The Majestic Qur'an
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Bismillahi'r-Rahmani'r-Rahim.

(This verse, named Basmala, is the first verse in the Qur'an. It is usually integrated with the first surah, but, according to the view adopted by At-Tabari, it is independent)

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Commentary of "bismillah" - "By the name of Allah" or "In the Name of Allah"

The use of the formula "In the name of Allah"

(The vocable bismi is composed of two words: bi and ism, bi is a particle serving to indicate a 'means' and ism signifies 'name'. For reasons that are difficult to explain here, the initial i in this word is elided)

Truly, God, Whose invocation is Exalted and whose Names are sanctified, educated His Prophet Muhammad - Blessings and Peace be upon him - by teaching him to to precede all his acts by mentioning His Most Beautiful Names. God wanted that this education and teaching be a norm (sunnah) to which all creatures would conform in beginning of their speeches, writings and all other acts. Moreover, saying bismillah is sufficient to mean "I begin such-and-such act in the Name of Allah" because the particle bi (which means by, in) implicitly requires that an act follows (the act that begins "by" the mention of Allah's Name).

Meaning of this formula - Explanation of the words "bismi"

The basmala shown here in an early 16th century CE printed Qur'an
The basmala shown here in an early
16th century CE printed Qur'an

When someone makes intention to recite (or to read) a surah from the Qur'an, he will say Bismillahi'r-Rahmani'r-Rahim wanting to say with these words: "I read in the Name of Allah ... " and, also, if he gets up or sits down or whatever he does, he will begin his act by saying these words and that will always mean: "I do this act in the Name of Allah."

But why say "In the Name of Allah" in this sense when we know that, for example, every reader of the Divine Book does not read it except with the help and providential support of God; and that every person who acts does not act except by Him (i.e. His permission and His will)?

If that is the case, why not simply say "By Allah" (billah) which would apparently be more clear than "By (in) the Name of Allah" which allows assuming that that the act is done "by other than Allah?"{qluetip title=[1]}At-Tabari reminds us here that in reality there is only one Agent. This aspect of the doctrine of Tawhid is called Unity of Allah in regard to His acts.{/qluetip}

Bismillahi'r-Rahmani'r-Rahim.

(This verse, named Basmala, is the first verse in the Qur'an. It is usually integrated with the first surah, but, according to the view adopted by At-Tabari, it is independent)

Contents[Hide]

Commentary of "bismillah" - "By the name of Allah" or "In the Name of Allah"

The use of the formula "In the name of Allah"

(The vocable bismi is composed of two words: bi and ism, bi is a particle serving to indicate a 'means' and ism signifies 'name'. For reasons that are difficult to explain here, the initial i in this word is elided)

Truly, God, Whose invocation is Exalted and whose Names are sanctified, educated His Prophet Muhammad - Blessings and Peace be upon him - by teaching him to to precede all his acts by mentioning His Most Beautiful Names. God wanted that this education and teaching be a norm (sunnah) to which all creatures would conform in beginning of their speeches, writings and all other acts. Moreover, saying bismillah is sufficient to mean "I begin such-and-such act in the Name of Allah" because the particle bi (which means by, in) implicitly requires that an act follows (the act that begins "by" the mention of Allah's Name).

Meaning of this formula - Explanation of the words "bismi"

The basmala shown here in an early 16th century CE printed Qur'an
The basmala shown here in an early
16th century CE printed Qur'an

When someone makes intention to recite (or to read) a surah from the Qur'an, he will say Bismillahi'r-Rahmani'r-Rahim wanting to say with these words: "I read in the Name of Allah ... " and, also, if he gets up or sits down or whatever he does, he will begin his act by saying these words and that will always mean: "I do this act in the Name of Allah."

But why say "In the Name of Allah" in this sense when we know that, for example, every reader of the Divine Book does not read it except with the help and providential support of God; and that every person who acts does not act except by Him (i.e. His permission and His will)?

