The Greatest Recitation of Surat Al-Fatihah

The Greatest Recitation of Surat Al-Fatihah

Many recitations of the first chapter in the Quran, known as Al-Fatihah, have been posted on Youtube.  One, which caught my interest, broadcasts the sweet voice of Sheikh Fahd Al Kanderi.  At the same time, striking images are displayed in the background, and  English translations are super-imposed on the images, interpreting the Arabic.
This recitation can be viewed and heard here:
As the recitation progresses, the first background images are taken from nature.  However towards the end, three are of buildings:  a mosque, a synagogue and then a church.  These correspond to verse seven, which the video translates as:

7. The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace [the image of a mosque], not (the way) of those who earned Your anger (such as the Jews) [the image of a synagogue], nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians) [the image of a church].

Amid the viewers’ comments are repeated expressions of delight about the beautiful recitation.  One comments “THE BEST FATIHA EVER IN THE WORLD…”.  However alongside these praises another contributor asks a simple but profound question “Why is God’s wrath upon the Jews? … Is this also taught in Islam?”
In my forthcoming book The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom, I discuss this  question, and offer the following answer:
“The best-known chapter of the Quran is al-Fatihah ‘The Opening’. This sura is recited as part of all the mandatory daily prayers – the salat –and repeated within each prayer. A faithful Muslim who said all their prayers would recite this sura at least seventeen times a day, and over five thousand times a year.

Al-Fatihah is a prayer for guidance:

In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of all Being,
the All-merciful, the All-compassionate,
the Master of the Day of Doom.
Thee only we serve; to Thee alone we pray for succor.
Guide us in the straight path,
the path of those whom Thou hast blessed,
not of those against whom Thou art wrathful,
nor of those who are astray.

This is a prayer asking Allah’s help to lead the believer along the ‘straight path’. As such it is true to the heart of Islam’s message of guidance.
But who are those who are said to have earned Allah’s wrath, or gone astray from the straight path? Who are these people who deserve to be stigmatized in every Muslim’s prayers, each day, hundreds of thousands of times in many Muslims’ lifetimes?
Ibn Kathir’s commentary explains the meaning of this verse as follows:

These two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. … the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why ‘anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as ‘led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians. … We should also mention that both the Christians and the Jews have earned the anger and are led astray, but the anger is one of the attributes more particular of the Jews. Allah said about the Jews, ‘Those (Jews) who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath’ (Sura 5:60). The attribute that the Christians deserve most is that of being led astray, just as Allah said about them, ‘Who went astray before and who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the right path’ (Sura 5:77).

 Ibn Kathir goes on to cite a hadith in which Muhammad clarified the meaning of this sura:

Imam Ahmad recorded that ‘Adi bin Hatim said, … he [Muhammad] said: ‘Those who have earned the anger are the Jews and those who are led astray are the Christians.’

The verse from Sura 5 which Ibn Kathir refers to concerning Jews is:

Shall I tell you of a recompense with Allah, worse than that? Whomsoever Allah has cursed, and with whom He is wroth, and made some of them apes and swine, and worshippers of idols – they are worse situated, and have gone further astray from the right way. (Sura 5:60)

And the verse concerning Christians:

People of the Book, go not beyond the bounds in your religion, other than the truth, and follow not the caprices of a people who went astray before, and led astray many, and now again have gone astray from the right way. (Sura 5:77)

It is remarkable that the daily prayers of every Muslim, part of the core of Islam, include a rejection of Christians and Jews as misguided and objects of Allah’s wrath.
To be genuine and effective, reconciliation between Muslims and those they refer to as ‘People of the Book’ (Jews and Christians), requires that Al-Fatihah and its meaning be discussed openly.  That devout Muslims are daily declaring before Allah that Christians have gone astray and Jews are objects of divine wrath, must be considered a matter of central importance for interfaith relations. This is all the more so because the interpretation of verse 7 which relates it to Christians and Jews is soundly based upon the words of Muhammad himself.  As Al-Fatihah is the daily worship of Muslims, and represents the very essence of Islam itself, the meaning of these words cannot be ignored or glossed over.
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