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Contrapuntal Harmony in the Thought, Mood and Structure of Srah Ftihah

Qur'anic Exegesis Dr. Mustansir Mir

The opening Srah of the Qurn is generally regarded as consisting of seven verses. There is, however, disagreement on whether the basmalah is part of the srah and is to be counted as one of the seven verses (for details, see Ab Abdu Allh Muhammad Al-Qurtub, Al-Jami li-Akham al-Qurn, 20 vol. in 10 [Tehran reprint of Egyptian edition], 1:114-115). For our purposes, the srah, when the basmalah is left out, consists of six verses. A close study of these six verses reveals that they are, in several ways, marked by harmony of point and counterpoint. The harmony is noticeable not only on the plane of thought, but also in respect of the structure and mood of the poem. The srah is divisible into two main parts, the first consisting of verse 1-3, the second, of verses 5-6, with verse 4 being the intermediary or link verse, as will be explained below. In order to facilitate reference to the text, the srah is reproduced below in transliteration. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Al-hamdu li llhi rabbil-lamn Al-Rahmni r-m Mliki yawmi d-dn Iyyka nabudu wa iyyka nastan Ihdina s-sirtal-mustaqm Sirtailladhna an amta alayhim, ghayril-maghdbi alayhim wa-la d-dlln


1. Nominal and Verbal Sentences. The first three verses make up a nominal sentence (Jumlah Ismiyyah), whereas the last two verses are a verbal sentence (Jumlah Filiyyah). The fourth verse, which is in between these two sets, partakes of the qualities of both types of sentences and may be called, in grammatical terms, Jumaltun Dhtu Wajhayn (literally: two-faced sentence). Structurally speaking, this sentence facilitates the transition from the nominal to the verbal sentence (note that it begins with the noun-equivalent pronoun Iyyka, which links it with the nominal
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sentence made up of the first three verses, and ends with the verbs Nabudu and Nastan, which connects it with the verbal sentence made up of the last two verses. In the following paragraphs, we shall refer to the first three verses as Part 1 and to the last two verses as Part 2. As for the intermediary verse 4, it stands independently, though for certain practical purposes it may be included in Part 2. Grammatically, the nominal sentence signifies Dawm (permanence or, in philosophical language: being), whereas the verbal sentence signifies Hudth (happening philosophically: becoming). Part 1 describes the Divinity, the nominal sentence indicating the Dawm, or eternality, of His Being and Attributes. Part 2 (inclusive of verse 4) describes mans prayer to that God for help, the verbal sentence indicating, within a historical context of Part 1, mans call to God and, implicitly, the Divine response to that call. 2. Thought and Action. In Part 1 man reflects on the universe and breaks out in praise of an All-Compassionate God. In Part 2 he seeks help from this AllCompassionate God. In other words, perception and understanding lead to action and movement. Part 1 of the srah represents the realm of contemplation, Part 2, the realm of action, the two being interconnected: in Part 1 man reflects, in Part 2 he is moved to action by that reflection. 3. God-Man Interaction. According to this srah, man needs Divine help and ought to seek it. On the other hand, God is not unconcerned with mans affairs, but intervenes in history by furnishing the help man needs. God and man thus interact, and the interaction is reflected in the structure of the srah. Part 1 states how God relates to the world in general (note especially the phrase Rabb al-lamn) and to man in particular (the notion of judgement, stated in Mliki yawmi d-dn, clearly indicates this), whereas Part 2 states how man ought to relate to his Creator-Lord. Each verse in the first set has a counterpart in the other. Thus: Verse 1 speaks of Gods Rububiyyah (providence), and verse 4 speaks of the homage that is due to God from man for guidance, this guidance being, as the Qurn explains in many places, a manifestation of Gods mercy. Verse 3 speaks of Gods being the Master of the Day of Judgement, and verse 6 speaks of Gods adjudging, on that day, of human beings as righteous or wicked. 