The Difference between the Bismillah of each Surah
Ayatullah Ruhullah Khumayni
The ‘bismillah’ preceding one surah is different from that preceding another surah.
We were saying to which word the preposition and the noun it governs in the ‘bismillah’ are related. One of the possibilities is that the ‘bismillah’ of every surah is related to some appropriate word of that very surah; for example in the Surah al-Hamd it may be related to the word, al-Hamd. In that case ‘bismillahi al-hamdu lillahi’ would mean: With the name of Allah all praises belong to Allah. On the basis of this possibility ‘bismillah’ would signify differently in every surah, for in each surah it would be referring to a different word. If it was related to the word ‘al-hamdu’ in the Surah ‘al-Hamd,’ we would have to look for some other appropriate word, for example, in the Surah ‘al-Ikhlas’. According to a rule of theology, if somebody pronounced the bismillah with some surah and then wanted to recite another surah, he would have to repeat the bismillah, and the previous bismillah would not be enough for him. This rule shows that ‘bismillah’ does not have the same meaning everywhere. It has a different significance with each surah, although there are some people who wrongly maintain that ‘bismillah’ is not the part of any surah and it is quite a separate verse revealed as a benediction. If it is accepted that ‘bismillah’ was related to ‘al-Hamd’ then ‘hamd’ might include everything to which the word ‘hamd’ applied, that is every kind of praise expressed by anybody on any occasion. Thus the verse would mean that every praise expressed is with the name of Allah, because he who expresses it is himself a name of Allah; his organs and limbs are a name of Allah and the praise he expresses is also a name of Allah. From this point of view every praise is with the name of Allah. We all are His names, or manifestations of His names, because we all are His signs, He is our originator, who has brought us into existence. The Divine Originator is in several ways different from a natural cause or agent. One of the points of difference is that anything that is brought into existence by the Divine Originator, or in other words, anything that emerges from the Divine source disappears in that very source. To illustrate this point to some extent, let us take up an example, although this example falls too short of the relation between the Creator and the created. Anyhow, let us take up the example of the sun and its rays. The rays have no existence separate from the sun. The same is the case with the Divine Originator or the Creator. Anything coming into existence from this source depends on it for its existence as well as continuation. There is no existing being which can continue to exist if Allah withdraws from it even for an amount the light on which its existence depends. As no existing thing has any independent position, it is said to be lost in its source.
Every Possibly Existing Thing Depends
on Allah for its Existence as well as Continuation
Every possibly existing being is Allah’s name, His deed and a manifestation of His glory. He Himself says: Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth (Surah an-Nur, 24:35). Every possibly existing being is a manifestation of the glory of Allah, but not Allah. Everything that appears in the world is so related to the source of its origin that it cannot have any independent existence. That is why it has been said in the Qur’an that: ‘Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth.’
If it is admitted that the definite article ‘al’ in al-Hamdu indicated ‘Comprehensiveness’, the verse would mean that every praise by whomsoever it might be expressed, takes place with the name of Allah.
As he who praises Allah, is himself, one of Allah’s names, it may be said that in a sense the praiser and the praised are one and the same. One is the manifestation and the other is the manifester. Some sayings of the Holy Prophet, such as: ‘You are as You have praised Yourself’, and ‘I seek refuge from You in You’, point in this direction. As the relationship between the praiser and the praised is that of passing away of the former in the latter, the former cannot claim that it is he who praises. In fact it is the ‘praised’ who praises Himself, for the praiser has passed in Him.
According to another possibility it may be said that the definite article in ‘al-hamdu’ is not for showing comprehensiveness, but it indicates that the word, ‘hamd’ signifies general praise without any qualification being attached to it. In this case the praise of Allah performed by us is not actually His praise. His praise is only that which He performs Himself. The reason is that Allah is the Infinite Being while all others are finite. Any praise expressed by a finite being will naturally be finite and limited and therefore it cannot be the praise of the infinite Being.
While mentioning the first alternative we said that every praise was Allah’s praise. Even when you think that you are commending the merits of a beautiful handwriting, you are actually extolling Allah. Similarly when you believe that you are paying tributes to the world, in that case also you are praising none but Allah. That is why, while describing the first alternative or the first possibility, we said that every praise was that of Allah, whosoever might be the praiser, for nothing except Allah has an independent existence. Every excellence, every beauty and every perfection belongs to Him only. If Allah withdraws the manifestation of His glory, nothing would be existing any longer.
All Existing Things Are A Manifestation of Allah’s Glory
The existence of everything depends on Allah’s glory. While discussing above the first possibility, we pointed out that everything existing is the outcome of a divine light. Allah Himself says that He is the light of the heavens and the earth. If He takes away this light, everything is bound to disappear and come to an end. As nothing except Allah has any excellence of its own, nothing except Him is worth praising. In fact there is no excellence except His. He excels in His essence, His attributes and the state of His manifestation. All the merits attributed to anything or anyone else are His merits. Anybody who praises anyone for his excellence and merit, actually praises Him. This is true if we accept the first possibility mentioned above.
In the case of the second possibility, which is also no more than a mere guess or a possibility, the word ‘al-hamdu’ does not imply totality or comprehensiveness. It only signifies absolute praise without any qualification, restriction or any conception of its opposite being attached to it. But the praise that we perform is definitely not absolute. It is a particular praise expressed by a particular to a particular. We do not have access to the Absolute, nor can we perceive Him. So how can we praise Him. Even at the time of saying, ‘al-hamdu lillah’, you do not perceive the Absolute Truth, and as such the question of praising the Absolute does not arise.
Whatever praise is expressed, that actually is not the praise of Allah, but is the praise of some manifestation of His glory. In the case of the previous possibility no praise was that of Allah except that expressed by Himself. In this case the word ‘ism’ (name) in ‘bismillah al-hamdu lillah’ will not have the same meaning as we stated earlier when we said that everybody is Allah’s name including you and me. Now the name of Allah is a symbol for His absolute and unqualified manifestation, the meaning of which can neither be explained nor grasped. It is this name of Allah that is praised and this praise can be expressed only by Allah Himself. This is a possible explanation based on the assumption that ‘bismillah’ is connected with ‘al-hamdu lillah’. In short there are two possibilities. According to one possibility every praise is the praise of Allah and according to the other, praise of Allah is only the absolute and unqualified praise pronounced and performed by Allah Himself.
According to the first possibility there is no praise that is not of Allah; and according to the second possibility a praise can be of Allah only in its limited sense, not in its absolute sense. In this case the ‘hamd’ (praise) in ‘al-hamdu lillah’ will mean an absolute and unqualified praise. Allah can be praised only by the name that is worthy of Him. This rule is also a mere possibility.
There is another possibility that ‘bismillah’ might have no link with the surah following it. We know that some scholars maintain that the preposition and the noun in ‘bismillah’ are linked with an omitted but understood verb, ‘Zahara’ (appeared), meaning, existence appeared. Thus the sentence would mean:
Existence appeared with the name of Allah. In other words the name of Allah is the source of everything existing. This name of Allah is the same that is alluded to in a Prophetic tradition in the following words: ‘Allah created His will Himself and created all other things through His Will.’
Here Allah’s Will means ‘the first manifestation of His glory’ that was created by Him direct. It is this manifestation that has been called existence in the ellipsis mentioned above, namely ‘Existence appeared’. On the basis of the assumption that ‘bismillah’ is not linked with the surah following it, some grammarians hold that some such elliptical phrase as ‘We seek the help’ exists before ‘bismillah’ These grammarians may not realize, but in fact, whoever seeks the help of Allah, he invariably seeks the help of His name. It is not possible to seek His help in any other way. Though it is not necessary to always use the words, ‘with the name of Allah’, the fact remains that in everything His appearance or presence is His name and thus the help of His name is invariably sought.
