Answered by Sidi Faraz A. Khan
Question: Certain critics of Quran point out that since surat al Faitiha is a prayer to Allah, it cannot be a revelation as it implies Allah is addressing Himself. Moreover, the “Say” found in beginning of other verses, is not used here. Is this a valid criticism ?
Answer:Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,
I pray this finds you in the best of health and faith.
The criticism is baseless and would come only from one who has never studied the Qur’an with any serious thought, let alone sincere evaluation.
The entire Qur’an, according to Muslim beliefs, is a revelation from Allah and hence is given to us, for us to recite. The first word revealed chronologically was iqra’ (Read!), and so the rest of revelation follows as a recital for Muslims.
The Fatiha is a summation of the entire Qur’an, and the verses of addressing Allah (”You alone do we worship…”) are sent by Allah to us, to teach us the most proper way of turning to Him and calling on Him in supplication.
One of the secrets of the Qur’an is in its change of “person” with respect to pronouns, a rhetorical device in Arabic called iltifat. As an example, the Fatiha begins by Allah addressing Himself in the third person, “In the name of Allah, All-merciful, All-compassionate. All praise be unto Allah, Lord of all the worlds. The All-merciful, All-compassionate. Master of the Day of Judgment.”
Then Allah switches from the third person to second person and states, “You alone do we worship, and You alone do we seek help from.”
In His own revelation, directed towards us so that we may recite it back to Him, Allah is teaching us a very powerful lesson through a mere change of person. As Imam Baydawi explains, this switch reflects the spiritual ascent of the believer, who begins by knowing his Lord through His names and attributes, yet progressively draws nearer to his Lord to the extent that his knowledge of Allah goes from “talking about” to “talking to.” The believer now directly addresses his Lord, as if “He Who was merely known has become seen, and He Who was merely comprehended has become directly experienced, and He Who was [seemingly] absent is now present.” [Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil wa Asrar al-Ta’wil]
The Surahs with “Say”
As for the surahs that begin with the word “Say” (qul), Allah Most High chose this word for those specific surahs alone, again due to the rhetorical impact that this word brings in the context of those particular surahs, namely, Jinn, Kafirun, Ikhlas, Falaq, and Nas. There is something unique about these surahs, such that to begin with the word “Say” is most appropriate and impactful.
For example, for Surah al-Kafirun alone, Imam Razi lists 43 possible reasons as to why Allah began the first verse with the word “Say.” Some of these reasons are as follows:
(1) The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was gentle by nature, and was commanded to deal with his people in a gentle manner. So to emphasize the fact that this surah was revealed by Allah, Allah begins by “Say,” highlighting thereby that the intensity and harshness of this surah is not from the person of Muhammad, but rather pure revelation from his Lord.
(2) The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was surely going to convey this surah to the polytheists of Mecca, regardless of whether Allah began with “Say” or not. Yet this surah deals particularly with the distinction between monotheism and polytheism, and so for Allah to begin with “Say” only emphasizes the gravity and utter crime of their polytheism.
(3) The previous surah (in terms of placement within the book itself) is Surah al-Kawthar, in which Allah defends His beloved Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) from his detractors, ending the surah with “Verily the one that hates you is cut off [from good].” Although the verse applies to anyone who has animosity against the Blessed Prophet, it was revealed particularly in response to a man who mocked the Prophet after the latter lost his son, saying that surely Muhammad will be cut off now, i.e., in terms of progeny, such that no one will remember him after his demise. So by beginning the very next surah with “Say,” it is akin to Allah saying to His beloved, “When they mentioned you in an unbecoming manner, I defended you Myself. So when they mention Me in an unbecoming manner, by ascribing partners to Me, I want you yourself to defend Me. Say: O disbelievers! I do not worship what you worship…” [Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb]
This is only a glimpse into the miraculous word choice of the Qur’an. Its language incapacitated the very best of Arab rhetoricians. A proper appreciation would take volumes more, and still only graze the surface.
And Allah knows best.
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani