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Lessons on Interpretation of the Hamd Surah

Second Session

part 1


Last time I discussed the possibility that the expression “In the Name of God,”‌ in every surah that it heads, is syntactically connected to the surah itself, or to the first part of its subject matter. For example, in the Surah of Praise, the meaning that emerges is “praise in, or by, the name of God.”‌ The same expression, then, has a different meaning in each surah, for in each case it relates to the particular topic that opens the surah. In the Surah of Praise, it is connected with the word “praise”‌ and it indicates the name by which praise is achieved, and the name is a manifestation of God. In the case of another surah, that of Unity (112), for example, the sense of the expression changes to indicate the name that appropriate to the statement: “Say, ‘He is God, One.’”‌

It is also specified in fiqh, that if one wishes to recite more than one surah, a single recitation of the expression “In the Name of God”‌ at the very beginning is not enough; the phrase must be repeated at the beginning of every surah. The reason for this is that the precise sense and function of the expression varies on each occasion. Were this not the case, each occurrence would be identical with the next. Indeed, some people have said that the expression does not form part of the Surah except in the Surah of Praise, where it has been included in the Surah because of its blessedness. That is not true, however.

At present we are concerned with the Surah of Praise, and here the expression is connected with the word praise that immediately follows it. This yields the probable meaning that “praise”? al-hamd)””meaning all instances of praise, by whomever uttered” is accomplished by the name of God; it is the name itself that produces the utterance. All the limbs and members of man’s body are names, and whenever man engages in praise, the praise takes place through God’s name. Each individual constitutes a different name of God, or the manifestation of a different name.

Notice that there are many differences between the divine agent” which is the agent of existence” and natural agents. One distinctive characteristic of that which emerges from the Divine Principle, which we know as the divine agent, is that in some sense, it is reabsorbed or destined to be reabsorbed into its origin; it has no reality or independence of its own. In order to understand this better, you may compare the relation of the divine agent to the Divine Principle with that of the rays of the sun to the sun. This is not an exact comparison, but it is true insofar as the rays of the sun have no independence with respect to the sun, and the divine agent similarly lacks independence with respect to that Principle of Absolute Good from which its existence is derived” that is, it cannot come into existence or remain in existence independently. If the rays of existence from a being for a single instant it will not be able to subsist for a single instant for just as it depends on the Principle in order to come into existence, it also depend on It in order to remain in existence. Having no standing of its own, then, it is reabsorbed into the Principle.

This being the case, the manifestation of God’s names is, in a sense, identical with the names themselves. “God is the light of the heavens and the earth”‌””the light is the manifestation of God, not God Himself, but the manifestation has no existence apart from the Principal from which it derives; it is reabsorbed in it since it possesses no independence. It is in this sense that we are to understand: “God is the light of the heavens and the earth.”‌

Returning to “praise”‌ (al-hamd), we see that the definite article has a generic sense, and connection it with the expression “In the Name of God,”‌ which precedes it, we concluded that every instance of praise, by whomever it is uttered, takes place by means and that which is praised; from a certain point of view, they are once and the same, the instance of manifestation and the general principle of manifestation. When the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings) said, “You are as You praise Yourself to be,”‌ or on another occasion, “I take refuge in You from You,”‌ part of what is indicated is that the one who praises is effaced in the One Who is praised. It is as if God praising Himself, therefore. No one else enjoys any real existence that enables him to say, “I am praising Him”‌; it is He who praises Himself.

Another possibility is that the definite article in al-Hamd is not generic in the sense of “praise”‌ being a category applicable to many individual acts. Instead, the sense may be that nature, in its very essence, is deprived of all the characteristics of praise, and that praise resists all individuation. “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, praise belongs to God”‌ then comes to mean that praise is without individuation and is absolute. This second interpretation is the exact opposite of the first in that the praise we utter does not truly pertain to God, and only that praise pertains to Him that He Himself utters. The praise offered by others is limited and individuated, but He is unlimited. Limited praise cannot pertain to the Unlimited, since it contradicts His nature.


A Commentary on the Chapter of ‘Praise’ 

Witten by: Imam Khomeini(R.A)

Translator: Bahram Afrasiabi

Other Links:

Lessons on Interpretation of the Hamd Surah: First Session (part 1)  

Lessons on Interpretation of the Hamd Surah: First Session (part 2)  

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