A Lecture by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad
Surat Al-Fatiha Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII
As we finish now, we’re going to talk about Surat al-Fatiha; that’s why most people came, to get the goods on the greatest Surah of the Qur’an. First of all, someone might ask, “Why this Surah? Why are you going to spend six weeks on this Surah? Can’t you do the tafsir (exegesis, interpretation, and contextualization) of this Surah in one week?”
First of all, this class is not tafsir. This is the explanation of al-Fatiha and its effects on the life of a Muslim. The Qur’an should affect us. Not that we’re going to sit and do an in-depth grammatical analysis of the Qur’an, but what we’re going to talk about is the effect that the Qur’an should have on us.
Most of us here, we’re laymen with the Qur’an. We’re not in here like Kobe Bryant hitting forty a night. We are here to be good Muslims, to hear what the Qur’an has for us, to practice it slowly but surely, and to better ourselves. And everyone can do that. Nobody has been excluded from this. We’re here to discuss the effect the Qur’an should have on us on a daily basis, especially here in the wild animal kingdom of the West, on the campus called Berkeley.
Now, somebody asks, “Why? Why this Surah and why six weeks?” Subhan’Allah (Perfect and Exalted is Allah), what I did is that I timed al-Fatiha. After you have kids you’ll get even more creative, as you’ll understand one day when you have kids, especially when it comes to stalling and using time correctly. Alhamdullilah (praise and thanks to Allah), I’ve seen the children’s video “Salaam’s Journey” about fifty-five times in two days. I’m becoming very creative to keep my daughter busy so that I can finish my projects and so forth.
I timed al-Fatiha. Um Salamah (r) described for us how the Prophet Muhammed ﷺ used to read al-Fatiha. You find some people, masha’Allah (God has willed it), they come to the masjid and they’re so important, and they’re so busy, masha’Allah they’re the CEO of something, so they come and recite Fatiha very quickly, until they end with “Aaaameeeeeeen.” At least they get the “ameen” right with the correct madd (elongation) and everything. Um Salamah (r) said that the Prophet ﷺ used to read al-Fatiha in slow measured tones, pausing at the end of every verse. Why? Because for the one who really has a relationship with the Qur’an, it’s like eating that good gulab jamon with that nice syrup. (Gulab jamon is a famous sweet. If you’re from the Indian subcontinent you know about it, and you can only eat it once a year or you’ll be really out of shape). The Prophet ﷺ used to read the Qur’an and he used to savor it. I mean, iman (faith) is savored. The Prophet ﷺ said in Sahih Muslim, “The true believer savors faith by loving others for the sake of Allah (swt). Three traits, if found in a person, allow him to taste the sweetness of faith: one trait is to love a person for nothing else but to please Allah (swt).”
He savored faith, he took the sweetness of faith. As we saw in Surat al-Hujurat, Allah mentioned that He decorated the hearts of the believers with iman (Qur’an, 49:7).
So when somebody has this relationship with the Qur’an, subhan’Allah, they love it. That’s why if you study the seerah (life) of the Prophet ﷺ, we know that for about two weeks the Qur’an was not sent to him and he became sad. Syed Qutb said, “Why did the Prophet ﷺ become sad? Because he was away from the Qur’an.” How many of us feel sad when we’re away from the Qur’an? But, look at this, if we want to know if we live for dunya (this life) or akhira (the hereafter) I’ll give you a good analogy. How many of us cannot live without email for one day? How many of us, if someone invites us, for example to a camp, the first thing we ask is, “Do they have a phone line connection over there?”
And when they ask why, we reply vaguely, “Oh, I need to do something.”
See how we’re connected to email? Do we feel this with the Qur’an? Do I have the Qur’an with me? Will I read the Qur’an today? Will I ponder on the Qur’an today? Subhan’Allah, I saw some people who if they don’t have email access, they really start going crazy. And then if you ask them, “Are you expecting something important?” They reply, “No, no, I don’t know. Maybe.” It’s funny, but this is what Allah (swt) has identified in the Quran as al-ghuroor, as mirages or false realities. So, do we have this connection with the Qur’an?
