The Holy Qur'an

Origins of Sūrah al-Fātihah

Sūrah al-Fātihah is Makkan3 and, with the inclusion of bismillāh4, consists of seven verses (1)

(1) سورةsūrah: In the Arabic language, the word sūrah has the following meanings:

1. مَنْزِلَةٌ manzilah – rank or station.
2. شَرَفٌ sharaf – eminence or nobility.
3. عَلَامَةٌ ‘alāmah – a mark or sign.
4. A tall, beautiful wall or edifice.5
5. This word may also be derived from سؤرة su’rah. In other words, it contains the letter ء hamzah which changes to the letterو wāw due to it being preceded by a letter with a dammah6. The word سؤرة su’rah means a remainder of a thing. Arabs use the expression: هُوَ فِي أَسْأَرِ النَّاسِ. That is to say, he is from among the people who remained behind.
6. Something that is whole and complete. Arabs call a young healthy she-camel sūrah7.
The plural of سُورَة sūrah is سُوَر suwar, that is to say sūrahs.
As for why some portions of the Holy Qur’an are called sūrahs, a number of scholars have provided different explanations: some believe that it is because when one reads a sūrah of the Holy Qur’an their status is elevated. According to others, nobility is acquired by means of it. Some opine that a sūrah marks the end of a subject under discussion, whereas others are of the view that this word signifies a tall, beautiful and spiritual edifice. Furthermore, some believe that they [i.e. sūrahs] constitute a part of the entire Qur’an, and others suggest that sūrahs cover a whole and complete subject-matter.
Clearly, these differences stem solely from varying personal opinions; otherwise, all six meanings of the word sūrah mentioned above apply here. Therefore, we may assert that specific portions of the Holy Qur’an are called sūrahs for: (1) they are a part of the Holy Qur’an; (2) each and every one of them discusses an entire subject-matter; (3) they contain tall and beautiful spiritual buildings by entering which one attains (4) a high status and (5) nobility; (6) a unique distinction over other people is acquired by those who act according to them.   

The word sūrah which has been used in relation to specific portions of the Holy Qur’an is a name revealed by God and has also been mentioned by the Holy Prophetsa. The Holy Qur’an states:

َإِنْ كُنْتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِمَّا نَزَّلْنَا عَلَى عَبْدِنَا فَأْتُوا بِسُورَةٍ مِنْ مِثْلِهِ8

Therefore, the Holy Qur’an itself has used the word sūrah and hence it is a name revealed by God. Furthermore, the Holy Prophetsa has also used this word himself. In Sahīh Muslim, Anasra narrates that the Holy Prophetsa said,

أُنْزِلَتْ عَلَىَّ آنِفًا سُورَةٌ. فَقَرَأَ {بسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ * إِنَّا أَعْطَيْنَاكَ الْكَوْثَرَ}

‘A sūrah has just been revealed to me.’ The Prophetsa then recited: ‘In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful. Surely We have given thee abundance of good910

It is evident from this narration that the portions of the Holy Qur’an Muslims today call sūrahs were also called sūrahs by the Holy Prophetsa, i.e., it was not a term that was assigned afterwards.


The Holy Qur’an begins with a brief sūrah named Fātihatul-Kitāb [the Opening Chapter of the Book], the name of which was shortened to Sūratul-Fātihah. Urdu speakers subsequently rendered it Sūrah-e-Fātihah according to the dictates of Persian idiom. This name has also been narrated by the Holy Prophetsa in Tirmidhi:

عَنْ عُبَادَةَ بْنِ الصَّامِتِ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏‏لاَ صَلاَةَ لِمَنْ لَمْ يَقْرَأْ بِفَاتِحَةِ الْكِتَابِ‏11

This means that salāh [formal Muslim prayer] is void until Fātihatul-Kitāb i.e., Sūrah al-Fātihah is recited. This narration by ‘Ubādah bin as-Sāmit is also found in exactly the same words in Muslim, Kitābul-Salāh, Bābu Wujūbi Qirā’atil-Fātihah.

