Musings on Chapter 1 of the Quran: The Perfect Introduction?

Chapter 1 (Fatiha) is possibly the most read chapter of the Quran. It is an integral part of Muslim prayers and is repeated tens of times in a day. Yet, we must ask ourselves, what purpose does it serve? Why is it the very first chapter of the Quran?

For some reason, I just did;  and had an epiphany!

I think the answers to those questions lie in Ch2 V2: Quran as a revealed message will only serve as a guide for the Muttaqeen (those who are conscious of God). This is because everyone else wouldn’t embrace the message holistically to allow it to have a meaningful and drastic impact in their life.

So, to me,  Chapter 1 demonstrates the attributes of a person who has metaphorically awoken from sleep, suddenly becoming conscious of God (Muttaqi). These 6 verses could be considered as universal truths of a spiritual awakening, regardless of the faith one subscribes to. They immediately grab the attention of the reader, and go onto demonstrate Islam in a nutshell.

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Ready?  Let’s  dissect it!

(Note: I am not referring to the bismillah as verse 1.)

 

Verses 1-4 deal with the symptoms of a spiritual awakening. What are they?

 1st symptom: An immense feeling of praise and gratefulness for God, who is:

The Nourisher-Sustainer of the universe.

The Almighty (Rahman), and at the same time, The Merciful (Raheem).

Since both of the above words come from Rahm (literally: womb), these attributes outline the protective and evolusionizing aspect of The Beloved. The Muttaqi has experienced these attributes on a personal level. (V1-2)

2nd symptom: The realization of being dependent on a Higher Being (Maalik), and the fact that he is accountable for his actions. Therefore, it is ONLY Him that he would seek to serve and ONLY His aid that he would seek. (V3-4)

V5-6 is the prayer of the Muttaqi. What does he ask for?

He ONLY implores God for guidance towards the straight path:  A path on which there is positivity (favor and blessings); not a path involving negativity (wrath) and misguided people.

This, again, signifies the utmost importance given to God, while moving away from human authorities (idols). Furthermore, Islam is defined:

It is a straight path (without contradictions)

It is path on which you encounter positivity

It is a path devoid of negativity and misguidance

This short chapter includes much repeated key words in the Quran such as deen, ibadah, rabb and includes major themes of the Quran such as:

  1. Being grateful.
  2. The oneness and other predominant attributes of God.
  3.  Accountability for our actions.
  4. Dependence on a higher power.
  5. Avoiding Shirk (Association).
  6. Monotheism.
  7. Seeking guidance and aid.
  8. What Islam is as a system.

Conclusion

A grandeur introduction, isn’t it? So rich with detail, despite its briefness! Needless to say, I am completely awed!

At the risk of repeating myself, I would say that Chapter 1 is the Quran in a nutshell! If your Quran reading can be considered a spiritual workout, then Fatiha is the nutrient-dense pre-workout snack.

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Mosques: They Are Not What They Should Be

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A mosque is supposed to be a spiritual retreat – a community centre which encourages spiritual growth and makes people feel welcomed. You could think of it as a gym, except that it’s for the soul and not the physical body. Yet, unfortunately, mosques have lost their appeal. I think this is largely due to the fact that they tend to be male-dominated with a strict dress code focusing on very minute details of how to worship God. Inhospitable to women and non-Muslims, most people have stopped going to the mosques altogether.

What would I do if I was in charge of a mosque?

• Instead of stocking Arabic Qurans only, I would include translations. Muslims who do not understand Arabic stand in prayer not having the slightest idea about what the Imam is reciting. Tell me, what is the point? Salat means to connect with God. If you have no idea about what is being recited from God’s message, how can you connect with Him? Salat is a practice initiated to review the commandments of God, so that we keep ourselves aligned with them. A renewal of what we profess to believe in; to act as a constant reminder. Hence, before starting prayer, the Imam would announce what he would be reciting, so that the people could open up the relevant passage in the translations. While he recites in Arabic, they would read it in a language they understand. This would not only educate them about the Quran, but it would also fulfill the purpose of Salat – to connect and strengthen their relationship with God.

