Chapter 1, Praise (Hamd or the Opening)
In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
1) All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.
2) The Beneficent, the Merciful.
3) Master of the Day of Judgement.
4) Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help.
5) Keep us on the right path.
6) The path of those upon whom Thou hath bestowed favours.
7) Not (the path) of those upon whom Thy wrath is brought down, nor of those who go astray .
In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
In the written Qur'an since it took a written form, the phrase "In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful", has been placed at the beginning of every chapter except the Chapter Al-Bara'at (Immunity). But for a long time great differences have arisen between the Shi'a and Sunni sects as to whether this verse is a part of every chapter or not. The Sunnis do not consider it as a part of any chapter and think that like every act which begins with the name of God and is not a part of that act, the case is the same with chapters without the need of beginning them with that verse. This applies to the opening chapter as well as others.
The Shi’as, following the way of the Imams, strongly oppose the Sunnis on this point, and quote the Imams as saying: "May God destroy those who have omitted the greatest verse of the Qur'an. If we omit it from every chapter, then it is not a part of the Qur'an except the chapter Naml which is a quotation from the Queen of Sheba who on reading Solomon's letter, said: "Surely it is from Solomon, and surely it is in the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful….and so on. In any case the Shi'as consider it as a necessary part of the Qur'an.1
You notice that the verse in question is a phrase and not a complete sentence, and different views are expressed concerning its form by various commentators.
In giving names to things, motives and goals differ. Sometimes an institution is given the name of a person for the sake of a material goal which he attains through that name. Or as it is usual, a baby is named after another person of whom they have been fond in the past, thus reviving his memory and name.
But what is the purpose in commanding mankind to begin his acts in the name of God? It is for the purpose of giving that act a sacred touch and making it blessed.
When a man, who has a natural sentiment from God and considers Him a holy essence and source of charities, begins his act in His name, it means that owing to His sanctity, nobility and magnanimity, that action, too, becomes sacred.
As beginning with someone's name means that he is holy and free from all defects and a source of all perfections and by doing so one wishes to bring blessings on one's acts by means of this relationship, therefore no act can be undertaken in the name of anyone, even the Prophet, except of God, and that is the significance of praising God at the beginning of the Chapter A'la (The Most High).
The best view in this connection seems to be that of the author of Al-'Mizan', who says, "Significance of the phrase praising God is that since He is in the position of being respected and worshipped, the name of creatures should not be placed in line with the name of God, or when the name of God is uttered, no other name should be mentioned, for, it would otherwise be dualism."
Recently an act is commonly performed by those who speak of opposing dualism, which is, in itself, an evidence of dualism. Instead of beginning an act in the name of God, they use the phrase: "in the name of people". If placing the name of the Prophet alongside God's is dualism, obviously beginning something in the name of people is like finding a substitute for God; while the Qur'an commands that the name of God should always be uttered and human deeds be named in His name, and not in the name of another. In this way, human actions become sacred and are blessed by Him.
"Allah" is one of God's names. The names given to people or things are sometimes signs and sometimes description. In the former case, although names themselves have meanings, yet their meaning is not taken into consideration, and is only used for recognition, and thus these names are like a sign. Very often the sense of a name does not describe the character or peculiarity of the owner of the name, and may often have an opposite meaning, such as calling a black man 'snow'.
The latter type of name is indicative of a quality of the owner of the name.
God Almighty has no name which would be only a sign, and all His names represent a reality of His holy essence.
In the holy Qur'an, about a hundred names have been brought for God which are, in fact, attributes, as you see in the opening Chapter; namely, "Beneficent, Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment," but none of them possesses the comprehensiveness of "Allah". Each one shows one aspect of His perfection. The word "Allah" has originally been "Al-elah", and the letter "e" has gradually been omitted.
Concerning the root of the word "Allah", several views are expressed. Some say that it is derived from "A-Lah", and others think it is taken from "Wa-Lah".
If it is derived from "A-Lah", it means 'worship', which is suggestive of an essence worthy of worship on account of His total perfection. For, a being which is a creation of another and has, therefore, imperfections, cannot be worthy of worship.
If it is derived from "Wa-Lah", it means 'amazement' and "Waleh" means 'distracted from love', and hence Allah is called so because all intellects are amazed at His holy essence, or distracted from His love and take refuge unto Him.
Sibwieh, who is a distinguished authority on Arabic grammar and syntax, living at the end of the second century and the beginning of the third century (After Hejira), was a genius in his own field and his book "Al-Ketab" is valued as highly as Aristotle's 'Logic' and Ptolemy's 'Astronomy'. His words on Arabic literature are considered authoritative. He affirms that "Wa-Lah", meaning 'amazement', is the root of the world Allah.