This sūrah has several names, the most common of which, as confirmed by the Holy Qur’an and the words of the Holy Prophetsa, are given below:

(1) Sūratus-Salāh [The Chapter of Prayer]

Abū Hurairahra reports that the Holy Prophetsa said that Allah the Almighty states:

قَسَمْتُ الصَّلاَةَ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَ عَبْدِي نِصْفَيْنِ12

Ibn Jarīr has also cited this same narration on the authority of Jābir bin ‘Abdullāhra13: ‘I have divided the prayer (i.e. Sūrah al-Fātihah) in two halves between Me and My servant.’ That is to say, in the first half [of this Chapter], divine attributes are mentioned, while the second half consists of prayers for the servant [i.e. the one who supplicates].

(2) Sūratul-Hamd [The Chapter of Praise]

In Abū Dawūd, it is narrated by Ḥaḍrat Abū Hurairahra that the Holy Prophetsa stated:

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ أُمُّ الْقُرْآنِ وَأُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَالسَّبْعُ الْمَثَانِي14

That is to say, the other names of Sūrah al-Fātihah are Ummul-Qur’ān [the Mother of the Qur’an], Ummul-Kitāb [the Mother of the Book] and As-Sab‘ul-Mathānī [The Seven Oft-Repeated Verses].

(3) Ummul-Qur’ān [The Mother of the Qur’an]
(4) Al-Qur’ānul‘Ażīm [The Great Qur’an]
(5) As-Sab‘ulMathānī [The Seven Oft-Repeated Verses]

This sūrah is also referred to by the above three names. There is a narration from Abū Hurairahra in Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, where the Holy Prophetsa said:

هِيَ أُمُّ الْقُرْآنِ وَهِيَ السَّبْعُ الْمَثَانِي وَهِيَ الْقُرْآنُ الْعَظِيمُ15

‘Sūrah al-Fātihah is also the Mother of the Qur’an, the Seven Oft-Repeated Verses and is also the Great Qur’an.’

The expression ‘The Seven Oft-Repeated Verses’has also been used in the Holy Qur’an. Allah states:

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَاكَ سَبْعًا مِنَ الْمَثَانِي16 

Thus, this epithet has been used by the Holy Qur’an itself.

(6) Ummul-Kitāb [The Mother of the Book]

This name has also been recorded in Abū Dawūd with reference to a narration of Abū Hurairahra, mentioned above in point number (2).

(7) Ash-Shifā’ [The Cure]

This name is cited on the authority of Hadrat Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrīra who narrated that the Holy Prophetsa said:

فَاتِحَةُ الْكِتَابِ شِفَاءٌ مِنْ كُلِّ دَاء17

Sūrah al-Fātihah is a cure for every disease.’

The same narration is also found in Baihaqī Fī Shu‘abil-Īmān but, instead of the words مِنْ كُلِّ دَاءٍ [for every disease], the words مِنْ كُلِّ سَمٍّ [for every poison] have been used; i.e., it is a cure for all poisons.

(8) Al-Ruqyah [The Charm]81

This name has also been cited by Hadrat Abū Sa’īd al-Khudrīra in Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal and Sahih Bukhari:91

‘Somebody mentioned to the Holy Prophetsa that a man was bitten by a snake and he recited Sūrah al-Fātihah as an incantation and the man was subsequently cured.’ Upon this, the Holy Prophetsa asked, مَا يُدْرِيكَ أَنَّهَا رُقْيَةٌ [How did you come to know that this sūrah could be used as a charm?]. The companion replied, ‘O Messenger of Allah, this thought just arose in my heart.’
(9) Sūrah alKanz [The Chapter of Treasure]

Baihaqī20 narrates on the authority of Ḥaḍrat Anasra that the Holy Prophetsa said:

إِنَّ اللهَ أَعْطَانِي فِيْمَا مَنَّ بِهِ عَلَيَّ فَاتِحَةَ الْكِتَابِ وَقَالَ هِيَ كَنْزٌ مِنْ كُنُوزِ عَرْشِي

‘Among the blessings bestowed unto me through the favours of Allah is Fātihatul-Kitāb. Allah informed me that this is a treasure from among the treasures of My throne.’21

Earlier, I mentioned al-Fātihah as one of the names of this sūrah. Hence, these nine names have been established from the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith. Besides these names for this sūrah, the companions of the Holy Prophetsa have also narrated others.

