Sunday, 24 February 2013

Surah al-Fatihah and the concepts of isti‘anat and istighathah


Surah al-Fatihah not only conceptualises a number of Islamic beliefs in their quintessential form, but it also attractively presents the concept of appeal for help. It is stated:
(O Allah!) We worship only You and we seek help only from You. [32]
It is this Qur’anic verse that lays the foundation of appeal for help and assistance where worship and help are mentioned one after the other. The first part of the holy verse ¾ iyyaka na‘budu ¾ consists of the concept of Islamic worship, and the second part ¾ iyyaka nasta‘inu ¾ explains the concept of help and assistance. It is this verse whose superficial understanding has prompted some individuals to level allegations of disbelief against the entire Muslim community.
In fact, a superficial study of the verse has induced in them the baseless idea that both of its parts comprise semantically identical words. The first part mentions worship, which is exclusively reserved for Allah, while the second part refers to help and assistance. The use of identical words generally reflects an identical reality, and if one looks at this relationship superficially, one is likely to be deceived by the surface resemblance and may draw an incorrect inference. These people are the victims of a similar deception. They ignore the contextual implications of these words and equate appeal for help and assistance with the act of worship.
But if we dispassionately analyse the Qur’anic verse, we come to an entirely different conclusion. Though the repetition of similar words cannot be denied, the interpolation of the letter waw (and) between the two parts of the Qur’anic verse is not to be ignored either as it reflects a much deeper and more significant reality. If the injunction relating to help and worship were identical, Allah would never have inserted the letter waw between the two parts. The addition of waw points towards a clear-cut differentiation between the apparently similar expressions. This difference in meaning leads to the formulation of a different injunction for each one of them. If the appeal for help in iyyaka nasta‘inu were equated with the worship of God, the Qur’an would not have disassociated it from iyyaka na‘budu through the conjunction of separation i.e. waw. The use of the separative particle clearly indicates that the two parts of the holy verse reflect two different types of reality. If they were meant to portray identical reality, the two parts would not have been delinked by placing waw between them.
The Qur’an is an inimitable model of verbal condensation and precision and is, therefore, immune to the fallacies and distortions coined by logicians and philosophers. Each word in the Qur’an carries a precise and specific denotation and none of its letters can be declared irrelevant and superfluous as it discards all forms of waste and superfluity. If God had meant to forge a semantic coalescence between the two parts of the verse, He would never have differentiated them semantically through the addition of the particle of separation. The Qur’an contains scores of examples to endorse this dissimilarity. Where the difference is not intended, there the distinction is made conspicuous by the absence of any delinking element. Surah al-Fatihah, especially its first four verses, furnishes a clear proof of distinction:
All praise is only for Allah Who is the Sustainer of all the worlds. He is extremely Kind and Merciful. He is the Lord of the Day of Judgement. (O Allah,) we worship only You and we seek help only from You.[33]
An examination of these four verses reveals that, after a description of His extraordinary nature, four of His attributes are consecutively mentioned. Since they are not mutually exclusive and are specifically designed to create a cumulative impression so that each attribute reinforces the other, the separative waw is nowhere inserted between them. But, in the following verses, where difference is intended, the linguistic particle waw, is inserted to indicate the difference. Thus, it proves that du‘a’ and appeal for help and assistance are two different realities and, therefore, deserve different treatment and reception, and any attempt to expunge their semantic difference is an explicit violation of the inherent purpose of the Revelation. An exclusive reliance on flawed human reasoning spawns various forms of disbelief and those who are trapped in philosophical nuances and innuendoes drift far away from their real destiny. They not only create doubts in the minds of others but also become hostages to infinite confusion and fuzziness.


[32]. Qur’an (al-Fatihah, the Opening) 1:4.
[33]. Qur’an (al-Fatihah, the Opening) 1:1-4.

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