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Simple Tafsīr of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim

A verse by verse explanation of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah.

(1:3): The Four Fundamental Principles of “You (Alone) we worship”1

Allāh says:

إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ

“You (Alone) we worship, and you (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything).”
[Al-Fātiḥah, 1:3]

Imām Ibn al-Qayyim comments:

“You (Alone) we worship” is built upon four fundamental principles. They are: Actualisation of everything that is beloved and pleasing to Allāh and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) whether it be in the form of statements made by the tongue, the heart, or actions of the heart and those of the limbs.

This is because “worship” is a comprehensive term that encompasses all four of these levels. The true enactors of the verse “You (Alone) we worship” are the ones who abide by all of them.

  1. As for the statements that one harbours within their heart: it is to believe in everything that Allāh has related, or related upon the tongues of one of His messengers concerning Himself, His names, attributes, actions, angels, and the final meeting with Him.
  2. As for statements made upon the tongue: it is to relate to others that which He has related, to call towards belief in it, to defend it, clarifying the falsehood of the innovations which oppose it, engaging in remembrance of it, and spreading its orders and commandments.
  3. As for actions of the heart: this is inclusive of loving for His sake, putting one’s reliance in Him, turning to Him for forgiveness, fearing Him, hoping for His reward, engaging in religious deeds sincerely for Him alone, showing patience in fulfilling His orders and in refraining from that which He has made forbidden, showing forbearance when afflicted with His pre-ordainments, to be pleased with Him [as Lord], to form friendships and show enmity because of Him, to show humility, complete submission, obedience, and humbleness before Him, finding tranquillity and peace in relation to Him. As well as other actions of the heart whose obligation is greater even than the obligations that pertain to the actions carried out by one’s limbs. Its recommended and loved aspects are more beloved to Allāh than physical actions. For the physical actions that are carried out in the absence of these aspects that pertain to one’s heart are deemed either completely devoid of benefit, or extremely lacking.
  4. As for physical actions: it is inclusive of ṣalāh and jihād [at its appointed time after the fulfilment of its prerequisites and the complete negation of its preventers], the steps that are taken towards the Friday and congregational [daily] prayers, providing aid to the elderly, and showing righteousness and goodness to the creation and the likeness of these acts.

Thus, “You (Alone) we worship” means to abide closely by the aspects of these four principles, to find complete satisfaction in abiding by them. Then, “you (Alone) we ask for help” represents a means of seeking aid and attainment of true guidance that would fulfil these principles. Then, “Guide us to the Straight Way” denotes being knowledgeable of both [the aspects of worship and seeking aid], and seeking the inspiration required to execute both of these acts, while also embarking upon the path of those who seek the pleasure of Allāh by engaging in both.

(1:5): Remaining in a State of Worship and Servitude Even After Death2

Allāh says:

إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ

“You (Alone) we worship, and you (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything).”
(Al-Fātiḥah, 1:5)

Imām Ibn al-Qayyim comments:

Allāh—the Most High—said to His messengers:

وَاعْبُدْ رَبَّكَ حَتَّىٰ يَأْتِيَكَ الْيَقِينُ

“And worship your Lord until there comes unto you the certainty (i.e. death).”
(Al-Ḥijr, 15:99)

The people of the Fire said:

وَكُنَّا نُكَذِّبُ بِيَوْمِ الدِّينِ ‎﴿٤٦﴾‏ حَتَّىٰ أَتَانَا الْيَقِينُ

“”And we used to belie the Day of Recompense. Until there came to us (the death) that is certain.””
(Al-Muddathir, 74:46-47)

“Certainty” here refers to death according to the consensus of the mufassirīn. In an authentic narration, in the story of the death of ʿUthmān ibn Maẓʿūn (رضي الله عنه), the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “As for ʿUthmān, certainty has indeed reached him from his Lord.”3 That is, death and what it entails.

A servant shall never extricate himself from his state of servitude as long as he remains in the home of responsibilities [this dunyá]. Even in his grave he will be tasked with another form of servitude when the two angels will ask him: “Who did you used to worship? What did you used to say regarding the Messenger of Allāh (صلى الله عليه وسلم)?” Seeking from him an answer to their queries.

Then, he is subjected to another form of servitude on the Day of Judgement. The day wherein Allāh will call all of the creation to prostrate. The believers will prostrate, while the hypocrites and disbelievers shall find themselves unable to do so. Then, when they finally enter the dwellings of either reward or punishment (Paradise or Hell), then their religious responsibilities will finally be concluded. The only servitude the people of reward will be subjected to will be performing tasbīḥ [saying ‘سبحان الله’] which will be said in attachment to their breathing such that they find no weariness or listlessness in it.

Whoever claims to have reached a station in which they have been absolved of all forms of worship is an unbeliever. For he has disbelieved in Allāh and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم). The only station he has reached in actuality is one of disbelief in Allāh, complete extrication from His religion.

1. Source: Tafsīr al-Qayyim: 91
2. Source: Tafsīr al-Qayyim: 98-99
3. Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 1243.

Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: December 26, 2023
Edited: May 3, 2024


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