Mowlavi in his Mathnavi supports this view, and portrays a condition in which one feels so much pain that one involuntarily seeks a point of refuge, and that is "Allah". And he says it is not only human beings who turn to Him in their need, but also the fish in the waves, birds in the sky and even those lifeless waves groan before Allah.
There is also the probability that both "A-Lah" and "Wa-Lah" are two different pronunciations of the same word, changing from "Va-Lah" into a-Lah and thus assuming the meaning of 'worship'. Therefore, Allah means: 'that essence with whom all creatures are unconsciously in love with and who is a reality worthy of worship'.
In Persian language, we cannot find a word synonymous with "Allah" possessing all of its various meanings. If we use the word 'Khoda' it does not denote the sense of Allah, for, it means what philosophers call 'self-existent ' which is probably closer to the word 'Ghani' in the Qur'an, meaning 'free from want'. The Persian word "Khodavand', too, is not indicative of Allah, for, it means 'owner' which is only one aspect of Allah.
Again, we cannot find two words in the Persian language for the phrase 'the Beneficent, the Merciful', to denote its exact meaning. Sometimes, the words 'generous' and 'kind' are given as their translation , but they are inadequate, for, 'generous' is the equivalent of the Arabic word 'Jawad' and kind 'is 'Ra'oof', both of which are God's attributes mentioned in the Qur'an.
Jawad means 'having something and giving it freely to others', while the words 'rahman' (Beneficent) and 'rahim' (Merciful) are both derived from the word 'rahmat' (mercy or blessing).
When a person is in need, he stretches his hand and begs with his tongue, in order to be pitied and to be given something. This is mercy. But mercy is shown on the part of a human being when he is affected by the condition of a needy person and feels pity for him. God, however, is free from this limitation.
Therefore, when we use the two words 'rahman' (Beneficent) and 'rahim' (Merciful), these two meanings appear in our mind: One is the great and extensive need of all creatures imploring God who is free from want for their needs, and the other is that He sends His infinite blessings to them to fulfil their needs.
What is the difference between 'Rahman' and 'Rahim'? In Arabic language, words which have the same rhythm as 'Rahman' indicate 'excess', and words of identical rhythm as 'Rahim' denote 'stability'. Therefore, 'Rahman' means that God's beneficence spreads everywhere and covers everything. Fundamentally, the existence of everything is the equivalent of God’s blessing, for existence is a blessing in itself. This is mentioned in the Chapter A'raf (The Elevated Places) Verse 156:
"And My mercy encompasses all things,"
and a similar utterance in the prayer of Komeyl.
This mercy of God has no exception. It does not exclude non-human creatures; nor does it exclude non-believers. It comprises the whole world, and whatever exists is His blessing.
The lesson to be learnt from the Verse; 'In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful', is that what is granted by God is not two in kind, namely good or evil, but is wholly good and blessed, which is granted to inanimate objects and living beings including all kinds of plants, animals and human beings, for, all existence is God’s blessing.
The word 'Rahim' denotes stability. The word 'Rahman' is the extension of blessing to all existence while they exist, but many things are perishable. The word 'Rahim', with its sense of stability and eternity, applies only to those who through their faith and good deeds have placed themselves in the path of God's particular blessing.
So God's blessing is both universal and specific. With His universal blessing He has created everything including human beings.
Man who is the only being with a duty and responsibility will receive God's particular mercy if he performs the duties given to him. This mercy is granted only to obedient creatures.
For the Phrase "All praise is due to Allah", we have no exact Persian word for the Arabic 'Hamd' (Praise). There exist two words close in meaning to the word 'Hamd' for which we have Persian equivalents. One of them is 'madh' (extolment) the Persian equivalent of which is 'setayesh' (adoration), and the other is 'Shokr' (thanks) the Persian equivalent of which is 'Sepas'. But neither of them can, by itself, have the full meaning of 'Hamd'.
The word 'Madh' is close to 'Hamd', and it is sometimes thought that both are different pronunciations of the same word, as it is the case with several Arabic words.
'Madh' means 'adoration', which is a special human sentiment showing that it appears in a person when he faces perfection and majesty, beauty and elegance, and wishes to show adoration. This feeling is not found in animals. An animal can neither understand that perfection and majesty, nor can it adore such qualities.
Of course, this adoration sometimes takes a low form in a human being, and is called flattery which is a vice. This is when someone praises something untrue. It is very indecent to use a God-given power which should adore real perfection, beauty and greatness in praising a worthless creature for the sake of cupidity. This power is meant to be used to satisfy that noble and exalted sentiment of respecting perfection, and not to be placed at the service of covetousness which is meanness.
In true adoration, there is no greed at all; it is something natural and inherent in man in seeing beautiful art. For instance, one is carried away at the beauty of a leaf of the Qur'an handwritten many years ago by Baysonghor, and involuntarily praises. it. If one is asked: "Why do you praise it? You receive nothing from it," Our answer is: "Is it necessary to receive something? I am a human being, and as such I must feel humble before perfection, beauty and greatness, and express that humbleness by means of adoration." This is the meaning of 'Madh' but 'Hamd' is not 'Madh' alone.
