صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ
The path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings, those who have not thereafterincurred Thy displeasure, and those who have not gone astray.
In teaching this prayer to be shown the right path, this clause has also been included that this straight path is of those on whom ‘You have bestowed Your favours’, that is, it should not be an ordinary path. Rather, it should be the path of the most spiritual and exalted souls.
What a grand goal Islam has set for every Muslim in the very first chapter of the Holy Qur’an. In respect of virtue and good action, one should not only desire to do good; rather, they should desire to be counted among the community blessed with divine favours. The one who loves Almighty Allah cannot remain satisfied with a lower spiritual rank. Love for Almighty Allah expands the heart of man [so much] that he does not remain content with minor progress. He most surely cannot be content! For having pursued God Almighty what else could satisfy him? The one who seeks God Almighty, seeks all degrees of progress. And the one who has recognised God Almighty cannot deem any stage of progress to be the final stage. However, for a believer, there is an even greater source of joy than that this desire [to do good] has arisen in his heart, and that is that his Lord also gives him this very teaching: ‘Take heed, do not be content with a lower rank. Beseech good, but not that which is ordinary. Rather, ask for that goodness which was attained by those who, in the era in which virtue prevailed, were blessed with divine favours. And seek from Me, not just the favour that were bestowed on those of one particular time, but the favours of all those of the past who were blessed with divine favours.’
As I have already stated above, according to the lexicons, there is no special meaning for إِنْعَام (in‘ām, meaning favour or reward). Rather, every good thing, be it secular or religious, that is given to anyone as an acknowledgement that one is pleased with them is an in‘ām. The Holy Qur’an also uses the word in this broad sense. In Sūrah Banī Isra’īl, Allah Almighty states:
وَإِذَا أَنْعَمْنَا عَلَى الإِنْسَانِ أَعْرَضَ وَنَأَى بِجَانِبِهِ
That is, ‘When we bestow any favour on man, he turns away and goes aside’  – in other words, ‘instead of being grateful for these favours, he becomes heedless of Us.’ It is evident from this verse that in‘ām also signifies worldly provisions such as knowledge, skill, prestige, etc., for these are the very types of things that are favours/rewards and which people, after having received them, then forget God instead of turning to/paying attention to Him.
Protection against troubles and difficulties is also called نِعْمَة [ni’mah, or favour] in the Holy Qur’an. Allah says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ هَمَّ قَوْمٌ أَنْ يَبْسُطُوا إِلَيْكُمْ أَيْدِيَهُمْ فَكَفَّ أَيْدِيَهُمْ عَنْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللهَ وَعَلَى اللهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ
‘O ye who believe! Remember Allah’s favour upon you when a people (maliciously) intended to stretch out their hands against you, but He withheld their hands from you; and fear Allah. And on Allah should the believers rely. 
In this verse, protection against the attacks of the enemy is also termed a favour.
However, whereas every beneficence is a favour, it cannot be denied that there are some types of benefits which are especially deserving to be called as favours [or in’am] because they stand at the peak of all the different types of blessings. Thus, God Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an:
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسٰى لِقَوْمِهِ يَا قَوْمِ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ جَعَلَ فِيكُمْ أَنْبِيَاءَ وَجَعَلَكُمْ مُلُوكًا وَآتَاكُمْ مَا لَمْ يُؤْتِ أَحَدًا مِن الْعَالَمِينَ
That is to say, ‘and remember the time when Moses said to his people, ‘O my people, always call to mind when Allah bestowed his ni’mah upon you. And this ni’mah is that he raised prophets from among you and made you kings and gave you that which He did not give to any other nation among mankind.” 
In this verse, those things which can be designated as favours to man have been enumerated, and the Jews have been told here that they have been granted a large portion of these types of favours.
There are three types of excellences of man: (1) worldly and personal (2) spiritual and personal. (3) worldly or spiritual in relation to others. That is, aside from worldly and religious excellences, there is also another type of excellence which is to the [relative] superiority of an individual or a people has over their rivals. People are naturally desirous of this type of excellence. In other words, they seek not just to acquire excellence, but the kind of excellence that would give them superiority/an advantage over their contemporaries and rivals. In the aforementioned verse, Prophet Moses (as) has attributed all these three types of excellences to the Israelites:
(1) Worldly favours were bestowed upon them, so much so that they inherited kingship for a long period of time.
All worldly excellences need kingship for their development. The people who hold kingship possess all the means of worldly progress, whether they benefit from them or not. For this reason, establishing kingship among a people for an extended period of time signifies that all the ways of making worldly progress have been opened to them.
(2) As kingship is the means to worldly success and its culmination, so too is prophethood the means of religious success and the culmination of religious progress. Regarding this point, Prophet Moses (as) says to his people that both the means and ultimate favour [of prophethood] have been granted to them – and not just one or two prophets, but rather a long line of prophets has been bestowed upon them.
(3) The third type of favour is progress relative to others. That is, not only is one bestowed worldly and religious favours, but is given them in more abundance in comparison with other nations, which grants them prestige and superiority over their contemporaries.
In the verse:
وَآتَاكُمْ مَا لَمْ يُؤْتِ أَحَدًا مِن الْعَالَمِينَ
Prophet Moses (as) draws the attention of his people towards the fact that Almighty Allah also bestowed on them the favour of superiority over other peoples.  He bestowed on them not only kingship but also sovereignty . He did not just give them prophethood; He also raised among them such prophets as were the [bearers of the] torch of guidance for other prophets, and to whom other prophets were subservient. Thus, they enjoyed all three types of [divine] favours – secular, religious, and secular and religious superiority over other nations. These words, which were uttered by Prophet Moses (as) are from the Holy Qur’an. A discerning reader cannot remain unimpressed by looking at the brevity of its words and the comprehensiveness of its meanings.