It is this appearance the help of which we seek and with the help of which everything is done. The grammarians may not be aware of this conception, but it is a fact that seeking help means turning to Allah. This much as to which word ‘bismillah’ is linked with. We said earlier that a name is the sign of the named. But there is nothing which is not the sign of Allah. Whatever you see, you will find that to be a sign of Him. Of course signs also have degrees. There are some names which are perfect signs of Him in every respect. There are some others that cannot be said to be so perfect signs. Anyhow, all existing things are His signs and manifestations in varying degrees. A tradition says: ‘We are the beautiful names of Allah’. Anyhow, at the stage of manifestation the loftiest and the most splendid names of Allah are the Holy Prophet and the Imams who, unlike us who are still lying in the abyss of base desires, have reached the highest stages of spiritual journey towards Allah.
We have not yet started even moving, but there are some people who have not only came out of the abyss but have also emigrated from that stage. The Holy Qur’an says:
He who leaves his home, emigrating for the sake of Allah and His Messenger and is then overtaken by death, shall surely to be rewarded by Allah. (Surah an-Nisa’, 4:l00)
According to one possible interpretation ’emigration’ here might have meant going from oneself to Allah and ‘home’ might have meant one’s lower self. In this case the whole verse would mean that there were some people who came out of the dark and dingy home of their base desires and continued to move towards Allah till they were overtaken by death, that is they passed away from self to survive in Allah, who was to reward them. In other words Allah Himself is their reward, for they attach no importance to Paradise and the bounties found therein. Their sole objective is Allah, because for a person who undertakes the path of self-annihilation and proceeds towards Allah and His Prophet, nothing is left which he could call his own. For him everything belongs to Allah. He who reaches this stage is surely to be rewarded by Allah. It may be noted that there are some who have reached their desired goal after emigration, while there are some others who though they emigrated, yet they could not reach the stage of passing away in Allah. The third category is that of the people like us who could not emigrate at all and are still groping in darkness. We are not only lost in the labyrinth of the mundane things but are also a prey to selfishness and egoism so much that we cannot see anything beyond our self-interest. We want everything for ourselves, for we think that nothing except us has any value. We have not yet thought of emigrating, because our thinking is limited to this world only.
Seventy Years Back
We do not discard the faculties with which Allah has equipped us, but we use them for mundane purposes as if we were to live in this world forever. As the time passes, we continue to get away farther and farther from the source to which we should have emigrated. According to a report once the Holy Prophet was sitting along with his companions when a loud sound of something falling was heard. The Holy Prophet’s companions were startled. They enquired what had happened. According to the report the Holy Prophet said: ‘A stone was rolling down in the middle of Hell. Now after 70 years it has fallen into a well located at the other end of it. This was the sound of its fall.’ This event is said to be an allegorical description of a wicked man who died at the age of 70. We are all rolling down towards the same hole. I may go there at the age of 80. You will also go to that side in a few years.
It is our selfishness and egoism that are responsible for our present condition. The following maxim expresses the same truth: ‘Your worst enemy is your lower self that is within you.’ It is this idol which man worships most and to which he is attached most. Man cannot become godly unless he smashes this idol, because an idol and God cannot go together. An egoist can never be a devout person. We may apparently be religious, but in reality are idol-worshippers unless we get rid of our selfishness and egoism, which are the root-cause of all our troubles and evils. While offering prayers we say: ‘You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help’ but unfortunately all our thoughts remain concentrated on ourselves. We offer prayers to serve our own selfish interests and thus in reality worship ourselves only.
Egoism the Cause of All Quarrels
All wars in the world are due to man’s egoism. Believers are not expected to fight each other. If they do, they are not believers.
A dishonest and selfish man wants to seize everything for his own benefit. It is this attitude which gives rise to all sorts of troubles. I want a position for myself; you want it for yourself. As both of us cannot occupy it at one and the same time, a quarrel is bound to arise. I want to take this chair; you also want it. When I and you want to take the same thing, naturally there will be an altercation. If two persons attempt to occupy this country, a war would ensue. All wars and battles are the outcome of selfishness, the result of the conflict of personalities and their interests. As the holy men are not selfish, they do not fight each other. Even if all the holy men gather together at one place, there would be no fight and no quarrel among them, for whatever they do, they do for the sake of Allah. As they are neither selfish nor egoistic, they do not oppose each other.
