Ring Composition in the Quran: Al-Fatiha

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An ancient method of literary writing that has (relatively) recently been re-discovered in t ancient and religious texts is Ring Composition, a form of mirror writing called chiasmus, described by the anthropologist and scholar Mary Douglas in her book Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition (Yale University Press, 2010) as essentially “a framing device” wherein the first section of a text corresponds in some clearly evident way with the last section, and the middle sections form a mirror pattern around a middle section which is also the central idea or turning point for the entire text. The mirror pattern can be described as ABCBA, expandable to more or fewer (at minimum 3) sections as needed with a center section “C”. This website gives an excellent example from the Quran, analyzing Surat Al-Baqara (the Cow) as well as significant subsections of it, including the famous Ayat al-Kursi (2:255). But for this post I will analyze Surat Al-Fatiha in Ring Composition, which provides evidence of two things: that the first numbered aya must be the Bismallah, which precedes all other Surahs except the 9th (“Repentance”) without being numbered; and that the two great attribute names for Allah the Exalted, Al-Rahman (The Almighty), Al-Raheem (The All-Merciful) express the two polarities of Power/ Yang and Mercy/ Receptivity/ Yin. Below is a graphic of this analysis:

Note the matching ayat: 1 and 7, 2 and 6, 3 and 5, and 4 is the central aya or turning point, which stands alone. One can also see the color coding of the graphic above, designed to show the corresponding “mirror” ayat which reflect each other in a discernible way.

The first aya, the Bismallah, begins “In the name of Allah, Al-Rahman, Al-Raheem.” This website has explained the meaning and significance of these two names in details here. But to briefly explain this now, the name Al-Rahman, commonly translated using names expressing mercy, such as “The Most Gracious” or “Most Merciful,” actually is used in the Quran in an entirely different way than the name Al-Raheem, which we all agree means “The Merciful.” Instead, the name Al-Rahman is used exactly as the name Allah (the Exalted) is, showing the Almighty powers of Omnipotence, Omniscience, Authority, and Majesty as the Sole Creator. Of course, both qualities of  Almighty Power and Encompassing Mercy are attributes of One God, who is indivisible in space and time, eternal with no beginning or end. The names, however, as expressed in the Bismallah, and placed as a pair, have been placed this way for a reason, and repeated as a pair again in aya 3 for a reason, one we can understand and that makes sense, not a mystery about which we can only speculate. The usage of the name Al-Rahman clearly shows the yang principle taken to its highest most exalted manifestation in The Almighty. This does not exclude mercy, but rather empowers it. Thus Allah’s Mercy is also the Most Merciful and all-encompassing, expressing the yin or “receptive” principle in its highest most exalted manifestation, without the weaknesses or “negativity” often associated with “yin” in human life and creation. Imbued with perfect Wisdom, Allah’s Mercy is also perfected. This is the meaning of these two great names and why they are emphasized in Surat Al-Fatiha and in the Bismallah we are enjoined to recite prior to any reading of the Quran except Surat Al-Tawba (9 Repentance).

