Continuing from Day 1 of Ramadan with al-Fatiha, we shall begin to look at the structure of this Sura, guided by its unique significance and characteristics.
There is a saying of Prophet Mohammad’s which states that we prostrate on seven bones. Prostration is the most central position of salat, that in which we touch our foreheads to the ground in total submission to Allah. This is relevant to al-Fatiha in that it relates to both salat and the number seven. One could say the “seven bones” which are in contact with the ground in sujud (prostration) are each a position on the body of the worshipper, forming a “blueprint” of salat at its “heart.”
Assigning one aya to each of these “positions”, we have the following: the forehead at the uppermost position (the ego or source of pride, and the intellect), the pair of hands (how we manipulate the world), the pair of knees (how we stand, the support of our power/dominance), and the pair of feet (how we direct ourselves/ move in the world). If one thinks of these positions as forming a blueprint, then we have something like this:
“Blueprint” of Prostration
If we use this same blueprint for the ayat of Al-Fatiha, we could look at something like this:
In the Name of Allah, the Almighty, the All-Merciful
|The Almighty, the All-Merciful||Praise to Allah, Lord of all worlds|
|You alone we worship; from You alone we seek help/refuge||Master/Sovereign of the Day of Judgment|
|The path of those whom You have blessed (shown Your grace), not those who have incurred Your wrath, nor those misguided (lost)||Guide us on the straight path|
Al-Fatiha using “Blueprint” of Prostration
Let us then consider the ayat of al-Fatiha and how they could be “seven pairs,” after which we shall examine whether each pair can then have a significant relationship to the blueprint shown above.
The first aya should be the Bismallah, which can be said to mean “In the name of Allah, the Almighty, the All-Merciful.” (My translation varies from others, but I have very strong support from the Qur’an itself for this meaning, which I shall explain later.) Here we invoke the three most powerful names: Allah, Al-Rahman (the Almighty), and al-Raheem (the All-Merciful).
Were we to divide this in half, making a pair, one half would be Allah alone: “In the name of Allah…” The other half would be simply the names “al-Rahman, al-Raheem.” The first half is self-explanatory, universal in any language. The second half requires a discussion of the meaning of these two names, which is a separate post in itself. Their translation, “The Almighty, The All-Merciful,” however, is readily understood. These are the two basic “qualities/ sides” of Allah, corresponding to the deeper meanings of Yang (The Creative) and Yin (The Responsive). Allah is both all-powerful, which omnipotence is associated with being The Creator, and all-merciful, which responsiveness and mercy is associated with being the source of all forgiveness and relief. They can be thought of as opposites-in-one, creating a dynamic where creation is also merciful, and mercy leads to creation. This distinction then is repeated or expressed in the six pairs of ayat that follow.
The aya of praise, “Praise to Allah, Lord (also Sustainer) of (all) the worlds.” Like the first, this aya divides the pair with “Praise to Allah” first and “Lord of the worlds” second. “The worlds” is an Arabic expression “al-aalameen” which both means “everything” and “worlds”, wherein the fact that the whole of creation contains separate worlds which may not even know of the others’ existence. This shows the limitations of our sense of place and belonging as opposed to the limitlessness of Allah, whose authority encompasses all time, space, boundaries. But here Allah is in the “yang” or power position and “worlds” is in the “yin” or yielding position. All our powers and responsiveness and that of our entire world are subject to Allah. At the same time, the word “Rabb” or “Lord” in Arabic is a more personal relationship word referring to Allah. So here is also Allah’s “yin” (responsive) side, in the relationship with His creation.
The next aya repeats “The Almighty, The All-Merciful,” clearly emphasizing the importance of these two names as a way of considering the nature of Allah, as well as ordering our world and our relationship to the divine. “The Almighty” shows the “yang” side, while “The All-Merciful” shows the “yin” side as described above.