The phrase صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ [the path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings], having been added to the words اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ [Guide us in the right path], has greatly expanded the meaning of these words. These words show that a Muslim’s purpose is not simply to pray to be shown the straight path for his chosen goals; rather, [these words] set down the principle that he should pray for the highest objectives and request not only that he be shown the right path and be one of the favoured ones, but also to be shown those methods, those teachings and those paths of spiritual knowledge which had previously been bestowed upon the favoured ones of God. By raising such high aspirations among the followers of Prophet Muhammad (sa), God has indeed conferred a great favour upon Muslims.
In the presence of these clear and plain teachings, there remains no need for any further proof that all avenues are open for the personal progress of the Muslims. However, since they have generally given way to despair, it is necessary to turn to the Holy Qur’an to see what it means by the prayer of seeking guidance, and whether the Qur’an has promised the acceptance of this prayer, or not. In Sūrah an-Nisā’, Allah Almighty says:
وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ فَعَلُوا مَا يُوعَظُونَ بِهِ لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُمْ وَأَشَدَّ تَثْبِيتًا * وَإِذًا لَآتَيْنَاهُمْ مِنْ لَدُنَّا أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا * وَلَهَدَيْنَاهُمْ صِرَاطًا مُسْتَقِيمًا * وَمَنْ يُطِعِ اللهَ وَالرَّسُولَ فَأُوْلَئِكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللهُ عَلَيْهِمْ مِنَ النَّبِيِّينَ وَالصِّدِّيقِينَ وَالشُّهَدَاءِ وَالصَّالِحِينَ وَحَسُنَ أُوْلَئِكَ رَفِيقًا
That is, if the weak Muslims should, instead of disobeying, set an example of true obedience and do what is required of them, then the result would be extremely favourable for them; subsequently, their faith would be strengthened, they would earn a great reward from the Heavenly Court and Allah the Almighty would show them to the right path. They should remember that those who obey Allah Almighty and this Messenger, i.e., Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, are the ones whom Almighty Allah counts among His favoured ones that is among the Prophets, the Truthful, the Martyrs and the Righteous. And these people are excellent companions. 
This verse mentions the favours which are ordained for the Muslims. And herein, those very words are used which are found in Sūrah al-Fatiḥah i.e. showing the right path and the right path of the favoured ones. And the favoured ones are explained in terms of the Prophets, the Truthful, the Martyrs and the Righteous. It is evident from this that the lofty divine favours that Sūrah al-Fatiḥah has enjoined upon the followers of Prophet Muhammad (sa) to pray for refers to the most sublime spiritual ranks. And Almighty Allah states all of these will be bestowed on the Muslims.
Some people raise the objection here that the verse found in Sūrah an-Nisā’ is:
مَعَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللهُ عَلَيْهِمْ
that is, ‘they would be with those who are the favoured ones’ rather than from among them. Yet, the weakness of this objection is self-evident. For, if the word مَعَ had been used only in relation to the prophets, then it could be said that no prophets would be raised from among the followers of Prophet Muhammad (sa) but, instead, that they would be people who would enjoy the company of the prophets. However, the Holy Qur’an has used the word مَعَ [with] together with أَنْعَمَ اللهُ عَلَيْهِمْ [who are the favoured ones].
If, when used in relation to a status, the word مَعَ is taken to mean that this status would not be bestowed on the Muslims and that instead they would only be granted the company of those favoured ones [i.e. the Prophets, the Truthful, the Martyrs, and the Righteous], and not be among them, then this verse would mean that none among the Muslims would be of the favoured ones. Instead, it would mean that only a few people would enjoy the companionship of the favoured ones. However, the Holy Qur’an, Hadith and sound reason all reject this interpretation.
Even if it is said that the object of the preposition مَعَ is actually the description of أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ that is elaborated upon in this verse, then this objection is still obviously false. Because, in this description, four groups – the Prophets, the Truthful, the Martyrs and the Righteous – are mentioned, and if مَعَ means only ‘to be in the company of’, rather than being ‘a member of the group’, then according to this interpretation, the verse would mean that Muslims would not themselves be prophets but would only be in their company; they themselves would not be of the truthful but would only keep their company; they would not be among the martyrs and the righteous themselves but be in their company. This interpretation cannot be further from the truth. What greater slander against the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and his followers can there be than the belief that, setting aside the rank of prophethood, no Muslim could ever be among the Truthful, the Martyrs and the Righteous?
Some people object that as prophethood is a مَوْهِبَة mawhibah i.e., something bestowed by Allah, involving no effort on the part of the recipient, so why should one pray for it? The reply to this is that man does not pray for prophethood to be bestowed on him. The followers of Muhammad (sa) pray that God Almighty bestow on them the highest of spiritual favours, and this is the true meaning of this verse. After that, it is up to Allah Almighty to bestow whatever favour upon whomsoever He desires;
اللهُ أَعْلَمُ حَيْثُ يَجْعَلُ رِسَالَتَه
[Allah knows best where to place His Message] 
Undoubtedly, prophethood is a mawhibah. Why was it then bestowed upon Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, and not upon Abū Jahl?  Because even to be the recipient of mawhibah one needs to be selfless and ready to offer sacrifices. Secondly, who claims that a believer has been taught to pray to Allah to attain prophethood? Such prayers are sometimes undesirable and unbecoming even in worldly affairs, let alone religious ones. If a carpenter prayed to Allah that He should make him the principal of a college or if one who is physically disabled prays to Allah that He should make him commander-in-chief of an army, then such prayers would be vain and futile. The acceptance of prayers depends on circumstances and divine wisdom. Thus, it is not befitting for a believer to pray for spiritual ranks by specifically naming them. Even if one prays that Allah make him a ṣiddīq [truthful], a quṭb [saint] or a shahīd [martyr], it would be undesirable, let alone that he should pray to be made a Prophet. For this very reason, Allah Almighty has taught us this prayer using the words اهْدِنَا [guide us], instead of اهْدِنِي [guide me]; for the plural expression indicates collective progress. So from a certain community, Allah Almighty chooses whomsoever He desires for whatever rank of nearness to Himself He wishes to bestow on them. Again, it should also be borne in mind that this prayer is for being granted divine favour. Thus, since prophethood is also a [divine] favour, if this prayer is taken to mean that prophethood should be bestowed on a nation, what is the objection? In short in this prayer, one is taught to pray for all types of favours and to be rightly guided in all matters. The Holy Qur’an says that all these favours will be bestowed on the Muslims and it has itself mentioned prophethood among them. Hence, no one has the right to exclude it from these favours.
