Selections from the Introduction
of Tafsir al-Qurtubi
In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful
Seeking Refuge with Allah from Shaytan
Allah orders people to seek refuge at the beginning of every recitation, when He says, "Whenever you recite the Qur'an, seek refuge with Allah from the cursed Shaytan." (16:98) This command is a recommendation according to the position of the majority for every time of recitation other than the prayer. There is disagreement where the prayer is concerned. An-Naqqash reported from 'Ata' that seeking refuge is mandatory in it. Ibn Sirin, Ibrahim an-Nakha'i and some other people sought refuge in the prayer in every rak'at and treated the command of Allah to seek refuge as applying in every case. Abu Hanifa and ash-Shafi'i sought refuge in the first rak'at of the prayer and considered all the recitation during the prayer to constitute a single act of recitation. Malik did not think that there was any need to seek refuge in the obligatory prayers but thought it should be done in night prayers in Ramadan.
Scholars agree that the formula of seeking refuge is not part of the Qur'an nor an ayat of it. It is the words of the reciter, "A'udhu bi'llahi min ash-shaytani'r-rajim ('I seek refuge with Allah from the Accursed Shaytan')." This formula is that on which the majority of scholars agree because it concurs with the expression in the Book of Allah. It is related that Ibn Mas'ud said, "I say, 'I seek refuge with Allah, the All-Hearing, All-Knowing from the accursed Shaytan.'" The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said to him, "Ibn Umm 'Abd, I seek refuge with Allah from the accursed Shaytan as Jibril read it to me from the Preserved Tablet from the Pen."
Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah related in their Sunan collections that Jubayr ibn Mut'im saw the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, praying. ('Amr said, 'I do not know which prayer it was.") He said, 'Allah is very much greater. Allah is very much greater (three times). Praise be to Allah abundantly. Praise be to Allah abundantly (three times) Glory be to Allah morning and evening (three times). I seek refuge with Allah from Shaytan and his blowing, spitting and spurring." Spurring is madness, spitting is poetry and blowing is pride.
Abu Dawud also related that Abu Sa'id al-Khudri said that when the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, rose at night, he would say the takbir and then say, "Glory be to You, O Allah, and by your praise. Blessed is Your Name and exalted are You. There is no god but You." Then he said, "There is no god but Allah" three times, "Allah is very great" three times, and "I seek refuge with Allah, the All-Hearing, all-Knowing from the Accursed Shaytan from his spurring, blowing and spitting." Then he would recite.
Sulayman ibn Salim related from Ibn al-Qasim that the refuge formula is: "I seek refuge with Allah, the Immense from the Accursed Shaytan. Allah is the All-Hearing, All-Knowing. In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful." Ibn 'Atiyya stated, "Those who recite often change the attribute of the Name of Allah and that of the other, as when one says 'I seek refuge with Allah the Glorious from the rebellious Shaytan,' and the like. I do not say that this is a good innovation nor that it is not permitted."
Al-Mahdawi said, "The reciters agree about reciting the refuge formula at the beginning of the Fatiha except for Hamza who does it silently. As-Suddi related that the people of Madina used to begin recitation with the basmala. As-Samarqandi related from some of the commentators that seeking refuge is an obligation. When the reciter forgets it and then remembers at some point in his recitation, he stops and seeks refuge and then begins from the beginning again. One of them said that he seeks refuge and then returns to where he stopped. The first is the position of the authorities of the Hijaz and Iraq and the second is that of the authorities of Syria and Egypt.
Az-Zahrawi said, "The ayat was revealed about the prayer, and it was recommended to seek refuge outside the prayer, but it is not obligation." Another said, "It was an obligation only for the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and we emulate him."
It is related from Abu Hurayra that the refuge formula should be recited after recitation. Da'ud said that. Abu Bakr ibn al-'Arabi said, "Not knowing the correct way led people to say that when the reciter finishes reciting the Qur'an, he should seek refuge with Allah from the Accursed Shaytan." Abu Sa'id al-Khudri reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, used to seek refuge in the prayer before the recitation. This is a confirmed text.