Man has another pure sentiment called 'gratitude', and it is the translation of the Arabic word 'Shokr'. It is used when one receives some kindness from someone, and humanity requires an expression of thankfulness of him. For example, if, while driving, we are passing by another car which has priority of the way but its driver makes a halt and lets us pass, our natural politeness demands us to express our gratitude by words or gestures. This quality does not exist to the same extent in animals, and it is a peculiarity specific to human beings, and as the Qur'an says the "reward of goodness is goodness", a response which is due to a pure conscience.
This statement is true that anyone who knows himself, knows God, too. The full understanding of oneself leads to the recognition of God. One of the ways of knowing a human being is to recognise his special human sentiments, one of which is this same feeling of gratitude that is directed by conscience, and is not related to environmental training or local customs, nor is it limited to a special zone. Customs change with time and place and sometimes take a contrary form, such as taking off one's hat or keeping it on, each of which is prevalent in a different society as a sign of respect. But in no society is badness the reward of goodness.
'Hamd' is neither pure 'Madh' (praise) nor pure gratitude. It is a mixture of both, that is, an essence worthy of praise on account of His greatness, goodness, majesty, beauty and perfection, and also worthy of gratitude by virtue of His kindness and benevolence. It is here that the word 'Hamd ' is used.
There may also be another meaning inherent in the word 'Hamd' and that is 'Worship'. In that case we have three elements in it, namely, praise, gratitude and worship. That is probably why 'Hamd' is limited to God, and not applied to anyone else.
Commentators are unanimous in this point that the meaning of the verse is that 'all Hamd belongs to God', If by 'Hamd' is meant only gratitude without the sense of worship and humility, why then should a human being not be thankful to human media that God has arranged for him? Other human beings who show benevolence should also be thanked, and it is said that he who is not thankful to creatures is not grateful to the creator.
A father, mother, teacher and all those who grant benefits to human beings are worthy of gratitude. No one can, on the excuse of being thankful to God, forget human beings and fail to appreciate their kindness. But it is not a question of thanking creatures in one case and God in another; it should be remembered that a creature is not independent of God, and in case of a benevolent deed of man, God deserves a greater gratitude.
As 'Hamd' is peculiar to God, this shows that its meaning is not only gratitude, but also praise and worship. We worship God because He is the only essence worthy of worship, and we praise Him and are grateful to Him because He is Beneficent and Merciful.
'Hamd', then, is a pure internal human feeling which has its source in the core of human spirit, and is meant to praise majesty and beauty and feel humble before greatness. That is why the Chapter of Praise requires an understanding of God, without which one cannot read and pronounce it correctly and in a reverent manner.
When you come across a human being who is noble and has fine qualities, and in your need he is ready to meet your requirement without any expectation, you feel humble before his greatness of spirit, and when his name is mentioned in a gathering, you begin praising him devotedly and sincerely. This praise has its source in the depth of your spirit and you feel relieved and pleased in your mind.
In prayer, one has such a feeling, and we have repeatedly said that devotion requires a recognition of God, and without a full recognition, devotion does not attain its height.
It is worthy to note here that after the phrase "All Praise be to Allah", four attributes are mentioned: the Lord of the Worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful and Master of the Day of Judgment, each of which is a key to the recognition of God, which will be explained in due course.
Before these attributes are mentioned, the word "Praise" is concentrated on God Himself as the highest essence worthy of praise and worship, irrespective of His deeds and His benevolence to me and without any regard to the beginning and end of my knowledge and the creation of myself and the vast-ranging universe. He is worthy of praise and we must praise Him.
Not all people can claim having given this exalted degree of praise, but Imam Ali (as) says: "O God, I worship you neither for your Heaven, nor for fear of your Hell. Even if you had not created Heaven and Hell, I would have worshiped you because of your worthiness. My worship is not because you have created me and been benevolent to me, nor is it because in the next world you grant Heaven to devotees, but because of what you are, and that you are worthy of worship."2
Sa'di the poet says;
"If you look for benevolence from a friend,
You are thinking of yourself, not of a friend,
It is contrary to the right way for a saint
To beg anything from God but God."
In Persian language, again I must say, there is no word synonymous with 'Rab' (Lord).3 This word sometimes means educator, and sometimes it is used to mean 'Empowered', or 'having authority'.
Neither of these two words gives the full meaning of 'Rab' even though both of them are God's attributes. But both meanings seem to be included in the word 'Rab', meaning 'having authority over all the world', and 'educator and perfector' of the whole world.
Of course, God has created worlds in which their creatures are, for special reasons, granted every kind of perfection from the very beginning. In other words, all the powers are given to them in their full form at the moment of their creation, and so their beginning and end are the same; and as they are His creatures, and inventions, He is their Lord and Inventor.