• Every Friday, Muslims go to pray the Jummah – even those that usually don’t pray. So, you have a great platform in the form of Friday prayers to educate people about the contents of the Quran. The Khutbah (sermon) does not even come close to this. Often, it is in Arabic, so people have no idea what is being said. Even if it is in their language, the substance is usually worthless. Hence, what I would do is I would choose a certain topic – say, modesty. Compile the relevant verses on it, and then give a sermon based on this. Not only would this clear a lot of misconceptions, it would also attract a loyal following of Muslims and non-Muslims who actually want to know about the Islam proposed by the Quran!

• Apart from these two fundamental changes, I would set up sessions where people would come together to discuss their interpretations of the Quran. In addition, they could also talk about relevant issues that need to be addressed in their community and elsewhere. So, it’s not all a preach preach preach sort of thing, it would also encourage people to share their own views. This would teach people tolerance. That, it’s never “my way or the highway”. This practice is crucial to being broad-minded and is bound to reduce zealots and religious extremism.

• Lastly, I would try to keep the environment of the mosque friendly. No one would be harassed based on their clothing, ideas, or gender. Yes, gender! The mosque would welcome both men and women. Women would not be considered inferiors, and would be encouraged to actively participate in all the activities. To facilitate children, the mosque would have a play area where they could play under the supervision of a nanny while their parents perform their duties. It is ironic how Islam liberates women, but certain Muslims want to keep them caged in homes.

So, there we have it: A mosque that is actually beneficial to the society. A mosque not built on sectarianism, but to promote unity. You could say that it’s wishful thinking, but all actions stem from thought.

The main problem with Muslims today is a lack of education and miseducation about the Quran. This allows “Imams” to cash in on their ignorance. Hence, you have so many sects all claiming to have the “true and right version of Islam”. Since Muslims are oblivious to the message of the Quran, they find it easier to blindly follow whichever sect or ideology they are “born in”. Once Muslims are exposed to the Quran like how I propose the Mosque would, they would automatically disassociate themselves from dogmatic ideologies. Of course, not all would. But it would be a step in the right direction. A step we so desperately need!

Follow The Voice Within

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If you call yourself a Muslim, but haven’t read the Quran — then the best course of action to take would be to obviously read it. No one is born into a religion just as you can’t be born into a political ideology. I can’t call myself a Communist if I haven’t researched it for myself. Bear in mind, that when you decide to identify yourself as a Muslim to other people, you decide to become an ambassador of Islam. People who aren’t familiar with Islam will usually base their opinion on it according to your actions.

However, even if you can’t get yourself to read it for some reason or the other, the least you could do is follow your conscience. Now, by conscience, I mean the inner voice which never shies away from expressing itself –The Rooh (Spirit/Soul) of God that is within us all (15:29). No one can be spiritually content if their actions are negative. As an example, don’t drink, gamble, fornicate, backbite, lie, spend lavishly, cause corruption etc. If only you happen to avoid such things, then congratulations! You have adhered to many teachings of Islam as well as all the other religions. See, every religion stresses the importance of behaving morally. That is essentially the core of them all. And we all know that you don’t need religion to teach you morals. The soul already knows what’s right and wrong. Just listen to it!

Having said that, it is of paramount importance that you read the Quran sooner than later. Why? Because then you’ll not be as gullible as most religionists usually are. Since you have no foundation of the Quran, “scholars” can basically feed you anything and attribute it to Islam and you won’t know what hit you. That’s why, some of them (if not most!) try to keep people away from reading the Quran for themselves. After all, their bread and butter depend on it! They discourage people from forming their own opinions lest they interpret it ‘wrongly’. Or, the promises of rewards that one gets by reading the Quran in a language he doesn’t even understand! How ridiculous! The Quran is a practical guide on life. The sole purpose of this book is to bring people out of darkness, towards light (14:2).   It is a book that yearns to be understood, and most importantly implemented!     

So if you don’t want to be fooled, read it. After having read the Quran, you will have developed a criterion from which you can judge whether a statement is Quranic or not. That’s where the “blasphemy law” comes in to silence those who speak truth, a law so contradictory to the message of the Quran! (You can read it about it here)

Follow your conscience, think for yourself & evolve!