Bismillah hir-rahmaan nir-raheem
Shehzad Saleem

Meaning of the Verse
    In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.

Historical Status of the Verse
    A study of the Quran reveals that since ancient times there has always been a mention of the meanings encompassed by this verse in revealed scriptures in one form or another. It may be the first time that these meanings have been framed in such a sublime diction in the Quran, yet what they convey is so close to human nature that one strongly feels that the Almighty must also have revealed them in the very beginning. The Prophet Noah (sws), when his followers were boarding the ark, said something quite similar, as has been mentioned in the Quran:

And he said: Embark therein! In the name of Allah will it sail and cast anchor. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful. (11:41)

    Similarly, the Prophet Solomon (sws) began his letter, addressed to the Queen of Sheeba, with these blessed words, as has been quoted by the Quran:

It is from Solomon and begins in the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful. (27:30)

Prayer Nature of the Verse
    The verse is not an informative statement, and, like Surah Faatihah, is actually a prayer. It is a voice which emanates from the heart of every upright person. A more beautiful expression of emotions in words so akin to human nature could not have been imagined. If a person consciously utters this prayer before any piece of work or routine, it makes him aware that what he is about to undertake must not be against the Almighty's liking; on the contrary, it must be in accordance with the way of life prescribed by Him. Also, by virtue of this prayer he seeks help from two great attributes of God -- Rahmaan and Raheem. Both these attributes secure him the blessings and help of the Almighty: he is protected from the ill-effects of his undertaking and receives strength and courage to carry out his task to completion; he is shielded from the onslaughts of Satan, and his work becomes beneficial for him in the world and a means to please the Almighty in the Hereafter. Anything done without this prayer certainly fails to reap all these blessings, as the Prophet (sws) himself is said to have said.

Attributes of the Almighty in the Verse
    Three attributes of the Almighty have been mentioned in the verse: Allah, Rahmaan and Raheem. We shall briefly explain them.
ALLAH: The word Allah has been made by prefixing the article alif laam to the word ilaah. From the earliest times, this name has always been used for the Almighty specifically as the Creator of the Universe and of every living being. This connotation of the word existed in pre-Islamic times as well in Arabia. The people of Arabia practised polytheism, yet they never equated any of their deities with the Almighty. They had always acknowledged Him as the sole Creator of this world. They worshipped other deities only because they wrongly believed that these deities were close to God and could intercede for them. Their views have been stated in detail in the Quran:

We worship them only that they may bring us nearer to God. (39:3)

And if you ask them: who has created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon [to His law]? They will reply: Allah. How are they then deluded away [from the truth]. It is Allah who gives abundantly to whom He pleases and gives sparingly [to whom He pleases]. Allah has knowledge of all things. If you ask them: who it is that sent down-rain from the clouds and therewith revived the earth after it became dead. They will say: Allah. (29: 61-63)

Ask them: who is it that sustains you from the sky and the earth, or who is it that has power over your hearing and sight and who brings forth the living from the dead and the dead from the living and who directs all affairs? They will say: Allah. Then ask: Are you not afraid of Him? (10:31)

    RAHMAAN and RAHEEM: The noun Rahmaan is the intensive form of fa'laan (eg: sakraan and gadhbaan), while the noun Raheem is an adjective of the form fa'eel (eg: `aleam and kareem). A look at the various usages in the Arabic language shows that the form fa`laam expresses great fervency and enthusiasm, while the form fa`eel expresses steadiness and perpetuity. In other words, the first depicts vigour and the second constancy in God's mercy. A little deliberation shows that the Almighty's mercy on His creation possesses both these characteristics. The enthusiasm and warmth is complemented by permanence. It is not that His attribute of Rahmaan induced Him to create, and he later forgot to foster and sustain His creation. Indeed, He is nourishing and taking proper care of it because He is Raheem as well. Whenever a person invokes His help, He hears his calls and accepts his prayers. Also, His blessings are not confined to this world only. Those who shall lead their lives according to the path prescribed by Him, shall be blessed with eternal life and joy. It must be conceded that all these aspects cannot be comprehended without an integrated understanding of these attributes.

(Adapted from Islahi's "Tadabbur-i-Quran")