But the world in which we live, that is the material world, is the world of gradual occurrence on the system of beginning with defects and moving towards perfection. The creatures' beginning and end are not the same. In one sense they are His creatures and in another sense His pupils.
The world of nature, while being different from other worlds, is not created in a perfect form from the beginning, for, it is of different kinds and each kind has its own special system and a separate world such as the world of inanimate things, world of plants, world of animals, world of man, world of firmaments, all of which are moving from imperfection towards perfection. It is God who brings all these worlds to final perfection. He is the Lord of the worlds.
As the Qur'an says, this world is the world of growth, and human beings, both good and bad, are in a state of growth, as if the world is a farm land where every kind of seed can grow. Not only the good attain perfection, the bad ones, too, pass through various stages. The Qur'an says in the chapter "The Israelites", verses 18-20:
"Whoever desires this present life, We hasten to him therein what We please for whomsoever We desire, then We assign to him the hell; he shall enter it despised, driven away. And whoever desires the hereafter and strives for it as he ought to strive and he is a believer; (as for) these, their striving shall surely be accepted. All do We aid - these as well as those - out of the bounty of your Lord, and the bounty of your Lord is not confined."
In Verse 18, the reason why the product of the seed of seeking this world is not definite is because this world is full of pests and obstacles, and not because this world is unfavourable to such seeds.
In short, this world is created so that whatever seed is sown, it will grow, except that one kind of seed is wholly productive and that is the seed in the right place. Some seeds have possibilities of being fruitful, but not generally so. Thus, some people commit wrong deeds and attain their purpose through their schemes, but they cannot realise that attaining purpose is not an evidence of its rightfulness. It is the system of this world that whatever seed is sown, it will grow, and may even produce the desired result.
We discussed these two words before, and now we add that attributing these two qualities to God requires a perfect understanding. For, "beneficent" means abundance of blessing, not limited merely to what we understand the word 'abundant', but that the whole existence is from Him, and whatever He gives is good and blessed; and "merciful" means that His bounty is always granted to human beings.
The first attribute is thus related to the whole existence and the second one is the special privilege of human beings. In attributing the first quality to God, a very profound knowledge is necessary to see the whole universe as full of blessing, to remove the idea of dualism from oneself, and not to divide the world's happening into good and evil, but rather to consider the whole existence, which emanates from Him, as absolute goodness and blessing. This is what is propounded by divine justice.
This is a point that a servant of God must always repeat to himself, as recommended in the descended prayers, when a devotee thinks of himself as someone summoned by God, and he says: "I am coming with all my heart."
Knowing God with the attribute of "beneficent" means knowing the world as a perfect manifestation of God's wisdom and His system, and in praising God one should regard existence as a system of goodness, blessing and light. Evil and darkness are relative and unreal things. Obviously, an unrefined thought cannot claim to have such a view of the world, and no force and compulsion can create such a belief, either.
When the Qur'an wants us to praise God with these attributes, the purpose is to enable us to know the world in this way, and this is subject to understanding the exalted matters through the proper use of intellect and reasoning. This implies pondering into divine questions and confirming the possibility of such enlightenment.
Concerning the second attribute, namely "merciful", I must say that recognition of God by this attribute depends on the full knowledge of one's place among all the creatures.
The privilege that man has among other creatures is that he is the mature offspring of this world. He is not an immature child that must be placed under the compulsory guardianship of a father and mother. He has attained such a degree of intellectual growth that he is told to choose his own way. While other creatures are under the obligatory care of various factors of this world, it is man alone who is given the alternative in the choice of his course.
Both the right and wrong paths are before man. If he chooses the direct path of God, then he will receive the special favour of God, as if the world has been created in a way that going on divine path will provide His aid and guidance, illuminating and strengthening one's heart. God will supply him with his needs for this journey and will grant him livelihood. Such a being reaches a stage where he feels he has a deal with his Providence, for, the more sincere his conduct, the greater is God's favour to him. At this time, this being has reached the stage of submission and surrender.
This word 'Malek' in this verse is read in two ways: with a long 'a' (Maalek) and a short 'a' (Malek) to carry two different meanings. The first one has an economic significance meaning 'owner', and the second has a political significance meaning 'Lord' or 'King'.
But neither case has a reality; it is only a convention. When we speak of the owner of a house, we are giving it a credibility, and the same applies to 'Lord' or 'King', and if the credibility is removed, then ownership and lordship too are removed, and may be transferred to someone else.
In the case when these two depend on credibility, they have two distinct and separate meanings, and neither of them performs the function of the other.
But in some cases, these relationships are real. For example, if someone says: "I am the owner of my physical powers", it means that he has the authority to use them, or not as he wishes. In this sense 'owner' and 'lord' are the same in significance since they depend on genesis, not convention.
