What is Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem?
- A verse in the Holy Qur'an that means "In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful"
- The first verse in the Holy Qur'an
- A verse repeated 114 times in the Qur'an
- A form of remembering Allah (Dhikr)
- A phrase that is common in the Muslim community
Despite being true that it is all that, the Basmala goes much further than being just a phrase. It is true that it is very common nowadays and Muslims say it when they are about to initiate almost anything – sometimes it seems that it has become simply a habit, and that can be dangerous. Just like experienced car drivers do not think about the position of their feet or hands while they drive, saying something over and over can lead us to think of the phrase as just a string of words and ignore the deep meanings embedded in it, especially when it comes to the words of the Qur’an. In order to prevent this from happening, Allah asks us to continuously contemplate and reflect.
“Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem”, also known as the Basmala, should be treated with care and the aforementioned bullet points should serve as an incentive to deeply examine this highly-regarded phrase.
But before we get into the different dimensions of the Basmala, it is always encouraging to read up some of the merits of this verse. Here are a few:
The Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) says: “Whoever says ‘Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem’ will have 4000 good deeds written for them, 4000 evil deeds erased for them, and will be raised 4000 degrees.” (Bihar al-Anwar)
When asked about the greatest verse in the Qur’an, Imam Ali ar-Ridha (peace be upon him) says, “[It is] ‘Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem’.” (Tafseer al-Ayashi) He also says: “Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem is closer to Allah’s greatest name than the whiteness of the eye (sclera) to its blackness (pupil).” (Wasa’il ash-Shi’a)
These narrations shed light on some of the significances of the verse and how Allah has given this verse a lot of weight. Just by saying these few words, “Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem”, the amount of blessings and rewards are huge.
However, the focus is now directed at a completely different aspect of the Basmala, and one seldom discussed: its implications. Specifically, we shall explore how “Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem” serves as a sign of love for, obedience to, submission to, and – most importantly – faith in Almighty Allah.
The Sign of Love
Take a look around you. How many businesses, personal belongings, and assets are named after people, families, countries, famous figures, and so on? For instance, patriotic individuals include their country’s name in the name of their shop. Some people include their family’s name in their emails. Others will associate themselves with a political figure. You can see logos, banners, pictures, and so much more on Facebook pages today. Indeed, everywhere we are encountering the attribution of our assets and personal belongings to names of people or other entities. Some of the motivations behind such cases are love, pride, and a sense of belonging. For example, one of the main reasons we name a business after our father, mother, son, or daughter is the powerful connection between us and that particular individual. We love them. We have a strong passion towards them. They inspire us. They motivate us. We want the whole world to know how much we care for and love them.
In this life, our actions, decisions, and thoughts are our main assets. We will be judged based on our deeds. Then what better name to have our deeds under than the name of Allah? Truly, if we love Allah and are passionate about everything that is connected to Him, then we will strive to keep everything in the name of Allah. We will start and end our matters in the name of Allah. Simply put, Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem will emanate from that heart that is filled with love for Allah.
Love of Allah is a pivotal point in the life of a Muslim. Allah states in the Qur’an, “Those who believe are stronger in love for Allah” (2:165). Imam Ali (peace be upon him) mentions in the sermon in which he describes the pious, that “the greatness of the Creator is seated in their heart, and, so, everything else appears small in their eyes.” (Nahj al-Balagha, sermon 193)
Once that love we have towards Allah takes over us, and we solidify it through Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem, then we will have started on the path of reaching the higher levels of piety.
The Sign of Obedience
Love originates from the heart but is portrayed through actions. Every action can be identified by a source and a destination. The source and destination can be either righteous or corrupt depending on whether they follow the rulings of Allah or not. For example, a person can earn money by selling crops (righteous source) or through stealing (corrupt source). The money can be used to help the poor (righteous destination) or in gambling (corrupt destination).
By definition, a corrupt source or destination is a deviation from the way of Allah. Thus, only the righteous source-destination combination is acceptable, despite other combinations being available. The person who loves Allah will always seek His pleasure by doing what He asks and by avoiding what He forbids. Since the name of Allah is above all corruption, then it does not make sense for someone claiming to love Allah to take part in forbidden things, especially in His name. One cannot, for example, sayBismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem before drinking alcohol, committing adultery, or engaging in any other sin. That is hypocrisy. It just does not fit!