The next aya, “Sovereign/ Master of the Day of Judgment” can be divided into two pairs as “Sovereign/Master” (yang-power) on the one side and “of the Day of Judgment” on the other. Of course, Judgment Day is definitely not a “yin” sort of day. But it is a day of “response,” being a response to the lives and deeds of those being judged. Interestingly, the Arabic word is “Yom (day) al-Deen (religion in the sense of path)”. The word “religion” really refers to “way” of living one’s life, a moral way of life “responsive” to the Creator. And all paths/ ways/ religions end on the Day of Judgment/ Resurrection. It is the culmination of all religion, all ways of life. And that Allah is Sovereign over all that takes it to another level of understanding. Not only power over the universe (creation) but over what it all comes to, the ultimate assessment of all that exists.
The next aya, “You alone do we worship, and from You alone we seek help/ refuge”, can be divided into the two clauses: “You alone do we worship (serve)” — which expresses our relationship to the Almoghty (Al-Rahman) — and “from You alone do we seek help (refuge)” — which expresses our relationship with the All-Merciful (Al-Raheem).
The next aya, “Guide us to the straight path”, would seem unlikely to divide into pairs. But one can consider “Guide us” as one part, in which we ask Allah for
Guidance. Note that this is the only place where we actually “pray,” i.e., entreat, anything from Allah in this Sura, which is the quintessential prayer, the primary Sura for recitation in salat. All we ask for is this: guidance. The rest is a description of the specifics of that guidance. The other part of this “pair” would be “the straight path.” The word “straight” has the same implications in Arabic as in English: without deviance, transgression, confusion, or aimlessness, as well as being forthright and honest, and conscientious.
This would represent our desired response to Allah, a recognition of our desire to attain His acceptance. The Sirat (translated here as “path,” but the Arabic term is not used for “path”…perhaps “trajectory” would be closer, though one doesn’t use “trajectory” in English exactly the way Sirat is used in Arabic) represents our connection to Allah, our way to Him, our efforts in this life to reach the good side in the hereafter, the side of “winning” Allah’s mercy.
The final and seventh aya (considering the Bismallah as the first aya) describes the three types of paths, the first of the pair being “the path of those with whom is Allah’s acceptance/ blessing.” The second of the pair refers to two paths leading to disconnect from Allah’s mercy and acceptance, this part beginning with the word “not:” “Not (the path) of those with whom is Your wrath, nor the misguided.” Some erroneously claim that the last two refer to the Jews (who incurred His wrath) and the Christians (who are misguided), but the Qur’an is clear and unequivocal and we should not read into it meanings that limit its scope to our personal prejudices or opinions. The Qur’an clearly states that we will be judged by our own individual actions, not by what group (of any description) we belong to.
The final “pair” of Al-Fatiha is 1) the straight path leading to Allah’s mercy and acceptance, and 2) the paths leading to His wrath (wrath of the Almighty) or away from His mercy (the loss of all that mercy entails). The two wrong ways represent rejection by Al-Rahman, the Almighty. If the Almighty rejects someone, to whom can they turn for mercy? These are the two greatest attributes, but they are Allah’s attributes and he is One. If one attains His mercy, s/he also attained acceptance by the Almighty. If one incurs the Almighty’s wrath, the All-Merciful will not show mercy to that one. The difference between the two “lost” paths is that wrath may preclude mercy or at least will incur punishment which may make “coming back” more difficult, whereas the “misguided”, if they change paths and seek Allah’s guidance, may possibly attain guidance.
Please refer to the charts above which show these seven ayat in the positions of the bones in sujud or prostration. Here we find yet another dichotomy. On the right side (I used the Arabic language’s right-left direction as a guide here), the ayat are overall arguably in the “yang” category, emphasizing the all-powerfulness of the Creative principle, the Creator, Allah. Praise for The Lord of All (aya 2), Sovereignty over Judgment Day (aya 4), and our initiation of a prayer for Guidance (aya 6), the only thing we ask for. The left side overall shows the “yin” (responsiveness) side: the two names of Allah which represent His nature (aya 3), our admission that we have only Allah to turn to for help. and the description of three possible directions to take.