The Power of Bismillah
Whilst growing up we are pushed to recite Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim before starting any task or chore and especially before eating. But how many of us understand the meaning behind the phrase? Even for those of us who know the translation, when saying it, how much sincerity is there in our utterance. What is the true power of bismillah
Firstly it is vital to remember that Allah needs to be remembered daily. Allah is self-sufficient, humans are not. Humans without the remembrance of Allah are like fish without water, we can not live without invoking him. Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim is a phrase often said to contain the true essence of the entire Qur’an.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “The world will cease to exist, doomsday will start, when the name of Allah is no longer mentioned”.
In other words, the primary reason behind our existence today remains because of the very few still invoking the name of Allah on a daily basis, every act and thought is in accordance with his divine will.
The phrase shown in the above picture is pronounced Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim, it is an exquisite phrase which has a profound insight and offers deep inspiration however only so if understood correctly. The common translation is: “In the name of God, most Gracious, most Merciful”. This phrase, in its magnificence is truly an ideal to be expressed with utmost sincerity and gratitude, but I can see how it may fail to capture our hearts. So let’s look deeper into the meaning.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, Any important work that does not begin with Bismillah is imperfect.
The common translation for bismillah is “In the name of Allah”, It’s an expression that really does not make much sense at first sight. To understand it better, it has the connotations of with the blessings of, under the governance of, with the support of, or for the glory of (Allah). In each of these cases, In the name of indicates that one is submitting to, beginning by or glorifying Allah, the most High.
Now, let’s take a deeper look into the Arabic roots of the word bismillah.
The term bismillah, is a combination of three words:
- The particle bī means by, with the aid of or by means of and is used in conjunction with the next word (i.e ism). Something to note about the word bī is that, it is a prepositional phrase, which in Arabic can only function with a verb following it. However in the word bismillah there is no verb, you become an active member of the narration by placing a verb that is related to you, not in the literal sense but defined by your corresponding action or intention.
- The word ism indicates the means by which something is distinguished, whether by use of an identifying mark or by being raised up high so that it may be distinguished, in other words by giving a name, attribute or a title. Hence the common translation of ism as ‘name’
- Allah, is the name of the One who is independent, incomparable and eternal. In modern English this would generally be translated as God.
If we put together these terms, we can define bismillah in various ways:
- I begin in the name of Allah
- With the guidance of The Divine
- By means of the very essence of God
The idea here is that, whatever action we take, we do so through the essence of the One who has created us, we take guidance from him first. So when we are about to begin a task, if we start by Bismillah, we in principle are saying, “I’m going to begin this task with the guidance of Allah.” This is an integral duty of a Muslim and a form of humbleness, alone we are powerless! At times one may feel he can succeed on his own, free from any help or guidance, but once you control your ego, you realise humans are prone to fault and destruction & that we are dependent upon the Creator (one who gave us the ability to think and act & one who gives us life and takes it). Thus, to say bismillah, it is to humbly offer oneself as a vehicle for the glory and majesty of The One.
Ali (RA) said: Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim is an effective du’a for simplifying a difficult task; and removes all grief and brings happiness in the heart.
Ir Rahman Ir Rahim
The two terms rahman and rahim refer to attributes of Allah. Whilst they are often translated simply as Compassionate and Merciful, the roots point to a deeper meaning. Both words have the same derivative which indicates something of the utmost tenderness which provides protection and nourishment, and that from which all of creation is brought into being. The term rahman is a very emphatic statement, which then is immediately echoed by rahim. Although they are from the same root, they have distinct meanings.
- Rahman:- The term rahman describes the aspect of the source of creation, which is endlessly radiating and nourishing. It conveys the idea of fullness and extensiveness, indicating the great quality of love and mercy which engulfs all of creation without regard to any effort or request on our part. It’s often translated as Gracious, Beneficent and Compassionate which is denoting the benevolence of Allah. It describes the quality of abounding Grace which is inherent in and inseparable from the Almighty.
- Rahim:- On the other hand, the term rahim is specific to individuals and operates in response to the actions and behaviour of the recipient. It is in this manner, how Allah takes ten steps towards us when we take a single step toward him. It is in the manner how we are gifted the Quran to guide us. In a sense, it is the continuous manifestation of the Grace in our lives and its effect upon us as a result of our own activities.
So Rahman points toward the Beneficent One whose endless outpouring of love and mercy are continually showered upon all of creation, while Rahim points towards the Merciful One whose love and mercy are manifested in that which is received as the consequence of one’s deeds. So, the phrase ir rahman ir rahim is a recognition and honouring of the very source of all existence, the source of all compassion and mercy, the one who continues to shower his mercy.
Allah is not only Gracious and Merciful, he is the Most Gracious and the Most Merciful, think of someone who shows an ample amount of mercy to others, Allah is far more merciful than them; Allah’s mercy is endless and overflowing, waiting for someone to request it.
Allaamah Sayyid Haqqi (RA) said: Allah Ta’ala has three thousand names. He revealed one thousand to the angels, one thousand to the ambiya, three hundred are mentioned in the Torah, three hundred in the Zaboor, three hundred in the Injeel and ninety-nine in the Holy Qur’aan. One Name He has kept to Himself; He revealed it to no one. Also, He has condensed all His names into the three names contained in Bismillaahir rahmaanir raheem. They are Allah, Rahmaan and Raheem. Any person saying Bismillaahir rahmaanir raheem; it is as though he has remembered Allah by all His names.
To put it all together, I’ll do so by way of an example:-
Say you are about to walk out of your house on your way to work. You start by saying Bismillah, before beginning anything you are putting Allah first and bringing him into presence. So you’re saying with the guidance of Allah, that going to work + your journey to work goes well, and in the direction of Allah’s will. The next step is to say Ir Rahman Ir Rahim, what you are doing here is remembering Allah’s attributes of being magnificently compassionate to humanity, by bestowing life, etc and also embracing his mercy towards you as an individual, but not only that, how he is the most compassionate and the most merciful. This in return brings gratitude, because of his mercy to you, you want to act in accordance of his will.
Now imagine putting this into practice with every halal act you do, how perfect it becomes and taqwa-orientated.
No matter where you are, what you are doing, begin with Bismillah!
*Check out this beautiful analogy of life by Imam Ghazali: Analogy of Life
*Speaking well mannered is part of Islam: 30 Quranic Verses and Hadith on The Etiquettes of Speech