In the same sermon about the pious ones, Imam Ali says, “If there had not been fixed periods (of life) ordained for each, their spirits would not have remained in their bodies even for the twinkling of an eye because of (their) eagerness for the reward and fear of chastisement.” (Ibid)
So, the Basmala will always keep a person in check of his/her actions. This process of purification eventually leads the person, once again, towards piety. That is the case since the actions will be accepted, as Allah says in the Qur’an, “Indeed, Allah only accepts from the righteous.” (5:27)
The Sign of Submission
By taking a slightly different direction, the Basmala helps break away from the materialistic world we exist in. When our matters are in the name of Allah, they are connected to a divine existence. This is where the worshipper admits that Allah is governing over all matters. The worshipper will therefore accept all that comes out of what he/she is doing and submit to the respective fate. The worshipper’s creed will be such that Allah will make things happen in a way that will be beneficial – whether in this life, in the Hereafter, or in both. One cannot do something in the name of Allah and then be angry with Him. The words “…ir Rahman nir Raheem” reinforce this point as one refers to Allah’s mercy on everyone (Al-Rahman) and on the believer in particular (Al-Raheem).
Therefore, once we realize these facts, we have reached the level of submission to Allah’s will. And yes, that can only be achieved by seeking a connection with the unseen, also known as “Ghayb”. Of course, belief in the unseen is an important quality of the pious. Allah says, “This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah who believe in the unseen.” (2:2-3)
The Sign of Faith
The Basmala has taken us on a journey of love, obedience, and submission Allah. Piety was a common fruit throughout the journey. And once all these levels fuse together, then we have a bright representation of the proper faith a Muslim should have. In fact, a true believer needs all those entities – love, obedience, and submission – or else we will have a major loophole in our belief. Can a Muslim love Allah and not obey Him? Can we obey Allah and be angry with what He brings us? Truly, with the Basmala, we are striving to acquire the necessary elements to perfect our faith and belief in Allah. Therefore, the Basmala, in its purest and complete form, becomes a sign of a true believer.
But there is a small catch.
Imam Al Hasan al-Askari (peace be upon him) says, “The signs of the believer are five,” listing them until he reaches: “saying ‘Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem’ in a raised voice.” (Wasa’il ash-Shi’a)
Many can say the Basmala out loud, but the Imam is referring to the believer who says it out loud while he or she is fully aware of its depths. Even further, saying it out loud reinforces love for, obedience to, and submission to Allah.
Every year, we see millions go to Makkah for Hajj. Anyone who sees that picture will immediately recognize the faith and devotion of the pilgrims. Every year on the 20th of Safar, millions make their way to the Shrine of Imam Hussain (peace be upon them) in Karbala. Anyone who sees that image will feel the faith and devotion portrayed by the visitors. Similarly, saying “Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem” will make it clear what Islam is all about and it will portray the way we Muslims are connected to Allah. It is more than just Dhikr. When the Imam says we should raise our voices when we say it, it has become our case.
One More Step
For those interested in diving deeper into the Basmala, I leave you with the following narration:
Imam Ali says: “Know that all the secrets in the divine books are in the Qur’an. All that is in the Qur’an is in Al-Fatiha. All that is in Al-Fatiha is in the Basmala. All that is in the Basmala is in the ‘Baa’ [of ‘Bism’]. All that is in the ‘Baa’ is in the dot under the ‘Baa’. And I am the dot under the ‘Baa’.” (Yanabee’ Al Mawadda)
And to stimulate your thoughts even further, try to consider the connection between raising the voice when saying “Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem” and our allegiance to Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib.
It is Our Case
All in all, saying “Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem” is a great privilege and we should thank Allah for allowing us to lead our lives in His name. The amount of blessings and returns we receive is something we cannot enumerate. This verse is a sign of our belonging to Islam, so we should strive to do it justice.
So the next time you wake up, go to sleep, start an exam, sign a contract, or stand before Allah in prayers, remember that when you say “Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem”, you are making a case. Make sure your case is a winner!