We begin our series with the first line we find when we open our modern mushaf (granted of course that we open it from the correct direction, if it’s a right to left facing book).
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
Three short words, yet they (should) permeate every facet of our daily life. I’ve most often seen this phrase translated as “In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate,” but as it usually is with translation, these words fail to grasp the majesty, the might, the expanse of Allah (swt)’s Rahman and Rahim.
A teacher once translated this verse as “with the name of God.” I found this translation to be incredibly useful. It takes the phrase and makes it the key to our lives. With the name of Allah (swt), I do this. With the name of God, I do that. In every action, I take it as my key to open the door. If I wouldn’t want to open that action with the name of God, I sure as heck better not be doing that action.
Ahamed, Syed Vickar – In the Name of Allah, the All Merciful, the Ever Merciful
Ali, Ahmed – In the name of Allah, most benevolent, ever-merciful
Ali, Abdullah Yusuf – In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Arberry, A.J -In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Asad, Muhammad – In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace
Bewley, Abdalhaqq and Aisha Bewley -In the name of Allah, All-Merciful, Most Merciful
Cleary, Thomas -In the name of God, the Benevolent, the Merciful
Fakhry, Majid -In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Jeffery, Arthur -In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Khan, Muhammad Zafrullah -In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Ever Merciful
Saheeh International -In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful
Shakir, M.H. -In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Unal, Ali – In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate
ir-Rahman = All Merciful, most benevolent, Most Gracious, the Merciful, the Most Gracious, All-Merciful, the Benevolent, the Compassionate, the Entirely Merciful, and the Beneficent.
ir=Rahim = Ever Merciful, ever-merciful, Most Merciful, the Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace, the Merciful, the Especially Merciful, and the All-Compassionate
In the notes:
Muhammad Asad’s note – According to most of the authorities, this invocation (which occurs at the beginning of every surah with the exception of surah 9) constitutes an integral part of “The Opening” and is therefore, numbered as verse 1. In all other instances, the invocation “in the name of God” precedes the surah as such, and is not counted among its verses. – Both the divine epithets rahman and rahim are derived from the noun rahmah, which signifies “mercy,” “compassion,” “loving tenderness” and, more comprehensively, “grace.” From the very earliest times, Islamic scholars have endeavored to define the exact shades of meanings which differentiate the two terms. The best and simplest of these explanations is undoubtedly the one advanced by Ibn Qayyim (as quoted in Manar 1, 48): the term rahman circumscribes the quality of abounding grace inherent in, and inseparable from, the concept of God’s Being, whereas rahim expresses the manifestation of that grace in, and its effect upon, His creation – in other words, an aspect of His activty.
Yusuf Ali’s notes – the Arabic words “Rahman and Rahim” translated Most Gracious and Mst Merciful are both intensive forms referring to different aspects of Allah’s attribute of Mercy. The Arabic intensive is more suited to express Allah’s attributes than the superlative degree in English. The latter implies a comparison with other beings, or with other times or places, while there is no being like unto Allah, and He is independent of Time and Place. Mercy may imply pity, long-suffering, patience, and forgiveness, all of which the sinner needs and Allah Most Merciful bestows in abundant measure. But there is a Mercy that goes before even the need arises, the Grace which is ever watchful and flows from Allah Most Gracious to all His creatures, protecting them, preserving them, guiding them, and leading them to clearer light and higher life. For this reason the attribute Rahman (Most Gracious) is not applied to any but Allah, but the attribute Rahim (Merciful), is a general term and may also be applied to Men. To make us contemplate these boundless gifts of Allah, the formula: In the name of Allah Most Gracious, Most Merciful: is placed before every surah in the Qur’an (except the ninth), and repeated at the beginning of every act by the Muslim who dedicates his life to Allah, and whose hope is in His Mercy.
Ali Unal – (1) In the Name (2) of God (3), the All-Merciful (4), the All-Compassionate (5).
1. This blessed phrase (Bi’smi-llahi’r-Rahmani’r-Rahim translated as “in the Name of God, the All Merciful, the All Compassionate,” called the Basmalah), is one of the symbols of Islam. Muslims begin every good deed, and individual daily actions, that are not religious forbidden, such as entering one’s workplace, or eating, by uttering it. All things and beings come to life and survive through it. The particle bi-here means both in and with, so that everything, dependent on the laws of the All-Merciful, does whatever it does in and with His Name. A minute seed under earth germinates and pushes through soil and stone to grow into sunlight, depending on the laws of the All-Merciful, and beggning the (special) compassion of the All-Compassionate. Human beings, favored with free will, should always do good and do so in God’s Name and to please Him, begining the effort in and with the Name of God.
According to some scholars, the Basmalah is counted as the first verse in every Qur’anic surah except the ninth. According to the Hanafi school of Law, it is a verse, but not counted as the first verse of every surah. It is the first verse of Surah al-Fatiah, the opening surah of the Qur’an and it is written before every surah because of its importance and its being blessed, and so as to seperate the surahs from each other. It is, in any case, a rope of light extending from the Supreme Throne of God to the hearts of people. Whoever holds fast to it in awareness of its meaning and is enlightened by it can rise to the highest point of human perfection.
You can read the rest of thes extensive notes of Ali Unal here, starting at page xliv.