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At-Tafsīr-ul-Kabīr: The Grand Exegesis – Surah al-Fatihah is a Part of the Qur’an

Chapter 1,Verse 1

The Review of Religions continues the serialisation of At-Tafsīr Ul Kabīr: The Grand Exegesis in English, written by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra, the second head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. This is one of the most insightful and in-depth commentaries of the Holy Qur’an ever written, brought to English readers for the first time.

Translated by Murtaza Ahmad

The Revelation of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah

With regards to the revelation of this chapter, it is reported by Ibn ‘Abbās1, Qatādah2 and Abū al-‘Āliyah3 that Sūrah al-Fātiḥah was revealed in Makkah. However, Abū Hurairah4, Mujāhid5, ‘Aṭā6 and Zuhrī7 say that this chapter was revealed to the Holy Prophetsa in Madinah. Nevertheless, it is apparent from the Holy Qur’an that this chapter was revealed in Makkah because it has been mentioned in Sūrah al-Ḥijr – a chapter unanimously agreed to be revealed in Makkah8 – in the following words:

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَاكَ سَبْعًا مِنَ الْمَثَانِي وَالْقُرْآنَ الْعَظِيمَ

‘And We have, indeed, given thee the seven oft-repeated verses, and the Great Qur’an.’9

Some scholars consider this chapter to have been revealed twice – first in Makkah and the second time in Madinah. Thus, it is both a Makkan chapter as well as a Medinite one.10 In my opinion, this is the correct view.

It is certain that this chapter was revealed in Makkah. However, it can be proven through authentic narrations that it was also revealed in Madinah. Therefore, it appears that in reality it was revealed on two occasions. Whilst in Madinah the Holy Prophetsa mentioned to a gathering that Sūrah al-Fātiḥah had been revealed, some assumed that this chapter had been revealed for the first time there; however, the Prophet’ssa purpose was only to inform them that the chapter had been revealed once again in Madinah.

Another evidence that proves that this chapter’s revelation was originally in Makkah is that in the narrations it is mentioned that Sūrah al-Fātiḥah had always been recited during formal prayers [i.e., salat]. Since congregational prayers began to be performed in Makkah – in fact, they began at the very inception of Islam – therefore, this further proves that this chapter was first revealed in Makkah.

Sūrah al-Fātiḥah is Part of the Qur’an

Some people have expressed the opinion that Sūrah al-Fātiḥah is not part of the Holy Qur’an. In support of this opinion, they cite the fact that Ḥaḍrat ‘Abdullāh bin Mas‘ūdra did not include Sūrah al-Fātiḥah in his manuscript of the Qur’an. However, it must be kept in mind that Haḍrat ‘Abdullāh bin Mas‘ūdra excluded three sūrahs in his manuscript of the Holy Qur’an: Sūrah al-Fātiḥah and the al-Mu‘awwidhatayn [namely,Sūrah al-Falaq and Sūrah an-Nās – the two chapters of refuge11]. He was of the opinion that since Sūrah al-Fātiḥah is recited in prayers before every other sūrah, it therefore serves as an introduction to all other chapters. It is probable that he also thought the same about the al-Mu‘awwidhatayn as their subject-matter comprises prayers for safeguarding oneself against different types of harms and evils. Therefore, despite being a part of the Holy Qur’an, they seemingly stand alone from the other Qur’anic text. Furthermore, it is likely that Haḍrat ‘Abdullāh bin Mas‘ūd was of the opinion that the al-Mu‘awwidhatayn were related to every sūrah. His viewpoint on Sūrah al-Fātiḥah is proven from the ahadith [oral traditions of the Holy Prophetsa]. Abū Bakr al-Anbārī narrates a hadith from al-A‘mash who narrates from Ibrāhīm that when Haḍrat ‘Abdullāh bin Mas‘ūdra was asked as to why he did not record Sūrah al-Fātiḥah in his manuscript of the Holy Qur’an, he responded by saying, لَوْ كَـتَبْتُهَا لَكَتَبْتُهَا مَعَ كُلِّ سُورَةٍ. That is: ‘If I had written Sūrah al-Fātiḥah [before Sūrah al-Baqarah], I would have had to write it before every chapter.’ In other words, this chapter is related to every other sūrah and, therefore, ‘Abdullāh bin Mas‘ūdra had omitted it so that the misconception does not arise that Sūrah al-Fātiḥah was only linked to Sūrah al-Baqarah12. It seems that he also held the same opinion about the al-Mu‘awwidhatayn. Given this reason, how could it have been possible for ‘Abdullāh bin Mas‘ūdra to exclude Sūrah al-Fātiḥah from the Qur’an, as the Holy Prophetsa had himself clearly declared it to be the greatest chapter of the Holy Qur’an?13

