Al-Fatiha: The Blueprint

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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:

Forehead

Left hand

Right hand

Left knee

Right knee

Left foot

Right foot

Figure 1

“Blueprint” of Prostration

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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-MercifulPraise to Allah, Lord of all worlds
You alone we worship; from You alone we seek help/refugeMaster/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

Figure 2

Al-Fatiha using “Blueprint” of Prostration

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Let us then consider the ayat of al-Fatiha and how they could be “seven pairs,” according to Surat Al-Hijr 15:87, which states, addressing Prophet Mohammad, “And we have certainly given you seven of the mathani (literally “pairs”).  This is often translated “seven oft-repeated” but “thani” refers to “two.” In either case, most scholars have considered this statement as referring to Surat Al-Fatiha. Therefore we shall examine whether the seven ayat can form “pairs” and then see if each pair has a significant relationship to the blueprint shown above.

The Head: aya 1, the Bismalah

The first aya is the Bismalah, which can be said to mean “In the name of Allah, the Almighty, the All-Merciful.” (My translation differs from others, but I have very strong support from the Qur’an itself for this meaning, which I explain here.) In this first aya 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 linked above. Their translation, “The Almighty, The All-Merciful,” however, is readily understood. These are the two basic attributes of Allah, corresponding to the deeper meanings of Yang (The Creative) and Yin (The Receptive). Allah is both Almighty, which omnipotence is associated with being The Creator, and All-Merciful, which receptivity and mercy is associated with being the ultimate source of all forgiveness and relief. They can be thought of as a polarity dynamic where true omnipotence requires all-encompassing receptivity (which necessarily includes mercy) and receptivity/ mercy requires omnipotence.

This Yang/ Yin dynamic is perfectly balanced with Allah alone and Allah the Exalted is Indivisible. So although this aya does form a “pair,” the pairs are not separated like the pairs of the other ayat. This is like the head, in the sense that the head is not divisible either — no one has two heads, whereas we have two hands, two knees, and two feet, making this blueprint analogy a good way to illustrate this point. The first half of the Bismalah (1:1) introduces Allah’s singular name, and the second half introduces the two names that represent His dynamic balance in relationship to His creation. Just as the concepts of yin and yang are expressed in creation (positive negative polarities, male and female genders, etc.), so the essential dynamic perfected as in the example of Allah’s names is repeated or expressed in the six pairs of ayat that follow.

Right Hand: aya 2, the aya of Praise

The second verse is the aya of praise, “All Praise to Allah, Lord (and 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” an idiom which implies “everything” using the word “worlds”, acknowledging the fact that the whole of creation contains separate worlds each of which may or may not know of the others’ existence. This shows the limitations of our sense of place and belonging as distinct from the limitlessness of Allah, whose authority encompasses all time and space boundaries. Thus 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, with which we can employ possessive pronouns such as “my,” “your,” “our,” etc. So here is also an element of Allah’s “yin” or receptive attribute, in the relationship with His creation. Unlike the first aya, where the two attributes are also names referring to Allah the Exalted, and hence form a “matching pair,” the two parts of this aya are different in kind: the first part is a verb/action, praising Allah using the connective pronoun-letter lam meaning “to/for/with”, and the second is a noun/subject describing Whom we praise in terms of His relationship to us.

Left Hand: aya 3, Reminder of Allah’s Power and Mercy

The next third 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. This aya is, like the first, a matched pair of names, an extension of the first aya in that the 2nd half of the first aya (the Bismallah) is itself a matched pair and is repeated here.

Right Knee: aya 4, Allah Owns Judgment Day

The next fourth 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 “reciprocity-based receptivity” being the final 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/ receptive” 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 and Owner of 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. And it is responsive too in that Allah “decreed mercifulness upon Himself” and so it will be a Day of mercy for those who recite this prayer mindfully and serve Allah by showing mercy to others. This aya forms an “unmatched pair” in that “Sovereign/ Owner” is a noun referring to Allah the doer/subject as Owner/Master in the first half, and the unimaginable “Day” is the subject noun in He “wields” in the second half with sole Authority, and of course these are a pair not similar in kind.

Notice that at the mere mention of Allah as sole Judge on Judgment Day is associated with bending the right knee, where we in fear and awe must initiate bending the knees. So this aya brings to our hearts the most terrifying Day where all existence bows to the power of the Almighty, Al-Rahman, as well as inspiring humility in hope for acceptance from Al-Raheem.