They all have the same source and the same direction. It is we who are lying in a well that is as dark as possibly can be. This darkness is that of our egoism. So long as we do not give up our egoism, we cannot get out of this darkness. We are selfish and self-conceited. That is why we do not attach importance to others and consider ourselves alone to be all important. If a thing is advantageous to us, we accept it. If it is not, we reject it howsoever right it may be. We believe only that thing, which is in our favour. All this is egoism and selfishness. It is this attitude that is the cause of all our troubles and is responsible for all misfortunes of humanity. I want to pursue my interest and you want to pursue yours. There can be no godliness so long as selfishness persists. Then what is the remedy? Man has within himself an idol-temple. It is not easy for him to get out of it. He needs Divine help, a hidden hand which may take him out of this dungeon. The Prophets have come for this very purpose.
Aim of the Prophets
All the Prophets and the revealed Books have come only to smash this idol-temple and to take man out of it. The Prophets have come to set up a divine order in this fiendish world ruled by the Devil whom we all obey. Our base desires are the Devil’s manifestation. The greatest Devil being our own appetitive soul, whatever we do become devilish. That is the reason why nothing that we do is free from selfishness. The Devil holds influence over us and we are dictated by the Devil. We can get out of this labyrinth only if we emigrate from our present stage, act according to the teachings of the Prophets and other holy men and cease to be selfish and egoistic. If we do so we will gain an inconceivable success. This emigration is essential for anybody who aspires to attain to perfection.
He who wishes to get out of the dungeon of egoism, must strive to emigrate from his present state. According to a Prophetic tradition once certain companions of the Holy Prophet came back from a Jihad (holy war). The Holy Prophet said to them:
‘You have returned after carrying out a minor jihad, but still owe a major one”. A major jihad is carried out against one’s lower self. All other jihads are subservient to this one. Any other jihad performed by us will be worth the name only if we succeed in the major jihad. Otherwise all other jihads will be nothing more than a satanic act. If a person takes part in the holy war with a view to obtain a slave girl or to provide for his livelihood, these very things would be his reward. But if a person performs jihad for the sake of Allah, then it would be Allah’s responsibility to reward him. In fact the reward depends on the quality of the job performed. Obviously there is a vast difference between the quality of our performance and that of the holy men and friends of Allah, for our aims and objects are quite different from theirs.
Devotion is the Criterion
Has it been said without any reason that at the war of Ditch (Khandaq) one stroke of Imam Ali’s sword was more meritorious than all the acts of worship performed by the jinn and mankind? Apparently his stroke was no more than a blow to kill a person. But it had a far greater significance. At that time Islam was facing the combined forces of infidelity and if Muslims had been defeated in that encounter, the very existence of Islam would have been endangered. There is still another aspect of the question, and that is the dedication and devotion involved in Imam Ali’s act. Once while Imam Ali was on the chest of an enemy, he spat on the Imam’s face. Imam Ali at once got off so that his act might not be affected by the motive of personal vengeance.
The spirit of such a stroke is certainly superior to all acts of worship. It is this spirit which gives the acts of a true believer their proper meaning and significance. Outwardly the acts performed by the polytheists and the monotheists, the idolaters and these who do not worship the idols, look alike. Apparently there is no difference in them. Abu Sufyan also used to offer prayers. Mu’awiyah was himself the Imam of Congregational prayers. They performed their religious acts like others. It is the spirit of prayer that accords sublimity to it. If the spirit is there, prayer is a devotional act. Otherwise it is nothing more than a mere show and a fraud. This principle applies to us also. We simply deceive each other.
Our Worship is For Paradise
All our devotional acts serve our own interests only. Those who are more pious among us perform them for the sake of Paradise. Take away the temptation of Paradise, then see who performs them. Imam Ali’s case is different. He was in fact fond of the acts of devotion and worship. It is said about him that he loved the acts of devotion and embraced them. As a matter of principle it is not of much significance to perform acts of worship for the sake of Paradise. A person who has reached the stage of passing away in Allah, attaches no importance to Paradise. He actually does not care for it. Paradise and Hell are alike for him who has annihilated himself. He praises Allah because he believes that Allah deserves devotions. This position is attained by those who are fond of acts of worship. They worship Allah because they believe that He is fit for being worshipped.
