The Quran’s Bismillah Verse: Is it a Sacred Blessing, or An Explanatory Sentence Conveying a Rational Monotheistic Paradigm?


The Quran’s Bismillah Verse: Is it a Sacred Blessing, or An

Explanatory Sentence Conveying a Rational Monotheistic Paradigm?

Ehsan Butt and Nadeem Haque

Advancing Rational Faith Academy

Introduction:

Fundamental flaws in our prevailing perceptions about the initial formative Islamic period abound. The accelerated, comprehensive and positive developments witnessed in all spheres of life during the formative period right after the advent of the Quran in Arabia, present a  picture that  is in stark contradistinction to the situation that Muslims are mired in today. Muslim societies are fearful of the non-Muslims, as for example, Western societies’ influence on them, let alone the great lack of confidence they have to chaulk out the best path for them based on self-determination. This invidious situation necessitates finding out what has fundamentally changed and why. To find a satisfactory answer to this question, it is necessary to be able to look into the past as it was played out, objectively and not emotionally, and to be honest with what we find, if we are indeed claiming to be seeking the truth in all matters. It is obvious that such investigation must use forensic historiographical methods on what has reached us, especially the literature.  The Quran is unanimously accepted as the one single unique source with highest degree of authenticity, ,reaching us from the initial Prophetic  time,  unaltered under the uninterrupted continuous recitiational review of the global Muslim ummah (community). Therefore, it deserves to be accepted as the supreme source for undivided attention and all other resources must be subjected to conformance with it, under its pristine governance. The Quran must be allowed to speak for itself.  A cursory look at the text of the Quran is enough to convince us that this is exactly the  Quran’s own claim. It says repeatedly that it is lucid, clear, a light, a testimony to all, completely preserved, safe from adultration etc.  Similarly, its self-explanatory characteristic was inherent from the beginning,  especially because Qur’an was never meant only for Arabs e.g { وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلاَّ كَآفَّةً لِّلنَّاسِ بَشِيراً وَنَذِيراً

“We have sent you not, except to the whole of mankind, good tidings to bear, and warning; Al-Saba verse(28)”

This article is a brief investigation to show that if internal Quranic resouces are focussed for an independent interpretation of the Quran, it provides fresh insights into the past and reveals the power that the Quran displayed in the initial Islamic formative times.

As is well known, the Prophet himself remained a deeply contemplative person, searching for the truth and ways to liberate humanity from mental and physical slavery. He had to resort to a cave for reflection before revelation began. After revelation, he turned into a leader with a complete reformation and enlightenment program package.  In the wake of the enlightened ideas of the Quran, a global resurgence of human activity for development in all areas of thought and life was witnessed, where rationality became the ‘tradition’.

It is certainly not a new discovery that widespread  fundamental flaws exist in our prevailing understanding of the past.  In fact, here are few important exhaustive works with this same conclusion. The first example of such a thorough investigation is:

1. An Extensive Research on Muslim Historical records relating to transmission of the Quran “The Collection of The Quran”, 1979, John Burton, Cambridge University Press. John Burton concluded:   “What we have today in our hands is the Mushaf of Muhammad.” pp. 239-240] .  In other words, Burton concludes from the evidence that: the Quran is exactly as the Prophet left it. Just as we now see Tashkeel in it, so too was  it with Tashkeel during Prophet’s time. It means that reports of conflicting  nuqaat, tashkeel, Qiraat etc. is an invention of Muslim reporters interested in stretching the meanings of the Quran to help support their sectorial beliefs, deviating from the  widely used common  version of the Prophet’s written complete compilation in book form.

2. The second such forensic research is: “The Canonization of al-Bukhārī and Muslim: the formation and function of the Sunnī Hadīth Canon” by Jonathan A. C.  Brown BRILL, 2007 – Religion –  which is a 431 pages book, that investigates the origins, development and functions of the core of the Sunni Hadith canon. In this book, Brown details that in the generations immediately after the death of both Bukhari and Muslim there were many other scholars who were known to be the best in the science of Hadith. Brown names several of those scholars, their works and the topmost reception they received from scholars of their time. This evidence shows that Bukhari and Muslim did not receive any outstanding special attention and were not even mentioned. In conclusion of Chapter 3, page 98,  Brown states:  ”We have seen, however, that during their lives and in the immediate wake of their deaths, Bukhari’s and Muslim’s Sahihs met with rejection and scorn among important elements of the hadith scholar community.”

A Rational Approach to the Original Use of the

Bismillah Verse (BV)

Let us, in fact, analyse the first verse mentioned in the Quran. It will be shown in this article that the first verse encompasses, remarkably, the entire Islamic paradigm. One of the most well- known features of the Quran is that its chapters start with the BV.  This verse is commonly accepted as an invocation normally translated as: “In the name of God, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful”.  Also, many Muslims have traditionally been using it as if it were a spell to invoke blessings. In this article, we shall be investigating this verse both philologically and by discovering incidental circumstances of its use in the Quran. We shall show that how this verse is a slogan for the movement of the purest form of  monotheism, and is central to the Islamic worldview. We shall present Quranic evidence of the history of the use of the BV and how it pre-existed the Quran. A detailed analysis of its linguistic structure and semantics, how it forms the central axis and slogan of those subscribing to that ideological perspective, and some instances where Muslims still use other verses instead of the BV, will be conducted.



