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Newsletter for February 2012


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Surat al Fatiha,
Foundation of the Qur’an

by Hamid Algar (Excerpts)

Why is it necessary at this point to pray for guidance on the straight
path? In so far as we have already acknowledged the Oneness of Allah
(swt) and the several attributes mentioned earlier in the Sura we
already have a certain degree of guidance, and might hope already to be
on the straight path. The sense of the supplication may therefore be:
"support us through additional guidance; make it possible for us to
retain our state of guidance; enable us through continued guidance to
remain and to advance on the straight path". For hidaya, guidance, is
not a one?time matter, something that once attained has a permanent and
definitive effect, it is something calling for constant renewal and
strengthening. It can never be assumed that the attainment of faith is
an absolute guarantee against all deviation.

The straight path is defined further in the following ayas, first
positively, as "the path of those whom You have shown favor," and then
negatively as not those who have incurred anger and those who are
straying. "Those whom You have shown favor" refers to the prophets,
according to many commentators who adduce 19:58 as evidence. This is
clearly appropriate in that Allah has bestowed favor on the prophets by
selecting them to be the bearers of His message, preserving them from
sin and error, and entrusting them with the great task of guiding men
towards the purpose of their creation. However, if Allah meant only the
prophets, when speaking of "those whom You have shown favor," this
could have been conveyed by a more explicit wording. We therefore
conclude that "those whom You have shown favor" is a category which
includes the prophets but is more comprehensive, including all those
who have been given the favor of divine guidance and through their
efforts and the support of Allah continued on the straight path.

Before turning to the negative description of the straight path it is
worth noting that in the phrase "those whom You have shown favor" Allah
associates Himself directly with in'am, the bestowal of favor; He is
the subject of the second person verb an'amta. By contrast, in the
negative description of the straight path, He does not associate
Himself verbally with either anger or misguidance. Ghayr 'I?maghdubi
'alayhim, "not those who have incurred anger, "is sometimes translated
as "those with whom You are angered", but this involves a subtle
distortion of meaning. For Allah has deliberately associated Himself
with in'am and created a distance between Himself and anger by avoiding
a wording such ghayri 'l?ladhin ghadibta 'alayhim. Likewise, al?dallin
are those who are astray, not whom Allah has led astray.

However, there is another aya in which vulnerability to anger from
Allah is more broadly distributed: "However, whosoever enlarges his
breast for unbelief, then upon him is anger from Allah and for him is a
great punishment" (16:106). In general, anger and wrath are not an
important theme in the Qur'an. It should in any event be noted that
both in the ayas referring to the Jews and the aya of more general
scope there is a certain distance between ghadab and Allah; the verses
speak of "an anger from Allah", an anger that proceeds from Him but not
one with which He associates with Himself directly as its agent, for it
is the consequence of men's actions. Let us also refer to the Hadith in
which the Prophet describes seeing in the course of the Mi'raj an
inscription on the Divine Throne which read sabaqat rahmati ghadabi
("My Mercy has outstripped My Anger'). This can be paraphrased to mean
that while mercy is intrinsic to the Divine Essence, anger is not,
being rather a consequence of men's failure to respond to His Mercy,
His signs displayed in creation and revelation.

It may be thought that when we ask Allah to maintain us on the straight
path and to save us from the path of those who have incurred anger and
those who are astray, we are seeking primarily to avoid the states that
lead to anger and misguidance. Those who are the object of anger have
no share in the straight path, and their chances of discovering it are
minimal except in so far as Allah wishes. Those who are astray are
those who have no relationship to the straight path whatsoever; they
wander, lacking in the discernment and perception that are required to
embark upon the straight path.

courtesy: Ali Abbas, New Jersey






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