It is essential to recite Sūrah al-Fātiḥah during every formal prayer and rak‘ah [a single unit of formal prayer], except when one joins the congregational prayer in which the Imam has already led everyone into rukū‘ [the bowing position when one places their hands on their knees]. In such cases, those who join the formal prayer late ought to just say Allāhu Akbar [Allah is the Greatest] and then follow the Imam into rukū‘. The recitation of the Imam therefore counts as the recitation of those who follow his lead. The emphasis on reciting Sūrah al-Fātiḥah during formal prayer is found in various ahadith. In Sahih Muslim [a well-known and reputable collection of ahadith], we find that Ḥaḍrat Abū Hurairara narrated that the Holy Prophetsa said,

مَنْ صَلَّى صَلَاةً لَمْ يَقْرَأْ فِيهَا بِأُمِّ الْقُرْآنِ فَهِيَ خِدَاجٌ[14

‘If anyone observes prayer in which he does not recite the Mother of the Book, it is deficient.’

This means that a person who performs the formal prayer without reciting Sūrah al-Fātiḥah renders that prayer incomplete. In Sahih Bukharī15 [the most reputable and well-known collections of ahadith] and Sahih Muslim16, there is a narration of ‘Ubāda bin aṣ-Ṣāmit that the Holy Prophetsa stated:

لاَ صَلَاةَ لِمَنْ لَمْ يَقْرَأْ بِفَاتِحَةِ الْكِتَابِ

This means that the prayer of a person who does not recite Fātiḥatul-Kitāb [the Opening Chapter of the Book and another name for Sūrah al-Fātiḥah] during formal prayer will be void. There is a similar narration to this effect from Abū Hurairahra in Saḥiḥ Ibn Khuzaimah17 and Saḥiḥ Ibn Ḥibbān18 ,19. Moreover, in Abū Dāwūd, there is the following narration on the authority of Abū Hurairahra:

أَمَرَنِي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ أَنْ أُنَادِيَ أَنَّهُ لا صَلاةَ إِلَّا بِقِرَاءَةِ فَاتِحَةِ الْكِتَابِ فَمَا زَادَ[20]

That is, the Holy Prophetsa commanded me to announce to the people that no formal prayer will be complete except with the recitation of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah along with another portion of the Holy Qur’an.

This belief is found in the ahadith narrated by the companions of the Holy Prophetsa including Ḥaḍrat ‘Umarra, ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbāsra, Abū Hurairahra, ‘Ubayy bin Ka‘bra, Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārīra, ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin al-‘Āṣra, ‘Ubādah bin aṣ-Ṣāmitra, Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrīra, ‘Uthmān bin Abī al-‘Āṣra, Khawwāt bin Jubairra and ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umarra21.   

In Sunnan Ibn Mājah22, there is the narration of Ḥaḍrat Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrīra that:

لا صَلاةَ لِمَنْ لَمْ يَقْرَأْ فِي كُلِّ رَكْعَةٍ بِالْحَمْدِ لِلَّهِ وَسُورَةٍ، في فَرِيضَةٍ أَوْ غَيْرِهَا[23]