4. Temporal and non-Temporal. As noted already, verses 1-3 are, grammatically, one sentence. This sentence, being nominal, has no tense it represents nontemporality. If we leave verse 5 aside for the moment, the last two verses, 5-6, also make up a single sentence, which, being verbal, has tense thus representing temporality. The difference is perhaps a symbolic representation, first, of the difference between the Divine realm, which is unconstrained by time, and the human realm, which is time-bound; and, secondly, of the God-man interaction (see above): God, who is beyond time and is infinite (verses 1-3), intervenes in the world of man, who is finite and time-bound. Verse 4, which links up the two sets of verses, is thus a declaration by the finite human being to submit to the Infinite, and also a prayer for the non-temporal to enter into the world of the temporal. But, even though verses 5-6 make up a verbal sentence, the verb used, Ihdi (guide) is imperative, which, being non-declarative (Insh), implies that the guidance sought and, hopefully, provided is free from the limitations of time and is relevant to all ages. 5. Perception and Conception. The data reflected on in Part 1 are primarily sensory in character: the evidence of Gods providence and mercy is found everywhere in the physical universe. The Straight Path of Part 2, as also the recompense, is
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primarily conceptual in nature. A transition or development from the material and physical to the conceptual and spiritual thus takes place in the srah. 6. Emotion and Cognition. Part 1 is emotive: man, upon reflecting on the universe and his own situation, cannot help exclaiming how providential, compassionate, and just God is. Part 2, on the other hand, represents, first, a recognition of the fact that Divine providence, compassion, and justice demand in return submission from man, and, second, a translation of that understanding into a prayer for guidance so that submission may take a proper form. The affective element is not entirely absent from Part 2, though the cognitive and discursive elements predominate. In Part 1, on the other hand, the reflective aspect is not completely missing in fact it is reflection that leads man to make the exclamatory pronouncement but reflection is in the background, exclamation in the foreground. 7. Initiative and Response. Part 1 represents the initiative taken by God: being provident, merciful, and just, He showers his blessings on man. Part 2 represents the response made by man: he submits to God. From another point of view, this human response is also an initiative: man makes a conscious decision to worship God and mould his life in accordance with His decrees. To this initiative, the response of God, one can infer from the second half of the last verse (Sirtalladhna an amta alayhim, ghayril-maghdbi alayhim wa-la d-dlln), would be that he would bless those who follow the Straight Path and punish those who go astray and earn His wrath. 8. Privilege and Responsibility. Part 1 speaks of the privileges man enjoys in this world. Part 2 speaks of the responsibilities entailed by those privileges. The srah indicates that there is, or ought to be, a causal connection between the blessings man receives and the gratitude he shows, or ought to show. 9. Duny and khirah. While both Part 1 and Part 2 make reference to this world (Duny) and (khirah) both, the primary focus in Part 1 is on the Duny (it is in the context of the Duny that man reflects on this universe), in Part 2, on the khirah (it is in the context of the khirah that salvation is sought). At the same time, Part 1 (God as Master of the Day of Judgement [verse 3]) refers to the Hereafter in explicit terms, whereas Part 2 (salvation and condemnation earned on the basis, respectively, of good and evil actions performed in this world) makes a definite, if implicit, to this world as the abode of action (Drul-amal). Another point, ancillary to the discussion of the khirah, is that Part 1 (see verse 3) refers to the Day of Recompense in general terms, whereas Part 2 (see verses 5-6) speaks of recompense in the more specific terms of reward and punishment. 10. Individual and Society. Since the mood of Part 1 is predominantly exclamatory, the speaker in it, in all probability, arguably represents humanity); overwhelmed by the blessedness of the state of his existence, the speaker proclaims the praises of the Lord. On the other hand, the speaker in Part 2 is man as a member of society: mans commitment to serve God, as also his prayer for guidance, is made as a member of a collectivity, hence the use of plural forms in this part: we serve God and we seek His help; guide us in the Straight Path.

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