Fatihah | 4

إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين

It is You we worship and You we ask for help. (Saheeh International)

I will render this verse as:

You alone do we serve and worship to seek balance and your help alone do we seek in our effort

Worship / Ibaadah:

The word 'Abd/عبد' has been translated as worship by Saheeh international.

It comes from the root ع ب د which was used in following ways:

  1. Abd literally means a  plant which camels ate which made them healthier and produced more milk in them but it induced thirst in them as well. (Mu'jam Ishtiqaaqi)
  2. The Arabs used to coat boats with charcoal. It made the boat ugly and ruined its looks but it prevented it from drowning. This boat was called Ma'bbadah. (Muhit al Muhit)
  3. As a verb for punishing someone in order to discipline him. (MI)
  4. For a powerful and healthy camel. (MI)
  5. In the meanings of extreme attachment to  someone/something which resulted in that person becoming soft and kindhearted. (MI)

    Hence, it was used in the meanings of slavery as slave is confined to his master. And so when referring to Allah, it means becoming his slave and acknowledging him as our Diety and Master. As a slave is confined to his Master, so a slave of Allah looks to Allah alone as his God and master. (MI)
  6. Since this root was used for a slave, it was also used in the meanings of submission and service. Because a slave submits to his Master.

Basic Meaning:

This root is used for something which is uncomfortable, harsh and difficult in the beginning but in the end is beneficial, useful and produces good. Just like the plant which the camels ate, for it causes thirst but in the end improves their health and produces more milk in them. The person who was beaten had to suffer the beating in the beginning, but in the end it led to him becoming disciplined. The charcoal did ruin the looks of the boat, but it in the end it survived because of it and did not drown.

This usage is derived from the concept of serving or submitting to a higher power or authority, which may involve temporary hardship or difficulty but ultimately leads to reward or benefit. So servitude and obedience to God does not mean life will be all rainbows. That it will be full of blessings and happiness. On the contrary, it comes with its difficulties and trials. Many Quranic verses describe this. Such as:

Do the people think that they will be left to say, "We believe" and they will not be tried?  We have certainly tried those before them, and Allāh will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars. (29:2-3)

The Prophet said the more religiously committed a person is, the more hardships he will go through and that is why the Prophets go through the most hardships. The word used for hardship in the hadith, Balaa', literally means  pain which drives someone to his absolute limits and if that was not enough, the the emphatic form of this root is used which may refer to either it happening again and again or that the severity of the pain will be the extreme of extremes.

Help / عون :

The word Aaon has been translated as help by Saheeh international.

It comes from the root ع و ن  which was used in the following meanings:

  1. For a land which received rain between two lands that did not receive it. (MI)
  2. For an extremely tall palm tree which was called Awanah. (MI)
  3. For an extremely intense war in which the fighting resumes again and again. It was called عوان/Awaan. (Mukhtar al Sahih)
  4. For a middle aged women. An age between youth and old age. Meaning an age where all the body has fully developed after the phase of youth and growth and is now in that fully developed state as old age has not yet come to take it away. Such a woman was called Mutaa'winah. (Taj al Uroos,Muhit al Muhit)
  5. A middle aged cow or horse. Having all the body and organs developed and not yet weakened by old age. Such a cow or horse was called Awaan. (Muhit al Muhit,Taj al Uroos,Mu'jam al Ishtiqaaqi)

Basic Meaning:

The basic meaning is balance, moderation and being in the middle of two extremes by means of a strength and effort on top of already existing strength and effort.

The earth which did receive rain is in the middle of two lands having an extreme drought. The middle aged woman is between the two extremes of youth and old age and same is the case for the middle aged cow and horse.

The extremely and abnormally tall palm tree has extra height on top of the normal height. It has extra strength on top of already existing strength. The intense war has added tension on top of already existing tension. The earth which received rain, has the covering and strength of greenery and plants on it.

Hence when we ask Allah for Aaon, we are basically saying we are trying ourselves to obtain balance but we need him to help us on top of our effort. It is a help given to somebody who is already putting in effort on his own. We are asking Allah to give us strength on top of the strength we have gathered by means of our efforts. This effort we are putting in is to gain balance and moderation.

Concise Commentary:

  • The pronoun 'You' has been brought earlier than its normal place to create meanings of exclusivity which I rendered as 'Alone' in my attempt to translate it.
  • Since Allah possesses all good and strength as mentioned in the first verse, so we serve only him. All Good comes from him even the good we receive from other people is because of him so why not serve him only? So this a proclamation of serving God and being ready for the pain and hardships on this path, with the motivation of Allah being the one with whom lies all good and inner peace. This strength and peace will allow us to balance between right and wrong.
  • It is a declaration of our willingness to even go through pain and hardship for it. Islam is not calling to an easy and luxurious life of comfort and ease. This is a path of pain and suffering which yields the fruit of happiness and success in the end.
  • God only helps those who help themselves. We are seeking balance and moderation .We are to actively struggle and put our efforts for it and ask Allah only then and there. Allah asks us to put our efforts and try first. He will not help those who do not try.

The two basic principles and realities of life highlighted in this verse are:

  • Service and slavery to God will be a source of pain and hardship but ultimately be the cause of bliss and happiness. The motivation for this is that Allah alone possesses all good. Inner strength and inner peace are with Allah alone. We will have to go through pain and hardship to achieve those.

  • God only helps those who help themselves .It is because we acknowledge that we are ready to absorb pain and suffer for Allah that we put our efforts to achieve it. If we were to achieve it with no effort, there would be no hardship involved. In Arabic many words are available for 'help' with slight variation in meanings. This word fits perfectly with the context.

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