Meaning, that the formal prayer is void for one who does not recite Sūrah al-Fātiḥah before another sūrah in every unit of prayer. This injunction is in relation to both obligatory and non-obligatory prayers. Some scholars have classified this narration as ‘weak’. However, since this is the collective practice of the companions, there is no doubt regarding its authenticity. In support of this, there is also another narration found in Abū Dāwūd in which ‘Ubādah bin aṣ-Ṣāmitra narrates to the effect that Nāfi‘ bin Maḥmūd bin al-Rabī‘ al-Anṣārī states, ‘Ḥaḍrat ‘Ubādah had been assigned as the Imam to lead the prayers somewhere. On one occasion he arrived late for the congregational prayer, at which Abū Na‘īm began to lead the prayer. I was also with ‘Ubādah when he joined the congregation and we stood in the rows for the prayer. When Abū Na‘īm started reciting Sūrah al-Fātiḥah, I also heard ‘Ubādah recite Sūrah al-Fātiḥah very quietly. When the prayer finished, I asked ‘Ubādah, “While Abū Na‘īm was leading the prayers aloud, you were also reciting Sūrah al-Fātiḥah. What is the reason behind this?” He responded, “This is absolutely correct. Once, the Holy Prophetsa led us in prayer and upon its completion he sat down and then enquired from us, ‘When I recite the Qur’an aloud in prayer, do you also repeat the words quietly?’ Some answered in the affirmative, whilst others said ‘No’. Upon this, the Holy Prophetsa said:

فَلا تَقْرَءُوا بِشَيْءٍ مِن الْقُرْآنِ إِذَا جَهَرْتُ إِلا بِأُمِّ الْقُرْآنِ[24]

‘When I recite the Holy Qur’an aloud during the congregational prayer, with the exception of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah, do not recite along with me any other chapter.’” In relation to this, there are many more ahadith. For instance, Dāru Quṭnī narrates on the authority of Yazīd bin Sharīk, declaring the chain of narrators to be authentic [isnād25] in this hadith:

سَأَلْتُ عُمَرَ عَنِ الْقِرَاءَةِ خَلْفَ الإِمَامِ فَأَمَرَنِى أَنْ أَقْرَأَ. قَالَ قُلْتُ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ أَنْتَ؟ قَالَ وَإِنْ كُنْتُ أَنَا. قُلْتُ: وَإِنْ جَهَرْتَ؟ قَالَ وَإِنْ جَهَرْتُ[26]

That is to say, ‘I asked Haḍrat Umarra, “Should I recite Sūrah al-Fātiḥah along with the Imam?” He answered: “Yes.” I enquired, “Even if you are leading the prayers?” He answered, “Yes, even if I lead the prayer.” I asked, “Even if you recite Sūrah al-Fātiḥah aloud?” He responded, “Yes, even then.”’   

The edict of the Promised Messiahas is also that Sūrah al-Fātiḥah ought to be recited along with the Imam even if the Imam is reciting it aloud, unless the worshipper joins the prayer while the Imam is in rukū‘ [bowing down position]. In such a situation, the latecomer ought to say Allāhu Akbar [Allah is the Greatest] and then follow the Imam. The Imam’s recitation of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah would be considered a substitute for his own recitation.27 

This is an exception and an exception does not invalidate the rule. Similarly, another exception is when a person is unfamiliar with Sūrah al-Fātiḥah. For instance, the prayer of a new Muslim convert who is yet to learn the basics of prayer, or a child who is unable to recite the Holy Qur’an, would be accepted merely through expressing God’s greatness and praise, regardless of whether or not he recites any portion of the Holy Qur’an, including Sūrah al-Fātiḥah.


[1] Hazrat Ibn ‘Abbasra was the nephew of the Holy Prophetsa. Amongst other distinctions, he is renowned for narrating a number of narrations from the Holy Prophetsa.  [Publishers]

[2] Hazrat Qatadahra was one of the Medinite companions of the Holy Prophetsa. [Publishers]

[3] Hazrat Abu al-Aliyahra was one of the companions of the Holy Prophetsa. [Publishers]

[4] Hazrat Abu Hurairahra was one of the companions of the Holy Prophetsa and known for being the most prolific narrator of hadith. [Publishers]

[5] Mujahid was one of the early Muslims after the generation of the companions of the Holy Prophetsa. He is considered to be the first to compile a written exegesis of the Holy Qur’an. [Publishers]

