Surah al-Fatihah On How To Succeed In Times Of Fitnah

We are living in a difficult time. A time of multiple challenges and concerns. A time of various fitan - trials and tribulations. To connect to the Qur'ān in these times of fitnah (trial and tribulation) is paramount. There's no better time to start sharing with you the unique perspectives that I have learned over the years in Tafseer.

As students of the Qur'ān and those memorising it, you must make the most effort to take from the Qur'ān and live a life by it. This would be your greatest achievement. As for all of us, we need to cling on to it.

How can you do this? There are many ways but we start with Surah al-Fātihah. I'm going to share a Tafseer that you will unlikely ever heard before but if you understand it. You will have the framework and tools you need to succeed in life.

Step 1: You need to make a decision

Imam Abu 'Abd al-Rahmān as-Sulamī in his work 'Uyūb an-Nafs wa adwiyātuhā (The Infamies of the Soul and Their Treatments) first discusses the treatment of expecting success/salvation despite doing wrong.

Imām as-Sulamī in the first illness of the self is speaking about all of us. We are living lives stained with wrongs. There’s a lingering rust that we’re not treating but we expect that we will be saved. Yet we continue to live in the same state for years without growth, and expect that we will be good. In times of fitnah, this is easy.

The question for you is:

Is it enough to say that we say we are Muslim, and not do anything practically?
Is it enough to say that you love Allah, His Messenger (ﷺ), Islam, Ramadan, etc, and not do anything practically?
Is it honesty? Is it sincerity? Is it truthful?

No one can save you if you seek success without work. The responsibility lies with you and you alone. No one can do it for you.

If you do fulfil your rights, and do as requested of you - you will find success.

Imām as-Sulamī says to think you will gain while not working for it is treated by three things:

  1. travelling the path of guidance (sulook sabeel al-hudā)
  2. wholesome nourishment/food (teebul ghidhaa’)
  3. complete protection (kamāl al-tuqā)

This is achieved by having the right company. Company is everywhere and in everything. All the screens, books, and physical companionship. You need to adopt the company of those who have already tread the path of guidance, wholesome nourishment, and complete protection.

This is why Allāh tells us that:

وَمَنۡ يُّطِعِ اللّٰهَ وَالرَّسُوۡلَ فَاُولٰٓٮِٕكَ مَعَ الَّذِيۡنَ اَنۡعَمَ اللّٰهُ عَلَيۡهِمۡ مِّنَ النَّبِيّٖنَ وَالصِّدِّيۡقِيۡنَ وَالشُّهَدَآءِ وَالصّٰلِحِيۡنَ ۚ وَحَسُنَ اُولٰٓٮِٕكَ رَفِيۡقًا ؕ‏

And whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger will be in the company of those blessed by Allah: the prophets, the people of truth, the martyrs, and the righteous—what honourable company! — an-Nisā’, 4:69

You would expect that Allāh would say that you will get paradise if you obey Allāh and His Messenger (ﷺ) but it's blessed company that is the real favour. The company you get will be determined by how righteous, sincere, and truthful you are in life.

Allāh says there are four types of company you need to be concerned with:

  1. The Prophets (whose lead and master is the Prophet (ﷺ))
  2. The people of truth (these are the highest level of the awliyā)
  3. Martyrs (the middle level of awliyā)
  4. Righteous (the pious who sit at the lowest level of the awliyā)

The Prophet (ﷺ) said you will be with those you love. The question is who do you want to be with?

There will be three groups on the Day of Judgement amongst the Muslims:

  1. Those who will gain 100%+ pass marks. They will bypass judgement itself. They won’t be asked anything. They go straight to Jannah. They spent all their lives celebrating and remembering Allāh so much that Allāh will celebrate and remember them on the Day of Judgement. These are the people of Allāh and they will be granted much more on that day. They will be there because they didn't spend a moment of their lives against the commands of Allāh. They gave their all to the cause. It wasn’t 50/50. It wasn’t 80/20.
  2. Those you will get a pass mark. This group of believers will have their books will be opened and their actions will be weighed. But they will pass with the grace of Allāh.
  3. Those who will fail. This group of believers will have their books will be opened and their actions will be weighed. But they will fail and face their sentence for a set period before they will be allowed to enter Jannah.

The question for you is, what group do you want to be part of?

I'm sure it's group one.

You need to make a decision and fulfil the requirements of that decision. May Allāh protect us from the third group and the very least grant us leave and enter us into Jannah (in the second group).

Guidance comes from the Qur'ān and Sunnah and those who embody it, our connected scholars and saints who exist so that you can qualify to be in the first group.

You need to do the work and qualify.

The first step is to make a decision. A decision that is sincere and true. That you want to pass on the Day of Judgement. That you want to be a person of paradise. That you can't achieve anything unless you decide to seek it and travel for it.

