The Key – Al-Fãtehah

The Key – Al-Fãtehah

Quran 1:1-7

In the name of GOD, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to GOD, Lord of the universe.
Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Master of the Day of Judgment.
You alone we worship. You alone we ask for help.
Guide us in the right path;
the path of those whom You blessed; not of those who have deserved wrath, nor of the strayers.

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

Welcome to my small blog. I was thinking of the struggles and questions I faced when trying to understand and practice religion and thought I would share my experience in the hope that, if you too are struggling or have questions, that this may serve as a guide to answer some of those questions. I am starting with the first verse of the Qur’an because there is so much here that unifies all the major monotheistic religions that it seems the most logical place to start.

In the name of God. This is the start of everything that is good. Our creator has started the Qur’an with these verses to show that all good is with his permission, his name, and under his sole control.

Side note on gender. There is no gender attributed to God. Unfortunately, in English, pronouns have genders. I will use the male gender when writing about God but I do not imply a gender it is the lack of a proper pronoun that requires the use.

Most Gracious is one of God’s names. In the Qur’an it is stated that the best names are His names. The Most Gracious is one of God’s names and one of his attributes. To be Gracious is to be divine and to be a provider. This statement emphasizes that all that we have and all that we are given is by His grace.

Qur’an 2:29

He is the One who created for you everything on earth, then turned to the sky and perfected seven universes therein,* and He is fully aware of all things.

He is in charge of everything in the seven universes and has provided all that we have. We have not earned what we are given. Whether it be our limbs, health, wealth or anything good that makes life worth living. It is a blessing to which we need to show appreciation. The grace of God has bestowed upon us blessing. Every day we are given the blessing of life, if God is willing. We are given an opportunity to thank Him and show our appreciation. God has outlined requirements for meeting this obligation. Among them are the practice of contact prayers, charity and fasting to name a few. The very fact that we exist is the greatest blessing and we are eternally indebted to him for the opportunity to live a good life that is a benefit to our fellow mankind.

The Merciful. This title is extremely important. God’s mercy is so far above what we could imagine that it’s almost inconceivable. God promises to forgive all sins except the worship of idols. This includes worshiping His Prophets. Everything comes from God and everything is in His control. To speak and revere another besides God is a great sin. A lot of times we are so thankful when something good has befallen us we look to those in front of us with gratitude. It is good to be thankful to whoever provides relief but ultimately that blessing has come from God. Think of it this way. When the mail arrives with a check for a refund we don’t hug and thank the mail person. They are merely a person who has brought us the blessings. There are so many things that have gone wrong in the process. The person sending you the check could have written the information sloppily and your bank can deny the deposit. The check may have gotten lost on its way to you. A breeze could have blown the check out of your hand on the way to the bank. These things happen and they serve as a reminder that none of this is in the control of anyone in the chain of action.

A lot of times people thank their doctors for the surgery they performed. That again is good but people die on the operating table from even, seemingly, simple procedures. Routine procedures can result in loss of limbs or life. God is the one who guided you to the right doctor and watched over your health until it was improved. This serves an an opportunity to be thankful. We often forget to thank God once our problems have been resolved. Struggles and adversities are opportunities to increase our blessings by being thankful. God knows that people are do not always turn towards Him unless we are faced with an affliction. Being thankful all the time, as a way of life, allows us to have less adversity and still attain the blessings of being thankful to our Creator.

Master of the day of judgement

God alone is the Master of Judgement Day. The time where we will be accountable for what we have done in this world. He asks of us a few simple things, simple but not alway easy. Aside from worshiping him alone we are asked to help our parents, the needy, the orphans and the hungry. There is a specific order in which we should do this but these are all things that a good person would do anyway. These practices add up to a positive account of our life. In His mercy the good deeds we do are multiplied and the bad deeds only count for their inherent value. In that way we are benefited by his mercy and allowed a greater chance for positive account. Imagine if every time you owed someone money it was a fixed amount but if you earned money it was multiplied. Life would be far far better. Money is fleeting and only last for this life so giving money to those who are needy or underprivileged is a not a loss but rather an investment you can take with you. You’re good deeds are the only investment that transcends this world. The next life is an eternal one. Let’s take a moment to look at this idea of eternity.

