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Holy Quran Section > Commentary of the Holy Quran by Dr. Basharat Ahmad > Commentary on the Opening Verse of the Holy Quran (Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim)

Commentary on the Opening Verse of the Holy Quran (Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim)
Click here to listen to the pronunciation of this verse.

by Dr. Basharat Ahmad (Taken from Dr. Basharat Ahmad’s commentary on the 30th Part of the Quran – ‘Anwaar-ul-Quran.)
Translated by: Anonymous


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Links Present on this Page:
Introduction || Meaning of ‘Bism’ || The Essence Found in the Word: ‘Allah’ || The True Meaning of ‘Ar-Rahman’ and ‘Ar-Rahim’ || Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Sahib of Qadian’s Commentary on the names: ‘Ar-Rahman’, ‘Ar-Rahim’, Ahmad and Muhammad ||

Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim (With the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful)

1. Introduction:

Not only does the Holy Quran begin with this verse, but it also heads every chapter of the Quran, except for Chapter 9. This verse is a part of the Quranic revelation and it was through this verse that the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, distinguished the separation of the various chapters. In short, this verse keeps on recurring and possesses such depth, that it has been said that just as the Fatihah (the first chapter of the Quran) summarises the entire Holy Quran, so does this verse summarise the Fatihah. In other words this verse is the summary of the summary of the Quran. Therefore, I will make a general commentary on this verse, so that it will not be necessary to comment on this verse at the beginning of every chapter. It may be noted, however, that like the daily sun, this verse too shines with a new splendour and brilliance at the beginning of each chapter of the Quran.

2. Meaning of ‘Bism’:

This verse is translated as "With the name of Allah, who is Beneficent and Merciful." Here the Arabic alphabet ‘ba’ [i.e., with] (or ‘b’ in English) in "Bism" (with the name or in the name) represents a call for help. So the verse means "with the help of the name of Allah." Now it is apparent that a verb/action is implied in this sentence and by studying the Quran, one realises that this verb is iqra which means read/recite.

This is in line with the Hadith (tradition of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) where it is written that an angel appeared to the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, while he was engaged in his usual worship of God, at the cave of Hira. The angel said, "iqra," i.e., "read." The Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, replied, "I do not know how to read." The angel repeated the same words and the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, repeated his answer. And so it happened three times. The fourth time the angel said, "Iqra bismay Rabbay-kalazee Khuluq," i.e., "Read in the name of your Lord who creates." [Note: The Holy Quran, 95:1.] Then the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, started reciting. So it is clear that the verb implied before "With the name of Allah." is "iqra," i.e., to read/recite with the name of Allah. This verb is not explicitly stated, because when a person recites the Quran, the use of the word "iqra," which is a command, would be in opposition to demands of excellence in linguistic style. The worshipper at the time of recitation is fulfilling the order, therefore, the implied verb is ‘aqrau’ i.e., "I read." The subtlety in this is that when the revelation descended from God, because the sentence reflected a command of God, so the implied verb was "iqra," i.e., "Read" (imperative). Similarly, when the worshipper recites the Quran, then he is at that time fulfilling the commandment of God, so the implied verb would be understood to be "aqrau," i.e., "I read/recite with the help of the name of God."

Another advantage of keeping the verb implicit is that when a person recites ‘bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim at the beginning of any work, then whatever he is going to do would be consider implied in the sentence. So, this call for God’s help is not restricted to the recitation of the Holy Quran, but is asked for at the beginning of each and every work, thus God’s help is asked for in that work. Thus, in the Hadith [Note: Tradition/saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.] "kul amr la yabd fihi bismilla hir-Rahman nir-Rahim fa howa ajzam," i.e., "any work started without reciting ‘bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim’ is without blessing, and certainly if any person starts his work by asking for the help of God, then his work will be blessed.

3. The Essence Found in the Word: ‘Allah’:

To understand the meaning of the two attributes of God, ‘Ar-Rahman and ‘Ar-Rahim’, specially mentioned here, it is necessary to study the meaning of these words. Allah is the name of the essence of God, the Most High, and this is the greatest name and incorporates within it all the other names of God. It is certainly not derived from Ilah (God), because Ilah is used for that which is worshipped besides God, whereas the word Allah has never, neither before nor after the advent of Islam, been used for any other object of worship. Nor is "Allah" a shortened form of al-ilah (the God), for if it were so, then when the word ‘ya (O) [
Note: As used in old English for addressing someone.] preceded it, ‘Al’, would be dropped. For instance, al-Rahman (The Beneficent, pronounced as Ar-Rahman) is a name of God, when the word ‘ya’ precedes it, the ‘Al’ is not used. We address God by saying, ‘Yaa Rahman’, (O Beneficent) and not as ‘Yaa al-Rahman (O the Beneficent). In the same way, if ‘Al’ in Allah was an addition to the word ‘ilah then on using the word ‘ya, the word ‘Al would be dropped, and instead of saying ‘yaa Allah’ (O Allah) we would say "ya ilah (O God). But this does not happen, so it is apparent that ‘Al is not a prefix to ‘ilah’, but is an integral part of the word Allah. To sum up, Allah is an independent word which is the name of the essence of God, and this is unique to the Arabic language as no other language has a name for the essence of God. The Quran itself explains the meaning of the name Allah where it states "Lahu al-asma al-husna" (to him belong (all) the beautiful names), that is, Allah means such an essence which incorporates within itself all the perfect attributes in their entire completeness (i.e., unto perfection).