Diving into the Deep Ocean that is the BV

Let us now breakdown the BV and analyse its components in depth so that we can gain a  true understanding of the words.  The entire verse/sentence: bismillahi rahmani raheem can be broken into five main components:

1.        Ba

2.        Ism

3.        Allah.

4.        Al Rahman

5.        Al Raheem

We shall now examine these words in detail:

Ba

 1.  Ba:  This word can be used as meaning: “With the help of”. As for example the sentence: I wrote with the help of a pen.

2. Ba can also be used as an oath by which one swears.

Allama Zamakhshari( the author of tafsir Al-Kashshaf) objects that Ba of Bismillah can mean "with the help of" because this goes against the respect of His name.

Ba-Bismillah-Kuzi_Page_3

http://ricasdb.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/daiber/db_ShowImg_I.php?ms=27&page=313
http://advancingrationalfaith.wordpress.com/221-2/kuzi-al-basmala/

Famous mufassir  Imam Qurtubi, clearly stated that Ba of Bismillah is an oath from Allah.

In Qurtabi Ahkam ul Quran, he states:

“بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم قسم من ربنا”

“   البسملة ‏:‏ الآية رقم ‏(‏1‏)‏

‏ قسم من ربنا أنزله عند رأس كل سورة، يقسم “

“Ba of Bismillah Ar-rahman Ar-Rahim” is an oath from Allah that he revealed at the head of every sura, He (Allah) swears”

"فمعنى بسم الله أي بالله ومعنى بالله أي بخلقه وتقديره"

Thus meanings of Bismillah is By( Oath ) Allah and it means By His design( creation) and His discretionary power

Qurtabi Ahkam ul Quran: page 91, , of Muqaddamah http://www.alansar.ws/vb/t12268.html

Examples: The Ba method of swearing an oath is ubiquitous in the Quran e.g.:

“I swear by your Lord” – Bi-rabbika

“No! I swear by the Lord of the East” – Fala al Qasm birabik al Mashriq.

and Ba in the word   اْ بِعِزَّةِ in Sura 26 Ash-Shuaraa Verse 44, means:
“ By the might of Pharaoh we shall be victors”

Satan said:

‘Now, by Thy glory, I shall pervert them all together, (Chapter38 Sad, v. 82)

Western scholars have acknowledged that Ba here is better considered as an oath:

“Grammatically bi-smi llāhi has the form of an oath” Ref:

Graham, William A. “Basmala.” Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an. Ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe. Vol. 1. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers, 2001. P 208,  207-212.

2. Ism

This can mean

1.        Name

2.        Deed, action or work.

That ‘ism’ means “name” is well known.. Imam Suhaily has explained simple reasons for the common translation of the phrase اسم الله  to mean the Name of Allah to be unacceptable in this verse where اسم الله  (the ‘ism’ of Allah) becomes equavilent to الله (Allah) .  This creates its meaning as being the act of calling Allah that has frequently been stated  in the words “Call Allah” in the Quran and never with the words that “Call with the name of Allah”.

In Sura 49 Al hujuraat we read:

بئس الاسم الفسوق بعد الإيمان

“Worst is the act of running away from faith after coming into faith.”

An example of the use of Arabic word Ism of Allah meaning His great works is present in the Arabic source text in the Trilingual Psalter manuscript, Harley MS 5786
, available in the British meuseum is Dated before 1153.  The photograph of the relevent section of the manuscript of the text as it is published on the British Meuseum internet site is given below.
 "مااعجب اسمك فى كل الارض"
 O God "How amazing is your work in whole of the earth"


http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=harley_ms_5786_f001r

Ism is really the work and action of God and whenever in the Quran it speaks of God’s Ism it frequently follows it by a list showing God’s power, action, and works. For example:

سَبِّحِ ٱسْمَ رَبِّكَ ٱلأَعْلَىٰ } * { ٱلَّذِي خَلَقَ فَسَوَّىٰ } * { وَٱلَّذِي قَدَّرَ فَهَدَىٰ } * { وَٱلَّذِيۤ أَخْرَجَ ٱلْمَرْعَىٰ } * { فَجَعَلَهُ غُثَآءً أَحْوَىٰ
“Magnify the Works of your Lord most High Who created and shaped and who determined and guided.Who bringeth forth the pasturage, Then turneth it to russet stubble. ” (   Sura Al-Aaala 87 v 1-5    )


ٱقْرَأْ بِٱسْمِ رَبِّكَ ٱلَّذِي خَلَقَ } * { خَلَقَ ٱلإِنسَانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ
Sura Iqraa 96 V 1-2
Recite with( mention of) the Qudra,(Deeds Work/sunnah/signs) of your Rabb Who created. He created man from Alaq


Word اسم  here means: Realization of God’s power etc. The reason is as follows: Magnifying an attribute that is only a name is meaningless, because as an attribute it could have a neutral quality, being neither good nor bad. For, example if an attribute is “the Originator”, how are we to understand that attribute unless it is related to an activity? For example, being an “Originator” could mean that the attribute of entity “X” is harmful, as for example, the entity X could be the Originator of injustice and hence why should we praise the Originator of injustice! We never praise the name per se. For example, if a person’s attribute is “Ingenious” we do not praise the attribute of Ingeniousness of the individual but him or her doing something that exhibits ingeniousness in terms of some works, by which there is also proof of ingeniousness. Even more direct names such as al-Haq (the Truth) for God are not meaningful unless we know that the one that holds this attribute is so by the actions manifested – that is the ‘works’ of the entity being named as such. “Ism” therefore refers to the action attributed to the attributes of God, through the known works of God, and it is the actions or works that we magnify or praise and not the attribute and in this way we are thankful to God. Indeed, it is through this root that God is praised. Therefore, when ‘ism’ equals works, then it makes perfect sense:

“Magnify the works of your Lord (Sustainer)….”

