Surah Al-Fatiha is the first surah (chapter) of the Quran. As per the order of revelation, it comes at number five, according to popular opinion. It was revealed completely at once, unlike most surahs which were revealed in portions. The significance of Surah Al-Fatiha in the daily life of Muslims can be judged from the fact that it is recited in every rakah (unit) of Salah (formal prayer). No Salah is valid without the recitation of Surah Al-Fatiha.
Names of Surah Al-Fatiha
The word fatiha means the opener i.e. the attribute of the surah as the opening of the Quran is reflected in its name. Surah Al-Fatiha is said to have 33 other names mentioned in various Ahadith. Some of these names are:
- Umm Al-Kitab: The mother of the Book – i.e. the cornerstone of the Quran
- Shifa: A “healing” for humankind
- Kafiya: The “sufficient” surah
- Wafiya: The “complete” surah
- Dua: The prayer
- Aadham al-Surah: The Greatest Surah
The Seven Oft-Repeated Verses
A person who offers only the obligatory rakaat in prayers recites Surah Al-Fatiha 17 times each day. This is the why Allah has described Surah Al-Fatiha as “seven of the oft-repeated” ayaat (verses) in the Quran: “And We have certainly given you, [O Muhammad], seven of the often repeated [verses] and the great Qur’an.” (Quran 15:87) The Prophet ﷺ once said, “Shall I teach you the greatest surah in the Quran before you come out of the mosque? It is Alhamdu lillahi Rabbil-Alamin [Surah Al-Fatiha] which is As-Sab’ Al Mathani [the seven oft-repeated ones] and the Great Quran which isgiven to me.” (Bukhari)
Surah Al-Fatiha as a Cure
A chief attribute of Surah Al-Fatiha is that it helps cure illnesses. Abu Said Al-Khudri narrated that some of the companions of the Prophet ﷺ went on a journey and stayed the night with some Arab tribes. The chief of the tribe was bitten by a snake and they could not treat him. So they sought help from the companions, and one of them recited Surah Al-Fatiha and puffed over the chief who then regained his health. The incident was reported to the Prophet ﷺ who said, “How did you know that Al-Fatiha is recited as Ruqya [cure]? You have done the right thing…” The Prophet ﷺ smiled thereupon. (Bukhari)
One of the Two Lights
Surah Al-Fatiha is also one of the “two lights” bestowed upon the Prophet ﷺ. He was informed by Allah through an angel: “Receive the glad tidings of the two lights that you have been given, which no other prophet before you was given: the Opening of the Book (Al-Fatiha) and the last verses of Al-Baqarah. You will not read a letter of them except that you will gain its benefit.” (Muslim) Another hadith describes Surah Al-Fatiha as a shield to ward off evil. (Abu Dawud)
Verse-by-verse Explanation of Surah Al-Fatiha
Surah Al-Fatiha is a summary of the primary message of the Quran: the oneness of Allah and obedience to Him. Let us discuss each ayah of Surah Al-Fatiha separately to understand the meaning of this important passage of the Quran.
1. In the Name of Allah—the Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.
This serves as a prelude to nearly all surahs of the Quran. It emphasizes Allah’s immense mercy, compassion, and beneficence. Allah’s displeasure and anger have also been mentioned in the Quran, but His mercy far exceeds His inclination to punish. The Prophet ﷺ said that Allah, upon creating the worlds, wrote in His Book, “Verily, My mercy overcomes My anger.” (Bukhari)
2. All praise is for Allah—Lord of all worlds.
This ayah refers to the lordship and power of Allah. None matches Him in might and dominion. Others besides Him may also be praised and thanked, but to Him is due the ultimate praise and gratitude.
3. The Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.
This ayah reiterates Allah’s compassion and mercy mentioned earlier.
4. Master of the Day of Judgment.
People shall be brought to account for their deeds in the afterlife. On the Day of Judgement, Allah’s authority shall be manifested and He shall command the proceedings on that Day.
5. You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help.
After the discussion of some divine attributes, it is now clarified that Allah alone should be worshipped and invoked for help. Thus, invoking any deceased person – whether a prophet, companion, or “saint” – for help (“madad”) or intercession is strictly forbidden, and clearly contradicts what a Muslim proclaims when reciting Surah Al-Fatiha.
6. Guide us along the Straight Path.
We humans are inclined to give in to our temptations and desires, and thus, get easily diverted from the path leading to salvation. Therefore, we call upon Allah to keep us firm on the ways He has shown us, while expressing our inability to be guided by ourselves.
7. The Path of those You have blessed—not those You are displeased with, or those who are astray.
Many people live righteously and attain Allah’s blessings while others disregard or lose the way, thus incurring His displeasure. We invoke Allah to be among the former group, and to attain peace and prosperity, not only in this world but also in the hereafter.
How Allah Responds to the Recitation of Surah Al-Fatiha
The following hadith sums up the significance of Surah Fatiha, and reminds us to act upon what we proclaim while reciting this surah.
Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet ﷺ once said: “Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, said, ‘I have divided the prayer between Myself and my servant equally, and My servant shall be granted what he asked for.’ Therefore, when the servant says, ‘All praise is for Allah—Lord of all worlds.’, Allah says, ‘My servant has praised Me.’ When he says, ‘The Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,’ Allah says, ‘My servant has extolled Me.’ When he says, ‘Master of the Day of Judgment,’ Allah says, ‘My servant has glorified Me.’ When he says, ‘You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help,’ Allah says, ‘This is between Me and My servant, and My servant shall have what he requested.’ When he says, ‘Guide us along the Straight Path, the Path of those You have blessed—not those You are displeased with, or those who are astray,’ Allah says, ‘This is for My servant, and My servant shall have what he asked for.’” (Muslim)