Tafseer Surah Al-Fatiha: إِيّاكَ نَعبُدُ وَإِيّاكَ نَستَعينُ

The following is a translation of Dr Fadhel al Samarrai’s Tafseer of Surah Fatiha. Sub-headings have been added for ease of reading. This tafseer gives an insight in to the miraculous nature of the Qur’anic Arabic.

  1. Why are the objects before the verbs?

The two objects of the verbs نعبد (we worship) and نستعين (we seek assistance) have been brought forward for the purpose of specification. The meaning becomes, we stipulate for you worship and we stipulate for you the seeking of assistance, and we don’t worship anything except you and we don’t seek assistance except from you. This is because worshiping is only for Allah, and seeking help is only with Him. It is similar to His saying:

بَلِ ٱللَّهَ فَٱعْبُدْ

“Rather, worship [only] Allah”

(Zumur, 39:66)

and His saying:

قُلْ أَفَغَيْرَ ٱللَّهِ تَأْمُرُونِّيۤ أَعْبُدُ أَيُّهَا ٱلْجَاهِلُونَ

“Say, [O Muhammad], Is it other than Allah that you order me to worship, O ignorant ones?”

(Zumur, 39:64)

and His saying:

رَّبَّنَا عَلَيْكَ تَوَكَّلْنَا

“Our Lord, upon You we have relied”

(Mumtahana, 60:4)

and His saying:

عَلَيْهِ تَوَكَّلْتُ

“upon him I rely”

(Hud, 11:88)

and His saying:

وَعَلَى ٱللَّهِ فَتَوَكَّلُوۤاْ

“and upon Allah, then put your trust”

(Al-Maida, 5:23)


  1. Why is إياك repeated?

The repetition of إياك with the verb of seeking help (نستعين) specifies the seeking of help to Allah. This is because if He had said: إياك نعبد ونستعين, it would specify Him with worshipping and it would not specify Him with seeking help. Also if He said: إياك نعبد ونستعين it may be understood that no one draws near to Him except by combining worship and seeking assistance. Therefore, he would not worship without seeking assistance nor would he seek help without worshiping, and this is not correct. Similar to this is someone’s saying, “you alone I give and I warn”. This may be understood that warning will be combined with giving and giving will not happen independently, or warning will not happen independently, and possibly independence of the actions will be understood in giving and warning.

Therefore, if someone said, “to you I give and to you I am warning”, it will specify for him the giving and specify for him the warning from all sides whether giving and warning is combined or not.

It came in Ruhu al-Maani: “regarding the secret of the repetition of إياك, it is for specification upon the request of assistance from Him (swt), because had He (swt) said: إياك نعبد ونستعين, it would probably inform of the request of assistance without designating from whom it should be sought from. If he had restricted upon one, perhaps he will think that he will not draw close to Allah (swt) except by combining between the two, and the truth is opposite to this. Then indeed in the repetition of إياك is to draw attention and power, and not that which is from omission…therefore, your saying: ‘you alone I protect and you alone I care for’ is stronger than ‘you alone I protect and care for’.”

It came in Tafseer Al-Qaeem: “so the repetition of the pronoun is from the powerful requirement not from its omission. Therefore, when you say to a king for example: ‘you alone I love and you alone I fear’, it will be specifically from love and fear for itself and concern by mentioning it. It will not be in your saying: ‘you alone I love and I fear’.”

 Therefore, the repetition is required from every aspect.


  1. Why is نستعين not restricted to a particular type of help?

From another angle, let us consider how the verb of seeking help (نستعين) was used and how it did not restrict it with anything. So He said: وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ and He did not say: we seek help for such, or upon such, and He did not say as an example: we seek help for worshipping, or we seek help for obeying, or anything like that, which means that the verb of seeking help was intended to include everything which the human wanted and it did not specify it with anything. So he seeks assistance with Allah for worshiping and for seeking provision, and for victory against the enemy, and that his affairs become easy for him, and his needs are fulfilled for him. Therefore, it includes all affairs of the world and the hereafter.

It is said, if He specified seeking help with worshiping and obedience, then the ruling of seeking help in other than them will be unknown.

It came in Ruhu Al-Maani: “regarding the secret of the usage of seeking assistance, then it was said: in order that it deals with every type of help in it. So the omission here is similar to their saying: such and such gave, which is an indication of generality. Also, if the aim was seeking of help for his success in the fulfillment of worshiping, then the ruling of seeking help in other than that will remain unknown in the knowledge of the mother of the book.”


  1. Why was ‘we’ used and not ‘I’?

Let us discuss from another angle, how it used the expression regarding worshiping and seeking help with the plural (we) not singular (I). So He said: إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ and He did not say: أعبد وأستعين and that is to indicate upon the importance of community in Islam. So the Islamic religion is not an individualistic religion. Rather it is a collective religion, and many of the collective manifestations are clear like congregational prayer, which is superior to individual prayer by twenty-seven degrees, and the mosque is but a manifestation of the collective manifestations. This chapter which is repeated in every rakah of prayer is an indication of the importance of community, with the words: we worship, we seek help and guide us. The hajj is the biggest manifestation of collective appearance and alms and charity are from the greatest manifestation of collective responsibility, and fighting in the path of Allah is from the affairs of the community and the leader of the believers will declare it, and fasting in Islam is not purely an individualistic worship, rather it is collective worship. Therefore, it is designated with an appointed month, which all Muslims societies are bound by and it is not just the individuals desire. Therefore, no individual should be separate from collective manifestations in society. Visiting the sick is a collective matter, and other than that, are all from the collective manifestations.