You have to become awake, and aware that you are a traveller with a purpose of achieving a goal and destination. Becoming aware is the start of this journey.

The second step is to make Tawbah - to return to Allāh by recognising, acknowledging, and then leaving your habits and wrongs you are doing and turning to obedience. To make a firm decision to travel away from sin and travel towards goodness and obedience.

You have to make a decision. If you truly decide to leave the way you are living life and return to Allāh (you start to do as He has asked of you), everything you ever did will be wiped out.

Step 2: Know what you need to pack

The first thing to understand is that we are all travellers but where are we travelling? What's the destination?

الْمُهَاجِرُ مَنْ هَجَرَ مَا نَهَى اللَّهُ عَنْهُ
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "[...] the Muhājir (traveller) is the one who gives up (abandons) all that which Allāh has forbidden." (al-Bukhārī)

Think about travelling to a new destination, a new home, what reality does it hold?

After deciding to travel away from sin and stay in a new company, you need to learn how to think and behave. What do you think happens when you move to a new homeland?

  1. You have to change your habits = you're going to a new place
  2. You adopt the traditions of the new homeland = you need to learn new ways
  3. You start fresh
  4. You keep in line with society and its laws
  5. You have to get to know people and find good people = you want a good place to stay
  6. You have to learn about the way things work and how people behave.

Think about your elders, especially those from back home, notice how they speak a foreign language, they will have mixed accents and say things in ways that they aren't meant to be said. This is something you either are aware of in a new society or you're not. Likewise, when travelling to Allāh, we need to be aware of what is expected of us.

This is all called company.

Step 3: Become a seeker of protection [Isti’ādha]

When you are travelling, you must know that you will have things that you need to be careful about. Prepare, know the dangers you could face, and seek protection.

  1. When going to a new homeland, you want a good neighbourhood.
  2. When going you need to have things packed in case there are dangers or emergencies.
  3. Your open enemy is shaytān.

The youth of the cave found a place for protection first, away from danger. Prevention is a cure.

Step 4: Become a seeker of the Mercy/Love of Allah [Basmala]

The first thing that the youth of the cave asked for was the Rahmah of Allāh. When we recite Surah ar-Rahmān, we are first taking Rahmah and then we're learning. Likewise, you have to seek Rahmah if you want to get anything, without it, you can’t receive. This is why the Prophet (ﷺ) said “Every matter of importance that is not begun with the praise of Allah will be left deficient.”

Tip for those memorising the Qur'ān

Seeking protection and the mercy of Allāh before you begin memorisation or revision will grant you immense blessings. This doesn't mean just to recite the Isti'ādha and Basmala. This means also making adjustments to ensure that your sessions are clear of distractions and you are in a state of peace.

Step 5: Start to change your mindset [Alhamdulillāh]

As someone who wants to travel to someone, or get close to someone, you have to first establish a connection and relationship with that person. The first part of this step is that you have to start to leave thoughts about yourself. Leave all the things you think you know, and only think and try to connect with the one you want to connect with.

The first few verses of Surah al-Fātihah are all about Allāh. To travel towards success, you need to know how He is. Understand who are you trying to connect with.

"I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assemble better than it." (Hadith Qudsi)

When you ask for the Rahmah (Love and Mercy) of Allāh, you don’t say “I” ask you. You will find the same language used by the youth of the cave. When you recite the words:

ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ ٱلْعَـٰلَمِينَ
ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
مَـٰلِكِ يَوْمِ ٱلدِّينِ

There's no "I". We don't say I praise and thank Allāh. There is no “I” if you want to establish a relationship with Allāh. As long as you remain inside the “I” you can’t find “Him”. This is the first step. Either you meet yourself or you meet Allāh.

Why? Because your list of personal things will never end. There will always be something to think and stress out about until your death. It is endless. It is self-interests that cause conflict and tribulations in the world. Why do people fight and argue? It's always because of the self. Removing the self removes these arguments. Allāh wants you to cut the roots of the "I". Meaning you must come with a fully devoted heart if you want this relationship. Nothing should interfere with it.

This is the same for anyone memorising the Qur'ān. Your relationship with the Qur'ān and its memorisation is in reality a relationship with Allāh. You are a traveller. You are memorising the Words of Allāh. You are memorising His characteristics. You should be devoted without self-interest. Intentions matter.

Step 6: Move from isolation to congregation [Iyyāka na'budu]

The next step is to start taking the removal of self to the next level. Now that the self is no longer in the equation, it is time to talk to Him in collectivity.

إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ

Only you we worship (there is no “I” again) and we only ask from You (there is no “I”).

Before there was no "I" and again there is no "I". It is understandable if we use "we" when we make salāh together but, we also use "we" when we pray by ourselves. We can’t say that I worship You and I ask You.

In the time of fitnah we're living in, we are told to be individuals. Do what you want. Be what you want. Just be yourself and with yourself. This age pushes individuality and isolation. This is against Islam. These verses are guiding us that Allāh prefers collectivity to individuality. He wants us to stay together. He wants us to stay in good company.

This is why when we pray salah, there is a greater reward when it is done together (27 times more reward). It means that there is a khayr (a good) in being together. What's that khayr? Without it, you can’t leave yourself. This is the very reason that shaytān was cast out and became cursed - he said “I”. When you fight and argue, doesn’t your mind think about yourself and your own point of view? It’s what causes issues.

Allāh wants us to think as a collective. The collective is the easier path. If you go solo, you are prone to so many dangers and mistakes. When you make a decision alone, you can come to regret it and you can back out of it. When a decision is made collectively, it is different. You are part of a group and you stay together. Remove selfishness. This creates a fountain of khayr (righteousness). Start to address Allāh with everyone in mind by removing all forms of self-interest. Think collectively. It is not only you that is worshipping Allāh and only you asking from Him.

When memorising the Qur'ān, you should be part of a community and you should have a teacher. Going solo is not recommended.

Step 7: Only now you can ask for guidance [Ihdinā al-Sirāt al-Mustaqīm]

ٱهْدِنَا ٱلصِّرَٰطَ ٱلْمُسْتَقِيمَ

"Guide us" - Again, you are removing the "I" and being with the collective even when asking for guidance. Create a space for others and Allāh will take care of you.

In our age, we are being led by society to do what we want, what we feel, what we say, and what we think. It is dominated by self-desire, self-greed, and everything for the self. As a result, we see that we are no longer visiting each other but we are sending a message on a phone to someone even though they are in the same house - all because everyone is in their own world.

Allāh wants us to become limitless. When you ask Allāh limitlessly, He gives you limitlessly. Again, it is collective. It is not solo. Look at how much Allah has removed the ”I”.

This is the first lesson of the Qur’ān. Meaning if you want guidance, you can’t become exclusive, but you must become inclusive. You have to include everyone. The more you do this, the more you will receive. This is a relationship of care for others, the more you do it, the more your relationship with Allāh will increase. It is a beautiful way to receive His favours.

This is why the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “No Muslim servant supplicates for his brother behind his back but that the angel says: And for you the same.” (Sahih Muslim).

When the youth of the cave entered the cave for security, they didn’t fight amongst each other and say this is my space, get out bro. They came together as a collective and they prayed and thought as a collective. And they were rewarded in a limitless way.

Step 8: Be attached to good company [Sirāt al-Mustaqīm]

صِرَٰطَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ ٱلْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا ٱلضَّآلِّينَ

With the collective mindset, you ask for guidance to the straight path. What is the straight path? Allāh defines it for us - "the Path of those You have blessed—not those You are displeased with, or those who are astray." Again, be with the collective.

There are three types of company being described:

  1. Good
  2. Bad
  3. Habits (the nafs) and living as you like

Allah is telling us where guidance is. It is in good company. Only then you can be protected from the attacks of shaytān. If you remain isolated, you will be attacked and you can’t find your faith on your own. Nor can you defend the faith of others. You have to become part of the collective. This is the task of our age. You need constant company. When you’re part of a group, you have something to do amongst blessed people. You are drawn away from wrongs and the influences of wrong.

Notice how Allāh mentions one group of good (those He favoured) and two groups of bad (those who He is displeased with and those misguided). At all times, bad will outnumber you but being with the collective good will never let you down.

As our teacher says, “getting connected means getting protected.” Connection is protection. Isolation is destruction. You must adopt this path if you want to succeed.

graph TD A[Start: Make a Decision] --> B{Do you fulfill your rights and duties?} B -->|Yes| C[Travel the Path of Guidance] B -->|No| D[Seek Success Without Work] C --> E[Adopt the Right Company] D --> F[Failure and Responsibility] E --> G[Obey Allah and His Messenger] G --> H{Which Group Do You Want to Be In?} H -->|Group 1| I[Direct Entry to Jannah] H -->|Group 2| J[Judgement and Grace of Allah] H -->|Group 3| K[Judgement and Sentence] I --> L[End: Attain Success] J --> L K --> L L --> M[Follow Quran and Sunnah] M --> N[Make Tawbah: Return to Allah] N --> O[Change Mindset and Habits] O --> P[Seek Allah's Protection and Mercy] P --> Q[Establish a Relationship with Allah] Q --> R[Move from Isolation to Congregation] R --> S[Ask for Guidance Collectively] S --> T[Attach to Good Company] T --> U[End: Follow the Straight Path]

An example of how these steps come to life

I have mentioned the people of the cave throughout this and it is them that are a prime example of this process.

