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Surah al-Fatihah: Interpretation of Iyyaka na‘bud wa iyyaka nasta‘in

the holy qur’an

“Iyyaka na‘bud wa iyyaka nasta‘in”‌ {You {alone} do we worship and to You {alone} do we turn for help}

“Iyyaka na‘bud”‌ means that “We are servants of You alone and not of others.”‌ This sentence has two dimensions: One is the affirmation of servitude to Him and the other is the negation of servitude to other than Him. Yes, the perfect school {maktab} alongside faith in God necessitates denial of the taghut, and those who have faith in God but have accepted the hegemony of the taghuts are “half-Muslims”‌ or perhaps not Muslims at all!

Faith in God minus the denial of the taghut means a captive Muslim! In order to be relieved from the axis of shirk {polytheism}, one must seek refuge in the center of unity and power. Thus, while standing in prayer the person praying does not see himself alone by thinking of himself alone.

Rather, as if representing all monotheists, he is saying: “O God! I alone am not deserving and worthy to have a meritorious worship. So, I have joined the other Muslims and we do worship and adore You together. I am not alone; rather, all of us seek assistance from You. Therefore, prayer in principle must be said in congregation, and individual prayer belongs to the next stage.

The preceding verses gave us theoretical monotheism {tawhid} and the proper cognition of God, whereas this verse discusses devotional and practical tawhid. That is, we should not only recognize God in His Oneness, but we should also, in practice, worship Him alone and we should be monotheist. Why should you abandon God who is the All-beneficent, All-merciful, Sovereign, and Master, and subject yourself to the servitude of others?

Be the servant of God alone, and not the servant of the West or the East, not the servant of gold and silver, and not the servant of the taghuts. You do not have even the right to serve and obey the righteous except in cases where God gives you the permission or command. For example, regarding His Prophet, God says: “Whoever obeys the Apostle certainly obeys Allah.”‌[1] That is, if we obey our father and mother, it is because God commands us to do so and in doing so, we are actually obeying Him.

By the dictate of reason, man must accept servitude to God only because we human beings are in love with perfection and in need of growth and nourishment. God is also the embodiment of all perfections and the Lord of all beings. If we are in need of benevolence and affection, then He is the All-beneficent and the All-merciful, and if we worry about the distant future, then He is the Controller and Master of that day. So, why should we go to others and seek help from them?

“Iyyaka na‘bud”‌ means that I am with the people, but I have no emotional attachment to other than You. Neither do I isolate myself from the congregation of Muslims for me to forget Your creatures nor am I be absorbed in the congregation that I would abandon You, the Creator. Rather, I know that the way toward the Creator passes through the creatures.

“Iyyaka nasta‘in”‌ means that although we make use of the causes and means You have placed in creation, I know that the effectiveness and efficiency of every cause and means is through Your hand. You are the One giving effect to the cause as well as the One rendering it futile. You bestow effect on something as well as take away its effect. You will is dominant over all laws and nature is subjected to Your will.

“Iyyaka na‘bud”‌ means that You alone are worthy of worship and that we worship You not on account of fear (of hell) and covetousness (for paradise), but out of love and affection to You. Which beloved {mahbub} is closer and more compassionate to us than You?

“Iyyaka na‘budu wa iyyaka nasta‘in”‌ means that it is neither predestination {jabr} nor Divine Resignation {tafwid}. [2] As we say, “na‘bud”‌ {we worship}, it follows that we have free will and since we say “nasta‘in”‌ {we turn for help}, it means that we are needy and that all affairs are beyond our control.

“Iyyaka na‘budu wa iyyaka nasta‘in”‌ means that we perform the prayer in congregation and that we Muslims are standing in one line, in unison and solidarity as brothers and equals.

“Iyyaka na‘bud”‌ means: O God! I regard You as present and watching over me and so I am saying,

“Iyyaka {You}”‌ for the servant who regards himself in the presence of God, the Exalted, will benefit sooner.

From the beginning of Surah al-Fatihah, we have been talking about God in third person, but in this part we are addressing Him in the second person (iyyaka {You}). Initially, we are acquainted with God and little by little we begin to reach toward Himself. And it is not only once but rather, as the conversation with one’s beloved is sweet and pleasant, we do repeat the address, “iyyaka”‌ {You} (twice).

O God! Although worship is incumbent upon us, in worshipping we are also in need of Your help:

وَمَا كُنَّا لِنَهْتَدِيَ لَوْلا أَنْ هَدَانَا اللّهُ

“We would have never been guided had not Allah guided us.”‌[3]

Though to Him alone do we turn for help, seeking assistance from other than Him is permissible provided that it is by His leave. For example, man seeks the assistance of his own talents, faculties and mind, this is not repugnant to the principle of tawhid. God Himself thus commands us to cooperation””“تَعاوَنوا”‌””because life without cooperation and assistance is not possible.

Hazrat ‘Ali (A.S) said to a certain person who was praying, “O God! Do not make me in need of people”‌: “This is not a correct sentence. Instead, you say, ‘O God! Do not make me in need of bad people’ because life without cooperation and assistance is impossible.”‌

Anyone who would sincerely say, “Iyyaka na‘bud,”‌ has no more sense of pride, vanity and egoism, and he is obeisant and subservient to the divine commands. He knows that since God has bestowed so much grace upon him, the best of submissiveness must be shown in His presence.

He would stand like an absolute servant in front of his Absolute Master and humbly say, “I am the servant and You are the Master. I have nobody else except You. But You have many others apart from me. You are needless of my worship. On the contrary, I am absolutely in need of Your grace and generosity, and I have to turn to You for help always.”‌


Notes:

[1] Surah an-Nisa’ 4:80.

[2] Divine Resignation {tafwid} means leaving man to his own devises and suspending the divine will from any effective role. {Trans.}

[3] Surah al-A‘raf 7:43.


Source: A Commentary on Prayer by Muhsin Qara’ati


Other links:

There is no prayer without the Opening of the Book (fatihah al-kitab)

Surah al-Fatihah: Interpretation of Bismillahi’r-rahmani’r-rahim

Interpretation of surah At-Tin (The Fig): part 1

Interpretation of surah At-Tin (The Fig): part 2

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