Chapter One: The Opening (Al Fatiha)

Introduction & Verse One

(This session is also available in audio and video)


Verse One

 "In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Benevolent".

The Quran, from the moment it was revealed and through its first words, was attached to the name of God.  The first words of revelation to Prophet Muhammad were "Read in the name of your Lord who created" (Chapter 96: Verse 01.)  Just as the Quran began its universal mission 'in the name of God', we should also begin the recital of the Quran in the same way.

The Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him was in the cave of  (حراء)  when Gabriel, the angel who was responsible for delivering the Quran, came to him for their first meeting. 

The first word of God: ( Read! ).

The command 'read' requires the person to have either memorized something, or to have something written in front of him.  But the Prophet at the time had neither; and Even if he had a book before him, it would have been pointless, since he could not read or write.

When Gabriel delivered God’s command: 'read', the Prophet -being aware of his capabilities- replied : "I cannot read".  Gabriel repeated to the messenger: 'read', but the Prophet replied every time "I cannot read".  The opponents of Islam picked out this point to question: how is it possible when God -the all capable- commands His unlearned messenger to 'read' and then the prophet replies with "I cannot read"?  Isn't God's command and wish always enforced through His powers that say to an object be and it becomes?

We reply that God communicated, through His powers that say to an object be and it becomes, while the Prophet communicated back through his human nature which said that he is unable to read even one word.  However, it is the God’s power, through this heavenly message, that would transform this illiterate man into teacher for entire mankind until the Day of Resurrection.  And while every person learns from another human being, Muhammad (peace be upon him) was taught by God.  He became a teacher for the greatest scholars of mankind who took knowledge and wisdom from him.  So when the prophet said "I cannot read", the answer came from God in very next verse:

Read: In the Name of your Lord who created, created Man of a blood-clot (96:1,2)

Meaning that God who created from nothing will make you, Muhammad, read and deliver to people a message, the likes of which the civilizations of the world will fail to produce until the Day of Judgment. God Almighty continued:

Read, for your Lord is most generous, Who taught by the pen (96:3,4)

Note that God in this verse used the formula of emphasis "Most Generous".  When you are taught by a person, then it is through the mere generosity of God because He made it possible for you to learn from your equal.  But if God himself is the one who is teaching you, then He is 'the Most Generous' because He has elevated you Muhammad to the highest level.

God wants us to know that the prophet (peace be upon him) does not recite the Quran because he had learned reading, rather he recites it in the name of God.  And as long as he recites in the name of God, then it does not matter whether he was educated by a man or not, as God has taught him above the standards of entire mankind.

Likewise, we should begin reading the Quran with the name of God, because He is the one who made it easy for us in revelation, and recital.   He says:

Say, ‘If God had so willed, I would not have recited it to you, nor would He have made it known to you. I lived a whole lifetime among you before it came to me. How can you not use your reason?’ (10:16)

Here you may wonder: Is the recital of the Quran the only task we are required to begin with God’s name?  The fact is that we are asked to begin every act in the name of God.  We must honor his favors and bounties upon us in this universe.  For example, when we farm the land, we should begin in the name of God because we did not create the land that we cultivate, or the seed that we sow, nor have we poured down rain for the plants to grow.  In fact, the farmer who plows and plants can be completely ignorant about the composition of the soil, the substances within each seed, and the effect of water on their interaction.  Our limited role in this scenario is to our intellect and capabilities -which are created by God- to work the substances that are also created by God until the plants grow.   We have no power to coerce the earth to yield crops.  It is beyond our capability to create a single seed or bring down rain.  Hence, when you begin your work with the name of God, you acknowledge that He is the one who has subjected the earth, seed and water for you.  In essence, you are declaring that these elements function in the name of their creator.

God has subjected the entire universe for our benefit.  Sadly, we are often under the misconception that we have power or true autonomy in this world.  Moreover, and due to the reliability and monotony by which everything functions for us, we fall under the false impression that the physical laws of cause and effect, action and reaction are naturally inherent, and independent of their Creator.  However, the truth is that it is the will of God that allows these laws to function, and if He wills, He stops them.  For example, a domesticated camel or an enormous elephant can be led by a child.  But even a strong man cannot domesticate a small snake.  If taming an animal was done through our own powers -such as our physical and intellectual advantages- then we should easily be able to domesticate a small snake or an insect.  God wanted to present us these animals as proof so we realize that He has subjugated what He willed, and He did not subjugate what He did not will as stated in this verse: 

Do they not see the cattle among things We have fashioned by Our power, which they own, Whom We made subservient to them so that some of them they ride and some they eat? (36:71,72)

Now, you can appreciate that the submissiveness of livestock is through their subjugation by God, not through our abilities.

Let’s look at another example.  While scientists explain how clouds form and rain falls through the laws of physics in the atmosphere, God Almighty wants to draw our attention towards a higher power.  When there are droughts, we should realize that this is not only happening through the procedures of the universe, but also through the will of the Creator.  If the universe functioned exclusively according to its procedures, then what makes them ineffective at times? Conditions may be perfect for rain, and the forecast may call for plenty, yet no rain comes.  It is the will of God that is above the laws of the universe.  Therefore, everything in the world is in his name.  He is the one who gives and withholds even in the matters in which we have been given some freedom of choice as stated in the following verse: 

To God belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. He creates whatsoever He wills, bestows daughters on whosoever He will, and gives sons to whom He choose.On some He bestows both sons and daughters, and some He leaves barren. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. (42:49,50)

This last example comes from within ourselves.  A perfectly healthy married couple may not conceive children despite continually trying.  This man and woman may have all the required health attributes to conceive, and all the physical conditions have been met for pregnancy.   However, conditions do not create a human being, God does.  If He wills he allows the laws to function and if He wills He stops their function.  The lesson to take is, while we live our lives through causes and effects, and the laws of the universe, we should always keep in mind that these laws do not govern God, rather it is Him who creates and governs them at all time.  Hence, everything and every action should begin with God’s name.