By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
October 10, 2013
- Removing misgivings that may arise from a dictionary meaning of the word ‘Fatha’ as ‘military conquest’ or the textual location of this invocation in a Sura (62) that has a battle related caption – The Ranks (Al-Saff)
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
The captioned supplication, extracted from the Qur’anic verse 62:13 (Sura, As-Saff) is among the most recited ‘Duas’ or invocations in Islam. Muslims down the generation and to this day recite it particularly during the travails of life seeking divine assistance to a way out of the peril befalling their lives. Thus, Muslim students from traditional families going to take an exam or patients waiting to be taken to the OT for an operation recite it unceasingly, while a calligraphic inscription of the invocation hangs in the walls of millions of Muslim homes. However, as religion is used in all faith communities as a spiritual stimulant and to give a religious cover to a mission that involves death and destruction, the Muslim army recite the above invocation as part of their battle cry and so do the ‘jihadists’ today.
With this summary briefing we come to the theme.
Does the captioned invocation specifically relate to military conquest as interpreted by some scholars because of the derived meaning of the word ‘Fatha’ as conquest, textual location of the verse and the battle related caption of the Sura (Saff connotes battle array)
The answer to the above question can be found by probing the Qur’anic diction, organization and structure, centring around the word Fatha and Sura As-Saff.
Qur’anic usage of the word Fatha and its other derivatives
The following incidences of usage across a broad cross section of Qur’anic verses illustrates that the word Fatha has a core connotation of ‘opening up’ or ‘laying bare’ such as:
- God unfolding or ‘opening up’ the revelation to the Jews (2:76),
- Deciding (laying bare truth) between people (7:89, 34:26),
- Opening up or showering (35:2) mercy.
- Opening someone’s baggage (12:65),
- Letting lose Gagog and Magog (21:96),
- Opening a gate (23:77, 39:7, 78:19),
- An opening device or key (28:76).
However, traditional literalist translation of the verses 48:1, 61:13 and 110:2 conflate the word Fatha with conquest in military sense. The following textual scrutiny shows that in each case the literalist translation is misleading, and taking the context into account, the foregoing innocuous translation holds sway in these cases as well.
The verse reads (Arabic transliteration): ‘Inna Fatahna Laka Fatham Mubina’
English translation inserting key Arabic words:
Muhammad Asad: “Verily [O Muhammad,] We have laid open (Fatah) before thee a manifest (Mubin) victory (Fatha) 1”*
*Footnote 1 supporting the above rendition clarifies that some of the commentators conflate the term ‘Fatha’ in the concluding expression Fatham Mubina’ as a “promise of actual war like conquest by Muslims” and adds, “it is much more probable that it relates to a spiritual victory of the Qur'anic message, and its spread among the people who had not understood it."
Abdullah Yusuf Ali: “Verily We have granted (Fatah) thee a manifest victory (Fatha)”4866*
Footnote 4866 clarifies that verse relates to the Hudaibiyah Treaty and states: “In reality the door was then opened for the free spread of Islam throughout Arabia.”
The clarifications from both the distinguished scholars bring across the historically uncontested fact that the word ‘Fatha’ towards the end of the verse 48:1 merely means the opening of a new chapter or phase in the Prophet’s mission that had so far made little progress, and risked an imminent any moment, and not any military conquest. Since this may leave doubts in the mind of a critical reader, the background to the verse which was revealed in the immediate aftermath of the Hudaibiyah peace treaty is summarily captured below:
The Prophet had signed a peace treaty with the Meccans at a time when Meccans had enormous military and logistical advantages over him. His party, that had travelled unarmed (for battle) from Medina to Mecca (150 miles and a week long journey) to perform pilgrimage, faced Meccan cavalry squadron under the command of the formidable Khalid Ibn Walid (who later emerged as the greatest military commander in early Islam), and risked routing in desert wilderness and extinction if attacked. The peace treaty that was drafted by the Meccans and finally signed by the Prophet, undermined his position as the Prophet of God, and was offensive and humiliating to the Muslims and seemingly to the sole advantage of the Meccans. The Prophet’s companions were perplexed and stunned, though they remained unwavering in their faith, and in their allegiance to the Prophet. It was in this backdrop of shame, incredibility and shock that the verse 48:1 was revealed describing the peace treaty as a manifest ‘Fatha.’ So the Prophet’s audience must have comprehended the expression ‘Fathum Mubin’ as manifestly a new opening or a new promising phase in the Prophet’s mission of spreading the message of Islam, rather the conquest in military sense.
The verse reads (Arabic transliteration): ‘Wa Ukhra Tuhibbunaha Nasrum Min Allahi Wa Fathun Qarib Wa Bashsharil Mu’minin.’
English translation inserting key Arabic words:
Muhammad Asad: “And [withal He will grant you] yet another thing that you dearly love: succour from God [in this world] and a victory13 (Fataha) soon to come [and thereof, O Prophet,] give glad tidings to all believers.”
*Footnote 13 offers identical clarification as under related footnote of the verse 48:1 quoted above: “it is much more probable that it (Fatha) relates to a spiritual victory of the Qur'anic message, and its spread among the people who had not understood it."