What about, for example, Indian movies? No offense to our brothers and sisters from there. Sometimes, subhan Allah, you find people who have like sixteen Indian movies, and each one is four hours long. So 4 times 16 is what? 64 hours. This is a lot of time to watch movies. What about music? [Some people feel] God forbid if I can’t listen to Shakira or whatever. If I can’t listen to music it’s like dialysis—oh my God, my life is over! Subhan’Allah, do I have this attachment with the Words of my Creator, Allah (swt), who sent this Book for me to please myself and to give me a good life.
So, we look at Surat al-Fatiha. I timed it. The average reading should take no less than thirty seconds. Someone says, “Man, thirty seconds, that’s all?” At the Super Bowl people were paying 2.7 million dollars for thirty seconds for an advertisement. Thirty seconds.
If you’re reading Surat al-Fatiha in your salah (prayer) under fifteen seconds, you are, as my mother used to tell me in the back woods of Oklahoma, you are cruising for a bruising. Because you are not understanding what you’re saying.
Maybe someone says, “I don’t understand Arabic.”
Ok, what can you do to understand Arabic? You go and get a translation and you look at the word in Arabic, and you look at the word in English and you start to build your vocabulary. This is the minimum we can do.
That is 8.5 minutes a day. If you are praying at least the fard (obligatory prayers), that is 17 times 30 seconds, which means that you are spending 8.5 minutes of your day with al-Fatiha. Imagine, 8.5 minutes a day engaged with something I don’t understand. In a week, that is around 59.5 minutes a week. Can you imagine if you sat for one hour and recited Surah al-Fatiha? And you were thinking about the Qur’an? Subhan’Allah, see how Allah is training us for long term dhikr (remembrance of Allah)? In a month, it is around four hours. Four hours a month you are spending with al-Fatiha. In a year, it is about 48 hours. In one year. In a lifetime, around 350–500+ hours of your life is going to be spent with al-Fatiha. So we should understand it.
Al-Fatiha has more than 33 names. Al-Fatiha means “The Opener.” This is ismu’l-fa`il (agentive), not ismu’l-maf`ul (passive). Ismu’l-fa`il “The Opener” not “The Opening.” It’s called The Opener because it’s opening things.
One of the ‘ulama’, Sheikh Abdul Hayy Faramawy from al-Azhar, said about al-Fatiha that subhan Allah it has thirty-three names. And he said that in Arabic when something has a lot of names this is a sign of two things. One of them is that it’s the sign of the greatness of something. That’s why Allah has how many names?
No. He has an unlimited number of names. But He revealed to you ninety-nine names. That’s why in the famous hadith of the Prophet ﷺ when he said, “Teach me of the names that You revealed or You didn’t reveal.” (Muslim) If we say that Allah has a limit, this is not unique. But we believe about Allah that there is none like Him (Qur’an, 112:4). His Names are unlimited, that’s why He’s the most honorable, the most worthy of worship. Only Allah (swt).
The second thing that this number of names tells us about al-Fatiha is its comprehensiveness. It is extremely comprehensive. Some of the names of al-Fatiha are:
Umm al-Qur’an – the Mother of the Qur’an, because the Fatiha is an explainer of the entire Qur’an, as we’ll explain further.
Ash-Shifaa – the Healer. Some of the sahaba (Companions of the Prophet) used to read al-Fatiha on the sick person and they would be healed. Sa’ad ibn Abi Waqqas said, “One time we were in the desert and we found one leader of a tribe and he has been stung by a scorpion. We read al-Fatiha on him and he was healed. And then we came to Rasulullah ﷺand we told him and he said, ‘How did you know this?’ The Prophet ﷺ was very happy.” Thus, one of the names of al-Faitha is ash-shifaa, the One that Heals.
Al-Kafiya – the One that is Sufficient. This is because al-Fatiha is sufficient for everything in our lives.
Al-Wafiya – The Completer in its objectives and its goals.
As-Salah – The Prayer. Why is Al Fatiha called as-salah? Because the Prophet ﷺ said, “There is no prayer without al-Fatiha.” Also look, subhan’Allah, at how Allah (swt) honored al-Fatiha when He said in a famous hadith qudsi related by Imam Muslim:
“I have divided the salah between Myself and My servant into two parts, and My servant will have what he asks for.
So when the servant says:الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
“[All] praise is [due] to Allah , Lord of the worlds -” (Qur’an, 1:2). Allah says: ‘My servant has praised Me.’