The concept of eternity

In mathematics there is a concept of estimation called limits. If we have a hundred years in this world and the next life were to last for 1,000 years then the amount of time in this life compared to the next would be 100 ÷ 1,000 = .1 years. Let’s take it further. If the next life was a Million years it would still be 100 for this one but now divided by 1 Million. So this life would them be equivalent to .0001. You can see where this is going if we keep moving the length of time that the next life lasts. Eventually, we get to a number with so many zeros before 1 that, for all intents and purpose, the length of this life is almost zero. You can consider it zero. That is what you are investing in. You are taking something from this life and putting it towards an every lasting one. It may be a struggle in the moment but that struggle is well worth the investment since the next life does not end.
If you think back at other struggles that you have faced you will see that, no matter how much you felt that they were overwhelming at the time time, those struggles seem small and fleeting. That is the way life works. To do good may have some hardship but in the grander scheme of a life they are just a moment in time.
When my wife had our first child, praise God, my grandmother asked if we would try to have another child. I told her that it would depend on my wife she had endure a difficult first pregnancy. My grandmother replied that the difficulties of labor are the first things that a woman forgets after giving birth. If that wasn’t the case then no woman would have a second child. Even a routine labor is one of the most difficult hardships a woman can endure and yet that struggle is over at some point. Think of doing good in the same way if it requires a sacrifice then it only increases your reward. That struggle will soon be over and God will count what you have done and increase you in this life and the next.

You alone we worship, You alone we ask for help.

To believe in God and to truly submit we need to believe this statement and practice it in our daily lives. When we are faced with overwhelming hardship and there is no one to turn to even people who claim to not believe in God will pray for relief from this hardship. That’s good but we are forgetting that God is doing everything. If you are asking for help from a person who is it that sways their heart in your favor? Who provides you with the connections in your life to achieve your goals? All of this comes from God almighty. He chose for us to be born in the families and countries where we live. He is who we should turn to for help. He will guide you to what or who you need. When I recently struggled with financial hardship and had lost my job I thought of the story of Moses. In the Qur’an it gives the following example.

Qur’an 28:22-24

As he traveled towards Midyan, he said, “May my Lord guide me in the right path.”
When he reached Midyan’s water, he found a crowd of people watering, and noticed two women waiting on the side. He said, “What is it that you need?” They said, “We are not able to water, until the crowd disperses, and our father is an old man.”
He watered for them, then turned to the shade, saying, “My Lord, whatever provision you send to me, I am in dire need for it.”

Moses knew that God is the only one we can ask for help. He started his request with a good deed. He could have easily turned toward the woman who had livestock, a sign of wealth, and asked their help. Instead he performed the good deed for God and then turned towards God and asked for help. Those women in turn turned spoke told their father of the good deed and he offered Moses a position in his household and one of his daughter in marriage. Instantly increasing Moses’ stature in his financial position. If you continue reading the verses you after the ones mentioned above you will see what I mean.

So, when I was in a similar situation I asked God for help. A friend of mine called me out of the blue and offered me a job. I, initially thought it wasn’t what I wanted but then thought that this was a gift from God. Why would I turn down the answer to my prayers? That position was one of the best jobs I ever had. My friend and I became closer and it was more easier and rewarding than I imagined. The best thing is my friend knew my desire to practice my prayers and respected the time it took to perform them. I was able to work and pray during the day, something my previous position prevented.

