MAGAZINE: EDITION SEPTEMBER 2019
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At-Tafsīr Ul Kabīr

The Excellence of Bismillāh [In the Name of Allah]

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The Holy Prophet(sa) has laid special emphasis on the excellence of bismillāh. He says:

كُلُّ أَمْرٍ ذِي بَالٍ لَا يُبْدَأ فِيهِ{بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ} أَقْطَعُ[i]

That is, any important task which does not begin with bismillāh is devoid of blessing. Thus, the Holy Prophetsa has established this practice for Muslims to follow, that they should commence all their works with bismillāh. Thus, it is mentioned in a hadith:

أَغْلِقْ بَابَكَ وَاذْكُرِ اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ فَإِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ لَا يَفْتَحُ بَابًا مُغْلَقًا وَأَطْفِئْ مِصْبَاحَكَ وَاذْكُرِ اسْمَ اللَّهِ وَخَمِّرْ إِنَاءَكَ وَلَوْ بِعُودٍ تَعْرُضُهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاذْكُرِ اسْمَ اللَّهِ وَأَوْكِ سِقَاءَكَ وَاذْكُرِ اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ[ii]

That is, recite bismillāh even when you shut your door, put out a lamp, cover a utensil, tie the mouth of your water-skin. Likewise, other hadith indicates the necessity of reciting bismillāh before being with one’s spouse, before performing ablution, before eating, prior to answering the call of nature and while getting dressed. The Holy Qur’an has also mentioned a letter of the Prophet Solomon(as), which he started with bismillāh. Thus, the Holy Qur’an says:

إِنَّهُ مِنْ سُلَيْمَانَ وَإِنَّهُ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ[iii]

Meaning: This letter is from Solomon(as) and it starts with ‘In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.’ Moreover, in the Holy Qur’an it states that the Prophet Noah(as), whilst embarking on the ark, said to his companions:

ارْكَبُوا فِيهَا بِسْمِ اللَّهِ مَج اهَا وَمُرْسَاهَا[iv]

Bismillāh has been placed at the start of every chapter, as the Holy Qur’an is said to be a treasure that cannot be opened without the permission of Allah the Almighty. Allah the Almighty says:

لَا يَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُونَ[v]

That is, the secrets of the Qur’an cannot be understood by anyone except for those whom God Almighty has chosen for this purpose.

Similarly, Allah the Almighty says:

يُضِلُّ بِهِ كَثِيرًا وَيَهْدِي بِهِ كَثِيرًا[vi]

Allah the Almighty has made the Holy Qur’an a means of guidance for some and a means of misguidance for others. This means that the Qur’anic words and expressions are the same for everyone; however, for different readers, it produces different effects. Now, the question arises as to how can one benefit from the Holy Qur’an, so as to be safeguarded against evil and to comprehend its secrets? This is answered by the Qur’anic commandment [vii] فَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللَّهِ and the placement of bismillāh at the start of every sūrah. Thus, on the one hand, before reciting the Holy Qur’an, one should pray for protection from satanic onslaughts and, on the other hand, one should seek the help of God while invoking His Grace and Mercy. In this manner, one will be both safeguarded from going astray, and also receive guidance.

The second reason for placing bismillāh at the start of every sūrah is that it was recorded in the Bible that during the latter days, God Almighty would ordain the advent of an individual in the likeness of Moses(as):

‘And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.’[viii]

According to this prophecy, it was destined that the person who would appear in the likeness of Moses(as) would proclaim that all revelations granted to him were in the name of God Almighty, rather than from himself. Therefore, in conformity with this prophecy, it was essential that bismillāh should be placed before every sūrah, so that, on the one hand, the prophecy of Moses(as) would be fulfilled, and, on the other, the Jews and Christians would be continually warned that if they fail to hearken to this Word, in accordance with Moses’(as) revelation, they would be liable to punishment from God Almighty.