In the case of God who is the creator of all universe and His will dominates everything, the unity of both 'owner' and 'lord' is quite clear. It is here that a true relationship exists between the lord and the subject. The Qur'an says in chapter "The Believer", verse 16:
"To whom belongs the kingdom this day? To Allah, the One, the Subduer (of all)".
And another Verse is:
"Say: O God, the Owner of the Kingdom".
These two Verses show that the two words are not separate or with two distinct domains.
Is God the owner and lord of the Day of Judgment alone, and not of this world? No, He is the true owner and lord of both worlds, with this difference that as man in this world cannot discern truth, he makes owners and lords credible and figurative, but when he discovers the truth of the world, he will see that all lordship and ownership is artificial, and God is the true owner and lord. This is also supported by narration.4
Though it is believed that monotheism is one of the many issues in Islam, yet when we make a careful scrutiny, we realise that Islam is wholly monotheism, and all the questions whether they are related to beliefs, or to moral and educational matters, or daily injunctions, are all monotheistic in nature.
The terms "analysis" and "composition" are used in logic, derived from natural sciences, meaning that as matter is subject to analysis and composition, thoughts and ideas, too, are subject to the same processes. Philosophers say that all thoughts and ideas come back to the law of the lack of contradiction after these are duly analysed and composed,
In Islam, this principle is called monotheism, that is, if we analyse Islamic foundations, we come back to monotheism. If we analyse Prophethood, Resurrection or Imamate which are basic beliefs, we see them as monotheism, and if we investigate moral or social injunctions in Islam, again they will prove to be monotheistic. This subject has been discussed at length in Al-Mizan which can be consulted by the reader.
In Islam, there exist two types of monotheism: theoretical and practical. Theoretical monotheism is related to the field of thought and understanding, that is, knowing God as being unique. Practical monotheism means making oneself move in the direction of the unique essence.
What I wish to point out is that the Chapter of Praise, up to the part that has been discussed, is related to theoretical monotheism, and from the Phrase "Thee do we serve" onward is linked with practical monotheism. It is here that one realises the great significance of this small Chapter. It is amazing that such words were uttered by an unlettered man living in an ignorant and illiterate environment, the depth of which makes the greatest divine sages ponder over it, and the sweetness and fluency of which are so great that one never tires of their repetition.
The words and sentences used in this Chapter up to 'Master of the Day of Judgment' are related to understanding God and His attributes as an essence to Whom all praise and gratitude are due. All divine matters are condensed in these few words.
Islamic theologians rightfully deduced this fact from the Qur'an that man is called upon to ponder over their depth and not merely to utter them without paying attention to their meanings. He, who when praying calls God with these attributes, is in a position to recognise God, and to understand that He is a perfect essence worthy of worship to Whom all creatures in the world naturally turn. It is an admission of absolute perfection in which there is no deficiency, annihilation or need, and for this reason everything is from Him and all attention is towards Him.
One should have a fine and precise thought to understand His beneficence, and that the whole existence is the manifestation of that attribute, and whatever emanates from Him is nothing but goodness and blessing, and no creature is, on account of being related to Him, anything but a blessing. Evil and wickedness are the negative, relative and additional aspects of things, and not a part of their existence.5
A creature who calls upon God by understanding His Mercifulness shows that he has reached a stage where he does not only understand the system of creation as God's manifestation, but also that return to Him is also a system of blessing. This is an evidence of the priority of blessing over wrath, and, in other words, connotes that punishment, if properly recognised, is a blessing in the form of pain.
In another sense, God Almighty has two types of attributes, those of beauty such as knowledge and beneficence, and those of majesty such as power and vengeance.
God Almighty in His essence does not have dualism, meaning half goodness and blessing, and the other half power and vengeance. Moreover, these attributes are not on the same level, but there is a priority of some over others.
Men of learning have studied this issue deeply and got valuable results, and only those gifted with talents, keen intellect and untiring efforts have been able to fathom these truths.
There is a priority of attributes in connection with God, and some are the products of others. Generally speaking, attributes of beauty are prior to attributes of majesty which are produced by the former. It is Jehovah, God of the Jews, in whom power and vengeance have priority over other attributes, and not Allah who is presented by the Qur'an as the true God of universe.
That is why in the Qur'an the phrase "In the name of God" is followed by "the Beneficent and Merciful," and not by 'Powerful' and 'Avenging', for, the presentation of existence from the viewpoint of the Qur'an is to show God as Beneficent and Merciful, and even power and vengeance are another form of beneficence and mercy.
It is clear that the blessing of mercy, namely a blessing that is granted upon creatures' return to God, is, in the first place for believers, a blessing which is absolute, not relative, and wholly a blessing. This is what was explained before that beneficence is related to this world and is granted to all creatures whether believer or infidel, while mercy is related to the next world and granted only to believers.
