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Reciting the Istiʿādhah and the Basmalah in Prayer

Imām Muḥammad ibn Ṣāliḥ al-ʿUthaymīn

A description of the istiʿādhah and its acceptable variations, as well as the wisdom of the basmalah.

Variations of the Istiʿādhah

[After saying the opening invocation] the praying person should say the istiʿādhah. That is, he should say:

أَعُوذُ بِاللهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيم

I seek refuge in Allāh from Shayṭān, the outcast

If he prefers, he may say:

أَعُوذُ بِاللهِ السَّمِيعِ الْعَلِيمِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيم، مِنْ هَمْزِهِ وَنَفَخِهِ وَنَفَثِهِ

I seek refuge in Allāh—the All-Hearer, the All-Seer—from Shayṭān, the outcast. [I seek refuge from] his insanity, arrogance, and defamatory poetry.1 2

He may also suffice with:

أَعُوذُ بِاللهِ السَّمِيعِ الْعَلِيمِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيم

I seek refuge in Allāh—the All-Hearer, the All-Seer—from Shayṭān, the outcast.

The Wisdom Behind Saying the Istiʿādhah
Saying the istiʿādhah here is for the purpose of the impending Qurʾān recitation, not the ṣalāh itself. As had it been for the purpose of the ṣalāh, it would be said immediately following the takbīrat al-iḥrām or before it. Allāh—the Exalted in Might—said:

فَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللَّهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ

“So when you want to recite the Qurʾān, seek refuge with Allāh from Shayṭān (Satan), the outcast (the cursed one).”
(Al-Naḥl, 16: 98)

So Allāh has commanded that refuge be sought from the outcast Shayṭān before beginning recitation of the Qurʾān.

The wisdom behind seeking refuge from Shayṭān in this instance specifically is that it facilitates the distancing of Shayṭān from a person’s heart while he engages in the recitation of the Book of Allāh, such that he is able to achieve deeper contemplation and understanding of its meanings—thoroughly deriving true benefit from it. For there is a clear, stark difference between the one who recites the Qurʾān with a present heart, and one who recites it in a condition of inattentive mindlessness. As if you were to recite the Qurʾān with a present heart, you would find yourself deriving meanings and lessons that are completely unattainable to the absent-minded one. Try it and you shall see.3 In consideration of this, prefacing the recitation of the Qurʾān with the istiʿādhah has been legislated both in ṣalāh and outside of it.

The Ruling of Saying the Istiʿādhah

Some scholars have even adopted the opinion that the istiʿādhah is obligatory before beginning the recitation of the Qurʾān. They evidence this stance with the saying of the Most High: “So when you want to recite the Qurʾān, seek refuge with Allāh from Shayṭān (Satan), the outcast (the cursed one).”

The Meaning of: ‘أَعُوذُ بِاللهِ

It is: I seek refuge and protection from Allāh. This is because Allāh is both al-Malādh [the one who is sought] and al-Maʿādh [the One from whom protection is sought].

[Q]: What is the difference between al-Maʿādh and al-Malādh?

[A]: The scholars have said: Al-Malādh is the one who is sought for the attainment of goodness. While al-Maʿādh is the one to whom a person flees away from evil. Regarding this, the poet says:

“O the One from whom I seek the attainment of my hopes [referencing al-Malādh], and seek refuge from that which I fear [referencing al-Maʿādh]. All of mankind are unable to mend a bone which You have severed, nor can they break one You have set.”

The Meaning of: ’مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيم’

‘Shayṭān’ is a comprehensive term inclusive of all his ilk. It includes the first Shayṭān [Iblīs] who refused to prostrate to Ādam (عليه السلام) after being commanded to do so as well as his progeny. The name itself is linguistically derived from the Arabic word ‘شَطَنَ’ which means to distance oneself. He was named thus in reference to him distancing himself from Allāh’s mercy as He cursed him. The curse of Allāh means to be cast out and distanced from His mercy. The name may also derive from the Arabic root word ‘شاط’ which means to anger. This is in reference to his disposition of recklessness, anger, heedlessness, and impulsivity, all of which drove him to oppose the command of Allāh to prostrate to Ādam (عليه السلام). Instead, he immediately refused to enact the command and did not prostrate before him, saying:

أَأَسْجُدُ لِمَنْ خَلَقْتَ طِينًا

“”Shall I prostrate to one whom You created from clay?””
(Al-Isrāʾ, 17:61)

Concerning the linguistic derivation of Shayṭān, the first meaning [i.e., شطن] is more correct.