Here, the objection could be raised as to how another prophet could appear after the Holy Prophet (sa) given that he is the Seal of the Prophets [Khātam-un-Nabiyyīn]? The reply to this objection too is also found in verse [seventy] of Sūrah al-Nisā’. For the wording of this verse is وَمَن يُطِعِ اُللهَ وَالرَّسُولَ [‘And whoso obeys Allah and this Messenger’], meaning the spiritual ranks mentioned in this verse [i.e. the Prophets, the Truthful, the Martyrs and the Righteous] would be bestowed on those who obey Allah and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa). It is evident that the mission of the one who truly obeys the Holy Prophet (sa) cannot differ from that of the Prophet (sa), nor can he bring any new shariah. Thus, the prophet who is subservient to the Prophet Muhammad (sa) does not contravene the latter’s status of being the Seal of the Prophets. Rather, he fulfils the true meaning and significance of Khātam-un-Nabiyyīn.
One contemporary commentator of the Holy Qur’an, who is in the habit of repeatedly referring to his own translation of the Qur’an, has written in his commentary that had this prayer been for the purpose of being granted prophethood, then at least it should have been taught to the Holy Prophet (sa) before he was raised as a prophet. However, since it was recorded in the Holy Qur’an this shows that it was taught to the Holy Prophet (sa) after he was granted prophethood. Thus, his being taught this prayer after he was raised as a prophet shows that this prayer was not meant for one’s being granted prophethood. This objection is utterly absurd and shows the author’s lack of deliberation. The prayer that has been taught in the verse اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ [‘Guide us on the right path’] is in accordance with human nature. Praying in these words is blessed only because the Qur’anic words themselves are blessed and free from error. Otherwise, all seekers after truth – whether they believe in a religion or not – when their hearts desire to discover the truth, pray to Almighty Allah, using similar words, saying, ‘O Allah! Show us the right path, the path trodden by your beloved ones.’ Can any reasonable person accept that, before he was raised as a prophet, the Holy Prophet (sa) did not desire for God Almighty to guide him to the right path and to be led to the path of His loved ones? Even to entertain such a thought can make one a disbeliever. It was this very longing within the heart of the Holy Prophet (sa) which drew the grace of God Almighty to him. This very yearning has been captured in the words اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ [‘Guide us on the right path’]. The Qur’anic wording differs only to the extent that, firstly, the words that have been chosen are perfect and free from all flaws; secondly, through the means of these words, it has been intended that this deep yearning be aroused in the heart of those supplicants who otherwise would not have developed this desire; thirdly, a sense of hope is given that if one prays in such a way, it will be answered. In fact, one is commanded to offer this prayer. Otherwise, to entertain the thought that the heart of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, was devoid of such sentiments is tantamount to grossly dishonouring him, and in fact, it is blasphemy against Almighty Allah, because it amounts to the claim that the passionate desire to be guided in the right path was not found in the heart of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, and yet Allah Almighty had forced prophethood on him (sa). We seek Allah’s refuge from such tales.
Again, if this objection is reasonable, then, can one even say whether the Holy Prophet (sa) was virtuous or not before the Holy Qur’an was revealed? Was he immersed in the love of God Almighty or not? And, prior to the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, had he, or had he not, enjoyed nearness to God Almighty? If the answer to these queries is in the affirmative, then anyone can ask, in that case, why do we need to offer the prayers that have been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an? Why do we need to observe the fasts mentioned in the Holy Qur’an? Moreover, why do we need to perform jihad and follow the other commandments of the shariah prescribed therein? If the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) attained righteousness and divine love without acting on these commandments, then we can also do it without following them. Setting aside matters of faith, even in worldly matters, one can ask as to how the first chicken or the first egg were created? How was the first seed and the first tree created? ? If they say that these things will emerge the same way they did in the beginning and that there is no need to work within the laws of nature to cultivate them, people would think them ignorant. God Almighty has one law at the time when the seed is lost, and another law for when the seed has been created. Prior to the revelation of the Holy Qur’an to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), pure and divine teachings had vanished from the world. Then the feeling of love had surged in the pure nature of the Holy Prophet (sa) and Allah Almighty accepted them and blessed them, even though they were not expressed in specific words or a particular manner. However, with the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, each matter had its own rules. Without following them, those favours cannot be enjoyed now which could have been attained earlier. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) laid the foundation of the faith and the shariah, so now a person who does not follow that law and shariah can never succeed.