There are many degrees of devotion. Anyhow, the first step is shunning the selfishness and getting out of the narrow hole of egoism.
For this purpose the first thing to be done is to wake up for the sake of Allah and not to remain sleeping. At present we are asleep, although apparently awake. Our waking is that of animals, not of man.
A tradition says that people are asleep; they will wake up when they will die. At that time they will realize that they were totally unconscious of the real situation. A Qur’anic verse says: ‘Hell is surrounding the unbelievers’. It means that Hell is even now surrounding them but man being in a state of unconsciousness does not perceive that. When he will gain his consciousness, he will realize that there is a fire all round him. We all have to go by this path. Therefore it is better for us to wake up and walk along the ‘straight path’ shown to us by the Prophets.
Prophets Come to Reform Men
Reforming mankind is the mission of all Prophets. For this purpose they set up a just order. It is man who is just or unjust. To establish a just order means turning the wicked into the righteous and the unbelievers into believers. The Prophets’ job is to transform the people. If people were left to do what they liked, they would certainly fall into the deep pit of hell. It is the Prophets who guide them to the right path. Alas! We are not yet following it. I am 70 years old, but am still where I was. I have not emigrated. Perhaps my condition will not change till the end of my life. Anyhow, it is essential for everybody to follow the straight path. There is no alternative.
An Appeal to the Youth
You are young and can adopt this path better. Do not worry about us, for we are already a spent force. You can purify your soul easily as you are closer to the world of divinity than we the old people. Comparatively you have detenorated less but things are becoming worse day by day. The more delay will make the matter more difficult. It is difficult for an old man to be reformed, but a young man can be reformed quickly.
It is easier to reform thousands of young men than to reform an old man. Therefore do not postpone the task of reform to old age. Begin this work while you are still young. Follow the teachings of the Prophets. This is the starting point. The Prophets have shown us the way we should follow. While we are unaware of it, the Prophets are familiar with the way of safety and security. If you want safety, follow the way shown by them. Gradually pay less and less attention to your desires. You will not get the desired result immediately, but gradually you can get rid of your egoism. One day all our desires will come to nought. It is not in our interest to pay attention to them. Lasting is only that which relates to Allah. The Qur’an says: What is with you will come to an end, what is with Allah will remain. (Surah an-Nahl, 16:96)
Man has that ‘which is with you’ as well as that ‘which is with Allah’. All the things that keep your attention directed to yourselves, are that ‘which is with you’. All these things will vanish. But those things that keep your attention directed to Allah, are lasting and permanent.
Continue Your Effort Till You Gain Complete Victory Over Your Lower Self
You and we should make every effort to change our present state. Those who achieved success in their struggle against the unbelievers, never worried as to how many people were with them. After all it was he1 who said that even if all the Arabs were combined against him, he would not give up. As he was doing the duty assigned to him by Allah, there was no question of failure in it, what to say of being repulsed. Then there is another question. Suppose you retreat, but where will you go to? Those who advanced in the jihads, went forward without caring for their lives or their personal interests. They fought against their lower self to the utmost degree. The struggle of those who occupied a higher spiritual position was proportionately more intense. In fact man can achieve nothing unless he fights against his lower self. He cannot go forward unless he ignores his desires and keeps clear of this world, which is another name of base desires. The desires of every body are his world. It is this world which has been denounced, not the physical world.
This world is within you. When you pay attention to your lower self, you yourself become this world. Thus this world of everybody is within him. It is this world which has been condemned, not the sun, the moon or any other natural object. All the natural objects, being the signs and manifestations of Allah, have been praised.
It is this world in the above mentioned sense that deprives man from gaining proximity to Allah. May Allah grant us success in getting out of the deep dungeon of egoism. It is the friends of Allah who have gained success in being delivered from the catastrophe of egoism.