Here it is not said, ‘I praise Allah’ or ‘We praise Allah’; rather it is saidالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ(Alhamdulillah)[All praise belongs to Allah], to convey multiple meanings.
Firstly, by using the word al-Ḥamd in its infinitive form in Arabic[i], both the literal and broader meanings are conveyed [i.e. its active and passive forms]: In its literal sense, Alhamdulillahmeans that, all kinds of praise, which the creation can or does render, reaches God Almighty alone and that He is worthy of all types of praise. There is no excellence which He does not possess, and Allah is free from all defects.
In its broader sense, Alhamdulillah signifies that Allah the Almighty is the only Being Who can bestow true praise upon His creation, because He is the Knower of the unseen. Men praise others but often their praise is unfounded; at other times, they cannot adequately express the praise to which someone is entitled; and still at other times, they tend to attribute to them a quality which the other does not possess. Thus, true praise is that which is bestowed by God Almighty alone. Even when assessing one’s [own] self, a person can make mistakes, miscalculating his own strengths, to say nothing of [assessing] others. However, what God the Almighty says about His servants is neither deficient nor excessive.
If, instead of الْحَمْدُ[All praise], the phrases: أَحْمَدُ[I praise] orنَحْمَدُ[We praise] were used, then the above meanings could not have been conveyed.
Moreover, if praise were used as a verb here, i.e., if it were said ‘I praise Allah the Almighty’ then the doubt would have arisen that perhaps man has the ability to comprehend all the attributes of Allah the Almighty, which is not true. Man’s praise is limited, as he can only praise God according to the extent of his knowledge, whereas there are an infinite number of reasons why Allah the Almighty is worthy of praise. In short, not only are the meanings ofأَحْمَدُ[I praise] orنَحْمَدُ[We praise] found inالْحَمْدُ[All praise], but many others as well. Thus, it was necessary that the phraseالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ[All praise belongs to Allah] should have been included in this brief sūrah[chapter] which comprises all the meanings [of the Qur’an].
Undoubtedly, in the Holy Qur’an, ḥamd [praise] has also been used by man to praise God Almighty, as it is said:
[ii]وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ
‘And we glorify Thee with Thy praise and extol Thy holiness.’
However, nowhere [in the Holy Qur’an] are the wordsأَحْمَدُ[I praise] orنَحْمَدُ[We praise] [i.e. in its verb form] used by man to praise God, while the words نُسَبِّحُ[We glorify],نُقَدِّسُ [We express its Holiness] andیُسَبِّحُ[It glorifies] have been used [in their verb forms]. A subtle indication has been made here that fully comprehending true praise of God is beyond man’s capacity. Although these words [in their verb form] are used in the Hadith[for offering praise to God], it is evident that in the Word of God Almighty, the meanings of the words are different from those in the Hadithwhich is the word of man. When the servant uses a word, it is not taken to have the same depth of meaning as when it is used in the Word of God, especially the word comprising the sharia[divine law].
By using the wordsلِلَّهِlillāh[belongs to Allah], another misconception has been removed, namely: how can it be true that all praise is Allah’s when men can be praised as well? The answer is because the particleلlāmis used to express ownership. Thus, by usingل, it has been clarified that true praise belongs to Allah the Almighty alone, as others owe their praise to Him. For, whatever qualities a man has, he does not possess them in his own right; rather, they are bestowed on him by Allah the Almighty. Thus, whatever praise is given to man, only Allah the Almighty is truly worthy of it.
The Meanings of the Verse
I present below some meanings of this verse:
1. The Creator of this universe is free from all defects and He comprises all excellences.
2. He knows the essence and reality of all creation and, besides Him, there is none who comprehends the entire reality of anything. The evident proof of this claim has been furnished by the advances of science. A vast number of scientists are researching in various fields, yet none have, so far, fully comprehended the reality of even the most insignificant of things. Moreover, ever-new discoveries in all fields are continuously being made.