And when he says:الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
“The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful,” (Qur’an, 1:3). Allah says: ‘My servant has extolled Me.’
And when he says:مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ
” Sovereign of the Day of Recompense” (Qur’an, 1:4). Allah says: ‘My servant has honored Me.’
And when he says:إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ
“It is You we worship and You we ask for help’ (Qur’an, 1:5). Allah says: ‘This is between Me and My servant and My servant will have what he asks for.’
And when he says:اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينََ
“Guide us to the straight path -The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray” (Qur’an, 1:6-7) Allah says: ‘This is for My servant and for My servant will be what he asks for.’”
So Allah (swt) named Al Fatiha as-salah, the Prayer.
Also, it’s called ad-Du`a’ (the supplication) because, as we will talk about insha’Allah in our class, al-Fatiha teaches us how to supplicate to Allah (swt). For some people how do we supplicate to Allah? “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem (In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful). Oh Allah, please get me married. Ameen.” This is not the proper du`a’. I don’t know what this is. Alhamdullilah, Allah will accept it, insha’Allah, because He’s so Merciful. But, how should we approach Allah? In this way? Of course not.
The other name of al-Fatiha is Umm al-Kitab - the foundation of the Qur’an, because all of the Qur’an is found in al-Fatiha.
Another name of al-Fatiha is a`tham Surah fi kitab Allah – the Greatest Surah in the Book of Allah, as given by the Prophet ﷺ.
Now, al-Fatiha has done a few things. First of all, al-Fatiha taught us all of the objectives of the Qur’an in one Surah.
Objectives of the Quran
The first one is at-tawhid, the Uniqueness of Allah (swt). The Qur’an came to correct the beliefs of people. We make a major mistake when we go to interfaith meetings and we say, “We believe in God and you believe in God,” and that’s how we leave it. No. We believe in God, and you believe in God, but [explain nicely that] we differ in our concept about Him. There’s nothing wrong with saying this. Is it enough to say that we believe God is One? What does it mean when I say that I believe God is One?
Surat al-Fatiha starts with alhamdullilahi rabi’l-‘alameen. That means that no harm and no help can come to me except by the will of Allah. I don’t believe in rabbit’s foot, I don’t believe in Cleo at 3 o’clock in the morning, I don’t believe in anything. I believe only in Allah. The only one that can help me or harm me is Allah. It’s different.
Who is Allah? Rabbu’l-‘alameen (Lord of the Worlds). What does rabb mean?
Rabb means Lord? No. Lord is one-fourth of the meaning of rabb. We can say in Arabic, Suhaib rabbu baytih, Suhaib is the lord of his house (alhamdullilah my wife is not here right now). This means that I pay the bills (alhamdullilah), I fix the shingles, I mow the yard, I take care of the people in the house, I maintain the house, I take care of the clothing of the people in the home. All the rights that my wife has on me I try my best to do them. So, you can say rabbu bayty (lord of my house).
Allah is Rabb al-`Alameen. He’s doing that for every single thing that moves, that exists. He is its Rabb: Cherisher, Sustainer, Nourisher, Provider, Lord, Creator. So many meanings for the word Rabb.
What are the qualities of this All-Powerful, Mighty God? Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem. He’s merciful.
What is He going to do? Maliki youm ad-deen (Master of the Day of Recompense).
“It is the Day when a soul will not possess for another soul [power to do] a thing; and the command, that Day, is [entirely] with Allah,” (Qur’an, 82:19).
He controls everything and He’s going to judge everybody on the Day of Judgement.
Who am I? Iyyaka na’budu wa iyyaka nastaeen. I am His slave and I need His help.
What is the help I need? Ihdina as-sirata’l-mustaqeem. Guide us to the straight way, the way of those who earned Your Favor, not the ways of those who earned Your Wrath, or those who went astray.
So, the correct understanding of at-tawhid is the first objective of the Qur’an portrayed in Surah al-Fatiha.
The second objective is a promise and a warning. We find in the Qur’an promises. For example,
“And give good tidings to those who believe and do righteous deeds,” (Qur’an, 2:25).
And a warning for those who don’t.
In al-Fatiha we find a warning in maliki youm ad-din and we find a promise in ar-Rahman ar-Raheem - the Merciful to His believers, and those who worship Him.
The third objective is that it trains us on the correct concept of worship and it causes us to love worship.