This does not mean that the world of existence has such divisions. From the viewpoint of blessing, there is an 'arrival' and a 'return'. Both are blessings in different directions, namely, 'from Him' and 'towards Him '. Even hell and divine punishment, which are manifestations of His power and vengeance, are the product of His blessing.
Concerning the phrase 'Master of the Day of Judgment', another understanding is under consideration. A servant of God understands the ultimate end of creation to mean a day of judgment when it will be revealed that nothing is genuine except that God is the true Owner and Lord.
All these are included in the domain of theoretical monotheism, which depends on an understanding that is essential. It should not be said that this is a subjective stage and that there is no necessity for it. In Islam, recognition is genuine in its own right, and without it no advance can be make towards the poetical stage.
Is the first stage, namely understanding, sufficient for a believer to be considered as monotheist? No, this is a preliminary step for the practical stage. When we say 'Thee do we serve' we are beginning a practical monotheism and becoming a believer in uniqueness.
In Arabic when something becomes submissive and soft and obedient so that it shows no resistance, aggression or rebellion, this state is called 'Ta'abod' or 'devotion'.
In the past, roads were not made as today by machines and then trodden, but they were made by walking on rough ground with the result that sands became softer and pebbles and thorns were broken under the feet and showed no more resistance, as if these obstacles were tamed; add such roads were called 'devoted ways' (Ma'ebad).
Thus a devoted man is he who is tame and obedient, shows submission; and resorts to no mutiny. This state must exist only towards God. A servant of God attends to God and His commands. But monotheism in service and devotion means lacking this state before any creature but the creator, and to show disobedience and rebellion to what is not related to God. Thus a man should have two contrary states, namely, absolute submission to God, and absolute rebellion to non-god. This is the meaning of "Thee do we serve", meaning "we worship You and none else".
It must be remembered that obedience to those commanded by God, such as father, mother, Imam and fully qualified leaders, is in fact obedience to God; what is parallel with the line of God is worship, but what crosses that line is dualism or polytheism.
In the Qur’an, various examples are given of dualism, some of which will be mentioned that will incidentally clarify the meaning of practical monotheism.
1. "Have you seen him who takes his low desires for his god?" ( Chapter "Forqan", Verse 43)
In this verse a lustful person is considered a polytheist, Mowlavi says in his Mathnavi:
The mother of idols is the idol of yourself.
For, they are serpents, but this is a dragon.
Thus when we say: "Thee do we serve" and negate the god of non-god, we are declaring our obedience to God, and not to our desires, whims and lusts.
2. "They have taken their doctors of law and their monks for Lords besides Allah." (Chapter "Immunity", Verse 31)
While the Qur'an reproaches the Jews and Christians, it says that they worship their learned men and monks. We know that the worship by these two groups was different from the worship by idolaters. They did not prostrate themselves, but showed devotion and submission to them (learned men & monks) without being allowed by God, and in fact they obeyed the desires and fancies of their masters. God says that obedience belongs to God, and these creatures have no leave to demand obedience.
Thus when we say: "Thee do we serve", it means we do not worship any group in the name of priesthood, or holiness or any other name, and do not obey blindly. We obey those You have commanded to be obeyed and none else. If we obey the Prophet it is by Your explicit command as something obligatory. If we obey the Imams as leaders, it is by Your command. And if we obey fully-qualified, virtuous, just and well-informed priests, it is by the order of the Prophet and Imams to whom You have given authority.
3. "Say: O followers of the Book! Come to an equitable proposition between us and you that we shall not serve any but Allah and (that) we shall not associate aught with Him, and (that) some of us shall not take others for lords besides Allah." (Chapter "Al-Emran", verse 64)
This is the same verse that the Prophet sent as a circular to all the leaders of the world in year 5 or 6 (after Hejira).
This is another manifestation of practical monotheism in the Qur'an, saying that no human being must make another his god, or his servant. So the phrase "Thee do we serve" means that we have only God as our Lord, and no social lord, and accept no human being or his orders worthy of obedience.
4. "And is it a favour of which you remind me that you have enslaved the children of Israel?" (Chapter "The Poets", verse 22)
When Moses-bin-Emran faced the Pharaoh and invited him to his religion, the Pharaoh said rudely: "You are the one who were brought up in our house and committed that wicked act (meaning: killing an Egyptian)". Moses answered: "Do you hold me under obligation while you enslave the Israelites?"
You see that Moses has called Pharaoh's tyranny as enslavement. The Israelites never prostrated themselves before Pharaoh, but he had made them abject and forced them to compulsory labour, exploiting them, and depriving them of all choice and freedom.
These are examples cited by the Qur'an which may clarify the meaning of practical monotheism, which is called monotheism in worship by Islamic theologians.