3. God Almighty can only be the possessor of perfect praise if, and only if, He isرَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ[the Lord of all the worlds]. If He is notرَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ, He cannot be the possessor of perfect praise. Hence, it is necessary that just as His material system serves all, His spiritual system should also encompass all. And no country and no people should be deprived of the necessities of spiritual progress. Hence, if any revelation is specific to any people, then for other people, a different revelation should be sent down. And when a separate revelation has not been sent down for other peoples, then whatever revelation has been sent down, it should serve as a guidance for the whole world; thus, those religions which hold the view that revelation has been sent down for the guidance of only their respective people, or that salvation is the exclusive right of their people or religion, are in error.
4. Whatever excellences a man has, they are all bestowed on him by God Almighty. Hence, whatever good he does, only Allah the Almighty is really worthy of being praised for it.
5. By mentioning ḥamd[praise] side by side with Allah as Lord of all the worlds, it has been pointed out that man should feel truly joyous only when Almighty Allah’s attribute of being the Lord of all the worlds is manifested. Anyone who is pleased with anything that benefits him or her alone, and does not take into account the loss of the entire world, does not understand the teachings of Islam. True joy lies in the comfort of the entire world.
6. By saying that Allah Almighty is the Lord of all the worlds, it is indicated that, apart from Allah, rubūbiyyah[the action of ‘Rabb’– to develop in stages] applies to everything. That is, everything is governed by the law of evolution. This signifies that there is nothing in the world which has the same state at the end as it had in the beginning. Rather, everything besides Allah is subject to change and progresses from a lower to higher stage. From this, two things stand proved. Firstly, apart from God Almighty, everything is created, because that which evolves and is subject to change cannot come into existence on its own. Secondly, the concept of evolution is correct. Everything, whether man or animal, plant or inanimate, progresses from the most inferior stage to the highest. For رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ[Lord of all the worlds] signifies that Almighty Allah carries them to perfection by progressing all things from their most inferior condition to their highest. Hence it stands proved that the concept of evolution encompasses everything in the universe.
7. From this we further come to know that evolution takes place during different periodsof time and in specific stages because rabbmeansإِنْشَاءُ الشَّيْءِ حَالًا فحَالًا إِلَى حَدِّ التَّمَامِ[iii], that is, to carry a thing to its perfection by developing it through various periods of time and through different stages, rather than simply completing it in one chain of evolution.
8. From this understanding of:
رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ[All praise belongs to Allah alone, Lord of all the worlds] it becomes apparent that evolution does not negate the being of Almighty Allah and does not undermine the concept of God Almighty. On the contrary, it proves He is Worthy of Praise. It is for this reason that the phraseالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ[All praise belongs to Allah] is used with the phraseرَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ[Lord of all the worlds].
9. This verse also indicates that man was created to make limitless progress, because it states that all praise belongs to Allah the Almighty for He carries every type and genus of creation from its most inferior state to its highest. And this fact cannot be true, unless one accepts that, above every stage and degree, there is a higher stage and degree.
10. We now come to the final point, which is that by beginning the firstsūrahof the Holy Qur’an, a sūrahthat also serves as a synopsis of the Qur’an, with the wordsالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ[All praise belongs to Allah alone, Lord of all the worlds], it has been indicated that the age of the perfect praise of Allah Almighty would now begin. The reason for this is that Islam is a perfect manifestation of the attribute ofرَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ, as it has been sent for the entire world. Furthermore, through Islam, unity was established in the spiritual realm just as it already existed in the physical realm. Before Islam, when independent prophets were sent to different nations, the followers of one prophet regarded the teachings of the other prophets as wrong and would reject them. The Hindus would say that they did not acknowledge Jehovah and believed only in Permeshwara. And the Jews would mock Permeshwara. However, with the advent of Islam, there emerged one religion for the entire world and Indians, Chinese, Egyptians, Iranians, Westerners and Easterners, all became unified in praising God and professed that there is no separate god for each nation. On the contrary, there is only one God for all nations.
[i]In the Arabic language, the infinitive form is a noun. [Publishers]
[ii]The Holy Qur’an, 2:31 [Author]
[iii]Al-Mufradāt fī Gharīb al-Qur’ān, By Abū al-Qāsim al-Ḥusayn ibn Muḥammad Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī, Makkah, Saudi Arabia: Maktabat Nizār Muṣṭafā al-Bāz, (n.d.), Volume 1, p. 245 [Publishers]