As for ‘الرَّجِيم’, it may be interpreted as both:

The subject [the one who casts others out] or

The object [the one who was made to be an outcast].

This relates to the linguistic form of the word [فعيل] which in Arabic may be used to reference either a subject or object. For example, it is interpreted as the subject in the words: al-Samīʿ [the All-Hearer], al-Baṣīr [the All-Seer], al-ʿAlīm [the All-Knower] and many other instances. As for its usage as an object, this includes the words: Jarīḥ [the injured], Qatīl [the murdered], and Kasīr [the broken].

Both meanings apply to Shayṭān as he himself is an outcast in relation to Allāh’s curse—we seek refuge in Allāh from it— in relation to which he is distanced and cast out from the mercy of Allāh [i.e., object]. While also being the one who cast others out by encouraging their engagement in acts of disobedience, continually pushing them towards it [i.e., subject].

Saying the Basmalah

Then, the praying person should say the basmalah. That is:

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيم

In the Name of Allāh, The Most-Merciful (to His creation), the Ever-Merciful (to His believing servants).

Its opening phrase ‘In the name of Allāh’ pertains to the performance of an action applicable to the context in which the basmalah is being said (i.e. reciting the Qurʾān), although the action itself is not mentioned. For example, when saying it before Qurʾān recitation its meaning is: “In the name of Allāh, I recite”. Or if saying it before eating, its meaning is “In the name of Allāh, I eat” or when drinking: “In the name of Allāh, I drink” or wuḍūʾ “In the name of Allāh, I perform wuḍūʾ” and so on.

The Wisdom Behind Saying the Basmalah in Ṣalāh

Here, the basmalah is being recited for the purpose of reciting Sūrah al-Fātiḥah. So, when the basmalah is said in ṣalāh, its meaning is: “In the name of Allāh, I recite”. Mention of the action itself is removed contextually in order to seek the blessings attributable to the mention of Allāh’s name—the Exalted in Might, and due to the basmalah being oft-repeated [such that individual actions are not in need of specification every time].

Note also that the name of Allāh precedes the action [i.e., In the name of Allāh, I recite, eat, drink, etc.]. This specific order of phrases proffers two benefits:

  1. Seeking the blessings associated with beginning with the name of Allāh—the Exalted in Might.
  2. Exclusivity: as starting with His name indicates beginning with the name of Allāh alone.

Also, we say that the recitation of the basmalah pertains to the performance of an action applicable to the context in which the basmalah is being said, as this acts as a better indication of the intentions of the one saying the basmalah. For example, if you were to say: ‘In the name of Allah’ while intending to recite, its meaning would be: “In the name of Allāh, I recite”. This is more specific than merely saying its meaning is “In the name of Allāh, I begin” as specifying the action of reciting is less general than to simply ‘begin’.

As for ‘اللهِ’, it is the name of the Lord, the Exalted in Might. The word is derived from the root ‘الإله’ [the true God] from which the middle hamzah is removed due to the word being oft-repeated. ‘God’ here refers to that which is worshipped out of love, accompanied by glorification.

As for ‘الرَّحْمنِ’, it is a name among Allāh’s names. Its meaning: the One who possesses encompassing mercy, the effects of which reach every created being.

As for ‘الرَّحِيم’, it also refers to mercy. Here, it refers to the mercy that reaches the one deserving of it [i.e., the believing servants].

Saying the Basmalah in Audible Prayers

The basmalah should be said silently when performing a prayer in which the recitation is audible as the basmalah and the accompanying Qurʾān recitation will be said silently in all other inaudible prayers. Thus, even if the recitation is audible in the prayer, those being led should not hear their imām say the basmalah. This is because all of the aḥādīth that have been narrated from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) prove that he used to say it silently.4 It has even been said that all narrations that mention him saying it loudly are weak.5

Is the Basmalah Considered a Verse of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah?

The basmalah is not considered a verse from Sūrah al-Fātiḥah. Rather, it is an independent verse used to begin each sūrah of the Qurʾān except for Sūrah al-Barāʾah [i.e., al-Tawbah] which does not have a basmalah at its start. Exclusion of the basmalah there was the stance taken by the companions based on scholarly strife [ijtihād]. However, we recognise that this strife applies here to a matter that is—without a doubt—unaccepting of subjective opinion. As if we knew that a basmalah had been revealed separating Sūrah al-Anfāl from al-Barāʾah, we would be obligated to include it. This is because Allāh said:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

“Verily We: It is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e. the Qurʾān) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption).”
(Al-Ḥijr, 15:9)

Considering the fact that no such basmalah was revealed, we can conclude that the scholarly strife made by the companions in this issue is consistent with the truth.

