Lessons from the 7 Most Recited Verses of the Quran

It’s called the opener, the prayer, and the mother of the Quran. The Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) called it the seven most recited verses. It is the lens through which the entire Quran should be viewed.

American non-Muslim learns Surah Al-Fatiha

But even though Al-Fatihah is repeated several times a day in salat (prayer), how often do we stop to think about this chapter of the Quran?

I have to admit that I have been guilty of neglecting the Fatihah, rushing through prayer, making lists instead of keeping khushoo’ (focus), thinking about what I have to do next instead of what is coming in the next life.

It’s shameful, but I know you get it. If modern life has taught us anything, it is how to have a deficit of attention in everything we do. Life today seems to demand that we multitask at. all. times.

And when we approach prayer, we forget to disconnect from that million miles a minute mindset. But one way to focus more in salah, one way to get the most out of the mother of the Quran is to reflect on the lessons it has to offer in and outside of prayer.

Half and Half, but All in All

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:

Allah the exalted said, ‘I have divided the prayer (Surah Al Fatihah) into two halves between Me and My servant. A half of it is for Me and a half for My servant, and My servant shall acquire what he asked for. […]. (Sahih Muslim and Sunan An-Nisai)

In this prophetic tradition, Allah (SWT) tells us that half of these verses is the reciter’s praise of Allah and the other half is the reciter’s seeking help from Allah.

And when we take a look at the verses, we will find this to be true. But on a deeper level, this entire chapter is for the reciter. Even when Allah (SWT) is being praised, it is not Allah who benefits, it is the reciter.

Even when the reciter remembers how great his or her Lord is, it will never be God who gains anything from this. How could He? He is not in need of anything. Even in the division of these verses, Al Fatihah will always be entirely for us, for our benefit, for our success.

Our Impulse and God’s Mercy

In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. (Quran 1:1)

The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. (Quran 1:3)

A Brief Commentary of Surah Al-Fatiha

In the only chapter that is obligated to be recited during prayer, in the chapter that the entire Quran should be viewed through, in a chapter that is only seven concise verses, God uses two of those verses to tells that He is the Entirely Merciful, and the Especially Merciful.

Allah (SWT) does not stutter. He does not repeat Himself for His own benefit. He repeats things to emphasize something for us. Why does this matter when it comes to Allah’s Mercy? To me it seems to matter because of how the human being reacts when he has to face an authority for his crime.

Think of the child who runs and hides from his parent when he has broken something. Even as adults, our impulse is to avoid authority when we know we have done something wrong. It is our default to want to avoid someone’s wrath or judgment.

But Allah (SWT), as the supreme authority, emphasizes His mercy. He knows it is our impulse to run from an authority when we have done wrong. But He asks us to do the opposite, to return to Him when we make mistakes, as the human being will do. And it is with Him that we will find mercy.

If we return to Allah even when we have disobeyed Him, even when it is our impulse to run away, we will always find His love. As Allah (SWT) tells us in the next chapter:

{Surely, Allah loves those who repent and those who purify themselves.} (Quran 2:222)

Lord of the Worlds

{[All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the Worlds} (Quran 1:2)

This verse makes me feel really small. But honestly that not a bad thing for the human ego.

La Sourate Al-Fatiha: Explication

We get so wrapped up in thinking we are all that matters. And we go about our day to day and think that our own little perspective of a small fragment of time in a small place in the vast creation is so very important. We can be so dramatic.

But when we look at the universe (possibly universes) and all that we know it contains and the vast majority of what we can only imagine of what it contains, we realize we are not that special or even important. We are a blip in time with an infinitesimally small amount of knowledge and ability.

When we compare our existence and capacity to that of the Lord of all of this, we can start to imagine our place. But even still, The Creator of all things, the Master and Controller of every single thing wants good for us.

He sent us guidance to map the safest, fastest course back to Him where we will find sublime peace and joy. And even though we stumble along the way, He shows us intense Mercy. If all that Allah has afforded us despite our weakness and unimportance isn’t worthy of praise, then nothing, utterly and absolutely nothing is.

The Quran says whose Judgment Really Matters

Sovereign of the Day of Recompense. (Quran 1:4)

This verse is a daily reminder to me that I cannot seek the approval of others to the disapproval of Allah (SWT).

Most of our lives are spent worrying about the judgment of others. We spend our time making money to buy things just to have the approval of others. And we spend our energy making ourselves look a certain way for approval. We even do things we find loathsome just to avoid others’ disapproval.