This of course has other implications beyond the BV verse:

For example, the first verse revealed to Prophet Muhammad, normally translated as:

“Read: In the name of your Lord who created man from a thing which clings..” really is:

“ Evident is the work/power of your Sustainer who created/shaped the human being from a thing which clings [the zygote clinging to the wall of the uterus]…”  where “read” equals to understand, as the word read in the Quran always means to understand and not mere recitation without understanding (see the Quran:                             ).

So, to recapitulate, in reality the verse means:

“Increase your realization of the power of your Sustainer who is the most High by reflecting on the fact that He created and shaped things  and who determined and guided.”  In Arabic, Persian and Urdu, this power is called Qudrat and can, in a general way, be encompassed by the expression: “Works of God” and the word “shaan” or glory reflected through his Works.

Therefore, given these facts it is easy to see that oaths with respect to the Creator are entirely different than oaths as applied to human beings, as for example, in the Quran for example it states that:

“And do not obey every mean swearer.” (    )

The contextual nature of the oath as referenced to in this verse is entirely different than that which is applied to “Bism” in relation to God.

Labid the famous poet and  early Makkan Muslim uses the word اسمُ  to mean the act of Allah’s mercy :

قال لَبِيد: إلى الحولِ ثم اسمُ السلامِ عليكما

A name of Allah,سلامِ Omnipotent (All-poweful or Qadir) on peace

ثم اسمُ السلامِ عليكما

Then may power (Qudra) of Allah (Who is As-Salam) shower peace on you

) تفسير الجامع لاحكام القرآن/ القرطبي ت 671 هـ)

: قوله ثم اسم السلام عليكما، أي: حفظ الله عليكما،

Reference: خزانة الأدب

المؤلف : عبد القادر البغدادي

3.      Allah

This is a singular God with no partners or associates as described in Surah Ikhlas in the Quran – the independent Creator of all existence.

A simple way to translate the Bismillah verse, up to this point, is:

Evident is the Qudrat (power, works, glory) of Al-Rahman and Al Raheem.

What however do Al Rahman and Raheem stand for?

4.      Al Rahman and Al Raheem

Rehman amd Raheem are complementary to each other – in fact they describe the two facets of the root word: Rahm. Rehman refers to graciousness with promptness, quickness, burst, agitation and Raheem refers to the ever merciful, indefinite, long term, permanent and steadiness. Combining these two we get the meaning that the Rahm of Allah is perennial and consistent whilst exhibiting graciousness with spontaneity. These two facets of Rahm are used as appropriate in the Quran, one emphasizing more of one aspect than the other depending on the lesson God wants us to learn. Bismillah therefore confirms the Idea of a cosmological originator-creator the cosmos – the God of Nature. Many Deists and Unitarians throughout the ages have recognized this both in the East and the West. Although a proper translation of the Quran is impossible due to the richness of the words, we will translate the BV based on our research and it can be best translated into other languages as:

The glorious works of the Creator, are proofs of His perennial beneficence.

The following are examples of the use of these words in the Quran:

Al Araaf 7 Verse 156

Said He: ‘My chastisement – I smite with it whom I will; and my mercy embraces all things.

The Quran says that even resurrection and the Day of Judgment are facets of the attribute of His Rahm:

Al Anam 6 Ayah 12:
He has prescribed for Himself Mercy, He will surely gather you to the Resurrection day, of which is no doubt.

Our relation with God is only that we are at the receiving end of Rahm. In fact, we have no obligatory relation with Him. He was not obliged to give us life or status. Rahm is therefore the fundamental attribute of God in His dealings with His creation; the gift of life and then the rahm shown.

Examples of the Applied Rationalistic Slogan of the BV

The Pre-Quranic Use of the BV

In the Quran itself, events that occurred centuries before its revelation have been recounted that shed light on the actual usage othe BV . For example, in Sura Naml verses 29-31, we read:

قَالَتْ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمَلَأُ إِنِّي أُلْقِيَ إِلَيَّ كِتَابٌ كَرِيمٌ ﴿٢٩﴾إِنَّهُ مِن سُلَيْمَانَ وَإِنَّهُ بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ ﴿٣٠﴾أَلَّا تَعْلُوا عَلَيَّ وَأْتُونِي مُسْلِمِينَ ﴿٣١﴾

She( the Queen of Sheba) said, ‘O Council, see, a letter honourable has been cast unto me. (29)It is from Solomon, and it is “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. (30)Rise not up against me, but come to me in surrender.” ‘ (31)



The above is the image of Imam Baizawi's Tafseer of Sura Naml verses 29-31



The above image shows the commentary on the Tafsir of Bayzawi by Shaikh Zadah: Muhammad bin Muslihuddin Mustafa Al-Qojawi a Roman teacher.

About the words of the Queen that she received “a letter honourable” he states:

اى ما في مضمونه من اللفظ والمعنى

Translation: “that is what is in its content from its words and meaning”



﴾إِنَّهُ مِن سُلَيْمَانَ وَإِنَّهُ بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ ﴿٣٠

﴾أَلَّا تَعْلُوا عَلَيَّ وَأْتُونِي مُسْلِمِينَ ﴿٣١﴾

And also:

It is from Solomon, and it[‘s] [message] is: “Evident are the works (the power) of the One and Only God [Allah], the Merciful/Benevolent, the Compassionate”. (30) [Therefore] don’t revolt/rebel against me (i.e. against my invitation to submit to Allah), but, instead, come to me in a state of submission [to Allah].” ‘ (31)

The word أَلَّا  is actually two words jointly written اَن لا in this verse 31  in English their translation is “and it is” or “therefore”

Baizawi has stated that this اَن is the one that is called  مفسِّرة ( a word which is used for connecting a brief mentioning of something for an explanation subsequently). What it means is that Bismillah is the reason and his instruction “come to me in a state of submission” is its explanation.