[6] Ata ibn Ali Rabah was a prominent commentator, transmitter of hadith and scholar in Islamic jurisprudence after the generation of the companions of the Holy Prophetsa. [Publishers]

[7] Imam Shihad al-Zuhri is considered to be a prominent scholar among those that compiled the biography of the Holy Prophetsa. [Publishers]

[8] Shams-ud-Dīn al-Qurṭub, Al-Jāmi‘ li Aḥkāmil-Qur’ān lil-Qurṭubī, vol. 1 (Cairo, Egypt: Dār-ul-Kutub-ul-Maṣriyyah, 1964), 115. [Author]

[9] The Holy Qur’an, 15:88. [Publishers]

[10] Qurtubi has narrated this on the authority of Tha‘lbi, however, the commentary of Tha‘lbi (published in Algeria) does not contain this narration. It is possible that Qurtubi recorded this narration from another work of Tha‘lbi. [Author]

[11] These refer to the last two chapters of the Holy Qur’an, namely Chapter al-Falaq and Chapter an-Nas. In these two chapters one seeks the protection and refuge of Allah from different evils, hence they have been referred to as the ‘Two Chapters of Refuge.’ [Publishers]

[12] Shams-ud-Dīn al-Qurṭub, Al-Jāmi‘ li Aḥkāmil-Qur’ān lil-Qurṭubī, vol. 1 (Cairo, Egypt: Dār-ul-Kutub-ul-Maṣriyyah, 1964), 115.  [Publishers]

[13] Bukharī on the authority of Sa‘īd bin al-Mu‘allā. [Author]

[14] Muslim, Kitābul-Ṣalāti, Bābu Wujūbi Qirā’atil-Fātiḥati fī kulli rak‘atin. [Publishers]

[15] Bukharī, Kitābul-Ṣalāti, Bābu Wujūbil-Qirā’ati Lil-Imāmi Wal-Ma’mūmi Fiṣ-Ṣalawāti Kullihā. [Publishers]

[16] Muslim, Kitābul-Ṣalāti, Bābu Wujūbi Qirā’atil-Fātiḥati fī kulli rak‘atin. [Publishers]

[17] This is a collection of ahadith compiled by Imam Abu Bakr ibn Ishaq ibn Khuzaymah. [Publishers]

[18] This is a collection of ahadith compiled by the Sunni scholar Ibn Hibban. [Publishers]

[19] Abū l-Fidā’ Ismāʿīl bin ‘Umar bin Kathīr, Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿAẓīm  (Beirut, Lebanon: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 2000), 58. [Publishers]

[20] Abū Dāwūd, Kitābuṣ-Ṣalāh, Bābu Man Tarakal-Qirā’ata Fī Ṣalātihi [Publishers]

[21] Shams-ud-Dīn al-Qurṭub, Al-Jāmi‘ li Aḥkāmil-Qur’ān lil-Qurṭubī, vol. 1 (Cairo, Egypt: Dār-ul-Kutub-ul-Maṣriyyah, 1964), 119. [Publishers]

[22] This refers to one of the six authentic books of ahadith as accepted by the Sunni school of thought, named after Imam Ibn Majah. [Publishers]

[23] Ibn Mājah, Kitābuṣ-Ṣalāh, Bābul-Qirā’ati Khalfal-Imām [Publishers]

[24] Abū Dāwūd, Kitābuṣ-Ṣalāh, Bābu Man Tarakal-Qirā’ata Fī Ṣalātihi. [Publishers]

[25] The science of hadith consists of several disciplines used to evaluate the hadith by Muslim scholars. This science seeks to determine the authenticity of the ahadith, based on whether there are other identical reports from other narrators; the reliability of the narrators of the report; and the continuity of the chain of narrators. Here Isnad refers to the line of narrators of a particular hadith. [Publishers]

[26] Dāraquṭnī, Kitābuṣ-Ṣalāh, Bābu Wujūbi Qirā‘ati Ummil-Kitābi Fiṣ-Ṣalāti. [Publishers]

[27] Haḍrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, Malfuzat Volume 1, 448. [Publishers]