has been revealed to you (O Muhammad), and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith]."

I.e. Guidance is in having God-consciousness (tawqa) and taqwa entails accepting the authority of the prophets, prayer (which is God-centric), giving money in charity (which is people-centric) while acknowledging it as a gift from God and acting according to the Revelation. A path is something that is walked. So turning away from God must necessarily mean turning away from what God has called one to in the Qur'an.

So indeed, if we make mistakes, we can return to the Divine, but this returning must necessarily involve correcting the mistakes that we made. If the "petty detail" of eating a piece of fruit was the cause of our father and mother being kicked out of the Garden, then who is the judge which detail is "petty" and which detail is not? His being al-Rahman does not preclude His being Malik of the Day of Judgment. So while we acknowledge that God's compassion and mercy, we also "bow and tremble" before His Majesty. Long skirts and forgiveness are both important. As articulated in the Fatiha, ritual and ethics are not mutually exclusive.

God knows best and His aid is sought.

I see your point and I most

Jonas Yunus

I see your point and I most readily agree with much of it. We might have some differences of opinion in certain details (which partly will be so because I indeed interpret from within Christian conceptions - but that is of course the explicit starting point of my reflections), but I feel that discussing them any further might perhaps lead us too far for this webpage. Who knows, perhaps we might continue the discussion on another moment in real life. 

I will therefore conclude by thanking you for this very well placed nuance and thoughtful consideration.  I fully subscribe to the idea that "A path is something that is walked." The knowledge that there is forgiveness should indeed never refrain us from acting in accordance to Divine Law.

All Holy Quran only the soft

Shareefa

All Holy Quran only the soft heart can understand it and it touch it
Allah grants them great meanings

......rigorously following

OooKhalid

......rigorously following specific rules like wearing a headscarf, limiting your food to certain products, growing a beard like the prophet, and so on.

Just extend 'so on' to include murder, theft, rape, arson, spreading corruption in the land and you will inshallah appreciate 1.5 billion Muslim's locked behavior towards rules.

btw i love your blog :)

I'll leave this comment to

Jonas Yunus

I'll leave this comment to retain the openness of the debate, though I of course disagree with the both the tone and the content of the insinuation. Reductionist approaches - even when jokingly presented - obviously jar with the goal and efforts of the Halal Monk project and are contradicted in every conversation and Qur'anic interpretation that can be found on this website.