If it is asked, "What is the benefit of seeking refuge from the Accursed Shaytan at the time of recitation?" the reply is that the benefit lies in obeying the command. The only benefit of prescribed matters lies in obeying them if they are commands or avoiding them if they are prohibitions. It is said that its benefit is to obey the command to seek refuge from the whispering of Shaytan in recitation as Allah says, "We did not send any Messenger or any Prophet before you without Shaytan insinuating something into his recitation while he was reciting." (22:50).
Ibn al-'Arabi said, "Very strange is what we find of the words of Malik in the Collection regarding the tafsir of this ayat, 'Whenever you recite the Qur'an, seek refuge with Allah from the cursed Shaytan' (16:98) when he says, 'That is after the recitation of the Umm al-Qur'an for the one who recites in the prayer.' This position has no effect and investigation does not support it. If it is as some people say about seeking refuge being after the recitation, it specifies that that is after the Fatiha in the prayer. That is a vast claim and does not resemble the basic principle or understanding of Malik. Allah best knows the secret of this transmission."
Regarding the excellence of seeking refuge, Muslim related that Sulayman ibn Surad said, "Two men were quarrelling in the presence of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. One of them became angry and his face turned red and his veins stood out. The Prophet looked at him and said, 'I know a statement which, if you say it, will remove what you feel: I seek refuge with Allah from the accursed Shaytan." A man who had heard the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, went to the man and said, 'Do you know what the Messenger of Allah said? He said, "I know a statement which, if you say it, will remove what you feel: I seek refuge with Allah from the accursed Shaytan."' The man said to him, 'Do you think I am mad?'" (al-Bukhari)
Muslim reported that 'Uthman ibn Abi'l-'As said, "I went to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, 'Messenger of Allah, Shaytan comes between me and my prayer and recitation and confuses me.' He said, "That is a Shaytan called Khinzab. When you feel that, seek refuge in Allah from him and spit to your left three times.' I did that and Allah removed it from me."
Abu Dawud reported that Ibn 'Umar said, "When the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, travelled, and night was coming he said, 'O earth, my Lord and your Lord is Allah. I seek refuge with Allah from your evil and the evil of what He creates in you, from the evil of what crawls on you, from the lion and the black scorpion, from snakes and scorpions and the dwellers of the land, and the parent and what he begets."
Khawla bint Hakim reported that she heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, "If anyone makes camp and then says, 'I seek refuge with the complete words of Allah from the evil of what He created,' he will not be harmed by anything until he sets out again." (Muwatta', Muslim and at-Tirmidhi)
The refuge formula (isti'adha) in Arabic is seeking protection in something so that it will guard a person against what he dislikes.
The name "Shaytan" comes from a root which means to be far from good. Shatun is a deep well. Shatan is a rope. It is called that because its ends are from far from one other. The Arabs describe a refractory horse as a shaytan. Shaytan himself is called that because he is far from the truth and is rebellious; and the word is used for every rebellious one among the jinn and animals. It is said that "shaytan" is derived from shata which is a word used for someone who is destroyed or burned. Ar-rajim (accursed) means to be far from good and humiliated. Its root means "stoning". "Stoning" is a metaphor for killing, cursing, exile and abuse.
It is reported from 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, "I saw the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, at Safa, facing an individual in the form of an elephant whom he was cursing. I asked, 'Who are you cursing, Messenger of Allah?' He replied, 'This is the accursed shaytan.' I said, 'Enemy of Allah, by Allah, I will kill you and relieve the Community of you!' He said, 'This is not my repayment from you.' I asked, 'And what is your repayment from me, enemy of Allah?' He said, 'By Allah, no one will hate you at all unless I had a share of him with his father in his mother's womb.'"
