Tag Archives: Surah

Qur’an I: The Opening

Nearly ten years ago, Gabriel Said Reynolds published “The Qur’an and the Bible” in First Things. That has now been expanded into a book, The Bible and the Quran, which is centered around a translation of the Koran into English, with notes by Reynolds.

The first Surah, corresponding to “chapters” or “books”, of the Koran is also the shortest, and is called “The Opening.”  It is short enough to reproduce in full:

In the Name of God, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful
All praise belongs to God, Lord of all the words
the All-beneficent, the All-merciful
Master of the Day of Retribution
You do we worship
and to You do we turn for help
Guide us on the straight path
the path of those whom You have blessed
— such as have not incurred Your wrath, nor are astray
Qur’an 1: The Opening

In the First Things piece Reynolds notes that the Catholic bishop Paul of Antioch argued in the 12th century the three-fold definition of divinity was not merely rhetorical, but referred to the persons of the Trinity.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,
the God of one substance,
trinity of natures.

From the humble monk Paul of Antioch, Bishop of Sidon,
letter to one of his Muslim friends in Sidon. …

There are substantial attributes having the value of names, of which each is different from the other, since God is unique, neither sharing nor dividing. Moreover, it says at the beginning of the Book:

“In the name of God, the Benefactor, the Merciful,”

it is confined to three attributes to the exclusion of the others. – attributes which, for us are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that which means a living speaking being. Besides, it is said in this Book:

“In the name of God…”

Moreover it is said in this Book:

“Say: Call upon God, or call upon Mercy, but whatever name you call Him by, to Him belong the most beautiful names…”
Paul’s Letter to the Muslims” (translated by Dr. Nafisa Abdelsadek) circa AD 1200 Paragraphs 1, 32

Like the writer of the Qur’an and Bishop Paul, the Gospel account uses a tri-fold formula for one Name:

Go therefore
and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Matthew 28:19

Three comparisons are included by Reynolds to this Surah: the Our Father (as found in Matthew and Luke) and the first Psalm. Like the Our Father, Surah 1 has a general ‘downward’ trend, starting at celestial purity and ending in temptation…

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Matthew 6:9-13

The same pattern is also in the first of the Psalms:

Happy the man who has not walked in the wicket’s counsel,
nor in the way of offenders has stood, nor in the session of scoffers has sat. But the LORD’s teaching is his desire, and His teaching he murmurs day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water,
that bears its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither —
and in all that he does he prospers.

Not so the wicked,
but like the chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicket will not stand up in judgment,
nor offenders in the band of the righteous.

For the LORD embraces the way of the righteous,
and the way of the wicked is lost.
Psalms 1:1-6

The first Surah reads like a part of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Like the “Our Father” and the First Psalm it is a short prayer that presents the glory of God, the fallen nature of man’s sin, and a gradation of holiness between them. Like the First Psalm “The Opening” is a clear textual unit, and like the “Our Father” it is a threefold invocation of God.