When they go to the cave, they ask Allāh for His Rahmah and then they asked for guidance collectively. Then they were put to sleep. If we ask Allāh for His Mercy and then ask Him for guidance, we need to protect it.

18:1 فَضَرَبْنَا عَلَىٰٓ ءَاذَانِهِمْ فِى ٱلْكَهْفِ سِنِينَ عَدَدًۭا
So We (pat them on the ears) putting them to sleep in the cave for many years;

Allāh says “We”, reminding us that Allāh puts us to sleep and awakens us. But also, we can be awake yet be asleep, completely unaware and careless as youth. Do you want to live life sleeping or live it mindfully?

Mindfully right? How? Allāh placed veils on their ears so they wouldn't hear evil from their community and people so it wouldn't corrupt their hearts. This applies to everything. Social media and tech. Every tool. Stop listening to bad and bad influences and their whispers. If you do, it will corrupt you. Whatever you hear enters you. Like every good word carries a message, so does every bad word. If you want to save your heart, it's not possible if you keep on hearing or seeing bad things. We are looking at the cave here as the heart symbolically.

Once the youth took this path, Allāh guided them and made them firm. So much so He gave them miracles.

I keep mentioning good company. All friends will leave you on the day of judgement except for one - the righteous (the muttaqoon). Those that are good. This is why the great pious imams of the past like Imam Hasan al-Basri used to say that when you choose friends, think before you do. Will this friend, help you on the Day of Judgement or not? if they can’t, leave them as a company. Those who don’t find pious company and friends, will regret it and say:

25:28 يَـٰوَيْلَتَىٰ لَيْتَنِى لَمْ أَتَّخِذْ فُلَانًا خَلِيلًۭا
Woe to me! I wish I had never taken so-and-so as a close friend! (al-Furqan)

Yes, you need good righteous company but there will always be three enemies:

  1. shaytan and his traps
  2. the world and its pressures and pleasures
  3. the self that calls toward bad

So Allah says:

18:18 وَتَحْسَبُهُمْ أَيْقَاظًۭا وَهُمْ رُقُودٌۭ ۚ وَنُقَلِّبُهُمْ ذَاتَ ٱلْيَمِينِ وَذَاتَ ٱلشِّمَالِ ۖ وَكَلْبُهُم بَـٰسِطٌۭ ذِرَاعَيْهِ بِٱلْوَصِيدِ ۚ لَوِ ٱطَّلَعْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ لَوَلَّيْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِرَارًۭا وَلَمُلِئْتَ مِنْهُمْ رُعْبًۭا

And you would have thought they were awake, though they were asleep. We turned them over, to the right and left, while their dog stretched his forelegs at the entrance. Had you looked at them, you would have certainly fled away from them, filled with horror.

Imam al-Qurtubi says if you think Allāh will mention a dog in His Qur'ān after he accompanies good people, what do you think of believers who accompany good people? In this, there is consolation that anybody can reach heights, even a dog.

If you look at the dog symbolically, it means that Allāh will make your lower self (the dog) your slave and sit at the door of your cave (heart) to give you security and safety. When? If you turn to Him.

The collective is important for this reality. This is why Allāh says at the end of the story of the youth of the cave:

18:28 وَٱصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ مَعَ ٱلَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُم بِٱلْغَدَوٰةِ وَٱلْعَشِىِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُۥ ۖ وَلَا تَعْدُ عَيْنَاكَ عَنْهُمْ تُرِيدُ زِينَةَ ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَا تُطِعْ مَنْ أَغْفَلْنَا قَلْبَهُۥ عَن ذِكْرِنَا وَٱتَّبَعَ هَوَىٰهُ وَكَانَ أَمْرُهُۥ فُرُطًۭا

And patiently stick with those who call upon their Lord morning and evening, seeking His pleasure. Do not let your eyes look beyond them, desiring the luxuries of this worldly life. And do not obey those whose hearts We have made heedless of Our remembrance, who follow ˹only˺ their desires and whose state is ˹total˺ loss.

This means friendship. Keep the company of those who remember Him in different ways. Whether that is working on memorising the Qur'ān together, reviving a sunnah, research work or projects on Qur'ān, Sunnah, circles of knowledge, retreats, events, sunnah sports, dhikr, sit with them and continue to be together.

Good company creates good thoughts. Nature is such that you take from the environment you sit in (water, heat, smell, etc) and it is the same with sitting in the company of those who are righteous. You will see a change in you.

There is much that can be said but we end with these words.

If you want change, start with yourself.

May Allāh grant us success!

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