Spiritual Indications from the Opening of the Book: A Commentary on Surah al-Fatihah

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

[Click Here to Read] Spiritual Indications from the Opening of the Book

Surah al-Fātihah, from an Ilkhanid-Era Mushaf (1328CE/732AH) [Yahuda.Ms.Ar.902]

All praise is due to Allah, the One with whose praise should be the opening of every book. May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon our master Muhammad, the opener of the doors of Divine Mercy, and upon his blessed family and companions until end of time.

The centrality of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah in Islam cannot be overstated. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ called it the Mother of the Book (Umm al-Kitāb). Numerous scholars have explained that the sūrah encompasses all the meanings of the Qur’an in just seven short verses. For scholars of literature and Qur’anic Inimitability, it is the greatest example of Barā’ah al-Istihlāl (The Skillful Opening). Imam al-Ghazālī in his masterpiece Jawāhir al-Qur’ān, on the methodology of understanding the Qur’an, explains how the sūrah covers the all of the primary objectives of the Qur’anic message. In short, understanding al-Fātiḥah is key to the understanding the Qur’an.

This work is an adapted translation of a lecture given by Shaykh Aḥmad Ma’zūz al-Bilqā’idī in Ramadan 1428 AH/2007 CE at the Bilqā’idī Zāwiyah in Algeria. When I first heard the lecture online, I was struck by the depth of the commentary in spite of its brevity. Beyond a mere translation and explanation of the words of the sūrah, the meanings drawn from each verse were easy to remember and conducive to bringing about a state of (reverence) within prayer. I soon committed to transcribing and translating it, adapting it to make it suitable for reading, added references and some of my own additions throughout the text, and some explanations in the footnotes.

It is my hope that this short commentary, despite only touching the surface of the profound meanings contained within Surah al-Fatihah, is of benefit to all who read it. I pray that Allah accepts this work from me in this blessed month, making it an expiation for my sins, through the rank of His Beloved, our Master Muhammad ﷺ.

Yusuf Chaudhary
Friday, 4 Ramaḍān 1440 AH / 10 May 2019 CE

Did the Mongols Really Destroy the Books of Baghdad (1258)? Examining the Tigris “River of Ink”

Bagdad1258One of the most popular claims made to show the level of wanton destruction of Baghdad after the Mongol siege in 1258 is that when the Mongols besieged the city, they sacked its libraries and destroyed books on science, philosophy, religion, and other subjects by throwing them into the Tigris river, such that it began to flow black with ink. Most often, the claim is quoted in attempts to frame the Mongol invasions as the cause of intellectual decline and the end of the “golden age” of Islamic civilization. This story, however, is an extreme exaggeration, not being attested to in any of the primary sources.

The story seems to have originated sometime in the early 15th century, becoming popular as later historians began to repeat it, possibly as Mamluk anti-Mongol propaganda. However, the early sources that we do have, from the 14th century, paint a rather different picture – one of many of the books in the libraries of Baghdad being saved and protected at the hands of the Shī’ī philosopher Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 1274). Unfortunately, this is not well known in popular contemporary histories, and stories of Mongol excesses, their barbarity, and their lack of enthusiasm for knowledge and science pervade.

Continue reading “Did the Mongols Really Destroy the Books of Baghdad (1258)? Examining the Tigris “River of Ink””

A Failed Attempt at Hiding Treasure from the Mongol Invaders of Baghdad (1258)

As I was doing some research looking through Arabic history chronicles, I came upon this amusing story related by al-’Iṣāmī (d. 1699) at the end of his account on the death of al-Mu’ṭaṣim and the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258.

I’ve translated the excerpt below:

“From among the strange things that occurred is what one person narrated. He said:

When the Mongols conquered Baghdad and killed the Caliph al-Mu’ṭaṣim, there was a well-known rich man in Baghdad. When he heard of the proximity of the Mongols to Baghdad he made a cellar underground in his house and placed his boxes, his goods, and everything else that he cherished, such as money and other things. Then he made the opening of that place in the form of a ruin, and made water flow around it to another area, to hide the place from sight. He said to himself, “If the Mongols enter Baghdad, I will go to the desert, and when they leave, I will come back to my home and my money.”