It came in in Tafseer Al-Razi: “Indeed the aim from this Nun is the Nun of plurality, and it is notifying first that the human should perform the prayer in congregation…third aspect: Indeed the believers are brothers, so if He said: (إياك أعبد), then it would have mentioned his worship and not mention the worship of than him. As for when he said: (إياك نعبد) he would have mentioned his worship and the worship of all believers in the east and west, as if he is striving to restore the important matters of the believers.”


  1. Why was worship connected to seeking help?

Worship is connected with seeking of help in order to indicate that the human being is not capable to establish the worship of Allah except with the help of Allah and success granted by Him. He will not ascend with it except by relying upon Allah. Therefore, it is confirmation of the weakness of carrying this heavy responsibility. If Allah did not help him, then seeking assistance with Allah is a remedy for the delusion of man and his arrogance, and both of them are two fatal diseases. “Certainly, He combined between what the servants draw close with to their lord and what they request of him, and what they need from him…”


  1. Why was worship given precedence over seeking help?

Worship was given precedence over seeking assistance for several reasons, amongst them are:

a. Indeed worship is the reason for the creation of man and jinn

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ ٱلْجِنَّ وَٱلإِنسَ إِلاَّ لِيَعْبُدُونِ

“I did not create jinn and men except to worship”

(Adh-dhariyat, 51:56)

Indeed, it is the goal of their creation and indeed seeking help is only a means to establish it. So worship was brought first by foregrounding (bringing forward) because the objective is given precedent before the means.

It came in the Tafseer al-Qaeem: “Indeed preceding of the worship over the seeking of help in fatiha is from a type of forwarding the objectives before the means, because worshiping is the objective of the servants which they were created for and seeking help is a means to that.”

b. Worship is a portion belonging to the Lord and His right, and that seeking of help is s desire of the servant, and naturally the servant will undertake what is necessary to please the Lord and invoke His response before seeking from Him anything while he self-abases himself before Allah and submits in His presence with worship. Therefore worshiping is mostly likely where one expects response to the seeking of help.

c. Worship is the right of Allah and His portion and seeking help is the portion of the servant, and the right of Allah deserves to come first.

d. Worship is more suitable for recompense. I mean by this, His saying: مَـٰلِكِ يَوْمِ ٱلدِّينِ and the seeking of help is more suitable for requesting guidance, so it placed every expression with what it will be appropriate for.

It came in Ruhu Al Maani: “Indeed it – i.e. worshiping – is a more suitable association with the mentioning of the recompense, and the seeking of help is stronger in terms of gathering with the request for guidance.”

e. إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ is connected with His divinity and His name is Allah, and وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ is connected with lordship and his name is the Lord (rabb). So إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ precedes إِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ, just as the name of Allah precedes in the beginning of the chapter.

f. إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ is the portion for Allah, so it was with the portion which is praising Allah (swt), being the most appropriate with it. وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ is the portion for the servant so it was with the portion which is for him and it is ٱهْدِنَا ٱلصِّرَاطَ ٱلْمُسْتَقِيمَ to the end of the chapter.

And this expression is similar to His saying (swt):

فَٱعْبُدْهُ وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَيْهِ

(Hud, 11:123)

Worship preceded reliance. This is in addition to delaying the verb of seeking help, conforms with the ending of the verses in the chapter. Therefore, bringing forward of worship was required from every perspective.


  1. Why did He say ‘you alone we worship…’ (إياك نعبد…) with the second person address instead of ‘He alone we worship and He alone we seek help from’ (إياه نعبد وإياه نستعين) ?

There is a general benefit in turning from one addressee to another, and also benefits which the situation requires of it. As for the general benefits, when speech is transferred from one style to another style, then that (style) is better in terms of freshness (تطرية) to energise the listener, and to awaken listening to it from its usage over a single style.

The benefits which the situation requires are: when worthiness of the praise was mentioned which these great attributes were used for, knowledge was connected with certainty for the great matter (worthiness of the praise). The speech of the objective of submission and seeking help regarding important matters, are distinctively known with these characteristics. Therefore, it was said: ‘o you alone’ (يا إياك) for the one. These are His attributes which we specify with worship and seeking help from. We don’t worship other than You nor do we seek help from other than Him. Therefore, the second person address will be more indicative that worship belongs to Allah.

Another benefit is when it was described that He is lord of the worlds, it was known that He is present in every time and place and He is not absent. That is because He is lord of all the worlds. Therefore, He is not absent from them, nor are the worlds absent from Him. Therefore, when His presence is known, He was called upon with the call of the one present and addressed. Similar to this is that you mention a person characterised with important characteristics while talking about him as if he is absent, but that person is present with you. So, you say to him: ‘you alone’ (إياك) which is more direct, so it will be this address which is from politeness to reach the goal, which will not happen with the word إياه.

Another benefit is that the second person address was mentioned to pave the way for the supplication in His saying: ‘guide us’ (اهدنا). The request from the present is stronger than the request from the absent.

Another benefit is that the speech from the beginning of the chapter to this verse is praising and the praise in the absence is more appropriate. From this verse to the end of the chapter is a supplication, and the supplication in the present is preferred, and Allah (swt) is living and generous.

Certainly He (swt) declared regarding the praise by the method of the third person and worship with the method of the second person, presenting for each of them that which is from the agreeable arrangement.

This entry was posted in: Tafseer