The above image of the commentary on tafsir of Bayzawi by Shaikh Zadah: Muhammad bin Muslihuddin Mustafa Al-Qojawi a Roman teacher states  “اَن  مفسِّر  “  by Quran connecting verses 30 with 31 that:

ة   , بناء على ان بسم الله متعلقه بالقول كأنه قيل اقول بسم الله الرحمآن الرحيم ثم فسّر المقول بقوله ان لا تعلوا علىّ ولا تتكبروا

 “This is the basis that Bismillah is related to the saying(Sulaimans instruction that come to me as Muslim) as though it is said that I say Bismillah Arraman Arrahim and then it is explained with his saying that don’t revolt/rebel against me (i.e. against my invitation to submit to Allah) and don’t be arrogant”

The commentary on tafsir of Bayzawi by Shaikh Zadah: Muhammad bin Muslihuddin Mustafa Al-Qojawi, a Roman teacher, states, explaining Baizawi’s statement ,that Sulaiman’s instruction to the Queen to come as Muslim, was after the explanation and evidence in the form of Bismillah[1]:

Zamakhshari explains that the word "ism-illah" here  means  with the might of Allah the ark will be steered and come to anchored, on its destination:

بالله إجراؤها وإرساؤها، أي بقدرته وأمره

بأن مجراها ومرساها” بأمره وقدرته”

تفسير الكشاف/ الزمخشري ت 538 هـ

That Bismillah is not just a blind-faith statement but rather the opposite is clear from the statement Prophet Noah makes as it is revealed in the Quran, where he says:

And he (Noah) said: “Embark in it, I swear by the Qudrat (Power) of God is its sailing and its anchoring; most surely my Sustainer is forgiving and merciful.”

In the above passage we see that the sailing of the ark is directly under the navigation of God, for in a flood  of such ferocity and magnitude the ark cannot be directed by any human being. The instruction to build the ark and its design was directly guided by God, and so too would its plying through the humanly un-navigable waters. In other words, the ark was marine engineered, in terms of dimensions, shape and materials, under divine instruction to be able to optimally withstand the flow characteristics of the flood which itself was designed by God. Thus, the BV shows divine actionality (the Qudrat of God) and is not a religious blessing, of someone who is peaceably entering his craft on a casual day, like someone about to embark on a vacation to the Bahamas in his luxurious yacht! His statement was made under the duress of an impending flood and in the midst of his fight against those disbelievers who were against his project.

 Prophet Sulaiman’s use of Bismillah was to convey the fundamentals of the din or the way of life of submission to God that was that of Prophet Ibrahim. Thus prophet Sulaiman’s use of Bismillah was to convey the fundamentals of the din or the way of life of submission to God was that of Prophet Ibrahim.

In Sura Al-Namal Verses 29-31, the Queen of Sheba states:

… ‘Oh Council! Here is an honorable letter has been delivered to me. (29) It is from Solomon, and it[’s] [message] is: “Evident are the works (the power) of the One and Only God [Allah], the Merciful/Benevolent, the Compassionate”. (30) [Therefore] don’t revolt/rebel against me (i.e. against my invitation to submit to Allah), but, instead, come to me in a state of submission [to Allah].” ‘ (31)

This statement is of utmost eloquence. Its purpose is wholly geared towards the objective of convincing someone with a cogent and relevant point, because it consists of the BV. The BV  reminds the Queen that evidence in the universe is replete about the Creator and His attributes,  and the statement discombobulates her haughtiness, which is the source of mean characteristics.  It instructs her to embrace Islam (peaceful voluntary submission to God), which encompasses all sources of virtues. There is no question of compulsion, since the letter is sent to persuasively convince her to change her ways by providing a reason to mend her errant ways, by pointing unequivocally to the evidence of the works of God. Here we witness that the BV as a slogan was well known in the world contemporary to Sulaiman. It can be seen that the Queen seems to be an educated elite and was happy to receive the message because she introduced the letter to her council as an “honourable letter”.  Additionally, in the same Sura , a few verses ahead, when she is entering the palace of Sulaiman, she mistakes the glazed shining floor as a pond of water and exclaims at that very moment,  as stated in verses 42-43, that:

So, when she came, it was said, ‘Is thy throne like this?’ She said, ‘It seems the same.’ ‘And we were given the knowledge (about Sulaiman and Islam)) before her, and we were Muslims (i.e in belief but not in practice because the nation was against it), (42) but that she served, apart from God, barred her, for she was of a people of unbelievers.’ (43)

 It is to be noted that prior to the letter being sent to the Queen, the Hoopoe bird had conveyed to Prophet Suleiman, who had been taught the language of the birds, by God, that the Queen of Sheba and her people were worshipping the Sun instead of God and that they were denying the Qudrat (Power, Works and Glory) of God in terms of God’s knowledge of all things. Furthermore, it is as a result of the signs shown to the Queen in terms of her almost instantaneously transported throne, and then the analogical argument concerning the illusions in life versus reality by using the smooth, glass floor, which she thought was a pool of water, that she submitted with Prophet Suleiman to God. Therefore, we can see that the BV verse is sandwiched between the denial of Qudrat and the practical arguments Prophet Suleiman devises to disclose the reality and Qudrat of God. But the whole argument commences from the BV, which is like a thesis or axiomatic statement or slogan meant to open her thinking and disclose to her the delusion and irrationality of not worshipping God, the subsequent actions by Suleiman being proofs of that statement.