We can also look at this question from another angle: Is prophethood only a title or position, or are righteousness, piety and nearness to God required to be a prophet? If they are, then the question is: can a non-prophet surpass a prophet in respect of righteousness, piety and nearness to God? If the said commentator, and anyone who concurs with him in this view, replies to this that, yes, a non-prophet may be greater than a prophet in these respects, then it is only dispute over semantics. However, if the answer to this question is that a non-prophet cannot be greater than a prophet in these respects, such a person effectively claims that no one from among this ummah can attain nearness to Allah to the degree that the people in the past did, even if they are a zillī , burūzī  or a prophet subservient to the Prophet Muhammad (sa). Anyone who asserts this undoubtedly declares the followers of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) deprived of this favour.
Another objection that this very commentator has raised is: why is it that not a single Muslim’s prayer in this regard has been answered during the last 1,300 years? The reply to this is that the acceptance of a prayer depends on the quantity and the nature of the prayer. This critic admits that the rank of ṣiddīqiyyah [the Truthful] can be attained by this ummah. Hence, the same objection can be raised against what he believes: how many people among this ummah have been raised to the rank of ṣiddīqiyyah [the Truthful]? If during the past 1,300 years this status has been bestowed on Abū Bakr (ra) alone, then this same objection could be levied as to why, during the past 1,300 years, this prayer has not been accepted from anyone else? And if this rank has been bestowed on others also, then the question would be, were these people superior or inferior in rank to Umar (ra), Uthman (ra) and Ali (ra)? If they were inferior, then how could people of inferior rank be raised to the status of ṣiddīq [truthful] while those who were superior in status, were raised only to the rank of shahīd [martyr] and could not attain the status of ṣiddīq [truthful].
In short, the objection that is made against the continuity of prophethood can also be levied against the continuity of ṣiddīqiyyah [the station of the truthful]. Hence, this objection arises because of a lack of deliberation and is not based on truth.
I deem it necessary to mention another point pertaining to this verse. Two of the names which the Holy Prophet (sa) has called Sūrah al-Fātiḥah by are ‘Ummul-Qur’ān’ [Mother of the Qur’an] and ‘Ummul-Kitāb’ [Mother of the Book] . In my view, these names are derived from the Holy Qur’an itself, and their source is this very verse. In this and the previous verse, it has been stated that the last stage of divine worship is that man should supplicate to Almighty Allah that he be guided to the straight path of those on whom God has bestowed His favours. Now, if this prayer can be accepted, then it is evident that when people collectively offer prayers pleading wholeheartedly to the Almighty that ‘we are on the verge of ruin, so guide us on the right path’, and in addition this is accompanied by the the prayers and deep longing of that perfect and pure heart, whom Allah has appointed as the champion of the time, that God’s mercy would be stirred as a result, and divine grace would descend in the form of revelation and guidance. This has been the case in every era, and will continue to happen in the future.
The prayers of the oppressed people at the time of Prophet Noah (as), accompanied by his heart wrenching prayers and in fervour of his pure heart, brought down the divine revelation that had been disclosed to Prophet Noah (as). The pleading souls at the time of Prophet Abraham (as), combined with the yearning of his pure heart, were the cause of the revelation of those scriptures revealed to Abraham (as). This also happened at the time of Prophet Moses (as) and Prophet Jesus (as) and also during the time of the Holy Prophet (sa).
It is established by the authentic ahadith [oral traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa)] that, before the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, the Holy Prophet (sa) used to seclude himself from the world and would pray and worship in the cave of Hira. This was the state of the purest heart who [truly] knew his deepest thoughts. Along with this, the innermost yearnings of the people of that era were also being raised to the heavens. All these were combined to attract the grace of God Almighty and, thus, the Holy Qur’an was revealed. Hence,
اهْدِنَا الصِّرَٰاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
[Guide us to the straight path, the path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy favours],
in fact, depicts the condition that prevails in the world prior to the advent of divine revelation, particularly the condition of the pure souls of that time, and not only do their hearts have a deep longing but also their minds are in constant and frantic search for it. The divine words of that time are revealed as a result of this. Hence, since this prayer has been revealed in Sūrah al-Fātiḥah, and since this very prayer had been the cause of the revelation of the Divine Word, the Holy Prophet (sa) had named it ‘Mother of the Qur’an’ and ‘Mother of the Book’. That is to say that Sūrah al-Fātiḥah contains that subject-matter which relates to the cause for the revelation of the Qur’an. Just as the one that is responsible for the birth of something hold the status of a mother, so too has Sūrah al-Fātiḥah been called Ummul-Qur’an [Mother of the Qur’an].
It is also worthy of note that the Holy Prophet (sa) described Sūrah al-Fātiḥah as the ‘Great Qur’an’ [Al-Qur’ān-ul-Aẓīm]. This does not imply that Sūrah al-Fātiḥah alone is great, whilst the rest of the Qur’an is any less significant. This is clearly incorrect. In my opinion there is another reason for this and that is due to the other two names of this chapter i.e. the ‘Mother of the Qur’an’ and the ‘Mother of the Book’. When the Holy Prophet (sa) described Sūrah al-Fātiḥah as the ‘Mother of the Qur’an’ and the ‘Mother of the Book’, he thought that this may perhaps give rise to the misconception that this chapter may be considered separate from the Holy Qur’an. Therefore, he also named this chapter the ‘Great Qur’an’ so that it may remain unequivocal to the Muslims that this chapter is not separate from the Holy Qur’an, but rather forms a part of it. Since A part of something shares the name of its entirety, and so therefore the Holy Prophet (sa) named Sūrah al-Fātiḥah the ‘Great Qur’an’. For instance, whenever we wish to listen to any portion of the Holy Qur’an, we say, ‘Hafiz Sahib , please recite the Holy Qur’an,’ or we may say, ‘so-and-so is reciting the Holy Qur’an,’ or concerning the subject-matter of a particular verse, we say ‘the Qur’an states the following…’ This does not mean that we believe that only that particular chapter or verse constitutes the entire Qur’an and the rest does not. Rather, we mean that whichever chapter or verse is recited, or quoted, is part of the Holy Qur’an.
