By Sharif Randhawa
The Structure of Sūrat al-Fātiḥa (Part II)
Continuing from The Structure of Sūrat al-Fātiḥa (Part I).
Here, for the reader’s convenience, I will reproduce diagram text of the Fātiḥa and its translation from the previous post:
A. رب العالمين
A’. مالك يوم الدين
C. إياك نعبد
C’. وإياك نستعين
A. اهدنا الصراط المستقيم
B. صراط الذين أنعمت عليهم
B’. غير المغضوب عليهم
A’. ولا الضالين
All praise are due to God
A. The Lord of all peoples,
B. The All-Merciful,
B’. The Ever-Merciful,
A’. Master of the Day of Recompense.
C. You alone we worship,
C’. and you alone we ask for help.
A. Guide us along the Straight Path,
B. the path of those whom You have favored,
B’. not of those who have earned wrath,
A’. nor of the astray.
Continuing from where we left off…
There is still more to be observed in each chiasmus (colored in blue and red respectively).
The end of the sūra divides those who lack guidance into two groups of people. The first of these groups are al-maghḍūbi ʿalayhim, literally meaning “those who have earned anger.” From other Qur’anic texts and from the Prophet Muhammad’s commentary on these verses, this is understood to refer to people who, despite having knowledge of God’s commandments, resolved to act against them.
The second group of people are aḍ-ḍālīn, meaning “those who are lost” or “those who are astray.” In contrast with the previous group, this refers to people who lack guidance because they do not have proper knowledge about what the Straight Path consists of.
Therefore, the two kinds of people who lack guidance lack either (1) sound knowledge or (2) sound action, so guidance consists of both of these together. The Fātiḥa itself is structured to remedy both of these problems. The first chiasmus consists of sound knowledge of God (His attributes), while the second consists of sound action (taking to Him in prayer).
It should also be noted that the first chiasmus (including “All praise is due to God”) is entirely a nominal sentence, and the second chiasmus is entirely a verbal sentence. The use of the nominal sentence is rhetorically suited to speaking about God because nouns are more stable and permanent. Conversely, the use of the verbal sentences is suited to speaking about human beings because verbs are subject to time and change. The center, “You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help,” in the Arabic shares qualities of both nominal and verbal sentences (both clauses are verb-based but begin with nouns), which is fitting because it concerns both God and us.
As a ring composition, the end of the Fātiḥa also comes back to the beginning. The first āya described God as the “Lord of all peoples.” The last two āyas classify all people into three categories: those whom God has favored, those who have earned wrath, and those who are lost and astray.
There is one more thing I would like to draw attention to about the Fātiḥa. I will do that in the next post, in shā’a ‘llāh.