Pre-Islamic Hanifi Inscription with Bismillah found in Arabia Town of Kilwa

PreIslamic Bismillah Inscription

                       

The above photograpg shows a lighting source, sun, or flower, or enlightening symbol is presented as a cross.  Only a community that holds on to a monotheistic belief in Allah would have borne the inscription Bismillah. These communities fast welcomed Islam as realisation of their own aspirations.[2]

Pre-Islamic Sasanid and Roman Coins bear Bismillah




Pre-Islamic Sasanid Coin Continued to be used after Islam in some places
Also note that the Roman and Sasanid symbol of moon and star combination continued to be used by Muslims till now.


http://www.coinarchives.com/w/results.php?search=Bismilla&s=0&results=100


The BV as an Exclamation

With respect to evidence the BV is also an exclamation, in the form of slogan, a terse statement declaring the conclusion and concept that:

No doubt (or I swear by the) it is the Omnipotence of the Al-Rahman and Al-Raheem God.

You cannot have doubt if there is evidence and this is how the swearing is connected to evidence discussed previously.

The BV as a long form sentence equivalent to  expressing gratitude

“The Ibn Qudaamah considers paying Gratitude to Allah essential for (at the beginning of every sermon) and prayers for Prophet SAW because the Messenger peace be upon him said: ((any important work that does not start with paying Gratitude to Allah is destruction)”

This Hadith is reported by Abu Daud, Ibn Maja and Imam Ahmed

Ibn-Taymiyyah stated in this book the Hadith:

“Paying gratitude to Allah is the first thing as any important matter that does not start with saying Al-Hamdulillh is failed”

It is important to note that the available references in the literature show that the above hadith was considered very well established, that instructs beginning things by saying Al-Hamdollillah. Almost all well-known scholars and Imams of Hadith took it authentic and in practice. However, every modern writer in the available literature tries to change the word Al-hamdulillah with Bismillah. Some keep the words Al-hamdulillah but advise saying Bismillah on the excuse that Bismillah has similarities with hamd and some clearly state their personal preference of starting with Bismillah. It is interesting that a lot of so called expers of Hadith try to find faults in the transmission chain of the above hadith for Alhamdulillah despite the fact that they also state it was in practice of earliest times and scholars they consider most careful and most learned and that these scholars  accepted it. In the Quran, it states that when the people of paradise start some act they always begin by saying Al-hamdulillah

It seems when the highly intellectual  ideas present in the meanings of the BV were diminished and Islamic general education retrogressed with the downfall of Islamic civilization, Muslims became uninterested in finding out the real enlightening philosophical message encapsulated in the Bismillah. The general interest of the Muslims strayed into ways to use Quran, including Bismillah, to help them in gaining materialistic things. This public demand seem to have resulted in public preference of a false meaning and some pseudo-scholars might have found in it an opportune way to gain money and fame by satisfying a public demand, by distorting the authentic traditions, to cater to the desires of the masses, rather than bringing the masses to the actual message of the Quran.
So we can clearl see from this, that if the BV is a distillation of the essence of each Surah, then the word Al-hamd (praise) is a distillation of the essence of the BV. In essence, one can then say that the whole Quran and the whole universe were created to see if we would show gratitude towards God and that if humankind is to trek back to the correct path in the maze of confusion, the slogan or rallying point is the BV. For if one realizes by reason and evidence the works of God and His mercy and beneficence, one is perforce grateful and behaves in accordance with God consciousness by praising Him and if one does this, one is at true peace. The entire BV is therefore about gratitude and this is why gratitude and praising God is of primary significance and why Al-Hamd is what Muslims begin and end with in their daily lives, and hopefully if conscious before death, express gratitude to their Creator before they breathe their last. Let us look at some examples concerning the BV and gratitude.
We see evidence in the Quran that rather than the BV being a shallow statement where one utters a credo before and after any good deed, it is rather a dynamic realization of gratefulness,  observing  the sustenance of nature that God has created, that proves that the BV has to do with a profound realization and its reaction within the depths of the human being, rather than simply a formula that is supposed to reap rewards as a response to a robotic or superstitious utterance. Here are some verses that show the dynamic realization the BV is supposed to elicit, in connection with gratefulness:

Successful people entering paradise will exclaim Al-Hamdulillah (Praise be to God), not Bismillah. Bismillah. In this situation it conveys the sense of getting something on payment, not as a free gift.
We shall strip away all rancour that is in their minds; and underneath them, rivers flowing; and they will say, ‘Gratitude belongs to God (الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ), who guided us unto this; had God not guided us, we had surely never been guided. Indeed, our Lord’s Messengers came with the truth.’ And it will be proclaimed: ‘This is your Paradise; you have been given it as your inheritance for what you did.’ (43)
There are too many verses to cite on this subject and in the footnotes we present a few more.[1]

How the BV is the Central Axis of the Quranic Thematic Structure

Each chapter which starts with the BV has to prove the validity of the BV itself. In other words the BV becomes the thesis or postulate. The Sura proves the postulate. At the same time, the rest of the surah becomes like a the axis on which all the Quranic verses revolve, no matter what the thematic structure of each verse is. This is like planets revolving or that are kept in orbit around the sun, the BV serving the function of the sun, and the planets the thematic structures. Each Quranic chapter revolves around the BV because each chapter speaks, in various contexts or themes, of the glorious works of God, His favours upon humankind, the sustenance He provides, the gratefulness of those who believe and trust in Him, the mercy he showed by bringing revelation, the mercy He shows to those who repent and mend their wayward ways and the fate of those who are antithetical to the core philosophy imparted by the BV. In that vein, if we generalize it further, the whole Quran has to live up to this thesis as indeed it does and since the Quran does, so does the all creation – visible, hidden and to come – which is being reflected upon in the Quran.
The BV therefore implies four main things which are embedded in all the Quranic surahs:

1.        The creator Exists.
2.        He is the Creator of this Universe
3.        He is active in this universe at all times
4.        He has this all encompassing mercy though sustaining provisions and through forgiveness if we should stray.