If that is the case, why not simply say "By Allah" (billah) which would apparently be more clear than "By (in) the Name of Allah" which allows assuming that that the act is done "by other than Allah?"{qluetip title=[1]}At-Tabari reminds us here that in reality there is only one Agent. This aspect of the doctrine of Tawhid is called Unity of Allah in regard to His acts.{/qluetip}

In reality, the formula "In the Name of Allah" means "I begin by mentioning Allah before everything", giving to the word ism, which usually means "name", the meaning of tasmiya {qluetip title=[2]}At-Tabari makes clear (precise): the word tasmiya is a verbal noun (masdar) of the derived verb samma, derived from ism. It is common, in Arabic, that simple substantive (noun) which stems from its radical (here the word ism) is used instead of a verbal noun of an augmented form (here the word tasmiyah).{/qluetip} which signifies "the act of mentioning." For example, to begin the Qur'anic recitation by saying "In the Name of Allah ... " means: "I begin my reading by mentioning Allah." In the beginning of the Revelation, angel Jibril ordered the Prophets to say "In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful" and according to Ibn 'Abbas this meant: "Read (or recite), by invoking Allah, your Lord, (and) get up and sit down by invoking Allah."

Commentary of the Name "Allah"

(The Name Allah is mentioned 980 times in the Qur'an while the name Muhammad is mentioned 4 times. Ibn Kathir said: "Allah is the supreme Name because it is qualified by all the Attributes, according to the divine sayings:

'He is Allah, than Whom there is la ilaha illa huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He) the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen (open). He is the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

'He is Allah than Whom there isla ilaha illa huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He) the King, the Holy, the One Free from all defects, the Giver of security, the Watcher over His creatures, the All-Mighty, the Compeller, the Supreme. Glory be to Allah! (High is He) above all that they associate with Him).

'He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of forms. To Him belong the Best Names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.' [Al-Qur'an, 59:22-24]")

To comment on the Name "Allah" it can be said: Allah is God in the sense that "Allah" is He Who is Deity for all things and all creatures to worship.

Ibn 'Abbas said: "Allah is He to Whom belongs, in regard to all creatures, the 'function of being Divinity' (uluhiyyah) and the 'function to be worshipped' (ma'budiyyah)."

We have not heard the Arabs explicitly saying that this word is derived from a verbal root, nevertheless there are speculative arguments to attach the Name Allah to ilah which is normally derived from aliha which means to worship and whose noun is precisely ilaha.{qluetip title=[3]}According to this commentary the word ilaha is, here, a synonym of 'ibadah. The word 'ibadah signifies worship which is the worship of the faithful (as they are the worshippers), which is the most common meaning, or worship of God (as the One Worshipped), which is the aspect kept here.{/qluetip}

It is this meaning of worship that Ibn 'Abbas gives to the word ilaha in the verse 7:127 where it is said to Pharaoh: "Will you abandon Moses and his people to spread mischief in the land, and to abandon you and worship of yourself (ilahataka/alihataka)?" Ibn 'Abbas explains: "Pharaoh did not worship, rather he was worshipped."

But what is it that permits to say that the word "Allah" is derived from ilah?

As in other cases of elision, the combination al and ilah becomes Allah, after the vocal elision of i (hamza i). The two letters l (lam) are collided and become a single doubled lam in the pronunciation .

"Ar-Rahman'ir-Rahim" - "the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful"

These two Names are derived from the verb rahima: to be merciful and both mean "that who is merciful"; and also, each of these Names corresponds to one aspect of (Allah's) Mercy.

Different views about respective meanings of the names rahman and rahim:

Firstly: Azrami said: "Ar-Rahman is the Merciful in regard to all creatures and Ar-Rahim is the Merciful in regard to Believers."

Abu Sa'id al-Khudree reported that the Messenger of Allah - Blessings and Peace be upon him - said: "'Isa, son of Mary, said: 'Ar-Rahman is the Merciful in this world and the other, while Ar-Rahim is the Merciful in the other world (uniquely).' "

These two propositions are valuable and do not contradict each other. God, as Rahman, includes all creatures in His Mercy in this world and the other, and as Rahim, He gives His particular Mercy to certain creatures, in all their states or to all creatures in some of their states [meaning in this life or in the Other].