The third reason for placing this verse at the beginning of every sūrah is that in the Bible it states: ‘But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.’[ix] This verse states that whoever falsely speaks in the name of God will be destroyed by God. According to this commandment, bismillāh is placed before every sūrah in order to manifest the truth of the Holy Qur’an to the Jews and Christians in particular and to the rest of the world in general. In light of this commandment, upon seeing the success and progress of the Holy Prophet(sa), every seeker of truth should realise that whatever the Holy Prophet(sa) said must have been from God Almighty. If this was not the case, then why was he not destroyed when he spoke in the name of God? In particular, bismillāh is a clear sign of truth for the Jews. By placing bismillāh before every sūrah, God has held the Jews accountable 114 times, at the same time providing 114 signs of truth in support of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa). Had this verse only appeared at the beginning of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa). Had this verse only appeared at the beginning of the Holy Qur’an, its impact would not have been as great.

The fourth reason that bismillāh is at the beginning of every sūrah is that the one who recites the Holy Qur’an can be in one of three conditions:

(1) Bereft and without any merit;

(2) In the condition of having aroused the wrath of God Almighty by committing sins while not possessing the natural capacity to attract the Grace of Almighty Allah to himself;

(3) One who makes sacrifices in the cause of the faith.

It is evident that the heart’s condition of each of these three types of people will be different. The first type of individual is perplexed, the second despondent and the third conceited. The first type of individual would be embroiled in perplexity wondering where they should even begin the search for truth; the second type of individual would be immersed in sorrow, wondering what right they have to demand anything from God; the third type would be under the delusion that they have achieved everything that was possible to achieve. If an individual’s heart is subject to any one of these three states, they are deprived of reaping the benefit. Thus, bismillāh has been put at the beginning of every sūrah, so that the one who is bereft should be shown that there is a God Who helps the bereft and bestows His Grace even to those who do not deserve it; the attention of the one who feels that they have lost any right to God’s Mercy on account of their disobedience, is drawn to the fact that they should not be despondent, as the God Who revealed this sūrah is also ever-ready to forgive sins; and, finally, the one who has become arrogant on account of their sacrifices should realise that the treasures of God’s Mercy are limitless and that they should never stop at one place, since infinite progress lies ahead. It is evident that once the heart has been reformed in this manner, then the meanings of the Holy Qur’an may be disclosed, without which this would not have been possible. Thus, by putting this Prophet Muhammadsa. Had this verse only appeared at the beginning of the Holy Qur’an, its impact would not have been as great.

The fifth reason for putting this verse at the beginning of every chapter is that it serves as a key to the understanding of each chapter: all matters relating to faith and spirituality revolve around the two attributes of ar-Raḥmān[the Most Gracious] and ar-Raḥīm[the Ever Merciful]. For a misunderstanding is sometimes removed through lengthy prose, and other times through brevity. For this reason, Allah the Almighty has put bismillāhat the beginning of every sūrah, so that any ambiguity that may arise concerning the meaning of a sūrahwill be cleared up through the use of bismillāh. That is, if the meanings one understands are in accordance with the attributes of ar-Raḥmānand ar-Raḥīm, then one should take them to be correct, and if they are contrary to these attributes, one should consider them to be incorrect. In this way, the sūrahelucidates bismillāh,and bismillāhelucidates the sūrah. With the help of both, the true meanings are imprinted on the mind of the reader



[1] Al-Durr Al-Manthūr Fīal-Tafsīr Bil-Ma’thūr, By Abū al-Faḍl ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Abī Bakr ibn Muḥammad Jalāl al-Dīn al-Khuḍayrī al-Suyūṭī, Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Fikr, Volume 1, p. 26 [Publishers]

[1]Musnad Aḥmad, Kitāb Bāqī Musnad al-Mukthirīn

[1]It is from Solomon, and it is: ‘In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.’ (Sūrah al-Naml, 27:31). [Publishers]

[1]‘Embark therein. In the name of Allah be its course and its mooring. My Lord is assuredly Most Forgiving, Merciful.’ (Sūrah al-Hūd, 11:42). [Publishers]

[1]Which none shall touch except those who are purified. (Sūrah al-Waqi‘ah, 56:80). [Publishers]

[1]Sūrah al-Baqarah, 2:27. [Publishers]

[1]Sūrah al-Naḥl, 16:99. [Publishers]

[1]Deuteronomy 18:19 [Author][1]Deuteronomy 18:20 [Author]

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