After he finished that, he found in his supplies six extremely large and valuable pearls. He said to himself, “Opening this underground cellar is a difficult matter.” So he tried to think of some way to preserve those pearls, but did not find any place other than a small birds nest that was in the roof of his house – close to the aforementioned cellar. He called for a ladder and placed them in the nest, then he sat in the entrance of the house wearing the clothes of the poor.

When the Mongols entered Baghdad, they commanded people to show them the houses of the rich of Baghdad, so they could find what they could plunder. So that man came to some of those Mongols and took them to the house. They searched around in it and did not find anything, so the Mongol solider became angry and tied the man up and said, “Are you making a fool of me?” and he began to hit and punish the man, while the man was swearing that the owner of the house was from among the rich men of Baghdad and that he was not trying to make fun of him. As he was hitting him, a bird from that nest with the pearls pooped on him. As the bird poop landed on his face, his anger increased and he struck the nest, and the nest fell down. Those pearls also fell from it, and three of them rolled out to the opening of that hole.

The Mongol soldier took the three pearls and forced the man to break open the hole to take out any other pearls. When he began to break it open and took away its front, he found tracks leading to the place with the money, goods and boxes. The Mongol soldier took everything that was there and let the man go, and he gave him a small amount. So reflect, o’ people of understanding!”

Abd al-Malik b. Ḥusayn al-’Iṣāmī al-Makkī (d. 1699), Simṭ al-Nūjūm al-Awālī, vol. 3 (Beirut: Dār a-Kutub al-’Ilmiyyah, 1998), pp. 3: 521-2

Kitāb al-Qaṣd ilā Allāh: Collection of the Sayings of Imām Abū al-Ḥasan al-Shādhilī (d. 1258)

al-qasd 2The Sayings of Imām Abū al-Ḥasan al-Shādhilī (d. 1258). This MS. is dated to 1592. The Cambridge Digital Library of Islamic Manuscripts suggests that it may be an early work from the Imām’s students, however, the book has yet to be published by itself, and the compiler is unknown.

Ibn ‘Ayyād al-Shādhilī (d.1740) reproduces it in al-Mafākhir al-‘Aliyyah in a section on the sayings of Imām al-Shādhilī, as narrated by one al-Ustādh Abū al-Ḥasan al-Bakrī. However, he doesn’t introduce the work or mention a source text.

He may be referring to Imām Muḥammad Abū al-Ḥasan al-Bakrī (d. 1583), who passed away just 11 years before this manuscript was written.

Imām al-Munāwī met the son of Imām Muḥammad al-Bakrī and includes an entry for him in his work on Sufi biographies. He describes him as “a scholar of the Ḥaramayn, Egypt and al-Shām.” Imām al-Bakrī studied under his father Abū al-Ḥasan al-Mārr, and then al-Shihāb ‘Umayrah al-Burullusī, and was known for giving excellent lessons in ḥadīth, tafsīr and taṣawwuf.

Update #1

After being dormant for quite some time now, my blog is finally back up (a complete overhaul, starting from scratch) and I’ll soon be populating it with new posts and articles on various topics from history, Arabic literature, poetry, Islamic theology, philosophy, updates on personal research and projects that I’m working on.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at SOAS, and now that I’ve graduated I have a lot more time to devote to writing and my other projects. My research at university was mainly on the relationship between the Mongol Ilkhanate and Islam, as well as broader Islamic and Medieval Iranian history So you can expect a lot of articles on Mongol and Ilkhanate history.

Over the coming days I will be uploading some of my existing work – some research and translations. I’ve also got a few new articles planned. Check back soon for when they are published.

In the meantime, you can view my updates on Twitter.