Evidence that the Basmalah Is Not a Verse of al-Fātiḥāh

The evidence that the basmalah is not from al-Fātiḥah is the narration in al-Ṣaḥīḥ [al-Bukhārī and Muslim] on the authority of Abū Hurayrah (رضي الله عنه) that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “Allāh said: “I have divided the ṣalāh between myself and my servant in two halves, and my servant shall be granted what he seeks. So if he says: “الحمد لله رب العالمين’ Allāh says: “My servant has praised me”…”6

[Q]: If the basmalah is not considered a verse of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah and the sūrah itself consists of seven verses7, how should we delineate the seven while excluding the basmalah?

[A]: We delineate the verses as follows:

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ(1) الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ (2) مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ (3) إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ (4) اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ (5) صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ (6) غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ (7)

It is this delineation that is consistent with both the wordings of the verses themselves and their meaning. Regarding consistency in wording, distribution of the verses in this way ensures that the verses themselves are similar to one another [in length].

For example, if we were to delineate the sixth verse as:

اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ

then the seventh would be:

صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ

in its entirety. This means that the seventh verse would have to be long relative to the other verses of the sūrah. Thus, in this delineation there is an appropriation of verse length.

As for consistency in the meaning of these verses, Allāh said, as in the aforementioned ḥadīth: “I have divided the ṣalāh between myself and my servant in two halves, and my servant shall be granted what he seeks. So if he says: “الحمد لله رب العالمين’ Allāh—the Most High—says: “My servant has praised me”. If he says: ‘الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ’ He says: “Me servant has commemorated me”. If he says: ’مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ’, He says: “My servant has glorified me”. These are three verses that are all for Allāh.

“If he says: “إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ”, He says: “This is between me and my servant, and my servant shall be granted his request””. We can deduce from this that the division of the half mentioned [between Allāh and His servant] has occurred in this verse which is the fourth verse of the sūrah. Therefore, the first three verses are for Allāh, and the latter three for the servant and the middle verse [verse 4] is between the servant and his Lord.

[Q]: If this is correct, what is your view on the maṣāḥif (printed copies of the Qurʾan) that delineate the first verse of al-Fātiḥah as the basmalah?

[A]: This numbering is based on an opinion of some scholars that the basmalah is considered a verse of al-Fātiḥah. Although the basmalah is not considered a verse of any other sūrah and, hence, is not numbered. However, the correct opinion is that it is not a verse of al-Fātiḥah or any other sūrah. Rather, it is a completely independent, standalone verse [that does not belong to any one sūrah].

[Q]: You claim that the basmalah is an independent, standalone verse but we find it mentioned in the Qurʾān as part of a verse in His saying:

إِنَّهُ مِن سُلَيْمَانَ وَإِنَّهُ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

“Verily! It is from Sulaymān (Solomon), and verily! It (reads): In the Name of Allāh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.”
(Al-Naml, 27:30)

This is meant to inform regarding a letter that was written by Sulaymān (عليه السلام). It is not a verse that is read for the purpose of beginning the recitation of a sūrah. It refers to the manner in which Sulaymān (عليه السلام) began his correspondence, the news of which is delivered to us by Allāh—the Exalted in Might. Therefore, its matter is external to the current discussion.


[1] Ḥasan: narrated by Abū Dāwūd: 775 and graded Ḥasan by Shaykh al-Albānī in Irwāʾ 2:54.
[2] See Subul al-Salām 2:175 by al-Ṣānʿānī, Nukhab al-Afkār 3:523 by al-ʿAynī, and Sharḥ al-Muḥarrar: 231 by Shaykh ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-ʿAbbād for the meaning of the terms used in this variation.
[3] Translator’s note: The author is being hypothetical here to exemplify his point. He does not intend that the reader experiment in this regard, and Allāh knows best.
[4] Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 743 and Muslim: 399.
[5] See Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá by Shaykh al-Islām [Ibn Taymiyyah] 22:275.
[6] Authentic: narrated by Muslim: 395.
[7] Referencing the verse in Sūrah al-Ḥijr 15:87

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَاكَ سَبْعًا مِّنَ الْمَثَانِي وَالْقُرْآنَ الْعَظِيمَ

And indeed, We have bestowed upon you seven of al-Mathāni (the seven repeatedly recited Verses), (i.e. Sūrat al-Fātiḥah) and the Grand Qurʾān.

Source: Al-Sharḥ al-Mumtiʿ 3:53-60
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: May 31, 2024
Edited: May 31, 2024

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