This aya #1 (the Bismallah with its 3 Names) is “matched” in ring composition with aya #7, which describes the path on which we pray to be guided in 3 parts: 1) as “the path of those whom we have blessed/ made it easy (the “journey” along said path) – this is the path of Allah, exemplifying both power and mercy, of those who acknowledge Allah as both Almighty and All-Merciful; 2) as “not (the path) of those upon whom is His wrath” referring to those people who denied Allah’s power itself and claimed themselves or acted as challengers to His authority as Al-Rahman the Almighty, or assuming enmity to the very idea of one God Al-Rahman by hostility to believers in Him; and 3) “nor (the path) of those who are lost/ astray” which refers to people who did not seek mercy from Al-Raheem but rather denied His mercy which includes guidance, like those who felt God Almighty was “too wrathful” and lacking sufficient mercy, so to “make up for it” invented a “son” to “die for their sins” — a deceitful lie they invented about Allah, God the All-Merciful whose mercy encompasses all things, far far from what they ignorantly or deceitfully allege. They want to deny their own responsibility for their actions, desiring an easy mercy no matter what they do, circumventing justice and punishment. As if there was no law of reciprocity in the universe, and truth was whatever they want it to be. By this lie they deny God’s mercy, which is all-encompassing, and invent another “incarnation” in human form to be a more “personal” god, a human god, explained as “monotheism” by the convoluted logic of “3-in-1,” who will absolve them from all responsibility for their actions as long as they “believe on him,” a human god who has gender, a digestive system, a human heart, was born and died.  All this forms an outright denial of both human responsibility and the all-encompassing nature of  Allah’s mercy, by which he forgave Bani Israel or the “sons of Israel (Jacob)” after they worshipped the golden calf!  Allah the Exalted counters that He is closer to us “than our jugular vein” and knows our every thought and deed. Allah is in a category alone by Himself, has no equal in any way, and the first Commandment is to hold that category of  Supreme Power Sacred, not to presume any other form in any imaginative way as sharing power with the Almighty, All-Merciful, because that very perfect balance of yang and yin is, unlike with all creation, only possible for One: Allah. You cannot change or re-manufacture Truth. Another manifestation of “those who are astray/ lost” are those who neither believe nor disbelieve, acting as if nothing really matters or, as an old Peggy Lee song put it, “if that’s all there is.” Without Allah the Exalted, life itself feels empty. One misses the Creator, Cherisher, and All-encompassing Power and Mercy of  Al-Akbar, the Most High and Greater that whatever we can imagine, Allah, the ultimate “Heart” of the heavens and the earth, the worlds, the multiverse.

Aya 2 is the aya of praise: “All praise is for Allah, Lord of all the worlds!” Often translated “All praise is due to Allah”, in English the expression “due to” can mean what is intended, that all praise is for Allah, “due” meaning “incumbent upon us to give to”, but it can also mean a causal relationship wherein Allah causes all praise to occur, which is not the intended meaning. Rather the expression should express two things simultaneously: Allah (the Exalted) being the One to whom all praise is owed; and we herein expressing our praise and exhorting others to praise Him. The well-known expression “Hallelujah” actually means in Hebrew what we say here: the word “hallelu” is a call enjoining all to “joyously praise” Allah, the “Jah” being part of God’s name in Hebrew, the missing part being considered too sacred to simply invoke this way. So this aya of praise in the Quran is a continuation in Arabic of the traditional exhortation of praise from the Torah, showing the continuity or “confirmation” of previous revelations. The closest related prayer or expression in Christianity (as it exists now) might be the Lord’s Prayer, where the expression “hallowed be Thy name” expresses recognition that Allah’s Name is sacred and by extension to be praised.

The word Lord, or “Rabb” in Arabic, is the relationship word with which we can refer to Allah, a word to which we can attach possessive pronouns such as “my/ your/ their/ our Lord” etc., which one doesn’t use the same way with the name Allah, and never for the names Al-Rahman or Al-Raheem. The root “rabb” can also be used as a verb meaning to “raise up” or “take care of” as with parents raising their children, the main way in which this expression is used, “parents” including anyone who acts in that role of childrearing. Thus here is implied that our Rabb also provides for us and takes care of us. Thus we praise Allah the Supreme Power and yet name Him the word Lord, which implies a certain direct relationship to Him, a closeness in the sense of trust and dependency. Praise is also a higher iteration of gratitude, thus enjoining us to be grateful and appreciative of Allah, even “joyously” so. This aya 2 is associated with aya 6: “Guide us on the straight path,” and of course “Lord” or “Rabb” as defined above would be the One to invoke asking for guidance, representing that attribute of caretaking, complete understanding and awareness of us and what we think and do, andt the same time truly merciful. Expressing gratitude in the form of praise is a prerequisite for guidance, being an attitude of positive “receptivity” to that guidance, praise being in a sense the opposite of despair.

Aya 3 simply invokes, again, the Great Names Al-Rahman, Al-Raheem. The Almighty, The All-Merciful. This pair, in turn, perfectly matches its corresponding aya 5: You alone do we worship; With You alone do we seek refuge. “Worship” refers directly to the Almighty and His qualities of power and might, whereas seeking “refuge” refers directly to The All-Merciful, The Compassionate. Or, one could say The Receptive. Just as the tripartite first and seventh ayat matched, here the pairs in the third and fifth ayat match.