In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful
Scholars say that "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful" is an oath from our Lord which He revealed at the beginning of every sura. By it, He swears to His slaves, "What I have laid down for you, My slaves, in this sura is true. I will fulfil for you all that I guarantee in this sura of My promise, kindness and gentleness." "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful" is part of what Allah revealed in His Book, and this is special for this Community after Sulayman. Some scholars say that "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful" contains all the Shari'a because it indicates the Essence and the Attributes.
Sa'id ibn Abi Sakina said that he heard that 'Ali ibn Abi Talib looked at a man who had written, "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful," and told him, "Do it well. If a man does it well, he will be forgiven." Sa'id said, "I heard that a man looked at a parchment on which was written 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful,' and kissed it and placed it on his eyes and was forgiven on account of that." There is a similar story from Bishr al-Hafi. When he picked up a rag on which was "the Name of Allah" and perfumed it, his own name became honoured. Al-Qushayri mentioned that.
An-Nasa'i reports from Abu'l-Malih about a man who rode behind the Messenger of Allah that he mentioned that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "When your animal stumbles with you, do not say, 'Shaytan has made it stumble!' because that puffs him up him until he becomes like a house and says with strength, 'I have done it.' Rather say, 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful' and Shaytan will become small until he is like a fly.'"
'Ali ibn al-Hasan said about the words of the Almighty, "When you mention your Lord alone in the Qur'an, they turn their backs in flight" (17:46), 'That refers to when you say, 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful.'" It is reported that 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud said, "Whoever wants Allah to rescue him from the nineteen Zabaniyya should recite, 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful' so that Allah will make each letter a shield for him against one of them. The basmala contains nineteen letters according to the number of the angels of the Fire who Allah says are also nineteen. (74:30) They say in all that they do, 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful.' That is their strength and they take their strength from the name of Allah."
Ibn 'Atiyya said, "The like of this is what they say about the Night of Power being the 27th night, taking note of the position the word "hiya" in the words of the sura, Al-Qadr (97:1-5). [It is the twenty-seventh word in the sura.] That is like what they say about the number of angels who hastened to report the words of the one who said, 'My Lord, praise is Yours, abundant, excellent and blessed,' [after rising from ruku' when the Prophet said, "Allah hears the one who praises Him."] It is about thirty letters. That is why the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'I saw about thirty angels racing to see which would be the first to write it down.'" Ibn 'Atiyya said, "This is an elegant tafsir, but not a firm tafsir."
Ash-Sha'bi and al-A'mash report that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, wrote, "In Your Name, O Allah" until he was commanded to write 'In the Name of Allah,' and then he wrote that. When it was revealed, "Say: 'Call on Allah or call on the All-Merciful" (17:109), he wrote, "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful." When there was revealed, "It is from Sulayman and says, 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful" (27:30), he wrote that. In Abu Dawud, ash-Sha'bi, Abu Malik, Qatada and Thabit ibn 'Umara said that the Prophet did not write "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful" until Surat an-Naml (27) was revealed.
It is reported that Ja'far as-Sadiq said that the basmala is the crown of the suras. This indicates that it is not an ayat of the Fatiha or other suras. People disagree about this and have three positions regarding it.
- It is not an ayat of the Fatiha or any other sura. This is the position of Malik.
- It is an ayat of every sura, and this is the position of 'Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak.
- Ash-Shafi'i said that it is an ayat of the Fatiha and what he says about the other suras varies. Sometimes he says that it is an ayat of every sura and sometimes that it is only one of the Fatiha. There is no disagreement that it is an ayat of the Qur'an inside Surat an-Naml.
Ash-Shafi'i's evidence is what ad-Daraqutni related from Abu Hurayra that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "When you read 'Praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds,' then recite 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful'. It is the Mother of the Qur'an, the Mother of the Book, and the Seven Mathani. 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful' is one of its ayats."
The evidence of Ibn al-Mubarak and one of the positions of ash-Shafi'i is what Muslim reports from Anas: "One day while the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was among us he nodded off and then he raised his head smiling. We asked, 'What has made you smile, Messenger of Allah?' He replied, 'A sura was just revealed to me. It is: "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful. Truly We have given you the Great Abundance. So pray to your Lord and sacrifice. It is the one who hates you who is cut off without an heir."' (108)"
The sound position is that of Malik because the Qur'an is not established by single reports, but by way of definitive multiple transmission about which there is no disagreement. Ibn al-'Arabi said, "It is enough for you that there is no disagreement between people about the Qur'an. There is no disagreement about the Qur'an." Sound reports which cannot be attacked indicated that the basmala is not an ayat of al-Fatiha or any other sura except for Surat an-Naml. Muslim reported that Abu Hurayra said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, 'Allah says, "I have divided the prayer into two halves between Me and My slave, and My slave will have what he asks for. When My slave says, "Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds," Allah says, 'My slave has praised Me." He says, "the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful," and the Lord says, "My slave has lauded Me." My slave says, "the King of the Day of Judgement," and Allah says, "My slave has magnified Me (or entrusted to Me)." The slave says, "You alone we worship. You alone we ask for help," and Allah says, "This is between Me and My slave and My slave will have what He asks for." The slave says, "Guide us on the Straight Path, the Path of those whom You have blessed, not of those with anger on them, nor of the misguided," and Allah says, "Those are for My slave and My slave will have what He asks for."'"
Allah said, "I have divided the prayer", meaning the Fatiha, and he called it "prayer" because the prayer is not valid except with it. So He designated the first three ayats for Himself, singling them out for Himself, and the Muslims do not disagree about that. Then he made the fourth between Him and His slave because it contains the abasement of the slave and seeking help from Him. That contains esteem for Allah. Then three ayats conclude the seven. They are three, because He uses the plural, not the dual in "Those are for My slave," So "those You have blessed" is an ayat. Ibn Bukayr reported that Malik said that "those You have blessed" is an ayat.
This is confirmed by the division and by what the Prophet said to Ubayy when he asked the Prophet, "How do you recite when you begin the prayer?" He replied, "I recited, 'Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds' to the end." The basmala was not part of it. That was the position of the people of Madina, the people of Syria and the people of Basra. Most reciters counted "those You have blessed" as an ayat. This is also related from Abu Nadra from Abu Hurayra who said that the sixth ayat is "those You have blessed". The people of Kufa count the basmala as part of it and do not count "those You have blessed".
If it is said that it is confirmed in the copies of the Qur'an that the basmala is written and transmitted as it is transmitted in an-Naml and that this is multiple transmission, we reply that that is sound, but is it is because it is Qur'an, or is it a divider between suras as is related from the Companions, "We did not know the end of the sura until 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful' was revealed." (Abu Dawud) Or it may be for the blessing, in the same way that the Community agrees to write it at the beginning of books and letters. All of that is possible. Al-Jurayri said, "Al-Hasan was asked about 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful' and said 'At the beginning of letters.'" He also said, "'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful' was not revealed in any of the Qur'an except an-Naml." The criterion is that the Qur'an is not established by logic and deduction. It is established by definitive multiple transmission. So the statement of ash-Shafi'i about the basmala being at that beginning of each sura is unsound because the basmala is not an ayat of each sura. Praise belongs to Allah.
It is reported that a group related that the basmalas are part of the Qur'an. Ad-Daraqutni dealt with all of that. We do not deny the transmission of that and we have indicated it, but we have firm reports which counter it which are related by reliable imams and fuqaha'. In Sahih Muslim, 'A'isha is reported as saying, "The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, used to begin the prayer with the takbir and the recitation of 'Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.'" Muslim also reported that Anas ibn Malik said, "I prayed behind the Prophet, Abu Bakr and 'Umar, and they began with 'Praise be to Allah.' They did not mention 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful', either at the beginning or the end of recitation."
So our school prefers that, and it is logical. That is because the Mosque of the Prophet in Madina passed through many years from the time of the Messenger of Allah, until the time of Malik and during all that time no one recited, "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful," following the Sunna. This refutes the ahadith you cite. Our people, however, prefer to recite it in the voluntary prayers, and there are traditions (athar) about reciting it or an allowance for doing that. Malik said, "There is no harm in reciting it in the nafila or simply reading the Qur'an."
A group of the school of Malik and his people said that it is not part of the Fatiha or any other sura, and it is not read by the one who prays the obligatory or any other prayer, either silently or aloud. It is permitted to recite it in nafila prayers. This is well-known in his school and with his people. There is another transmission that it is recited at the beginning of the sura in nafila prayers but not at the beginning of the Fatiha. It is related that Ibn Nafi' began his recitation with it in the obligatory and nafiila prayers and did not ever omit it. Some of the people of Madina say that there must be "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful," among them Ibn 'Umar and Ibn Shihab. Ash-Shafi'i, Ahmad, Ishaq, Abu Thawr and Abu 'Ubayd said that. That indicates that it is a matter of ijtihad and not definitive, as some ignorant individuals claim.
A group of scholars believe that it is recited silently with the Fatiha. They include Abu Hanifa and ath-Thawri. That is related from 'Umar, 'Ali, Ibn Mas'ud, 'Ammar and Ibn az-Zubayr. It is also the view of al-Hakam and Hammad, and it is stated by Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Abu 'Ubayd. Something similar to that is related from al-Awza'i. The evidence is the report from Anas ibn Malik: "The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, led us in the prayer and we did not hear him recite, 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful.'"
This is a good position, and the traditions (athar) reported from Anas agree on it and remove the disagreement about the recitation of the basmala. It is related that Sa'id ibn Jubayr said, "The idolaters used to come to the mosque. When the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, recited, 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful,' they said, 'This Muhammad mentioned the Rahman of Yamama,' meaning Musaylima. So he was commanded to recite it silently and it was revealed, 'Do not be too loud in your prayer or too quiet in it.' (17:110)" At-Tirmidhi al-Hakim said, "That has lasted until now, even if the cause no longer exists, as running remains in tawaf even if the cause no longer exists and silence in the day prayers even if the cause no longer exists."
The Community agree that it is permitted to write it at the beginning of every book of knowledge and letter. There is disagreement about books of poetry and whether or not it should be written in them.
The Shari'a recommends mentioning the basmala at the beginning of every action, like eating, drinking, slaughtering, sex, purification, embarking on a ship and the like. Allah says, "Eat that over which the name of Allah has been mentioned" (6:119) and "He said, 'Embark in it. In the name of Allah be its voyage and its landing!'" (11:41) The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Lock your door and mention the Name of Allah. Put out your lamp and mention the Name of Allah. Cover your vessel and mention the Name of Allah. Tie up your waterskin and mention the Name of Allah." He said, "If anyone of you wants to go to his wife, he should say, 'In the Name of Allah. O Allah, keep shaytan away from us and keep shaytan away from what You provide us with.' If a child is decreed for them, Shaytan will not harm him at all." He told 'Umar ibn Abi Salama, "Boy, say the name of Allah Almighty and eat with your right hand and eat what is in front of you."
When 'Uthman ibn Abi'l-'As complained to him of a pain he had in his body since he had become Muslim, the Messenger of Allah said to him, "Place your hand on that part of your body which pains you and say 'In the Name of Allah' three times and then say seven times, 'I seek refuge in the might and power of Allah from the evil of what I feel and am on my guard against.'" Ibn Majah and at-Tirmidhi report that the Prophet said, "The veil between the jinn and the private parts of the sons of Adam when he enters the privy is to say, 'In the Name of Allah.'" Ad-Daraqutni reported that 'A'isha said, "When the Prophet touched his wudu' vessel, he said the Name of Allah and then poured the water on his hands."
Our scholars say that this refutes the Qadarites and others who say that our actions are decreed for us. The argument against them in that is that Allah commanded us to begin every action with the basmala.
The meaning of "In the Name of Allah" is "by Allah", and the meaning of "by Allah" is by His creation and determination to reach what is reached. Some say that "In the Name of Allah" means "I begin with the help, success and blessing of Allah. This is Allah teaching His slaves to mention His Name at the beginning of actions.
There is disagreement about the derivation of ism (Name), with two basic positions. The Basrans say that it is derived from sumu, which means height and elevation. It is said that ism means that the person is in an elevated place. It is said that the name lifts the named from others. It is said that the name is called that because it is higher than the other parts of speech by its strength. The noun (ism) is stronger by agreement because it is the root. These are three statements.
The Kufans say that it is derived from sima, which means a sign, because the Name is a sign of the One to whom it is given. So the root of ism is wasam. The first is sounder because of the form of the diminutive and the form of plural which is asma'. Another disagreement indicates the soundness of that, and it is the next point.
If it is true that ism is derived from height, Allah was described by it before creation existed, after it existed and will be when it is annihilated, and creatures have no effect on the Names or Attributes. This is the position of the people of the Sunna. Those who say that it is derived from sima, say that before time Allah was without name or attribute. When He created creatures, they gave Him Names and Attributes. When He annihilates them, He will again have no name or attribute. This is the position of the Mu'tazilites, and it is contrary to that on which the Community agree. It is worse than their error when they say, "His Word is created." Exalted above that is Allah! It is according to this that there is a disagreement about the Name and Named.
The people of truth believe, as Qadi Abu Bakr ibn at-Tayyib al-Baqillani mentioned, that the name is the thing named and Ibn Furak is content with that. It is the position of Abu 'Abida and Sibuwayh. If someone says, "Allah is Knowing" his words indicate the Essence which is described as being knowing. So the Name is Knowing and it is what is Named. It is the same when someone says, "Allah is the Creator." The Creator is the Lord and it is the Name itself. So their view is that the Name is the Named itself with no distinction.
Ibn Hassar said, "Those among the innovators who deny the attributes claim that namings have no meaning except the Essence. That is why they say that the Name is not the Named. Whoever affirms the Attributes, affirms that the names have meanings which are the qualities of the Essence. They are not expressions, but they are Names in their view. More of this will come in al-Baqara and al-A'raf.
Allah is the greatest and most comprehensive of all the Names, so that one scholar said that it is the Greatest Name of Allah and no one else has it. That is why it has no dual nor plural. That is one of two interpretations of the words of the Almighty, "Do you know of any other with His Name?" (19:65), in other words anyone named with His Name which is Allah. Allah is the Name of the True Existent who has all the Divine Attributes and is described as Lord and alone possesses real existence. There is no god but Him. Glory be to Him! It is said that it means the One who should be worshipped. It is said that it means the One whose existence is necessary who always was and always will be. The meaning is the same.
There is disagreement about whether this Name is derived or a unique designation for the Divine Essence. Many of the people of knowledge believe the first but then disagree on its actual derivation and root. Sibuwayh reported from al-Khalil that its root is ilah, on the measure of fi'al. The alif and lam replace the hamza. Sibuwayh said that it is like an-nas (people) whose root is anas. It is said that its root is lah and the alif and lam are added to exalt it. This is what Sibuwayh preferred. Al-Kisa'i and al-Farra' said that "bismillah" is made up of 'bismi - al-ilah' and elision has occurred and the first lam assimilated into the second and so becomes a double lam.
It is said that the name Allah is derived from walaha, to be bewildered. Walah means loss of intellect, and someone who is walih is bewildered. Allah bewilders minds when they think on the realities of His attributes and reflect on gnosis of Him. So the basis of ilah is walah and the hamza is changed from the waw. That is also reported from al-Khalil. It is related that ad-Dahhak said, "He is called Allah because creatures devote (ta'allaha) themselves to Him in their needs and make supplication to Him in times of hardship. It is related that al-Khalil ibn Ahmad said something similar. It is also said that it is derived from elevation and that the Arabs used to use "laha" for something elevated and they used the verb for sunrise.
It is said that the name Allah is derived from the word ilah (god), which means an object of worship so that the meaning of "Allah" is the Object of Worship. So what the unifiers say, "There is no god but Allah" means "there is no object of worship other than Allah." Here "illa" means "other", not "except." Some claim that the root is al-ha' which alludes to the third person. That is since they affirm Him as existing in their natural intellects and indicate Him with the letter of allusion. Then the lam of possession is added to it since they know that He is the Creator and Master of things, and laha then is added for magnification.
The second position is taken by a group of scholars, including ash-Shafi'i, Abu'l-Ma'ali, al-Khattabi, al-Ghazali, al-Mufaddal and others, and is related from al-Khalil and Sibuwayh. It is that the alif and lam are a necessary part of it and cannot be elided from it. Al-Khattabi said that the evidence that the alif and lam are an intrinsic part of the structure of this name and not added for definition is that it is included in the vocative, as "Ya Allah!" The vocative is not combined with the definite article alif-lam. One does not say, "Ya ar-Rahman." Allah knows best.
There is also disagreement about the derivation of ar-Rahman. Some of them said that it has no derivation because it is one of the names particular to Him and if it had been derived from mercy (rahma), it would be connected to the one shown mercy and it would be possible to say, "Allah is Rahman to His slaves" as one does with rahim. If it had been derived from rahma, the Arabs would not have denied it when they heard it because they did not deny the mercy of their Lord. Allah says, "When they are told to prostrate to the All-Merciful, they say, 'And what is the All-Merciful?'" (25:60)
At al-Hudaybiyya, when 'Ali wrote at the command of the Prophet "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful," Suhayl ibn 'Amr said, "As for 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful,' we do not know 'In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful'! Rather write 'In Your Name, O Allah.'" Ibn al-'Arabi says that this indicates that they did not know the attribute rather than the One Described. Evidence is found in the fact that they said, "What is the Rahman?" not "Who is the Rahman?" Ibn al-Hassar said, "It is as if he [the one who said this] had not recited the other ayat, 'Yet they still reject the All-Merciful.' (13:31)" One group believe that it is derived from rahma, and is intensive, meaning the One who possesses mercy such as no one else has. It has no plural or dual whereas rahim can be dual or plural.
Ibn al-Hassar said that part of what indicates the derivation is what at-Tirmidhi transmitted as sound from 'Abdu'r-Rahman ibn 'Awf. He heard the Messenger of Allah say, "Allah Almighty says, "I am the All-Merciful. I created kinship (rahim) and split it as a name from My Name. Whoever maintains ties, I maintain ties with him. Whoever severs it, I sever him." This is a text for its derivation and so there is no point in contention about it. The denial of the Arabs was simply due to their ignorance of Allah and what is mandatory for Him.
Al-Anbari mentions that al-Mubarrad stated that ar-Rahman is a Hebrew name. Ahmad ibn Yahya also said that. This view is unwarranted. Abu'l-'Abbas says that the attribute is for praise. Qutrub says that it is possible to combine the two for stress.
There is disagreement about whether the two names Rahman and Rahim have one meaning or two meanings. It is said, that they mean the same, as do nadman and nadim. It is said that Rahman is a special name with general action and Rahim is a general name with a particular action. This is the position of the majority.
Abu 'Ali al-Farisi said that Rahman is a general name for all types of mercy for which Allah is singled out. Rahim can be used for how He is towards the believers, as He says, "He is merciful to the believers." (33:43). Al-'Arazami says that Rahman is merciful to all His creatures with rain, physical and general blessings, and Rahim is merciful to the believers in guiding them and being kind to them. Ibn al-Mubarak said that when the Rahman is asked He gives and when the Rahim is not asked, He is angry. Ibn 'Abbas said that they are two fine (raqiq) names, and one is finer than the other, meaning that it has more mercy.