Imam as-Suyutīrh has recorded 25 names of Sūrah al-Fātihah. ‘Allāmah al-Qurtubī has recorded twelve names. However, since I was unable to find proof from the Qur’an and Hadith regarding these other names, I have not cited them here.

1. I seek refuge with Allah from Satan, the accursed. In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, Ever Merciful.  We praise Him and invoke blessings upon His noble Messenger. [Publishers]

2. By the Grace and Mercy of God; He is the Helper. [Publishers]

3. Makkan sūrahs refer to those sūrahs that were revealed prior to the Hijrah, the migration of the Holy Prophetsa and his companionsra from Makkah to Madinah. [Publishers]

4. The verse بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ is often abbreviated as بَسْمَلَة basmalah or referred to by its incipit بِسْمِ الله bismillāh. The latter will be used throughout. [Publishers]

5. Aqrab-ul-mawārid fi Fusah al-’Arabiyyah wa-al-Shawarid, By Saʻīd al-Khūrī Shartūnī, Qum, Iran: Manshūrāt Maktabat Āyat Allah al-Użmā al-Marāshī al-Najafī, 1403 AH (1982 or 1983) p. 556.

6. The dammah (ـُ) is a hook-like diacritical mark placed above a letter to represent the short vowel /u/ (like the “u” in “put”).

7. Al-Jāmi‘ li Ahkāmil-Qur’ān lil-Qurtubī, By Shams-ud-Dīn al-Qurtubī, Cairo, Egypt: Dār-ul-Kutub-ul-Masriyyah, 1384 AH (1964), Volume 1, p. 66.
8. If you are in doubt as to what We have sent down to Our servant, then produce a Chapter like it (Sūrah  Baqarah, 2:24). [Publishers

9. Sūrah al-Kauthar, 108:1-2.

10. Sahīhu Muslim, Kitābus-Salāh, Bābu Ḥujjati Man Qālal-Basmalatu Āyatun Min Awwali Kulli Sūratin Siwā Barā’ah.

11. ‘Ubādah bin as-Sāmit narrated that the Holy Prophetsa said: “There is no prayer for one who does not recite Sūrah al-Fātihah”. Tirmidhi, As-Salātu Mā Jā’a Annahu Lā Salāta Illā Bi Fātihatil-Kitāb. [Publishers]

12. Muslim, Bābu Wujūbi Qirā’atil-Fātihati fī kulli rak‘atin. [Publishers]

13. Jāmiʿ al-bayān ʿan taʾwīl āy al-Qurʾān (Tafsīr al-abarī), By Abū Ja‘far Muhammad bin Jarīr At-Tabarī, Beirut, Lebanon: Mu’assisatur-Risālah, First Edition (2000), Volume 1, p. 201. [Publishers]

14. Abū Dawūd, Kitābus-Salāh, Bābu Fātihatil-Kitāb.

15. Musnad Ahmad, Kitāb Bāqī Musnad al-Mukthirīn.

16. And We have, indeed, given thee the seven oft-repeated verses (Sūrah al-Hijr, 15:88). [Publishers]

17. Sunan al-Dārimī, Kitāb Fadā’il al-Qur’ān.

18. Al-Ruqyah means to blow one’s breath on a sick person after praying for him or her. [Publishers]

19. Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitāb Fadā’il al-Qur’ān, Bābu Fātihatil-Kitāb and Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Kitāb Bāqī Musnad al-Mukthirīn.

20. Imam Al-Baihaqi was an Islamic scholar of jurisprudence and Hadith during the 10th century. [Publishers].
21.Fathul-Bayān fī Maqāsid al-Qur’ān, By al-Qinnawjī Al-Bukharī, Beirut, Lebanon: Dār-ul-Kutub-ul-‘Ilmiyyah, 1999,  Volume 1, p. 27.

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