Here, another subtle point worth bearing in mind is that the Holy Prophet (sa) referred to Sūrah al-Fātiḥah as the ‘Mother of the Qur’an’, the ‘Mother of the Book’ and the ‘Great Qur’an’. It is, as if, on the one hand this chapter has been declared as one that gave birth (i.e. the Mother of the Qur’an) and at the same time, it has also been declared as the one given birth to (i.e. the Great Qur’an).This gives rise to a wonderful spiritual truth. In the spiritual realm, the initial [spiritual] state begets a subsequent state. For this reason, from one perspective, the initial state is referred to as ‘the mother,’ and the subsequent state as ‘the offspring’. In relation to this, Sūrah al-Fātiḥah is referred to as the ‘Mother of the Book’, and as this chapter is part of the Qur’an itself, it has also been referred to as the Qur’an. These types of metaphorical terms are also used with reference to the changes that occur among mankind. Thus, in Sūrah al-Taḥrīm, Allah Almighty states that the similitude of the believers is like that of ‘the wife of Pharaoh’ and ‘Mary, the daughter of Imran.’ Regarding those believers who have been compared to Mary (as), the daughter of Imran, Allah Almighty states towards the end of the verse:
فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَٰاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ الْقَٰنِتِينَ
So We breathed therein of Our Words – and she believed in the words of her Lord and His Books and she eventually became like an obedient man  i.e. when those who possess the attributes of Mary (as) continue to make progress, they become the recipients of divine discourse and become messianic in spirit.
In short, Sūrah al-Fātiḥah being named as the ‘Mother of the Qur’an’, the ‘Mother of the Book’ and the ‘Great Qur’an’ sheds a fine light on Islamic terminologies, and is a guide for those unable to understand how someone from among the followers of Muhammad (sa) has been named both Mary (as) and Jesus (as). Since the Holy Prophet (sa) refers to Sūrah al-Fātiḥah as both the ‘Mother of the Holy Qur’an’ and ‘the Qur’an’, it should not be difficult for a true Muslim to understand why Allah Almighty has referred to an individual as ‘Mary’ and ‘Jesus’. Such a person’s soul cried before God for the advent of the Messiah in this age and therefore was referred to as the state of Mary (as). Thus, such a person has been called Mary (as) in the same way that Sūrah al-Fātiḥah – which was yearning for a book of guidance – is called the’ Mother of the Qur’an’ and the ‘Mother of the Book’ because it contains the supplication
اهْدِنَا الصِّرَٰاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
[Guide us to the straight path]
Therefore, when the prayer of that perfect man was heard and Allah Almighty, granting him a messianic spirit, commissioned him to the world, he was called Jesus (as). As the supplication اهْدِنَا الصِّرَٰاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ [guide us to the straight path] was cried aloud, it drew the Holy Qur’an towards the world, and this prayer became a part of it. Thus, this chapter has been named the ‘Great Quran’ despite being declared the ‘Mother of the Qur’an’ and the ‘Mother of the Book’.
There is another point with regards to this prayer that is worth remembering which the companions also kept in mind, setting such an excellent example to the world that the like of it cannot be found in any other nation. And if the Muslims who came afterwards had also remembered this point, they too would have certainly demonstrated such an excellent example that their names would have forever been etched in the annals of history. Alas, the Muslims forgot this golden guidance, which was laid down in this verse, and they fell short of reaching the standard which Allah wished for them to achieve. Even today, if the Muslims set this guidance as their objective, all their problems could immediately be resolved, and they could attain unparalleled honour and prestige.
The lesson one draws from this verse is that every nation has a goal towards which it strives and makes efforts to achieve. Similarly, there is also a purpose for the creation of the world. Only that nation which achieves this goal deserves to be regarded as having fulfilled the true purporse of the world’s creation. Adam (as) came to the world to teach it some virtues. For the people of his time this comprised of the loftiest teachings. By acting on these virtues, the people of that time brought about a tremendous spiritual and moral revolution, and their intellectual faculties greatly surpassed previous generations. Yet even then, man had not reached that perfection for which he was created. Therefore, there remained a continuous quest for progress to the point that Noah (as) was born, who enabled man to advance a stage further by achieving new heights of progress. And while through Noah (as) man progressed spiritually, morally and intellectually, he still had not attained the purpose for which he had been created. Therefore, after Noah (as) came another prophet, and then another, and then yet another, and this continued until the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) appeared, who revealed all the hidden secrets which hitherto had remained concealed from man. He explained all the important matters that were necessary for making religious, intellectual and moral progress, and brought religion to its intellectual pinnacle. It was then that Allah Almighty proclaimed:
الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي
However, the purpose of its revelation would not have been fulfilled and the advent of the Holy Prophet (sa) could not have been deemed a complete success, until this lofty teaching was put into practice. To this end, in Sūrah al-Fātiḥah, Allah the Almighty has taught the Muslims the prayer
اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ* صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ
and stated that one should always keep this goal in view: to reach that Exalted Stage [al-Maqām al-Maḥmūd] which has always been in sight of mankind since the start of its spiritual journey, in which various prophets have led mankind to varying levels of spiritual progress, and whose final stage has been delegated to the Holy Prophet (sa). Therefore, the prayer ‘Grant us a share of each and every reward of the favoured ones’ means ‘O God! Enable us to perform those good deeds which were carried out by the People of Adam (as); to make intellectual progress like the People of Noah (as); to reach the station of the People of Abraham (as); and bestow upon us the excellences of the followers of Moses (as); and then grant us a share of the spiritual impact of the Messiah (as); and ultimately raise us to the station of Muhammad (sa), so that he may succeed in reaching his goal and reaching in the Exalted Station’. In short, صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ signifies the final stage of human perfection towards which mankind has been advancing since time immemorial. The guidance through the various stages was delegated to the prophets of different eras and the Holy Prophet (sa) was entrusted with the task of guiding mankind to the highest stage. And by means of this prayer, the followers of Muhammad (sa) implore, ‘O my Lord! You have already perfected religion through the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa). All that remains now is for our actions to also be in accordance with this religion, and that we manifest all those hidden and most sublime faculties which have been nurtured through various prophets, and whose cultivation is the ultimate and highest purpose behind the creation of mankind. We are ready for this task. O Lord help and enable us now to traverse all those stages of knowledge of the divine [‘irfān] which different nations have crossed individually with various prophets so that the purpose of man’s creation is fulfilled through the followers of Muhammad (sa).’ The companions of the Prophet (sa) kept this goal at the forefront and, by collectively inculcating the morals of all of the past nations within themselves, demonstrated an unparalleled example to the world. Today, if our Community also keeps this purpose in mind, then the time of the Holy Prophet (sa) being elevated to the Exalted Station will draw even nearer, and the world will be safeguarded from its troubling and restless state.