Abdullah Yusuf Ali: “And (another favour will He bestow) which ye do love: help from God and a speedy victory (Fatha).5445 So give the Glad Tidings to the believers.”
Read as part of the passage 61:11-13, the word Fatha in the verse connotes a successful outcome of struggling in God’s way with one’s property and life (61:11). This implies an armed struggle that could be of defensive or offensive nature. However, connecting this passage with an earlier verse of the same Sura (61:4), the struggle must have been of a defensive nature as 61:4 calls for fighting in “battle array, as if they were a cemented solid structure.” Accordingly, the footnote 5445 states: “For all striving in righteous cause, we get God’s help and however great the odds, we are sure of victory with God’s help.”
The verse occurs in a short Sura that reads (Arabic transliteration): “Iza Ja’a Nasrullahe Wal Fathu (110:1) Wa Ra-Aytan Naasa Yadkhuluna Fi Din Illahi Afwajaa (110:2) Fasabbih Bihamdi Rabbika Wa Astaghfir Innahu Kaana Tawwabah (110:3)”
English translation inserting key Arabic words:
Muhammad Asad: “When God’s succour comes and victory (Fatha) (110:1) and thou seest people entering God’s religion in hosts (110:2), extol thy Sustainer’s limitless glory, and praise him, and seek his forgiveness: for behold, He is ever an acceptor of repentance 2 (110:3).
*Footnote 2 reads that “even if people should embrace the true religion in great number, a believer ought not to grow self complacent, but he should rather become more humble and more conscious of his own failings.” Hence, the word ‘Fatha’ in the opening verse connotes a great breakthrough in the spread of Islam across Arabia after the integration of Mecca (630 CE) in the 20th year of the Prophet’s mission – this Sura being revealed some two years later during the Prophet’s Farewell pilgrimage (632 CE).
Abdullah Yusuf Ali: “When comes the help of God and victory (Fatha) (110:1) and thou doth see the people entering God’s religion in crowds 6292 (110:2), Celebrate the praises of thy Lord and pray for His forgiveness, For He is Oft-Returning (in Grace and Mercy)” (110:3).
Footnote 6292 refers to the bloodless integration of Mecca using the word ‘victory’, though no battle was fought and the victory was moral rather than actual in military terms. It was the opening of a new chapter, a breakthrough in Islam. The related Qur’anic verse quoted below captures the bloodless integration of Mecca as follows:
"(As the Muslims began to enter the city), the most fanatic among them tried to resist when God sent divine peace (Sakinah) upon His Messenger and on the believers, and imposed on them the Word of restraint (Taqwa), as they were entitled to it and worthy of it (48:26). God withheld the hands of the Meccans from the Muslims and the hands of the Muslims from the Meccans (48:24).
Hence, the word 'Fatha' in the opening verse of Sura 110 (iza ja’a nasrallahi wa l fatho) connotes a breakthrough, a way out of any battle with the Meccans whom the Prophet loved (42:23) but failed to bring to his faith (28:56).
Conclusion: The above clarifications based on the context of the revelation and explanatory notes by the quoted distinguished exegetes rule out any military connotation of the words ‘Fatha’ in the three Qur’anic verses, 48:1, 61:13 and 110:2 (out of 13 cited). The only meaning, albeit in slightly different shade that fits the Qur’anic usage of the word Fatha and its other derivatives (common root words) as illustrated above is ‘opening up’ or ‘showering’ (2:76), opening in literal sense (12:5, 623:77, 39:7, 78:19), showering (35:2), deciding (laying bare truth) (7:89, 34:26), letting lose (21:96), an opening device or key (28:76) and heralding or opening up a new promising phase/ a way out (of travails) (48:1, 61:13). Additionally, the very opening Sura of the Qur’an is also named, al-Fatiha.
A critic, not familiar with the structural uniqueness of the Qur’anic text may still argue that the title of the Sura (Battle Array) adds a martial dimension to the captioned invocation. The truth is the Qur’anic Suras are not organised subject wise and the title of a Sura may have nothing to do with its contents. Thus, ‘al-Baqura’ the title of the second Sura means ‘the cow’, but the cow is referred only in a passage (2:67-71) commanding the Children of Israel to offer a sacrifice, while the rest of the Sura (total 289 verses) is devoted to other themes – almost half the verses contain clear commandments including marriage and divorce laws, prohibition of usury, charity, fasting, hajj for example. Likewise the titles of 5th and 7th Suras (al-Maidah, al-‘Araf) are words appearing in only one or two verse each of these Suras (The Repast/ The Table, and Faculty of Discernment/ The Heights) have no connection with the mixed themes of these Suras.
Hence, any suggestion to impart a military dimension to the captioned invocation as speculated in a recent article  based on the traditional literal translation and selective exegesis detracts from the liturgical character, innocuousness and pure spirituality of the invocation.
The author is grateful to the learned commentators on the website, and particularly Tariq Fatah, the author of the article who, if he goes by his name, may herald a new era of peace and integration for the Canadian/ Western Muslims, now morally intimidated by in-house, false flag and die hard Islamophobic ideologues.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.