I totally get it, the judgment of those around us seems important. It really does. It is a horrible feeling when those we are close to disapprove of us. I’ve been there. I lived there for many years as the only Muslim in my family. It is even hard to swallow the disapproval of strangers. I’ve been there. I live in a time and place where it is fashionable to mindlessly hate Islam.

But when all is said and done, what does the approval of people get us when we seek it above Allah’s approval? Nothing good for sure. Even if we suffered constant judgment, disapproval, and ridicule for 100 years of this life it would only be like a few seconds of the Day of Judgment.

Allah says of the Day of Judgment:

The angels and the Ruh [angel Gabriel] ascend to Him in a day the measure whereof is fifty thousand years. (Quran 70:1-4)

And even if everyone we knew and loved rejected us, nothing we can ever imagine will be more difficult than being rejected on the Day of Judgment by the One Who created us, the One who sent us guidance, and wanted nothing but good for us despite our unimportance and inherent weakness. There will be no tragedy greater than being turned away from our true home.

Worship and Help

It is You alone we worship and You we ask for help. (Quran 1:5)

Worship defines who your god is and only God defines worship.

Humans worship many things that do not deserve it. Some worship money. Others worship status. Some others worship love or other people. They turn these things into false gods by being wholly devoted to them.

In that worship, the human being establishes who his or her god is. But The True God, The Creator, The Merciful, The Judge is the only One worthy of our worship. By saying we only Worship the True God, we are affirming the core of Islam–Tawheed– the principle that Allah (SWT)—The God—is entirely unique, indivisible, One without partner.

But why mention help? Because asking false gods for help also establishes worship.

In old English, the word “prithee” means I ask you for help. It is a shortened version of two words “pray” and “thee” or I pray to you-I ask you. When we ask those around us whom God has given agency and ability to actually help us, this is not considered worship as long as we realize that it is through God’s will that the help is rendered.

The Prophet (PBUH) said:

[…] If you ask, ask God. If you need help seek it from God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if God had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you. […] (At-Tirmidhi)

But when we ask inanimate objects or dead people for help (essentially praying), this crosses the line into worship. Worship is for God alone. Help is from God alone.

This verse shows us that the oneness of God, worship, and seeking help are related.

Straight Path

Guide us to the straight path. (Quran 1:6)

What do we ask for immediately after saying we will only ask Allah (SWT) for help? Guidance. We ask God to guide us to the straight path, the path that is the shortest distance between two points.

When we are in a rush at the airport trying to catch a flight that is departing soon, we look for the quickest way to get to our gate-a straight line between two points, a straight path. Life is a lot like this. We do not know when our plane is departing (or when we will pass on), we need the quickest, straightest path to get from gate A to gate B so that we can reach our intended and desired destination.

In Al-Fatihah, we ask God to show us this path back to Him, and to eternal joy. When we say, “to Allah we belong and to Him we will return” when someone dies, it is to acknowledge that no matter what path the deceased took in life, their journey is over whether they made it to their desired destination or not.

Defining the Path

The path of those upon whom You have bestowed your favor, not those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray. (Quran 1:7)

The human being has a great capacity to delude itself. Pathological liars not only tell lies, they also convince themselves that the lie they made up is actually true. Many people convince themselves that the rules don’t apply to them.

A lot of people convince themselves that smoking won’t give them cancer. That consequences to actions is something that happens to other people. I often convinced myself that eating cookies is totally fine right before bed. We delude ourselves often. We are good at it.

There is no other area of human life in which the human being deludes himself more than in religion. The stakes are high, but we want what we want. So, we convince ourselves that what we want to be truth is truth.

But religion is from God, not our desires. If we surrender to the truth whatever it may be, then we will truly be guided.

God promises in the Quran that He will guide those who seek guidance:

While as for those who accept guidance, He increases their guidance and bestows on them their piety. (Quran 47:17)

So, we seek help from God to direct us to that path, to be like the Prophets and their true followers who earned God’s support and preference. And we seek help to be steered away from all other paths, to not delude ourselves.

The foregoing is just one person’s reflection on Al-Fatihah. Much has been written and spoken about these important verses by far better people who have mountains more knowledge. But we can let this reflection be a starting point for us to discover more and to take time to think and ponder on these verses.

The gift of Al-Fatihah to me is that even if we have recited no other verse from the Quran outside of this chapter, all of that jumbled, blurred mess of modern life snaps into focus and we are granted true perspective and purpose.

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