This is why the First word after the BV is al-hamd – the gratefulness and thanks that lies behind the need to praise, because if we truly think objectively about these four points, how can we be unthankful and ungrateful and not praise the source of all that exists?

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

All gratitude is for Allah who is the guardian (creator, sustainer, guide controller) of all worlds.



The Primacy of Reason in the Quran and the BV

We want the reader to now compare the standard translation with the actual meaning:
In the Name of God the Most Beneficent, the Most Mercifiul.

(Standard translation)

Compare it with:

“The glorious works of the Creator, are proofs of His perennial beneficence.”
or the equivalent:
“No doubt it is (or I swear by) the Omnipotence of God the Rahman and the Raheem.”

The standard translation above, does not convey the dynamic nature of God and the concomitant thought that it tries to instill within the human being of gratitude based on certainty, which cannot occur if reason is not the paramount mode of operation in the human psyche. What has been worse in the decaying of the Muslim societies over the centuries, after they have strayed away from the Quran, is that aside from a superficial understanding of the verse, through superstition and mysticism they will even use this verse like an incantation and magic potion, depriving the use of reason and proof for the individual and society that the Quran demands, since the truth and Islam are based on reason, evidence and proof. Indeed, the whole of Islam itself is predicated on reason, as the salvation verse states:

“If only we listened or used Reason, we would not be in hellfire.” (   )

The import of this Quranic verse, if generalized, is that the human being is disunited within himself and suffering, families are disunited and suffering, mankind is disunited and suffering and the environment that sustains us is being disunited, torn apart and suffering because of not using reason (connecting things integrally, from the root of the word aql). That is because if you do not listen or use your reason (connect things properly), you will suffer and create suffering. It is proof that brings about unity and therefore the lack of suffering. To draw upon an analogy: If we were to prove that 1+1=2 and then showed people that 1+1=2,  if all people believed that 1+1=2  there would be a unity of people that 1+1=2 and no disagreement; disagreement would only occur due to desires or an agenda, or if the person was truly insane. This is the natural unity based on proof and this is what the Quran is striving and aiming for – for all of us to realize. If one operated with the false notion that 1+1=3 then it would lead to all sorts of problems in life as it does not match up with reality and cause and effect. But we can only commence our understanding of this, if we reflect upon the fact or reality, cogently and concisely captured in the microcosmic verse:

“The glorious works of the Creator, are proofs of His perennial beneficence.”
By opening life with the slogan of recognizing that the glorious works of the Creator are proofs of His beneficence, or making this attitude the centrality of one’s life, one praises God in daily life sincerely; but in recognizing this, one must be objective, listen and use reason, thereby uniting with others who come to the same conclusion, through reason, logic and the evidences. Conversely, by failing to commence with this rationalistic slogan or moto for pure monotheism, we will continue to suffer and not bring about natural unity. In other words, we will not achieve the much needed state of peace and grace for humanity and all other species.

Natural Belief System: The BV as the Negation of Atheism

A profound contradiction arises in contemporary philosophical thought: Nature on one hand is taken to be unintelligent and incapable of comprehension or thinking of any kind. On the other hand, all the unimaginably complex decisive selections from cosmological to infinitesimal scale are attributed to it, as if it were conscious. Its success in developing amazing products is simply unrivalled. The products include planets with complex ecosystems that continuously evolve creatures including one with human consciousness. The BV negates associating nature to some Blind Mother Nature and the Quran sees this as a form of pagan idol worship. Al-Rahman, which is one of the focal points of the BV, is seen in the Quran as the benevolence of God for our creation and existence as a gift to us, which is not a result of some mindless random accident. Therefore, the BV negates atheism or agnosticism. The root word of Rahman/Raheem, Rahma is the antithesis of Blind Chance, for sheer, cold, mindless chance could never result in our system where everything was best set-up precisely to serve us, like a stage ready to receive us like chief guests. Familiarization should not desensitize us to this; if we were to take a trip to the biologically dead planets in this solar system we would truly value the miracle of life. Even the most ardent of atheists coming back from such a trip would realize God in his/her heart of hearts. Rahm suggests to us that creation is not a chance product of mindlessness, for with chance most occurrences are manifest failures. Rahm makes us reflect why we always see breathtaking beauty everywhere: in the air, on land and under the sea. As such, we are bathed in the pure light of Rahm. Indeed, the BV is repeated in the Quran to remind us continuously, and in different contexts, that the origin and continuation of our wonderful life on this matchless jewel-like planet and the privileged status of the human being in the universe, are signs for us to appreciate due to countless mercies.

