Sūrah al-Fātihah is described as the ‘Mother of the Qur’an’ and the ‘Seven oft-repeated verses’. It is recited in every unit of every prayer. It is one of the chapters of the Qur’an we memorised as children and one of the chapters that we will teach to our children. But just what makes this chapter so important? From the 114 chapters of the Qur’an, why is this the first chapter? What makes it so special? What is the message and theme of this chapter?
Each and every one of the 114 chapters of the Qur’an has a single theme and subject. Every topic within that chapter will then relate to that single theme. So what is the theme of Sūrah al-Fātihah?
The theme of this chapter is the basic tenets of Islam; those being belief in Allah, following the Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and the purification of the soul and exalted character that those principles should bring about. In many ways, Sūrah al-Fātihah is a summary of the main themes of the Qur’an. The scholars have mentioned that the Qur’an is broadly divided into 3 main themes. A third of the Qur’an speaks about Allah, a third about the Prophets and past nations and a third about the halal and haram.
Let us analyse Sūrah al-Fātihah. Allah dedicates the first three verses of this chapter to speaking about Himself. Allah mentions His lordship, His creation, His power, His Names and His Attributes. Allah says in the first three verses, “All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all that exists. The Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. Owner of the Day of Judgement.”
All three of these verses are dedicated to increasing our knowledge of Allah, as through that increase in knowledge we increase in our love, devotion and submission to Allah. It is human nature to learn about what we love most, and to love what we know most about. It is for this reason that we often love our parents, spouses and children most. We often love and are patriotic to our countries as they are most familiar to us. In terms of food, we often rate our own cuisine as most beloved to us as we’ve known it longest. Yet as Muslims, our love for Allah should far outstrip all of the above. Indeed, this is a claim we often make, and for the most part sincerely. But in reality, and after deep thought, the question arises, what and how much do we know about Allah?
Allah wants us to learn about Him and thereby come closer to Him. This is why Allah praises the scholars in the Qur’an, “Indeed only the scholars truly fear Allah”. This is because their knowledge of Allah, His names, attributes, power and abilities increases them in piety and righteousness. It is for this reason that most of the passages and chapters of the Qur’an which have added virtues relate to Allah. Look at Āyat al-Kursī, the last two verses of Baqarah, Sūrah al-Ikhlās, Sūrahs Falaq and Nās, all of them speak about Allah.
The pinnacle and height of that knowledge is to understand Tawhīd; the abilities of Allah which make Him alone worthy of all worship, and to seek nearness to Him by knowing, understanding and living by His names and attributes. Allah shows this in verse number 4 of Sūrah al-Fātihah, “You alone do we worship and from You alone do we seek assistance”.
Allah then speaks about the second principle of Islam; to follow the Prophet (sallallāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). This too requires knowledge and learning about the Prophet (sallallāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), his life, character, sacrifices and way, as only through this can we increase on our love for him. That increase in love will then spur us into emulating him and clinging to his example. For this reason, Sūrah al-Fātihah only consists of one duʿā’, a duʿā’ which we make at least 17 times a day, “Guide us to the Straight Path”. The straight path is the path of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and his Sunnah. A third of the Qur’an reminds us of the stories of the past Prophets and nations so that we may take heed from them. It is warning to not fall into the same errors as those nations who rejected their Prophets and a glimpse into the delight awaiting those who do follow them. The Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is the best of the Prophets, and for us the best example to follow.
Adhering to these first two principles; love and submission to Allah and love and following the Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) leads to a better character, a purer heart and soul and a greater example for others. These are the people who adhere to the commandments of Allah and stay away from His prohibitions, to which the third category of the Qur’an is dedicated; the halal and haram. The results of doing this is attaining Allah’s favour, grace and blessings, whereas the results of turning away from this path is misguidance and Allah’s wrath and anger. Allah says in the final verse of Sūrah al-Fātihah, “The path of those whom You have favoured, not those who have earned Your anger nor those who are misguided”.
Thus the beauty and message of Sūrah al-Fātihah is the comprehensive summary of the message of the Qur’an. Each and every time we recite Sūrah al-Fātihah, whether in or out of the prayer, it should be a reminder of these three core principles of Islam, for which the Qur’an was revealed and the Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) sent.