Because the job was a contract I would not be paid until the end of the contract so I was relying heavily on my savings which was being diminished at a rapid rate. One day, once I reached my destination in the city for work, there as a man who was asking for food. I thought, I don’t have any money I was even contemplating skipping meals to try and pay my bills but then I remember that God would increase my investment in feeding those who were hungry. So I took him to a Dunkin’ Donut that was just outside the station and purchased a meal for him. When I got to work my heart was still conflicted because I did not know how long it would take before this “investment” would be paid. My friend offered to get me a beverage and, when he returned, gave me $40 dollars. He said, I know you aren’t getting paid right now and that you still have to commute. It was the most cash back the store offered and I am sorry it’s so little. I thanked him and with nearly tears in my eyes explained what had happened that morning and how much of a blessing it truly was. In my heart I thanked God for keeping his promise. He always keeps his promise.
Within a few hours I was called about a design job (I was trained as a graphic designer but hadn’t really designed anything lately) and then another client called out of the blue with another design job. The second client I had not spoken with for about 3 years. It was truly a blessing. The second job fell through but I already was peaceful in my heart with just the $40 dollars and more than happy with the proof of God’s promise. The peace of mind that I felt was immense in knowing that, in surrendering to God, things would always be alright.
Now I could go on to say that I never worried again but that’s not the case. I am human and failable but I think back on that often and it decreases my anxiety with my current struggles.
It is important to ask for forgiveness and to not limit God in thinking that he may not forgive us. Even if we know that there is a chance we may sin again. We may die at any moment and we should ask frequently. The time of prayer is a good time to ask for forgiveness since God is already on our mind. God is a being of unlimited forgiveness. We look at the world from eyes that see scarcity and this is an illusion. If God so wills he can increase us in anything, no matter our circumstance. We think God would not forgive certain sins because we may not forgive a person who does the same against us. It is important to remember that God likes those who forgive. We should aspire to do the same. It is better for us.

Guide us in the right path; the path of those whom You blessed; not of those who have deserved wrath, nor of the strayers.

One day I was under a great deal of stress. I decided that, despite my depleting saving, I would take my family out to a local theater and watch Spider-Man: Far From Home. My kids would soon be leaving the country to visit their grandfathers and extended family for the summer. I wanted to enjoy a movie and alleviate my stress with some distraction.
My older son, who as six years old at the time, kept talking during the movie in a loud voice. I was so upset. He then went outside to get some snacks and forgot what he was asking for causing the concession stand operator to accompany him on the way back. So I had to leave the movie and miss more than I already had when trying to keep his voice down. When we were outside I asked if he needed to go to the bathroom because I didn’t want any further interruptions. He did and we went back in to the movie. He kept talking despite my rising anger and then, after about a half an hour, said he had to poop. I was livid. He continued to talk and misbehave. I was not having a relaxing time at all and regretting my decision to attend the movie. When we went home I was thinking of an appropriate punishment when I remember a verse in the Qur’an that said something like. Even if you can’t forgive them we would have forgiven them. That hit me hard.
Walking into the house my tears began to fall. This is my own child, my own blood and we struggled in his birth. I prayed for God to make him steadfast. He was steadfast in talking he didn’t give up questioning or asking for the bathroom when he needed. God would forgive and who am I to not forgive. I felt so ashamed and so humbled by the blessings of God’s ability to forgive that when I went inside I bowed down in gratitude to God with tears streaming down my face. My wife wanted to take the kids out of the room but I called them in instead. I told them that God is the best at forgiving and I should try and forgive him. With a breaking voice I explained my reasoning and hugged both of my children.
That was a blessed day. I received a much greater blessing than a Spider-Man movie. I had no idea that events would transpire how they did but I owe it all to God guiding me to read the Qur’an again and again. God had guided me on the right path of action. I could have done something I would regret but instead forgiveness entered my heart. I did not sin by taking out my anger on a child that God has blessed me with. He kept me from straying by placing that reminder, from His word, into my heart.

What’s not in this verse

Notice that this verse doesn’t say anything about a prophet or a specific religion. This is a testament to the unification of all religions under God. In this opening verse God does not mention Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, Noah, or any other person. It is a prayer that anyone who believes in one God can say. This is a universal scripture and that is why, I believe, it is an integral part of the contact prayer (Ritual prayer prayed five times a day by all who follow Islam) and can be an integral part of the way anyone can start their prayers to God. To start with this is to testify to the Oneness of God, His Graciousness and Mercy. Starting with praise we, reaffirm our believe that God truly controls everything. That, even the guidance towards Him, is under his exclusive control. This puts us in our place under God and acknowledges his supremacy in all things.

Leave a Reply