The BV itself focuses on God’s existence through providence (i.e. God’s continual beneficence) rather than proving God’s existence by other means because the Quran is a book that is already for those who are conscious of God as stated at the beginning of the Quran, and therefore serves as a reminder of God’s central attributes through the immediacy of nature in front of us, not a formal proof of His existence, such as the formal structure of the teleological and cosmological proofs. (Not that such proofs should not be formulated properly to counter certain obstacles placed in front of people as distractive mechanisms over the last two hundred years; these have their crucial, and vital place as fundamental projects in today’s reformation of human society).  Those who read the Quran sincerely are the ones who will benefit from it and they already acknowledge God’s existence, by logical means in which the process of elimination is used: i.e. there cannot be many gods, because then the universe would be in chaos, but we see order and unity and therefore one God exists  (       ); God has to be the author of the Quran because otherwise there would have been many inconsistencies if it were other than God and therefore God exists (      ); if the universe could not have been created by beings that depend on and are created within the universe, plus if the universe could not have been created if there was nothing (    ) it means that there was ‘something’ that started this universe that was not dependent of this universe, i.e. God. All this is to show that the BV is structured to negate atheistic diversions by focusing on divine providence. In fact, when one studies the Quran, it then becomes an added proof that it is from God because of the remarkable nature of the book itself and one appreciates the mercy of God for having sent a perfect guide and motivator for our struggles in this universe.

In summation then, we have seen, by going deeper into the proper use of the BV, that it is indeed a slogan to remind people of a unique belief, and is not a miraculous spell that confers blessings. We have also illustrated that the BV summarizes the attributes of God. It is because the question about God is a question about the world that the BV directs our attention to understand whether the world is running automatically or with a conscious controller with the semblance of automaticity (the highest manifestation of intelligent design). Therefore, the BV beckons us to focus on answering an existential question about the world. And since everyone has had direct observations and experience about the world, the Quran proposes that we ought to look at the world to discover the answers. The BV is also repeatedly stated before each Surah (except one) to defamiliarize us from the familiar and to make us realize the wonder of creation. In this vein, reminiscent of the earlier Hanifs or Unitarians and unknowingly echoing the BV,  Thomas Paine stated:

The wonderful structure of the universe, and everything we behold in the system of the creation, prove to us, far better than books can do, the existence of a God, and at the same time proclaim His attributes. It is by the exercise of our reason that we are enabled to contemplate God in His works, and imitate Him in His ways. When we see His care and goodness extended over all His creatures, it teaches us our duty toward each other, while it calls forth our gratitude to Him. It is by forgetting God in His works, and running after the books of pretended revelation, that man has wandered from the straight path of duty and happiness, and become by turns the victim.

Conclusion

In this article we have established the origins of the BV and the rationalistic and gratitude-based meanings that it possesses from both a linguistic, historical and textual basis. To affect societal change that is positive, one needs a slogan that encapsulates a whole paradigm and at the same time is motivational. In this day and age when human conflict, individual psychological trauma, ecological devastation are rampant, when we do not see the light at the end of the tunnel, and when we are not sure why we exist in the first place, humanity certainly needs an effective slogan that leads us out of the abyss, like a powerful flashlight. Mysticism, because of its authoritarianism and complacency and its disconnection with the practicalities of science and technology that are required as we move forward into the 21st Century, cannot be a panacea for humanity, but is rather, a bane. At the same time, from the other end, Atheism leaves us with a purposeless and relativistic vision devoid of the gratitude for our existence, for gratitude is a relational concept. The Bismillah Verse as a slogan and rallying point for all questioning, thinking, objective and rational people, however, serves as both the flashlight and the light at the end of the tunnel, as it did when it initially served that function to raise humanity out of the Dark Ages with the Quranic advent. We hope that, in realizing such facts, that it may help us out of the New Dark Ages as a seamlessly combined ultra-scientific and spiritual paradigm for the 21st Century and beyond.

Endnotes

 1.      The intimate link between Surah Fatiha and Surah Baqara

The Surah Fatiha and Bakara also establish two points in connection with the BV: The verses immediately following the BV verses in Fatiha and Bakara are not only making reference to the Hanif but are asking the Muslims to use their minds and perform good deeds. If the opening BV is merely a vacuous or superstitious statement, why would the following verses be asking Muslims to use intellection as the foundation of theiir belief? If the BV is akin to an incantation then it folows that so should the subsequent verses be, but these verses are far from dogmatic; rather, they are just the opposite. For example, in the very first verse it states that the Quran is a book that is not to be doubted as it confirms that which is Unseen (Allazina yu’minuuna bi-Gaybi) where “yu’minuuna” comes from the root amana which means confirmation, verification and security/trust.  In other words some things exist, including God, the next life etc. who/that we cannot see but that does not mean that there is no evidence pointing to their existence.

2.      The BV and Prayer

Prayer and Recitation Practice Supports the fact that the BV is not a “religious blessing” or “incantation”. There is no doubt that prayer words and performance have been transmitted most faithfully. Now the BV is not used at the beginning of a prayer. Neither are we to use the BV when we open the Quran to read it; rather Muslims are instructed to use another invocation as it states in the Ayah of the Quran Aya 98 of Sura Al-Nahl 16 :

“When thou recitest the Koran, seek refuge in God from the accursed Satan; (98) ” Tr. Arberry

“Whenever you read the Qur’an seek refuge with Allah from Satan, the accursed. (98)” Maududi

Actually, it is a universal consensus to “seek refuge with Allah from Satan” which, in Arabic is, “Auzu Billa hi Min Ash-shaitan Arrajeem”. It seems clear evidences suggest the frequent use of the BV was to enable us to be mindful of the mission through its moto. However, this objective needs an active mind that is interested in understanding, for only a mind that is motivated can restore facts and smash falsehoods to smithereens. Later on, however, when human minds became dull because of apathy, some lame justification was needed for the continuing frequent use of the BV. Unfortunately,  this vital need was fulfilled by a false notion about the BV from the stack of false notions that are known to be concoctions of later times

[2] The key word  Kufr كَفَر  means to cover up and to conceal. In the Quran it is explained that human beings are created with a feeling and instinct of knowledge about the Creator and to be thankful to Him. In the Quran, Kufr is the antonym of Shukr, gratitude, which is foundation of the belief in One God.