In Islam, it is not enough to be a monotheist only in the stage of thought and to recognise God as being unique in His essence, attributes and acts. He is a true monotheist who after such a recognition, is also devoted in obedience and submission. Here, we realise the significance of the Chapter of Praise which summarises both theoretical and practical monotheisms in a few brief sentences. And this is done by someone who is unlettered and has never met a philosopher or a man of learning.
According to Arabic grammarians as in the phrase "Thee do we serve", the word "Thee" as an object has been placed first instead of at the end, it gives the sense of monopoly, and in fact the sentence meaning "We worship only you, and naught but you." This is similar in meaning to the sentence "There is no god but God", which shows belief and unbelief at the same time.
Another verse says;
"There is no compulsion in religion; truly, the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in Satan and believes in Allah, he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle." (Chapter "The Cow", verse 256).
In Islam, belief is always faced with disbelief, and while submitting to God, one should deny the manifestation of rebellion in order to make faith complete.
The interesting point in this phase of practical monotheism is that the pronoun 'We' is used before 'serve', and not the singular pronoun 'I'. This means that as man is built up by his knowledge of God and by attention to Him and not by his negligence of Him, and as he is built up by action and not only by reflection, he is also built up by his social acts which are in harmony with monotheistic society, and not apart from it . Man is a thinking, divine, practical and social being, and without these qualities he is not human, and having only a few of these qualities also shows imperfection. Thus "Thee do we serve" is the evidence of a collective and harmonious passage towards God in a monotheistic society.
This phrase is monotheism in asking for assistance, and only from Him. Here, a question arises about what educators and moralists call self-confidence, by which they mean that relying on others produces weakness and dependence, while self-confidence awakens and revives one's powers.
Thus, one should not rely on either God or non-god. That is why some modern men of learning negate reliance on God as unethical, and as a way of depriving oneself of confidence.
This question may be asked in another way, that is, why should one not seek help from anyone other than God? It is logical to worship none but God, but why should one abstain from seeking help from other than God? God has created means and has made human beings dependent on these means and on other human beings. Hence, we have no·choice but to rely on these for assistance.
In answer to this question it must be pointed out that asking for help and relying on others is not abominable. God has made man dependent on one another in society, and Islam has recommended cooperation and help. The Qur'an says:
"Help each other in goodness and piety." (Chapter "The Food," Verse 2)
If asking others for help had not been allowed, God would not have recommended it.
A man in the presence of Imam Ali cited this prayer: "O God, do not make me needy of your people". The Imam told him not to say so, but to say: "O God, do not make me needy of your bad people". This means that the previous sentence is impracticable since in creation man has been made dependent. Then in the phrase "Thee do we beseech for help", the purpose is not to forbid asking for help. What is the conclusion?
What this verse means is that the ultimate reliance of man should be on God, and he should consider all other things in the world only as means. He must remember that his powers, strength and brain are all means granted to him by God, and his destiny is in God's hand. How often one relies on various means, and finds that contrary to his expectation, they fail to offer help. This is true also of one's own powers. The only power that can be relied on without any anxiety is God's.
It has been brought in a writing that in one of the battles the Prophet withdrew from the army to rest and sleep on a hill near the camp. A brave and armed enemy soldier happened to pass by, and on recognising the Prophet felt happy to have found the chance to kill him. He stood by the Prophet who was asleep and shouted: "Is it you, Muhammad? "Muhammad opened his eyes and said: "Yes, it is I". The man said: "Who can now save you from me?" The Prophet answered at once: "God". The man who did not expect such an answer, said: "Now I will show you." He stepped back to deal a severe blow, but his foot caught a stone and he fell headlong on the ground. The Prophet rose and stood at his head and said: "Now, who can save you from me?" The man cleverly answered: "Your generosity". And the Prophet pardoned him.
This shows that one is not forbidden to rely on other means, but in making use of them he should recognise the creator of these means who is supreme to them all.
To show what is meant by the right path, several points must be mentioned.
1. All creatures move in an involuntary course which is the requisite of existence towards God, and man is one of these creatures.
2. Among the ways there is a straight highway leading to happiness which should be chosen.
3. As a man chooses his way, he should opt in favour of a kind of movement towards his destination which is perfection. Thus, man can find perfection.
4. The way to perfection is to be discovered rather than invented. Contrary to the theory on existentialism which claims that there is neither a way nor destination, and man only creates a destination, value and way for himself, and ultimately a form of perfection, the Qur'an places the way, destination, perfection and values in the creation of existence, and they are to be discovered to be able to find the way and the destination.
5. The direct path has a direction from the very beginning, unlike indirect ways which are curved or crooked and may possibly lead one to destination but with many changes in the route. Thus, the direct path is not through conflicts or oscillation between opposites, as claimed by dialecticians.
6. The point that the way of perfection is to be discovered rather than invented does not mean that like space ways, a road is made for a walker as something external to him. It means that a way is inherent in man's existence and nature which leads him to true perfection that is proximity to God, in the same way that the stone of a date has the potentiality of becoming a tree.