Every individual or nation that incites the Wrath of Allah Almighty by displeasing Him is counted among those who have incurred His displeasure [Maghḍūb ‘Alaihim]. Similarly, all those who are lost in the love of all things other than Allah Almighty and have forgotten Him are misguided [Ḍāll]. However, the Holy Prophet (sa) has also designated specific meanings to these two Arabic words [Maghdūb and Ḍāll]. In his Musnad, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal cites a lengthy narration on the authority of ‘Adī bin Ḥātim which ends with the Holy Prophet (sa) saying:
إِنَّ الْمَغْضُوبَ عَلَيْهِمِ الْيَهُودُ، وَإِنَّ الْضَالِّينَ الْنَصَارَى
That is, Maghḍūb ‘Alaihim refers to the Jews, and Ḍāllīn refers to the Christians. Likewise, at-Tirmidhī also records this narration and categorises this tradition as ḥasan  and gharīb . Ibn Mardawiyyah narrates the following hadīth on the authority of Abū Dharr al-Ghaffāri (ra):
سَأَلْتُ رَسُولَ اللهِ ﷺ عَنِ الْمَغْضُوْبِ عَلَيْهِمْ؟ قَالَ: الْيَهُوْدُ وقُلْتُ: الضَّالِّيْنَ؟ قَالَ: النَّصَارَى.
That is, Ḥaḍrat Abū Dharr (ra) states that he enquired from the Holy Prophet (sa) who are Maghdūb ‘Alaihim? The Prophet (sa) replied, ‘the Jews.’ He then asked who the Ḍāllīn were, to which he responded, ‘the Christians.’
Many companions (ra) have endorsed these meanings as well, such as Ibn ‘Abbās and ‘Abdullāh bin Mas‘ūd. Ibn Abi Ḥātim goes so far as to say that:
وَلَا أَعْلَمُ بَيْنَ الْمُفَسَّرِيْنَ فِيْ هَذَا اخْتِلَافَا
This means that all the commentators have unanimously agreed upon these meanings and I do not know of any disagreement in regards to this. 
These meanings can also be inferred from the verses of the Qur’an because, the word ghaḍab [wrath] has repeatedly been used with reference to the Jews in the Holy Qur’an. For instance, in Sūrah al-Baqarah, Allah states:
فَبَاءُوا بِغَضَبٍ عَلَى غَضَبٍ
The Jews incurred God’s wrath so constantly that it was as if His wrath was reserved exclusively for them. In contrast to this, the word Ḍālla [he went astray, he lost his way, he deviated from the right path] has been used for the Christians as Allah states:
الَّذِينَ ضَلَّ سَعْيُهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا
Similarly, in Sūrah al-Mā’idah, with reference to the Christians and their deification of the Messiah and his mother, Allah states:
يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ وَلا تَتَّبِعُوا أَهْوَاءَ قَوْمٍ قَدْ ضَلُّوا مِنْ قَبْلُ وَأَضَلُّوا كَثِيرًا وَضَلُّوا عَنْ سَوَاءِ السَّبِيلِ
That is, ‘O People of the Book (i.e. the Christians for only they have been mentioned here), do not exceed the limits in your religious beliefs and do not pursue the [evil] ideas and desires of a people who became misguided before and caused many to go astray, and who have strayed away from the right path.’ That is to say that this verse informs ordinary Christians that not all of them held this idolatrous doctrine. Among them were both monotheists and polytheists. The idolatrous group who declared the Messiah to be God was itself misguided and also started spreading its own beliefs among the rest of the Christians, thereby leading the majority to believe in this erroneous doctrine [of deifying Jesus (as)]. Consequently, they abandoned the straight path of tauḥīd [belief in the unity of God]. Therefore, both the Holy Qur’an and the statements of the Holy Prophet (sa) establish that الْمَغْضُوْبِ عَلَيْهِمْ refers specifically to the Jews and الضالين refers specifically to the Christians.
This verse [i.e. the clause ghairil-maghḍūb] is grammatically in apposition  to الَّذِينَ [‘those who’] or to the pronoun هم [them] in أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ. It means: ‘O Allah! Guide us along the path of the favoured ones, and by the favoured ones, we mean those who did not afterwards become the object of Your wrath, nor forsake You on account of their love for someone else.’