To show ungratefulness to God and not to believe in Him and importance of seeking His pleasure.
أَSura Hud: verily, [the tribe of] Thamud denied their Sustainer! Oh, away with the Thamud! (68)



3.      Further examples of Gratitude in the Quran as Opener

Quranic Verse Sura Yunus 28 Verse 70:

لَهُ الْحَمْدُ فِي الْأُولَىٰ وَالْآخِرَةِ

And gratitude is due to him in the beginning and at the end.

And muslis traditionally still follow it at the end of activity by saying  وآخر دعوانا ان الحمد لله رب العالمين

which is similar to following this vese
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ يَهْدِيهِمْ رَبُّهُم بِإِيمَانِهِمْ ۖ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهِمُ الْأَنْهَارُ فِي جَنَّاتِ النَّعِيمِ ﴿٩﴾دَعْوَاهُمْ فِيهَا سُبْحَانَكَ اللَّـهُمَّ وَتَحِيَّتُهُمْ فِيهَا سَلَامٌ ۚ وَآخِرُ دَعْوَاهُمْ أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ ﴿١٠

Their way of request therein will be Subhanaka Allahumma (Glory to You, O Allah!) and Salam (peace, safe from each and every evil) will be their greetings therein (Paradise)! and the close of their request will be: Al-Hamdu Lillahi Rabbil-'Alamin [All the praises and thanks are to Allah, the Lord of 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists)]. (10)

سورة القصص

وَرَبُّكَ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ وَيَخْتَارُ ۗ مَا كَانَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ ۚ سُبْحَانَ اللَّـهِ وَتَعَالَىٰ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ ﴿٦٨﴾وَرَبُّكَ يَعْلَمُ مَا تُكِنُّ صُدُورُهُمْ وَمَا يُعْلِنُونَ ﴿٦٩﴾وَهُوَ اللَّـهُ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ۖ لَهُ الْحَمْدُ فِي الْأُولَىٰ وَالْآخِرَةِ ۖ وَلَهُ الْحُكْمُ وَإِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ ﴿٧٠

And your Lord creates whatsoever He wills and chooses, no choice have they (in any matter). Glorified be Allah, and exalted above all that they associate as partners (with Him). (68)And your Lord knows what their breasts conceal, and what they reveal. (69)And He is Allah; La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He). His is all praise, in the first  and in the last . And for Him is the Decision, and to Him shall you (all) be returned. (70) Sura Al-Qasas 28

In the above verse it is easy to see that except the last part "وَإِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ"  all of the verse is expressing situation of this world.

The above makes clear that الحمد لله  is due both at the beginning and at the end. In the practice, which is only a new invention started long after Prophetic time, saying الحمد لله in the beginning has been replaced by saing Bismillah after its real meaning was distorted. See below the image of page FathulBari, Sharah Sahih Bukhari, where Imam Ibn Hajar clearly states the well known hadith of the prophet SAW which instructs to say Al-HAMDO-LILLAH before every significant action.

page 5, Fatah al-bari fi sharh sahih al-bukhari - volume 01
Publisher Al-Khairiyya , Cairo, Egypt, 1319 After Hijra
http://archive.org/details/fatahbari-bulaq-v-01



And We
gave David and Solomon knowledge and they said, ‘Gratitude belongs to God who has preferred us over many of His believing servants.’ (28:15)

On realization of being receiving side of  special gifts from Allah Prophet Suliman and Daud both started not with Bismillah but Al- hamdulillah.

Al-Isra (the old name of this sura was Bani-Israil which is more related to its contents)

on the day when He will call you, and you will answer while paying gratitude to  بِحَمْدِهِ Him, and you will think you have but tarried a little.’ (17:52)

In Chapter 35 the people of paradise will not begin answering by uttering Bismillah first but by saying الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ  .

Gardens of Eden they shall enter; therein they shall be adorned with bracelets of gold and with pearls, and their apparel there shall be of silk. (33) And they shall say, ‘Gratitude belongs to God الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ who has put away all sorrow from us. Surely our Lord is All-forgiving, All-thankful, (34) who of His bounty has made us to dwell in the abode of everlasting life wherein no weariness assails us neither fatigue.’ (35)







[1] Author: Baydawi, Abd Allah ibn Umarhttp://www.archive.org/details/commentaryonkora02bayduoft

Zamakhshari, http://www.archive.org/details/alquranmaatafsir01zamauoft

: Zamakhshar, Mamd ibn Umar, 1075-1144; Lees, W. Nassau (William Nassau), 1825-1889

Volume: 1, Subject: Koran

Publisher: Kalkata Matb’ al-Lisi, Possible copyright status: NOT_IN_COPYRIGHT

Language: Arabic, Call number: AAS-0850, Digitizing sponsor: University of Toronto

Book contributor: Robarts – University of Toronto




[2] Arab. arch. epig. 2011: 22: 243 –252 (2011), Arabian archeology and epigraphy

Saba Farès, University of Nancy 2/, GREMMO UMR 5195, France; 22 Quai Tilsitt, 69002 Lyon, France.


Related:
Nadeem Haque, Analysis of the Qur’an’s Bismillah Verse

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