The Qur’ān, translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali
with minor alterations by Tahrikke Tarsile Qur’an, Inc.

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[Online Editor: My comments and questions appear in pale yellow.]


Al-Fatiha, or The Opening

1:1In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Who is Allah/God?  What is grace, and what makes a person or entity gracious?  Likewise, what is mercy, and what makes a person or entity merciful?
1:2Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds;

What constitutes praise?  How do I know I am praising correctly?  Why are we praising God, because He is the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds, or is that shear coincidence?

By “the Cherisher…of the Worlds” (emphasis added), do we mean to imply that He is the only person or entity that cherishes the worlds?—for, I think that may be false.  Depending upon how we define worlds, I think I am also a cherisher thereof.  What do we mean by “Worlds,” do we mean planets, do we mean parallel universes, do we merely mean different spheres of understanding?  In any event, I don’t see why there would be just one cherisher.

In what way do we want to claim that God is the “Sustainer of the Worlds”?  Perhaps this refers to the author of natural laws, which are known to dictate the motion of the planets and stars, as well as all other material action.

1:3Most Gracious, Most Merciful;

Let us explore mercy for just a bit, because I think this will explain my confusion.  Mercy is one of those terms that can have different meanings depending upon the person using it.  For example, does mercy imply completely forgiving everyone for everything they do, a sort of pacifistic mercy?  In other words, does the merciful person refuse to punish or seek punishment against her or his aggressor, fully exonerating the aggressor for all aggression and relieving her or him of all responsibility for her or his crime?  If this is the prerogative of God, then there can be no Hell, or any punishment whatsoever, for to give some person less Heavenly pleasure than another would be, in effect, to level some degree of punishment against the person receiving less.

Perhaps mercy means that you will enact no punishment against your aggressor the first time, or first five times, or whatever.  In other words, mercy would be giving the aggressor another chance.  The question then is, how many chances must you give your aggressor to be constituted as merciful, or moreover, “Most Merciful”?  It would seem that she or he who gives an infinite number of “second” chances would be the most merciful, which brings us back to our first definition.

Another definition one could employ is: demanding only a just compensation for aggressions.  Thus, instead of the victim demanding twelve teeth for a tooth (or some other arbitrary number), the victim ought only get a single tooth, plus perhaps a tiny bit extra to compensate for time-preference loss.  Demanding that the thief of a stick of gum be executed, for example, would clearly fail this test of mercy.  Of course, even if we accept that this is an appropriate definition of mercy, I believe it would still be pretty non-controversial to say that the victim who demands no restitution from her or his aggressors is more merciful than those who demand merely a single tooth per tooth.

Maybe mercy is something far more extreme than what we have discussed above, e.g. absolute self-sacrifice in every manner to all those around the merciful person, a sort of voluntary slavery.  Yet I doubt many theists would wish to say that God is our slave, so this does not solve the problem, either.  Ultimately, therefore, I am left without any understanding about what necessarily makes God merciful or moreover the most merciful—and I do not even know where to begin with the concept of grace.

1:4Master of the Day of Judgment.
What exactly is this day of judgment?  Who are being judged, when, where, why, how, by what criteria?
1:5You do we worship, and Your aid do we seek.

How do we worship?  What constitutes appropriate worship?  Is seeking understanding and wisdom, asking a lot of questions, and seeking answers “worship”?  Does merely not-aggressing-against-a-person constitute worship of that person?  Is worship ever sexual?

What sort of aid do we seek?  Do we intentionally seek it, or do we seek it involuntarily through our common actions, perhaps even through merely existing?  For what do we seek aid?  Is there anything in common for which we seek aid, or is the seeking of aid always a subjective quest?

1:6Show us the straight way.
What is the straight way?  How do we know it when we see it?
1:7The way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.

This seems to be an attempt to answer my previous question, but it merely leaves me with more questions.  In theory, we could look to the way of those on whom God has bestowed His grace, call it the “straight way,” and follow that, but then how do we know upon whom God has bestowed His grace?  Looking to those who have not gone astray as an indication of whom God has bestowed grace upon gets us no further since we have to know first what the straight way is to know who it is that has gone astray therefrom.

I do not know what “whose (portion) is not wrath” means.  Perhaps it means those who do not show anger, in which case the “straight way” is the way away from anger and toward peace.  Is this opening simply a prayer asking God to help show us how not to get angry?

But if by that we instead mean those who do not receive God’s anger, then we are right back at our place of absolute confusion, for how do we determine who is suffering from God’s anger, and those who are merely unlucky or having a bad day?  Worse yet (at least insofar as our ability to make this sort of determination is concerned), if God grants no suffering to those with whom He is angry, then there is absolutely no way for us to determine the other group, i.e. those who are bestowed His grace.

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