Aya 4 is  the central or middle aya: Owner/ Sovereign of Judgment Day (Literally, “Day of Religion” referring to the fulfillment of the system of faith/ religion telling us of the Hereafter and Judgment Day). This is the ultimate Power wielded by Allah the Supreme Power and Judge. This aya represents the “heart” of the message: that Judgment Day or the Day of Resurrection indeed is approaching, and we must prepare for it in this life as Noah and his followers prepared the ark for the coming flood. Except in our case, the Quran itself is the ark!  And Judgment Day is an immeasurably greater catastrophic event than the Flood. Those who “board the ark” of the Quran by reading and being guided by it will pass through this middle “aya” unscathed into the Celestial realm and the Presence of Allah. Those who refuse, who deny faith and the message of the Quran (or other books for those who lived before the Quran came or could not have seen or heard it) will have to face severe consequences. Allah in His mercy does not want us to suffer those consequences, and thus sent us the Quran with complete guidance for all, a map as it were, to how to survive the Catastrophe when time stops and everything is “frozen” in place, the stars fall, the sky itself is “torn” and the sun and moon are joined together, among many other terrible signs, and for us there is no chance to change one’s mind at the last minute or “redo” one’s bad choices.

Below is the final conclusion of this analysis, that one can see the three sections of Al-Fatiha: 1) the Eternal Realm above where each aya refers to Allah; 2) Judgement Day, the single central aya referring to the Day when time as we know it stops, and the results of our test in this “lower” life are meted out as reward or punishment by Allah the Almighty Alone; and (3) This (lower) world of Time where we experience birth and death and change, as well as free will. These sections show clearly the profound Quranic message in a highly visual and simple arrangement.

Ayat 1-3 These 3 ayat are Directly about Allah – and represent the TIMELESS ETERNAL/ CELESTIAL REALM

Aya 4: CENTRAL AYA: Judgment Day decides our final relationship with Allah: acceptance or  rejection – to reach Allah the Exalted we must go through this Day

Aya 5-7 These 3 ayat give us Our response to Allah in this life – and represent the EARTHLY WORLD OF TIME

All even-numbered ayat are initiating and do not form a “matched pair”; all odd-numbered ayat are “continuing” and form “matched pairs” structurally such as aya 3 “AlRahman AlRaheem”. The first and last aya 1 and 7 correspond as a tripartite structure of three names with three paths that correspond to the names: Allah eases the path for believers, The Almighty’ wrath makes the path difficult for flagrant transgressors, and those who refuse The All-Merciful’s help and guidance, or deny such help, are astray.

Important: for this ring composition to work, the Bismallah must be the first numbered aya, thus resolving the dispute over whether it is numbered as aya one or not. The unique letter numerical analysis above further confirms this.

It also explains why the Final aya 7 names three paths: the first path of the righteous believers whom Allah accepts and who accepted Allah’s Authority/ Might as well as His Encompassing Mercy; the first of the two wrong paths is for the defiantly wicked who earn the Almighty’s wrath, and the second of the wrong paths is for those who disbelieve Allah’s messages or reject/ deny mercy and help from Allah, which in turn shows us the importance of gratitude. It shows us that Allah the Just and Wise distinguishes between the most oppressive of people and those who are just astray, lost, but not necessarily committing crimes of oppression.

There is much more to be said about Al-Fatiha, a gift to humankind and a perfect du’a or prayer. By reciting this prayer daily, we recite words Allah the Exalted gave us to protect and guide us, even though we may not understand exactly how. Each aya is calibrated to assist our souls by giving us the most appropriate words of praise, acknowledgement of Allah’s Being and how He relates to us, expressing the best possible response to this, the best way to ask for guidance, and even within each of these ayat or verses is contained how to avoid the catastrophe of Judgment Day’s terror and find the saving grace of the All-Merciful and the Almighty in the unimaginable relief and sheer bliss of Allah’s eternal Presence.

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