Some Thoughts on Surah Al-Fatihah
- Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah
Reciting Surah al-Fatihah as we all know, is an essential part of our daily prayers. It was narrated by 'Ubadah ibn as-Samit that Allah's Messenger (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said, "Whoever does not recite Surah al-Fatihah in his prayer, his prayer is invalid." This motivates every Muslim to understand the deep meanings behind the words of this surah. Consequently, this helps us in keeping khushu' while standing in front of Allah in our prayers.
In this surah we start by praising Allah the Lord of Mankind, Jinn and all that exists, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, and the only Owner of the Day of Recompense. Then we declare that we worship Him Alone, and from Him Alone we ask for help.
Then we ask Him to guide us to the Straight Path. In his valuable book al-Madarij as-Salikin Ibn al-Qayyim points out three levels of guidance.
First, guidance of bayan or clarification. This does not happen except through Allah's prophets whom He sends to explain to mankind the essence of His message and to show them the way to the straight path.
Second, guidance of tawfiq or success (on the Straight Path). In this level we ask Allah to open our hearts to his religion and to be steadfast upon it; by this it becomes the most precious thing in our lives.
Although these two levels of guidance are separate, reaching the straight path would not be achieved except by them both. These two levels include gaining the knowledge of what we did not know about the truth and becoming anxious to follow it openly and secretly, the ability to fulfill our duty through our sayings, actions and intentions, and to ask Allah to keep us firm on this path till we die.
Some people would ask why do we need to ask for guidance while we are already guided; we know Allah and we believe in Him? We need to believe without doubt that we all are always in need to ask for guidance because the things which we do not know are more than the things which we know. The things which we do not do due to our carelessness or laziness are much more than the things which we do, the same can be said about the things which we are incapable of doing. Those of us who do not see any lack concerning their knowledge or practice need to ask the guidance from Allah to keep them in this state till they die.
The third level of guidance would be the guidance in the Day of Judgement to the way which leads to Paradise. Whoever is guided in life to Allah's Path according to what He sent His messengers with, would be guided to the Straight Path in the Hereafter.
If we want to know how we are going to pass the straight path above Hell in the Hereafter we have to examine the way we are passing Allah's Path in this life. We are going to walk there the same way we walk here. Some people would pass like a glimpse, some would pass like the wind ,some would walk slowly and some would creep and others would stuck and then would be thrown in hell fire. So let each one of us examine the way we will pass there from the way we are passing here. And let us examine carefully the things which are holding us from passing the straight pass whether they are our desires or confused ideas. These things are like chains which delay or stop our movement on the straight path. It is really fearful to say that if these chains are many, solid and heavy here in life they are going to be the same when we are going to pass the straight pass above Hell.
When we ask Allah in Surah al-Fatihah to guide us to the Straight Path we ask Him to put us with those whom He has bestowed His Grace on. Here we need to ask two questions:
First, who are those people?
Second, if we choose to follow the straight path which leads to Allah why do we need to be accompanied with those people?
Ibn al-Qayyim explained that the one who wants to follow the straight path in this life finds that the majority of people around him or her do not want to follow the same path. And because the human soul normally looks for a companion Allah pointed out the importance for having a company on this road. Allah defined this company by saying in Surah an-Nisa' verse 69:
"Those on whom Allah has bestowed His Grace, of the Prophets, the Siddiqun (those followers of the prophets who were first and foremost to believe in them, like Abu Bakr as-Siddiq), the martyrs, and the righteous. And how excellent these companions are!"
If sometimes we feel lonely when passing Allah's path we need to think of those who passed or are passing the same path, to know that they are our company , and to make our best to follow their steps. At the same time we should not pay any attention to those who do not want to choose the same path and should be strong enough so we do not let them detain us.
One of the salaf said: "Stick firmly to the path of truth and do not feel lonely because of the few number of people who would join you, and be aware of the path of misguidance and do not be mislead with the large number of the destroyed)."
And from Allah is all help sought ...
(s) Madarij as-Salikin ("The Steps of the Followers")