7. As man is equipped with natural aptitude, he needs a guide, for he has a fundamental difference with other creatures in their natural talents for attaining perfection. That difference lies in the fact that the way of all other creatures has been preordained, each having only one definite way, while man is not so, and as modern philosophers say: Every creature has a nature, but man has not.
Existentialists insist that man lacks nature, and I have proved elsewhere that this does not hold good in the way they claim.
Man possesses a variety of conflicting natures, and he must choose his way from among high and low natures. Animals have no option. A horse, a dog, a cat, a sheep etc., each is created with certain instincts which determine the way of each one, and we see that all of them have the same temper, behaviour and action all over the world. The bees and ants follow a uniform mode in gathering food, and building a home.
But man has hundreds of ways to choose from. The Qur'an says:
"Your striving is most surely various." (Chapter "The Night," Verse 4.)
This is a sign of human perfection, not of his weakness. Can we thus say that man totally lacks a path?
If materialists, especially existentialists, suppose so, the Qur'an does not admit it. It says that a route is drawn to lead man to God which is the way of his perfection. There are a thousand ways open to him, but only one leads to God. Man is free to choose any way, and if he chooses the right one, all is well; otherwise all the other ways are wrong.
There is a narration about the Prophet saying that he was sitting somewhere surrounded by a number of people. The Prophet began drawing lines on the ground, one of which was straight and the others crooked. He then said: This one is my way, and the others are not."
The reason why the world 'darkness' is always used in the Qur'an in a plural form is that the ways of deviation are many, while the way of God is only one.
It is here that the need for guidance by prophets becomes evident, for the direct path which leads to perfection cannot be distinguished by man without their aid, and these and the messengers that can show the way.
A point has been explained in "Al-Mizan", saying that the world 'sabeel' (meaning ways) used in the Qur'an is different from 'serat' (meaning way), the former being plural and the latter singular; the former means subsidiary ways, whereas the latter means highway. There may be many subsidiary ways to reach a destination, but only one main road.
All of us human beings are like a caravan travelling towards perfection for which a highway should be taken, while each one of us may choose a branch road to reach that highway. If anyone, in any rank and position, acts according to his human, moral and religious duty, he will find the main road through any path that he has chosen, no matter how different these paths may be at first. Doctors, workers or merchants choose different paths, but they can all ultimately join the highway.
"The path of those upon whom Thou hath bestowed favours, not (the path) of those upon whom Thy wrath is brought down, nor of those who go astray".
Human beings are divided into three groups according to what they gain by their worship and in the choice of their way.
One group consists of those who, by their worship, receive God's special grace and are constantly bestowed rewards as if an invisible hand pulls them. These are the beings who are esteemed by God such as prophets and saints in the first place and then other perfect beings. They are to be followed and their way to be emulated.
The second group is the one opposed to the first. Its individuals worship anything but God, and are rebellious. The consequence of their deeds appears in their natures, as if a hand deviates them perpetually from the right path. Instead of being elevated towards God and granted many rewards, they are treated with the wrath of God, lose the way to perfection altogether, and fall into the ravine of wickedness. Instead of following the way of humanity, they go the animal way, and move backward.
The third group comprise those who waver, and have no definite way. They are perplexed and irresolute, and choose a different way every moment, and get to nowhere.
The meaning of the last verse of this Chapter is: "O God, show us your right way, the way of your saints, and virtuous, those who benefit always from your favours, not the way of those who are changed so that they have deviated from humanity and have brought your wrath on themselves, not the way of those who wander about and are perplexed, and assume a different shape every moment and mingle with a different group".
End of Chapter of Praise
- 1. The Shi'as are unanimous about this point , but there is a difference of opinion among the Sunnis: some agree with the Shi'as, others are opposed to it, and a third group believes in their separation., IbnAbbass, Ibn-Mobarak, Assem, Kasa 'i, Ibn-Omar, Ibn-Zobeyr, Ibn-Horayra Atta, Tavous, Imam Fakhr Razi, and Jalal-e-din Soyuti belong to the first group.
Some others like Malek, Abu-Amr and Yaghub believe that it is not a part of each chapter, but is used to separate the chapters. Some of the followers of the Shafa’i sect, and Hamza believe that it is a part of the opening chapter, but not the others. But concerning its use in prayer, different verdicts are given by jurisprudents, though the Shi’a, on the basis of the narrations quoted from the Prophet’s household, think that it is an inseparable part of the chapters.
- 2. In Nahjul-Balagha the mode of devotion is divided into three kinds: Those who worship God for His benevolence are merchants; those who worship Him out of fear are slaves; and those who worship Him for gratitude are free-born.
- 3. Sa'di's Boustan
- 4. Al-Mizan Vol, 20. P, 229
- 5. For further discussion, refer to the author's Divine Justice.