So God is Rahim, in this world in regard to Believers in order that they believe in Him and His Prophets, respecting His Orders and avoiding disobedience to Him; in fact those are the blessings which had not been granted to associationists and disbelievers, nor to those who move away from obedience to Him. In the other world, God is equally Rahim to believers by perpetual delights and dazzling success which He prepared to them in His Paradise, "And Allah is the Most Merciful (Rahim) to believers." [Al-Qur'an 33:43]

On the other hand, Allah is Rahman to both believers and disbelievers in this world, because He included them in His universal Mercy by innumerable blessings which He has granted them: sustenance, rain, physical and moral wellbeing. He is still Rahman in the other world in regard to both (believers and disbelievers) by His Equity and His Rigour because "Allah wrongs not even of the weight of an atom (or a small ant), but if there is any good (done), He doubles it, and gives from Him a great reward." [Al-Qur'an 4:40]

Secondly: Ibn 'Abbas said: " ... the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful is the Gentle (Raqiq), the Kind (Rafiq)."

The basmala has been the focus of much Islamic artistry
The basmala has been the focus of much
Islamic artistry

According to this proposition, the distinction between Rahman and Rahim is not established as a function of these aspects of Allah's Mercy, but as a function of the nature of this Mercy.

Thirdly: According to 'Ata', the name Rahman was uniquely a divine Name until the day when creatures attributed them wrongly to themselves. Allah made it known that His Name (in regard to Mercy) from that day on was Ar-Rahmani'r-Rahim because no creature has ever been qualified by these two attributes at the same time.

Two mistaken views:

  • It is false to pretend that the Arabs did not know the name Ar-Rahman before Islam.
  • It is useless to distinguish these two names by saying that Ar-Rahman designates "He Who is qualified by Mercy" (Dhu Rahmah) and that Ar-Rahim designates "He Who is Merciful" because this distinction does not make sense.

Explanation of the order of the Names in the Basmala

When the Arabs desire to speak about something, they have a habit to first mention the thing in question, and then to mention its attributes (sifat) and its qualities (nu'ut). Or the Names of Allah such as Allah, Rahman (Most Beneficent), Khaliq (Creator), they are absolutely divine Names that cannot be attributed to any creature and which suffice by themselves to designate Him Who is in question. On the contrary, the Names such as Merciful (...) Seer, Generous can equally be attributed to created beings because certain aspects of designated qualities of each of these Names can be attributed to them (i.e. created beings).

Rightfully, the Name "Allah" precedes the other Names because it implies the "function of being worshipped" (uluhiyyah){qluetip title=[4]}The term Uluhiyyah is usually translated as "function of Divinity" [tawhid al-uluhiyyah = Oneness of the worship of Allah: to believe that none has the right to be worshipped, e.g. praying, invoking, asking for help from the unseen, swearing, slaughtering sacrifices, giving charity, fasting, pilgrimage, etc, but Allah]. But according to the interpretation given by At-Tabari given to the word ilaha, which he renders as a synonym to 'ibadah (worship), this "function of Divinity" is intended to mean "function of being worshipped" (ma'budiyyah).{/qluetip} which refers to Allah Alone. As for the two Names Allah and Ar-Rahman, Allah, Exalted is He, names Himself by them in particular in the verse: "Invoke Allah or invoke Ar-Rahman, by whatever Name you invoke Him (it is the same), for to Him belong the Best Names." [Al-Qur'an 17:110]

As for the name Rahim, it can be attributed to a human because it is perfectly possible that he takes part in a certain aspect of the Mercy but not in its universality [expressed by the name Ar-Rahman] because the universality takes from the "function of divinity" which belongs to Allah Alone.

This is why the Name "Allah" is mentioned first, followed immediately by the name Ar-Rahman and at then by the name Ar-Rahim.

From Jami' ul-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an

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Be Mindful O Mankind!

No man can have anything better after faith (iman) than a woman of righteous character, loving and child-bearing. And no man can have anything worse after unbelief (kufr) than a sharp-tongued woman of bad character.
'Umar ibn Al-Khattab (d. 23H), Commander of the Faithful, may Allah be pleased with him