Left Knee: aya 5, the Declaration of Complete Faith

The next fifth 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 Almighty (Al-Rahman) — and “from You alone do we seek help (refuge)” — which expresses our relationship with the All-Merciful (Al-Raheem). It also forms, as thus far all the odd-numbered ayat have formed, a “matched pair,” both being appropriate responses from us to Allah: worship for the Almighty, and seeking refuge/ forgiveness from the All-Merciful.

The left knee automatically follows from the initiation of the right knee. An analogy for this aya could be the promise to Allah made by people caught in a storm where they felt they were in imminent danger of sudden death, so called upon Allah sincerely from the heart. Thus our hearts, upon facing the ultimate danger of Judgment Day, would immediately declare our total faith in Him. But if we only offered this declaration on Judgment Day itself, it would be too late. So we are given this declaration as a mercy from Allah to express both our trust in His power and in His mercy, a complete expression of full-hearted faith.

Right Foot: aya 6, Du’a for Guidance

The next sixth aya, “Guide us to the straight path”, would seem unlikely to divide into pairs. But one can consider “Guide us,” a verb, as part one, 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 Surah, which is the quintessential prayer, the primary Surah for recitation in salat. All we ask for is this: guidance. Part two of this “pair” would be the noun (in Arabic there is no pronoun needed here) “on 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, honest, and conscientious. The du’a for guidance is one Arabic word ihdeena meaning “guide us;” and a du’a (a supplication) does not match in kind the idea of a path (the “place” of the desired guidance), hence this is also, like all the other even-numbered ayat, an unmatched pair.

This represents our most appropriate response to Allah, a recognition of our desire to attain His acceptance by seeking the path or “trajectory” that leads to Him. So this du’a here precedes the actual path, indicated in aya 7 below, showing us that we should seek guidance from Allah before taking a decision or major “step” of consequence. Many people actually recite Al-Fatiha prior to taking a trip or a test or making a major decision, for this very reason.

Left Foot: aya 7, Specifying the Three Possible Paths

The final and seventh aya describes the three types of paths people take in life, the first of the pair being “the path of those with whom is Allah’s acceptance/ blessing.” This describes the sirat al-mustaqeem, the “straight path” we prayed to be guided on in aya 6. The second of the pair refers to two paths, both of which are not the “straight path:” preceded by the word ghair meaning NOT “of those with whom is Your wrath, nor the lost/ astray.” Some erroneously claim that the last two refer to the Jews (who incurred His wrath) and the Christians (who are astray), 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 first of the two wrong ways represents the wrath of Al-Rahman, the Almighty. If someone acts with enmity and complete denial towards Allah the Exalted, such a person will reciprocally earn Allah’s rejection/ wrath. The second of the wrong ways is the lack of guidance (hence “lost” or “astray”) if one denies His mercy as Al-Raheem, thinking of God as wrathful and vindictive and ignoring His many gifts of mercy. An example of this would be those who claim Jesus had to die in torture as a human sacrifice in order for God to forgive us, as if Allah Himself was insufficient in mercy, a denial of Al-Raheem. The false doctrine of “original sin,” based on the erroneous idea that God did not forgive Adam for the Fall, and needed to somehow “incarnate” as a human (thus “divided” and no longer categorically God) in order to absolve this mistake, a denial of the very Source of all mercy, which doesn’t even make sense. Who in their right mind, if someone made a mistake, would kill an innocent person, someone they loved, to take the sin away from all his descendants? They accuse God of being obviously unjust, but with so much rhetoric and passionate lying that all reason and intuitive sense is circumvented. Another example is people who plunge themselves into despair yet refuse to ask God for help, often saying they’re “not good enough.” Allah declares in the Quran that He forgives ALL sins and not to despair of His mercy (39:53). Was there a statement like that in the Bible, or was it tied up with human sacrifice/torture?

And so this final seventh aya, like the other odd-numbered ayat, forms a matched pair, all three elements being the same kind—types of people—and even their number, one group of accepted people and two groups of rejected people, matches the tripartite pair in the first aya which is One Encompassing Name Allah matched to two Names representing His major categorical Attributes. Even the significance of the two final groups match the significance of the two great attribute Names as described above.

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) to which we must submit; our acknowledgement that we have only Allah to turn to for worship and help; and the description of three possible directions, one we hope to take, and two we hope to avoid.

At the top in the Supreme and central position is the Bismallah, representing the Perfect Balance/ dynamic between Yang and Yin, which Allah alone possesses, but by submitting/ surrendering to Him, represented in the position/ body language of prostration where our forehead touches the ground, we can achieve with His help and mercy sufficient “balance” to achieve the ultimate success in this life and even more so in the Hereafter, when if we are sincere we can reach the light and true happiness and fulfillment of Allah’s Presence, to which nothing in this life can compare.

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