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Reflections on Bismillah and Alhamdulillah. Surah al-Fatihah

Updated: May 29, 2020

The Fatihah has been given the title Umm al-Kitab, “mother of the Book”. It is believed to be a synthesis of the Quran’s message and to be its most important surah. Hazrat Ali has said that the whole of the Quran is contained in the Fatihah. It is recited at the beginning of each cycle of prayer. It is also recited at the commencement of an individual endeavour.

The surah begins with Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim. The words mean ‘In the name of God the Compassionate the Merciful.’ This is a declaration that the Creator of the world is full of compassion and mercy for His creation. If we begin any undertaking it is with this conviction, it fills us with the hope that our Lord will bless our work and not abandon us to fend for ourselves if we face obstacles. More importantly, these words do not mean that God will mysteriously bless us or have compassion and mercy on us in whatever we do. Rather, the world has been constructed on certain laws and governed by certain principles. We have to bear in mind these laws. If we go against them, our work will be doomed to failure. For example, if we put our hand over the fire it would definitely burn and praying to God would not help. Our planning should take into account these eternal principles. Our goals should be set in accordance with these divine principles. Then we will receive God’s aid and support. He will bless us.

Alhamdullilah carries an ocean of meaning. It means literally to praise God. The essence of hamd is acknowledgment of God. He is the Giver of all bounties. This is no simple matter. If you reflect on it, from your birth to your entire life everything is provided by God unilaterally without any involvement of yours. An example is the infant born into the world. He does not have antibodies to fight off infections. But because he takes his mothers’ milk, he receives antibodies from her and this helps the infant cope up with diseases. This is a remarkable example of how when you are helpless, unaware and not even fully conscious, God has already provided for you, without your involvement in the process. Similarly, our existence of the universe is most baffling. Ludwig Wittgenstein, the greatest philosopher of the 20th C, was astonished that there should be a world at all. He said: “It’s not how things are in the world, that’s mystical; it’s that the world exists.” The world we live in is also custom-made to our needs. For example, we reside in the habitable zone of the solar system, where water is available in liquid form. This is the key to life, since liquid water acts as a solvent that allows molecules to combine and form compound structures which are the basis of complex life on earth.

Thankfulness to the Creator is a natural result of this realization and reflection. One cannot be thankful if one has negativity or complaints against people. Simply uttering the phrase Alhamdullilah while being negative within, having malice or bitterness for an individual would be an adulterated Alhamdullilah. We have to purify ourselves or our thoughts, otherwise it would be rendering mere lip service. We need to live by this phrase and not merely utter it as ritual.

Those who lead life in this way, who follow God at the level of sacrifice, are not same as those who follow their desires. This is how fasting also trains us. We leave our basic necessities for the sake of God, which means that if following God’s injunctions requires sacrifice of our desires and inclinations, we will not hesitate to do so. Such people will be rewarded on the Day of Judgment and gathered together to live in Paradise the Home of Peace.

The greatest and deepest question man can pose. Ludwig Wittgenstein, the greatest philosopher of the 20th C, was astonished that there should be a world at all. It’s not how things are in the world, that’s mystical; it’s that the world exists. John Archibald Wheeler, black hole coiner, I want to know how come the quantum, how come the universe, how come existence.

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