Here, a major provision has been made available to believers so as to nurture within them the fear of Allah. It should be remembered that until man reaches the stage after which they cannot be misguided, they should never remain complacent. One should continue in this struggle so that their feet tread ever more firmly upon the paths of righteousness, lest the smallest negligence, leads them to fall from their rank and causes their destruction and ruin.
This verse contains an extremely grand prophecy which can increase the faith of all those who reflect. And this is that when this chapter was revealed, the Holy Prophet (sa) was being opposed, not by the Jews and Christians, but by the disbelievers of Makkah the [population of] Jews and Christians in Makkah was like a drop in the ocean, and they had no say in its governance. So, why is it that this chapter did not instruct us to pray that Allah Almighty save us from becoming idolaters again? Instead, we have been taught to pray that Allah Almighty safeguard us from walking down the paths of the Jews and the Christians. Any mention of the idolaters of Makkah has been omitted, and thus it has been prophesied that their religion will forever be destroyed. Hence, there was no need to pray for God to safeguard the Muslims from becoming like the idolaters of Makkah. However, the religion of the Jews and the Christians would continue to exist, therefore it would still be necessary to pray that Allah safeguard the Muslims from becoming Jews and Christians.
In this verse, it is also noteworthy that since the Christians do accept Muslim converts, this prayer appears to be necessary so that Allah Almighty protect the Muslims from the evils of the Christians. However, the Jews generally do not take in new converts from other religions, why was it necessary to pray that God Almighty protect the Muslims from turning into Jews? The Word of God Almighty can never be guilty of teaching a meaningless and futile prayer. Nor is it conceivable that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), under the command of God Almighty, would instruct us to recite such a needless prayer thirty to forty times a day. Thus, Muslims ought to pay heed: could it not be the case that the trial of the Jews has come upon them in some other form? Is it not possible that, on account of rejecting the awaited Messiah, the state of the Muslims would become similar to that of the Jews? And this will be the state of the Muslims at the same time that the Christian attacks on Islam will be at their full force. Thus, on the one hand, by rejecting the one who has appeared in the likeness of the Messiah, they will resemble the Jews and be deprived of the succour of God Almighty.
On the other hand, by attacking the Muslims, Christianity will snatch away many thousands of their beloved Muslim brothers. Does this verse not constitute a grand prophecy? Can the Muslims not draw a lesson from this and be saved from the fire of these two trials?
Through close study of this chapter, we learn of another subtle quality which God Almighty has imbued in these verses. That is, the mention of divine attributes and the prayers mentioned therein is a reflection of one another. Therefore, الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ (all praise belongs to Allah) is a reflection of the prayer إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ (Thee alone do we worship) which indicates that as soon as man understands that Allah Almighty is the paragon of all excellences, he exclaims involuntarily, ‘Thee alone do we worship.’ Then, the attribute رَبّ الْعَالَمِينَ (Lord of all the worlds) is a counterpart to the prayer إِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ (Thee alone do we implore for help) because when man becomes certain that his Lord is the Creator and Benefactor of each and every particle, he exclaims that, ‘Thee alone do we implore for help.’ Similarly, الرَّحمن, which means to give unconditionally, irrespective of one’s efforts, is paired with the prayer اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ [guide us on the right path]. This is because when man observes that God Almighty has fulfilled all his needs, regardless of any of his deeds, he spontaneously cries out, ‘My ultimate desire is to commune with You, so I ask Thee to create the conditions to make this possible.’ Then الرَّحِيم (that is the One Who generously rewards one’s efforts) is juxtaposed with the prayer صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ [the path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings]. That is, show us the path of those individuals on whom You have bestowed Your blessings. This means, by leading me upon the straight path, make me the recipient of those favours which were attained by people in previous times; for raḥīmiyyah [Oft-repeating Mercy] necessitates that no effort should go to waste. Then the attribute مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ [Master of the day of judgement] finds its counterpart in the words غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلا الضَّالِّينَ [The path of those who have not incurred displeasure and those who have not gone astray]; for when man is certain that he will be taken to account for his deeds, his heart is immediately overcome by the fear of failure. Therefore, by pondering over the attribute of Master of the Day of Judgement, man prays to be safeguarded from the wrath of Allah Almighty.
If one carefully studies the verses of this noble chapter and reflects deeply over their order, it becomes very clear that it contains guidance for man to gradually traverse spiritual ranks, and, stage by stage, to eventually attain the honour of divine proximity. One is obeyed or worshipped for only two reasons: either out of love or out of fear. And so in this chapter, Allah Almighty has drawn attention to both these types of attributes. Those people who are naturally more appreciative of kindness show obedience when favours are bestowed on them, while others do not care when they are treated with kindness but are compelled to obedience through fear. However, it behoves an intelligent person that they first try to instil love, and if that doesn’t work, then to instil fear. Therefore, in this chapter, Allah Almighty has also mentioned first those of His attributes, which, when reflected upon, fill man’s heart with divine love. God’s name is Allah, which means He is the paragon of all excellences and is free from all defects. He is the creator of all things and is their provider. He nurtures and provides [rubūbiyyah] for both believers and the disbelievers. He has created those provisions for our existence which we are not even aware of. And He rewards us most handsomely for whatever good deeds we do. When those who are accustomed to showing obedience upon seeing the beauty or beneficence of a being witness these attributes, they spontaneously cry out, إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ [Thee alone do we worship], and prostrate before Him. However, when those who are unmoved when shown love, and are accustomed to being treated harshly, ponder over the attribute مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ [Master of the Day of Judgement] and realise that Allah is the Master of the Day of Judgement, and that one day they will be presented before Him and will be brought to account for all the favours that were conferred upon them, they will, out of fear, spontaneously submit to their Creator and cry out إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ [Thee alone do we worship].
