The Opening (Al Fatihah)
The Opening or Al Fātihah (الْفَاتِحَة) is the first chapter (sūrah) of the Quran. Its seven verses (āyāt) are a prayer for the guidance, lordship and mercy of God. This chapter has an essential role in Islamic prayer (salāt). The primary literal meaning of the expression “al-Fātiḥah” is “The Opener,” which could refer to this Surah being “the opener of the Book” (Fātiḥat al-kitāb), to its being the first Surah recited in full in every prayer cycle (rakʿah), or to the manner in which it serves as an opening for many functions in everyday Islamic life. Some Muslims interpret it as a reference to an implied ability of the Surah to open a person to faith in God.
The name al-Fātiḥah (“the Opener“) is due to the subject-matter of the surah. Fātiḥah is that which opens a subject or a book or any other thing. In other words, a sort of preface.
The word الفاتحة came from the root word فتح which means to open, explain, disclose, keys of treasure etc. That means sura Al-Fatiha is the summary of the whole Quran. That is why we recite another Ayat or sura along with Fatiha in our prayers. That is, sura Al-Fatiha is paired with rest of the whole Quran.
It is also called Umm Al-Kitab (“the Mother of the Book”) and Umm Al-Quran (“the Mother of the Quran”); Sab’a al Mathani (“Seven repeated [verses]”, an appellation taken from verse 15:87 of the Quran); Al-Hamd (“praise”), because a hadith narrates Muhammad as having said that God says: “The prayer [al-Fātiḥah] is divided into two halves between Me and My servants. When the servant says, ‘All praise is due to God’, the Lord of existence, God says, ‘My servant has praised Me’.”; Al-Shifa’ (“the Cure”), because a hadith narrates Muhammad as having said: “The Opening of the Book is a cure for every poison.”;, Al-Ruqyah (“remedy” or “spiritual cure”)., and al-Asas, “The Foundation”, referring to its serving as a foundation for the entire Quran
According to Abd Allah ibn Abbas and others, al-Fātiḥah is a Meccan sura; while according to others it is a Medinan sura. The former view is more widely accepted, although some believe that it was revealed in both Mekka and Medina. In the Quran, the first revelations to Muhammad were only the first few verses (ayats) of Surahs Alaq, Muzzammil, Al-Muddathir, etc. Most narrators recorded that al-Fātiḥah was the first complete Surah revealed to Muhammad.
Theme and subject matter
Al-Fātiḥah is often believed to be a synthesis of the Quran. It in itself is a prayer at the very beginning of the Quran, which acts as a preface of the Quran and implies that the book is for a person who is a seeker of truth—a reader who is asking a deity who is the only one worthy of all praise (and is the creator, owner, sustainer of the worlds etc.) to guide him to a straight path. It can be said to “encapsulate all of the metaphysical and eschatological realities of which human beings must remain conscious.”
There are differing interpretations for verses 6 and 7. The phrase “the Path journeyed by those upon whom You showered blessings” is usually seen as referring to Muslims. The phrase “those who made themselves liable to criminal cognizance/arrest” (more clearly translated as “those who have incurred Your wrath”) is usually seen as referring to the Jews and the phrase “those who are the neglectful wanderers” (more clearly translated as “those who have gone astray”) is seen as referring to the Christians. The Quran: An Encyclopedia, authored by 43 Muslim and non-Muslim academics says, “The Prophet interpreted those who incurred God’s wrath as the Jews and the misguided as the Christians”.
Australian pastor and scholar in linguistics and theology Mark Durie says,
To be genuine and effective, reconciliation between Muslims and those they refer to as ‘People of the Book’ (Jews and Christians), requires that Al-Fatihah and its meaning be discussed openly. That devout Muslims are daily declaring before Allah that Christians have gone astray and Jews are objects of divine wrath, must be considered a matter of central importance for interfaith relations. This is all the more so because the interpretation of verse 7 which relates it to Christians and Jews is soundly based upon the words of Muhammad himself. As Al-Fatihah is the daily worship of Muslims, and represents the very essence of Islam itself, the meaning of these words cannot be ignored or glossed over.
Most commentators agree the verse refers to Christians and Jews, however other commentators suggest that these verses do not refer to any particular religious community.
Benefits and virtues
Muslims attribute special significance to some surahs for their virtues and benefits (fada’il, فضائل) described in the hadith. Acceptance of the different hadith varies between Sunni and Shia Muslims and there is a variety of terms to classify the different levels of confirmed authenticity of a hadith. However, both Sunnis and Shia believe Al-Fatiha to be one of the greatest surahs in the Quran, and a cure for several diseases and poisons.
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: One hadith narrates a story of a companion of Muhammad who recited al-Fātiḥah as a remedy for a tribal chief who was poisoned. According to the hadith, Muhammad later asked the companion, “How did you know that it is a Ruqqayah [remedy]?” Muhammad al-Bukhari recorded in his collection:
While we were on one of our journeys, we dismounted at a place where a slave girl came and said, “The chief of this tribe has been stung by a scorpion and our men are not present; is there anybody among you who can treat him (by reciting something)?” Then one of our men went along with her though we did not think that he knew any such treatment. But he treated the chief by reciting something, and the sick man recovered whereupon he gave him thirty sheep and gave us milk to drink (as a reward). When he returned, we asked our friend, “Did you know how to treat with the recitation of something?” He said, “No, but I treated him only with the recitation of the Mother of the Book [al-Fātiḥah].” We said, “Do not say anything (about it) till we reach or ask the Prophet. So when we reached Medina, we mentioned that to the Prophet (in order to know whether the sheep which we had taken were lawful to take or not). The Prophet said, “How did he come to know that it [al-Fātiḥah] could be used for treatment? Distribute your reward and assign for me one share thereof as well.”— Muhammad al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari
Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj recorded that Abu Hurairah had told that Muhammad had said:
If anyone observes prayer in which he does not recite Umm al-Qur’an, it is deficient [he said this three times] and not complete.— Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, Sahih Muslim”
Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj recorded:
Ibn ‘Abbas reported that while Gabriel was sitting with the Apostle (may peace be upon him) he heard a creaking sound above him. He lifted his head and said: This As a gate opened in heaven today which had never been opened before. Then when an angel descended through it, he said: This is an angel who came down to the earth who had-never come down before. He greeted and said: Rejoice in two lights given to you which have not been given to any prophet before you: Fatiha al-Kitab and the concluding verses of Surah al-Baqara. You will never recite a letter from them for which you will not be given (a reward).— Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, Sahih Muslim
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia