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Commentary on the Bismala
Author/Source: Imam at-Tabari  (http://www.islaam.com/Article.aspx?id=359) Posted by: Nadya Omer
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Bi_smi_Llaahi_r_Rah.maani_r_Rah.eem

(This verse, named Basmala, is the first verse in the Qur'aan. It is usually integrated with the first soorah, but, according to the view adopted by At-Tabaree, it is independent.)

B.1. Commentary of "bi_smi_llaah" = "By the name of Allaah" or "In the Name of Allaah."

1.1 The use of the formula "In the name of Allaah" (1).

Truly, God, Whose invocation is Exalted and whose Names are sanctified, educated His Prophet Muhammad - Blessings and Peace be upon him - by teaching him to to precede all his acts by mentioning His Most Beautiful Names. God wanted that this education and teaching be a norm (sunnah) to which all creatures would conform in beginning of their speeches, writings and all other acts. Moreover, saying "bi_smi_Llaah" is sufficient to mean "I begin such-and-such act in the Name of Allaah" because the particle "bi" (which means by, in) implicitly requires that an act follows (the act that begins "by" the mention of Allaah's Name).

1.2. Meaning of this formula - Explanation of the words "bi_smi".

When someone makes intention to recite (or to read) a soorah from the Qur'aan, he will say "bi_smi_Llaahi_r_Rah.maani_r_Rah.eem" wanting to say with these words: "I read in the Name of Allaah..." and, also, if he gets up or sits down or whatever he does, he will begin his act by saying these words and that will always mean: "I do this act in the Name of Allaah."

But why say "In the Name of Allaah" in this sense when we know that, for example, every reader of the Divine Book does not read it except with the help and providential support of God; and that every person who acts does not act except by Him (i.e. His permission and His will).

If that is the case, why not simply say "By Allaah" (bi_Llaah) which would apparently be more clear than "By (in) the Name of Allaah" which allows assuming that that the act is done "by other than Allaah?" (2)

In reality, the formula "In the Name of Allaah" means "I begin _by mentioning_ Allah before everything", giving to the word "ism", which usually means "name", the meaning of "tasmiya" (3) which signifies "the act of mentioning." For example, to begin the Qur'aanic recitation by saying "in the Name of Allaah..." means: "I begin my reading by mentioning Allaah." In the beginning of the Revelation, angel Jibreel had ordered the Prophets to say "in the Name of Allaah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful" and according to Ibn `Abbaas this meant: "Read (or recite), by _invoking_ Allaah, your Lord, (and) get up and sit down by _invoking_ Allaah."

1.3 Commentary of the Name "Allaah" (4)

To comment on the Name "Allaah" it can be said: Allaah is God in the sense that "Allaah" is He Who is Deity for all things and all creatures to worship.

Ibn `Abbaas said: "Allaah is He to Whom belongs, in regard to all creatures, the "function of being Divinity" (ulooheeyah) and the "function to be worshiped" (ma`boodeeyah)."[Origin of this Name] We have not heard the Arabs explicitly saying that this word is derived from a verbal root, nevertheless there are speculative arguments to attach the Name Allaah to ilaah which is normally derived from aliha which means to worship and whose noun is precisely "ilaaha" (5)

It is this meaning of worship that Ibn `Abbaas gives to the word ilaaha in the verse 7:127 where it is said to Pharaoh: "Will you abandon Moses and his people to spread mischief in the land, and to abandon you and worship of yourself (ilaahata_ka/aalihata_ka)?" Ibn `Abaas explains: "Pharaoh did not worship, rather he was worshipped."

But what is it that permits to say that the word "Allaah" is derived from "ilaah"?

As in other cases of elision, the combination al+ilaah becomes Al_Laah, after the vocal elision of i (hamza i). The two letters l (laam) are collided and become a single doubled laam in the pronunciation .

B.2. "Ar-Rah.maan ar-Rah.eem" - "the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful"

These two Names are derived from the verb "rah.ima": to be merciful and both mean "that who is merciful"; and also, each of these Names corresponds to one aspect of (Allaah's) Mercy.

Different views about respective meanings of the names "rah.maan" and"rah.eem":

2.1 Azramee said: "Ar_Rah.maan is the Merciful in regard to all creatures and Ar_Rah.eem is the Merciful in regard to Believers."

Aboo Sa`eed al-Khudree reported that the Messenger of Allaah - Blessings and Peace be upon him - said: "`Eesaa, son of Mary, said: "Ar_Rah.maan is the Merciful in this world and the other, while Ar_Rah.eem is the Merciful in the other world (uniquely)."

These two propositions are valuable and do not contradict each other. God, as Rah.maan, includes all creatures in His Mercy in this world and the other, and as Rah.eem, He gives His particular Mercy to certain creatures, in all their states or to all creatures in some of their states [meaning in this life or in the Other].

So God is Rah.eem, in this world in regard to Believers in order that they believe in Him and His Prophets, respecting His Orders and avoiding disobedience to Him; in fact those are the blessings which had not been granted to associationists and disbelievers, nor to those who move away from obedience to Him. In the other world, God is equally Rah.eem to believers by perpetual delights and dazzling success which He prepared to them in His Paradise, "And Allaah is the Most Merciful (Rah.eem) to believers." (Qur'aan, 33:43)

On the other hand, Allaah is Rah.maan to both believers and disbelievers in this world, because He included them in His universal Mercy by innumerable blessings which He has granted them: sustenance, rain, physical and moral wellbeing;

He is still Rah.maan in the other world in regard to both (believers and disbelievers) by His Equity and His Rigour because "Allaah wrongs not even of the weight of an atom (or a small ant), but if there is any good (done), He doubles it, and gives from Him a great reward." (Qur'aan, 4:40)

2.2 Second view

Ibn `Abbaas said: "...the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful is the Gentle (Raqeeq), the Kind (Rafeeq)."

According to this proposition, the distinction between Rah.maan and Rah.eem is not established as a function of these aspects of Allaah's Mercy, but as a function of the nature of this Mercy.

2.3 Third view

According to `Ataa', the name Rah.maan was uniquely a divine Name until the day when creatures attributed them wrongly to themselves: Allaah made it known that His Name (in regard to Mercy) from that day on was Ar_Rah.maanu_r_Raheem because no creature has ever been qualified by these two attributes at the same time.

2.4 Two mistaken views

- It is false to pretend that the Arabs did not know the name Ar_Rah.maan before Islaam.

- It is useless to distinguish these two names by saying that Ar_Rah.maan designates "He Who is qualified by Mercy" (Dhoo Rah.mah) and that Ar_Rah.eem designates "He Who is Merciful" because this distinction does not make sense.

B.3. Explanation of the order of the Names in the "Basmala"

When the Arabs desire to speak about something, they have a habit to first mention the thing in question, and then to mention its attributes (sifaat) and its qualities (nu`oot).

Or the Names of Allaah such as Allaah, Rah.maan (Most Beneficent), Khaaliq (Creator), they are absolutely divine Names that cannot be attributed to any creature and which suffice by themselves to designate Him Who is in question.

On the contrary, the Names such as Merciful, (...), Seer, Generous can equally be attributed to created beings because certain aspects of designated qualities of each of these Names can be attributed to them (i.e. created beings).

Rightfully, the Name "Allaah" precedes the other Names because it implies the "function of being worshipped" (ulooheeyah) (6) which refers to Allaah Alone.

As for the two Names Allaah and Ar-Rah.maan, Allaah, Exalted is He, names Himself by them in particular in the verse: "Invoke Allaah or invoke Ar-Rah.maan, by whatever Name you invoke Him (it is the same), for to Him belong the Best Names." (Qur'aan, 17:110)

As for the name Rah.eem, it can be attributed to a human because it is perfectly possible that he takes part in a certain aspect of the Mercy but not in its universality [expressed by the name Ar-Rah.maan] because the universality takes from the "function of divinity" which belongs to Allaah Alone.

This is why the Name "Allaah" is mentioned first, followed immediately by the name Ar-Rah.maan and at then by the name Ar-Rah.eem.



Notes:

(1) The vocable bi-smi is composed of two words: bi+ism, "bi" is a particle serving to indicate a 'means' and 'ism' signifies 'name'. For reasons that are difficult to explain here, the initial 'i' in this word is elided.

(2) Tabaree reminds here that in reality there is only one Agent. This aspect of the doctrine of Tauh.eed is called "Tauh.eed al_af`aal": Unicity of Allaah in regard to His acts.

(3) Tabari makes clear (precise): the word "tasmiya" is a verbal noun (mas.dar) of the derived verb "sammaa", derived from "ism". It is common, in Arabic, that simple substantive (noun) which stems from its radical (here the word 'ism') is used instead of a verbal noun of an augmented form (here the word 'tasmiyah').

(4) The Name Allaah is mentioned 980 times in the Qur'aan while the name Muh.ammad is mentioned 4 times. Ibn Katheer said: "Allaah is the supreme Name because it is qualified by all the Attributes, according to the divine sayings:

"He is Allaah, than Whom there is Laa ilaaha illaa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He) the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen (open). He is the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful."

"He is Allaah than Whom there is Laa ilaaha illaa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He) the King, the Holy, the One Free from all defects, the Giver of security, the Watcher over His creatures, the All-Mighty, the Compeller, the Supreme. Glory be to Allaah! (High is He) above all that they associate with Him)."

"He is Allaah, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of forms. To Him belong the Best Names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise." (Qur'aan, 59:22-24)

(5) According to this commentary the word ilaaha is, here, a synonym of `ibaadah. The word `ibaadah signifies worship which is the worship _of_ the faithful (as they are the worshippers), which is the most common meaning, or worship _of_ God (as the One Worshipped), which is the aspect kept here).

(6) The term Ulooheeyah is usually translated as "function of Divinity" [tauh.eed al-ulooheeyah = Oneness of the worship of Allaah: to believe that none has the right to be worshipped, e.g. praying, invoking, asking for help from the unseen, swearing, slaughtering sacrifices, giving charity, fasting, pilgrimage, etc, but Allaah.]. But according to the interpretation given by Tabaree given to the word 'ilaaha', which he renders as a synonym to "`ibaadah" (worship), this "function of Divinity" is intended to mean "function of being worshipped" (ma`boodeeyah).


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Khaalis Being a new "revert" this article helped explain in perfect detail what this expression means in English!
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