The Quran says whose Judgment Really Matters
Sovereign of the Day of Recompense. (Quran 1:4)
This verse is a daily reminder to me that I cannot seek the approval of others to the disapproval of Allah (SWT).
Most of our lives are spent worrying about the judgment of others. We spend our time making money to buy things just to have the approval of others. And we spend our energy making ourselves look a certain way for approval. We even do things we find loathsome just to avoid others’ disapproval.
I totally get it, the judgment of those around us seems important. It really does. It is a horrible feeling when those we are close to disapprove of us. I’ve been there. I lived there for many years as the only Muslim in my family. It is even hard to swallow the disapproval of strangers. I’ve been there. I live in a time and place where it is fashionable to mindlessly hate Islam.
But when all is said and done, what does the approval of people get us when we seek it above Allah’s approval? Nothing good for sure. Even if we suffered constant judgment, disapproval, and ridicule for 100 years of this life it would only be like a few seconds of the Day of Judgment.
Allah says of the Day of Judgment:
The angels and the Ruh [angel Gabriel] ascend to Him in a day the measure whereof is fifty thousand years. (Quran 70:1-4)
And even if everyone we knew and loved rejected us, nothing we can ever imagine will be more difficult than being rejected on the Day of Judgment by the One Who created us, the One who sent us guidance, and wanted nothing but good for us despite our unimportance and inherent weakness. There will be no tragedy greater than being turned away from our true home.
Worship and Help
It is You alone we worship and You we ask for help. (Quran 1:5)
Worship defines who your god is and only God defines worship.
Humans worship many things that do not deserve it. Some worship money. Others worship status. Some others worship love or other people. They turn these things into false gods by being wholly devoted to them.
In that worship, the human being establishes who his or her god is. But The True God, The Creator, The Merciful, The Judge is the only One worthy of our worship. By saying we only Worship the True God, we are affirming the core of Islam–Tawheed– the principle that Allah (SWT)—The God—is entirely unique, indivisible, One without partner.
But why mention help? Because asking false gods for help also establishes worship.
In old English, the word “prithee” means I ask you for help. It is a shortened version of two words “pray” and “thee” or I pray to you-I ask you. When we ask those around us whom God has given agency and ability to actually help us, this is not considered worship as long as we realize that it is through God’s will that the help is rendered.
The Prophet (PBUH) said:
[…] If you ask, ask God. If you need help seek it from God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if God had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you. […] (At-Tirmidhi)
But when we ask inanimate objects or dead people for help (essentially praying), this crosses the line into worship. Worship is for God alone. Help is from God alone.
This verse shows us that the oneness of God, worship, and seeking help are related.
Guide us to the straight path. (Quran 1:6)
What do we ask for immediately after saying we will only ask Allah (SWT) for help? Guidance. We ask God to guide us to the straight path, the path that is the shortest distance between two points.
When we are in a rush at the airport trying to catch a flight that is departing soon, we look for the quickest way to get to our gate-a straight line between two points, a straight path. Life is a lot like this. We do not know when our plane is departing (or when we will pass on), we need the quickest, straightest path to get from gate A to gate B so that we can reach our intended and desired destination.
In Al-Fatihah, we ask God to show us this path back to Him, and to eternal joy. When we say, “to Allah we belong and to Him we will return” when someone dies, it is to acknowledge that no matter what path the deceased took in life, their journey is over whether they made it to their desired destination or not.
Defining the Path
The path of those upon whom You have bestowed your favor, not those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray. (Quran 1:7)
The human being has a great capacity to delude itself. Pathological liars not only tell lies, they also convince themselves that the lie they made up is actually true. Many people convince themselves that the rules don’t apply to them.
A lot of people convince themselves that smoking won’t give them cancer. That consequences to actions is something that happens to other people. I often convinced myself that eating cookies is totally fine right before bed. We delude ourselves often. We are good at it.
There is no other area of human life in which the human being deludes himself more than in religion. The stakes are high, but we want what we want. So, we convince ourselves that what we want to be truth is truth.
But religion is from God, not our desires. If we surrender to the truth whatever it may be, then we will truly be guided.
God promises in the Quran that He will guide those who seek guidance:
While as for those who accept guidance, He increases their guidance and bestows on them their piety. (Quran 47:17)
So, we seek help from God to direct us to that path, to be like the Prophets and their true followers who earned God’s support and preference. And we seek help to be steered away from all other paths, to not delude ourselves.
The foregoing is just one person’s reflection on Al-Fatihah. Much has been written and spoken about these important verses by far better people who have mountains more knowledge. But we can let this reflection be a starting point for us to discover more and to take time to think and ponder on these verses.
The gift of Al-Fatihah to me is that even if we have recited no other verse from the Quran outside of this chapter, all of that jumbled, blurred mess of modern life snaps into focus and we are granted true perspective and purpose.