Thus, any person, whether they are of the type moved by love or the kind who are compelled by fear, will, on reading these initial verses of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah, spontaneously exclaim إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ [Thee alone do we worship]. However, at the same time, when, on the one hand, they see their own weakness and, on the other hand, they see the beauty and beneficence of that Great Benefactor, or contemplate His Greatness and Might, then along with إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ they also exclaim, وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ [and Thee alone do we implore for help]. That is, O Lord, I am your obedient servant and worship none but You. However, I am unable to discharge the right of Your worship, so I seek help from You alone to help me in this task and enable me to do justice to Your worship. When love reaches this extent and man is influenced by divine greatness to this degree, then, as per the dictates of human nature, one cannot help but cry out, اٌهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ. That is, ‘Guide me on the right path’, for the right path is always the closest to God. Thus, these words express the epitome of love. In other words, ‘O Allah! I cannot remain distant from You no longer. Show me the nearest path that is free from all extremes and by treading upon whichIcan reach You as quickly as possible. However, since the people who are in attendance at the King’s court are of various ranks; some are ordinary courtiers while others are the crème de la crème, therefore, in accordance with the requirements of man’s disposition, the prayer صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ has been taught. This means, ‘O Lord! Guide me on the straight path and also bestow on me the blessing of showing me path of Your favoured ones.’ That is to say, ‘In the court of Your divine presence, do not admit me with the ordinary people; rather, include me among Your special beloved ones. And while I am a lover, let me become the object of Your love as well. O Lord! Love me in the same way that I love you (since the favoured ones are those beloved by Allah Almighty, and it is only those who are consistently worthy of receiving divine favours who are actually the people beloved by Him).’
In this manner, man pursues that station of love wherein no veil of estrangement remains between him and his Lord. At this point, man reaches perfection and the lover and beloved become one. However, since الإيْمَانُ بَيْنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالرَّجَاءِ [faith is between fear and hope], therefore, when man acquires this spiritual delight, he desires that he forever maintain this rank and that he is granted steadfastness upon it. It is for this reason that the Benevolent Lord taught man to supplicate before His Presence, ‘After having this communion with You, grant me this favour of never allowing me to be separated from You in any way.’ And since there are two ways of being separated – either the beloved becomes angry and ousts his lover, or the lover abandons his beloved – in order to address both these situations, it is stated غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ. That is to say, ‘Let it not be that You become displeased with me on account of any of my shortcomings, and وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ , nor that, after reaching the intended destination, my heart begins to love something other than You, and forsake You in pursuit of another direction.’
This is such a perfect and complete prayer that God Almighty, purely through His grace and mercy, to has taught people to submit before Him, that no other religion can can present the like of it. Consider, from the beginning to the end how human nature has been described and how the cure for people of all sorts of persuasions is explained in this short chapter. So those of understanding ought to ponder, and those who reflect ought to consider that no religion can save the world apart from Islam and, there is no cure for spiritual ailments aside from the Holy Qur’an.
It is said in an authentic hadith that upon ending the recitation of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah at غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلا الضَّالِّينَ, the Holy Prophet (sa) would say آمين [Amen] which means اللَّهُمَّ اسْتَجِبْ لَنَا. That is, ‘O Allah! Accept our supplication.’ In keeping in line with this guidance of the Holy Prophet, the companions (ra) also followed this practice.
- The Holy Qur’an, 17:84
- The Holy Qur’an, 5:12
- The Holy Qur’an, 5:21
- The Holy Qur’an, 5:21
- The Holy Qur’an, 4:67-70. [Author]
- The Holy Qur’an, 6:125. [Author]
- Abu Jahl means the Father of Ignorance. His name was ‘Amr bin Hisham and was one of the Chieftains of Makkah during the time of the Holy Prophet of Islam (sa). When the Prophet (sa) began his ministry, ‘Amr bin Hisham became Islam’s staunchest enemy, from then on he was referred to as the Father of Ignorance. He was killed at the Battle of Badr. [Publisher]
- Zilli: Signifies such complete devotion to the Holy Prophet (sa) and such self effacement that a person begins to reflect the image of his Master (sa).[Publishers]
- Burūzi: Spiritual manifestation; or the person who is the spiritual manifestation of a prophet or saint. [Publishers]
- Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salah.
- Hafiz refers to those individuals that have memorised the entire Holy Qur’an. [Publisher]
- The Holy Qur’an, 66:13.
- The Holy Qur’an, 5:4.
- ‘Guide us to the right path, the path of those on whom You have bestowed Your Favours’.
- Musnad Ahmad bin Ḥanbal.
- Ḥasan hadīth is a hadīth that has a complete chain of narrators which leads back to Prophet Muhammad (sa) and all the narrators are righteous, trustworthy and truthful but there is doubt about the sound memory of one or more of the narrators. [Publisher]
- Gharīb hadīth refers to a hadīth which is narrated by only one narrator at any stage of its chain of narration. [Publisher]
- Ibn Kathīr.
- The Holy Qur’an, 2:91.
- The Holy Qur’an, 18:105.
- The Holy Qur’an, 5:78.
- Apposition (badal) in Arabic grammar is when one noun or noun phrase both refer to the same person or thing. For example,
means ‘I saw your brother Zaid’. In this sentence ‘your brother’ and the name ‘Zaid’ are referring to the same individual. In other words, the actual subject of the conversation is ‘Zaid’, and ‘your brother’ is a way of introducing him. The reason badal is used is to add stress or emphasis in a sentence in order to clarify who the subject really is. [Publisher]