The exclusivity of worship and seeking from Allah in Surah al-Fatiha
The fifth verse of the first chapter of the Holy Qur’an emphasises that the exclusivity of worship and seeking help belongs to Allah (swt) as it is stated: “It is You we worship and You we ask for help” (1:5). The tone of this verse changes compared to the previous ones, as where verses 1 – 4 mainly explain the attributes of Allah (swt) and express the qualities that He possesses (e.g. Merciful, Compassionate, Master of the day of Judgment); in this verse we do not address Allah (swt) in the third person anymore (i.e. He), rather we address Him directly and refer to Him as “You”. Some exegetes say that after going through the initial verses of this chapter our understanding about the names and attributes of Allah (swt) increase and we gain consciousness (Ma’rifa). Now the servant reaches a level that he addresses his Lord directly and sees Allah (swt) present in his heart, therefore the verse says “…You we worship.. You we ask for help…”
Indeed it is a great gift from Allah (swt) that we have been given the opportunity to speak to the Lord of the heavens and the earth with such intimacy and proximity. It is an honour and a divine gift to speak to Him (swt) and to enjoy conversing with The Creator, such a gift is not bestowed to all.
Another characteristic of this verse is that the structure of the words portrays the peak of monotheism (Tawhid) and servitude towards Allah (swt). Normally in the Arabic language the agent (Fa’il) is mentioned before the subject (Maf’ool), however, in this verse the subject has been mentioned first (You – Allah) and then the doer (We). Such structure makes the verb which is being performed (i.e worshiping or seeking help) by the agent (us) exclusive to the subject (Allah (swt)) without the possibility of adding anyone or anything else into the sentence. Therefore the accurate translation of this verse is “You, we [Only] worship and You we [Only] ask help from.” Although the word “only” is not explicit in the verse, however, it is derived implicitly from the structure of the sentence and order of the words. Therefore, worship (‘ibada) and seeking help (isti’ana) exclusively belong to Allah (swt). This also shows how a true servant before and after everything he does or sees considers Allah (swt) and puts Him before, with and after everything else, hence Imam Ali (as) in one tradition is reported to have said: “I have not seen anything, except that I saw Allah (swt) before it, after it and with it”.
‘Ibada is referred to as the peak of humility, Only Allah (swt) deserves to be worshipped because He is the absolute existence whom all perfections, bounties and blessing are initiated from. From another perspective, the previous verses can be some of the reasons behind why worship belongs exclusively to Allah (swt); because He is the most Merciful, the Most Compassionate, the Master of the day of Judgment and so on.
This worship needs to be with spirit and contemplation as Imam Ali (as) says: “There is no good in worship without understanding”. It is such worship which changes the behaviour of the human being and takes him towards goodness and perfection, otherwise, worship which does not have an essence and is void of contemplation and understanding is only superficial with no core and inner reality.
Furthermore, as illustrated in the Qur’an, worship is the purpose of our creation “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me” (51:56). Despite it often only being associated with praying, fasting and performing Hajj for example; the reality of worship, however, is beyond these important acts of worships which are obligatory. Although such acts are clear examples of worship, they are not the only way to worship Allah (swt) as we were not created for the sole purpose of spending our days on our prayer mats and neglecting our other responsibilities. In fact, the Infallibles do not approve of such an approach, because the human being is a social creation and has responsibilities towards his family, friends and the society surrounding him which need to be fulfilled.
Many practical daily actions, if performed for the sake of Allah (swt), are also considered worship and this is the approach we need to take in addition to performing our prescribed obligations. For example the following actions have been referred to as worship in traditions from the Infallibles: Fulfilling the rights of fellow believers, reflection about Allah (swt) and His power, breaking a [bad] habit, loving the Ahlulbayt, glancing at one’s parents with love and affection, earning a lawful livingalongside numerous other actions.
Often, some of us think if I am praying to Allah (swt) individually, why is the agent mentioned in the plural (You do “we” worship)? There are a number of explanations for this, some of which have been mentioned here:
- The emphasis to always pray in congregation. The messenger of Allah (swt) is reported to have said: “Allah’s hand [divine aid] is with the congregation…” So we need to try our best to offer our prayers in congregation as much as possible.
- My whole existence and every particle of my body worship You (worship of the limbs when they are used in the obedience of Allah (swt)).
- I am insignificant and my worship is little, so I worship You with the rest of the creation and everything that exists. The Qur’an states: “Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is exalting Allah…” (64:1) in another verse, Allah (swt) states: “There is no one in the heavens and earth but that he comes to the Most Merciful as a servant” (19:93).
The second part of the verse refers to seeking help exclusively from Allah (swt). Not only in our affairs but even in the worship we perform we need to seek help from Allah (swt). It is important to note that we all seek help from Allah (swt) in everything we do; in fact, we are not able to do anything except through His will and permission. So this part of the verse is only confessing and reiterating the reality (that is, everything is in need of His power).
A question often asked here is, does this mean asking other than Allah (swt) for help in our life goes against the reality of monotheism and this verse?
The answer is simple; we are social human beings and in our daily lives we come across situations where we need to refer to the doctor, mechanic, electrician and so on for help. Allah (swt) manages the affairs of the creation through means and intermediaries, therefore as long as we believe that Allah (swt) is the absolute and ultimate being who helps us whilst all else are simply His agents and means through which this assistance reaches us then there is absolutely no contradiction with pure and sound Tawhid.
So as an example if an individual becomes sick and goes to the doctor or takes medicine to recover, he considers Allah (swt) the ultimate and real healer (as the Qur’an states: “And when I am ill, it is He who cures me” (26:80)) and the doctor as a means and channel through which Allah (swt) cures. Thus believing anything or anyone has any effect or authority independent of Allah (swt) is in contradiction to Tawhid Al-Af’ali (Monotheism in Actions).
In summary, in this verse, the servant addresses his Master directly stating that worship belongs to Allah (swt) exclusively, and we only seek help and assistance from Him, the Most High. Furthermore, it is concluded that worship, which is the purpose of our creation, is not limited to religious rituals. Although these are obligations in Islam, worship has a more general meaning and can be applied to the different dimension of one’s life. In summation, although in reality, Allah (swt) is the only one who provides help and assistance to His creation, there is no problem if we seek help from other than Him, as long as we consider them to be means and agents of Allah (swt).
In the next section of this series, we will discuss the meaning and different types of guidance which we ask Allah (swt) for, and explore what is the right path that we ask to be guided to on a daily basis.
by Mohammad Ehsan Rangiha for Voice of Unity.
 Tasnim, v.1.
 Al-Qabanji, Musnad Imam Ali (as), v.1, p.150
 Ibn Mandhoor, v.9, p.10.
 Tuhaf al-‘Uqoul, hadith no. 204
 Al-Ikhtisas, p.28
 Al-Kafi, v.2, p.55
 Ghurar al-Hikam, Hadith no. 2873
 Al-Mahasin, v.1, p.247
 Tuhaf al-‘Uqoul, Hadith no. 46
 Bihar al-Anwar, v.103, p.18 Hadith no.81
 Tasnim, v.1.
 Kanz al-‘Ummal Hadith no.81032
 Bihar al-Anwar, v.3, p.67.
 This is the fundamental belief that no action happens except with the permission of Allah (swt).