Al-Khattabi said, "This is problematic because fineness has no place in any of the attributes of Allah." Al-Husayn ibn al-Fadl al-Bajali said, "This is an error on the part of the transmitter because fineness (riqqa) is not part of the attributes of Allah at all. Rather 'they are two compassionate (rafiq) names, one more compassionate than the other. Compassion is one of the Attributes of Allah Almighty. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Allah is Compassionate. He loves compassion and gives for compassion what he does not for harshness."
Most scholars agree that the name ar-Rahman is used only for Allah Almighty and it is not permitted to call anyone else by it. Do you not see that He says, "Say: 'Call on Allah or call on the All-Merciful" (17:109)? So it is equal to the Name in which none but Him share. He says, "Ask those We sent before you as Our Messengers: Have We ever designated any gods to be worshipped besides the All-Merciful?" (43:44) So they reported that the Rahman deserved worship. Musaylima the Liar – may Allah curse him – was outrageous and called himself "the Rahman of Yamama" and so was called "the Liar".
Ar-Rahim is general and can be used in respect of creatures. As ar-Rahman is universal, as we said ar-Rahim is in harmony with revelation. Al-Mahdawi stated that. It is said that the meaning of ar-Rahim is: "It is by the Rahim that you reach to the Rahman." So ar-Rahim is the attribute of Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and Allah described him with that. He says, "compassionate, merciful" when describing him. So it as if the meaning of saying, "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful" is "It is by Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, that you will reach Me," in other words by following him and what he has brought, you will reach My reward, honour and the vision of My face." Allah knows best.
It is related that 'Ali ibn Abi Talib said, "Bismillah is healing from every illness and protection against every disease. Ar-Rahman is a help for everyone who believes in Him. It is a name not used for anyone else. Ar-Rahim is for those who repent, believe and perform righteous actions."
Some of them explained the meaning according to the letters. It is related that 'Uthman ibn 'Affan asked the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, about the interpretation of "In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, Most Merciful." He said, "The ba' is the trial (bala') of Allah, His relief, brilliance and radiance (baha'). The sin is the splendour (sana') of Allah. The mim is the kingdom (mulk) of Allah. As for Allah, there is no god but Him. The Rahman is kind to both the pious and impious of His creatures. The Rahim is kind only to the believers." It is reported that Ka'b al-Ahbar said, "The ba' is His radiance (baha'), the sin is His splendour (sana'), and there is nothing higher than it. The mim is His kingdom, and He has power over all things and nothing is hard for Him."
It is said that every letter is the opening of one of His Names. The ba' is the key to His Name Basir (All-Seeing). The sin is the key to His Name, Sami' (All-Hearing). The mim is the key to His Name, Malik (Master). The alif is the key to His Name, Allah. The lam is the key to His Name, Latif (Kind). The ha' is the key to His Name, Hadi (Guide). The ra' is the key to His Name, Raziq (Provider). The ha' is the key to His Name, Halim (Forbearing). The nun is the key of His Name, Nur (Light). The meaning of all this is supplication of Allah at the beginning of everything.
There is disagreement how 'ar-Rahim' is connected in recitation to 'al-hamdu lillah'. Umm Salama related that the Prophet recited 'ar-Rahim' with a sukun on the mim, and stopping there and then beginning with a fresh alif. Some of the Kufans recited it in that way. Most people recite, 'ar-Rahimi'l-hamdu', with a kasra on the mim and connecting it to the alif in al-hamd. Al-Kisa'i reported that some Arabs read it 'ar-Rahima'l-hamdu', with fatha on the mim and connected to the alif, as if the mim was in fact silent, but with an elision into the alif. Ibn 'Atiyya said, "This recitation is not reported from anyone I know."
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"And say: truth has arrived, and falsehood has perished: for falsehood is ever bound to perish." [TMQ Al-Isra:81]