4. The True Meaning of ‘Ar-Rahman’ and ‘Ar-Rahim’:

Now, no attribute is perfect, unless it possesses within itself both Hossun (beauty/goodness) and Ihsan (beneficence). That is, on the one hand the attribute does not possess any fault, flaw or dependency and is thus perfect in its Hossun; and, on the other hand, its Ihsan i.e., the benefits of the attribute, should also be reaching creation. For instance, generosity is a hossun, but irrespective to the extent to which it is present in any being, until its Ihsan, that is, its beneficence, reaches some other being, it is of no importance and it is immaterial whether that attribute exists or not. That is why God’s attributes are not only perfect in their Hossun (goodness/beauty), but are also perfect in their Ihsan (beneficence) and it is the blessing of these attributes which is responsible for the emergence and sustenance of the entire creation.

Ar-Rahman (the Beneficent) is He whose generosity is so great that before the birth of man and without any effort or labour on man’s part, the entire resources required for his sustenance were provided. While ‘Ar-Rahim refers to the mercy which is granted repeatedly and these attributes manifest themselves time and again and have an excellent and improving effect on each person’s actions.

It is stated in the Hadith, that God, Most High, is the ‘Rahman (Beneficent) of this world and the ‘Rahim (Merciful) of the hereafter. This is because Rahman, before the birth of man, merely out of his beneficence provided the entire resources for the sustenance and progress of man. So this entire world is a manifestation of the attribute Rahman. The attribute Rahim rewards man for good works and this is fully manifested in the hereafter.

The initial resources are provided to man through the manifestation of the attribute Rahman and when man, through effort, takes advantage of these resources, the results achieved are decided through the manifestation of the attribute Rahim. Land, water, fire, the sun, the moon, rain, etc., exist due to the stipulation of the attribute Rahman. Man’s labour of ploughing and watering the land, is rewarded manifold through the necessary stipulation of the attribute Rahim, so that each seed sown can be returned seven hundred fold. In the same way, eyes, ears, hands, feet, intelligence and knowledge, are all manifestations of God’s attribute Rahman (beneficence). When man utilises these resources and gets excellent results, this is necessary stipulation of the attribute Rahim.

So, when a person starts a work by reciting Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim he acknowledges and thanks God, Most High, for the blessings which God provided merely out of the demands of his attribute Rahman. On the one hand man, is asking God’s help for knowledge, provided as a manifestation of the attribute Rahman, of the right path to achieve his objective, and on the other hand, he is asking God’s help, provided through the attribute Rahim, that the work he carries out may produce excellent results.

For example, when a surgeon recites Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim, before an operation, then at that time his recitation is a prayer of help from God. He acknowledges God’s attribute of Rahman which has provided him eyes, ears, hands, feet, instruments and medicine, and he uses them. But, furthermore, he seeks God, through the attribute Rahman, to provide him with the correct knowledge and lead him on the correct path, so that he can achieve his purpose. From God’s attribute Rahim, he seeks help that the results of the application of his surgical knowledge are successful.

Similarly, at the time of reading the Quran, when a person recites Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim, he acknowledges this blessing of God, that merely due to God’s attribute of Rahman (beneficence) a blessing such as the Quran was granted. As the Quran itself states: "Ar-Rahman alam al-Quran" (The Beneficent; Taught the Quran) [Holy Quran, 55:1-2]. Now at the time of acquiring knowledge from the Quran, he seeks from the attribute Ar-Rahman that he may acquire the true knowledge of the Quran, which when acted upon would lead to achieving his purpose in life; and from the attribute Ar-Rahim he seeks help that his good actions would produce excellent results. In other words, from the attribute Rahman he seeks excellence in knowledge and from the attribute Rahim he seeks excellence in deeds. It is apparent that in this call for help, both this world and the hereafter are included.

To be successful in the world, it is essential to possess correct knowledge, for without correct and complete knowledge, no action, whether for the world or the hereafter, produces effective or correct results. And, unless the results of deeds are correct and complete, there can be no success in the hereafter. The Quran completely possesses the principles and guidance by which man, by acting upon, can achieve the goodness of this world and the hereafter. So at the time of the recitation of the Quran, the prayer and call for help to God, that man utters, in the form of Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim, means that from God’s attribute Rahman he seeks such a complete knowledge of this perfect Book of God, that acting in accordance with this knowledge would lead him to inherit the goodness of this world and the hereafter. From the attribute Rahim, he seeks that his deeds be of such perfection that from them would be produced excellent and better results.

This is also the summary of the first chapter of the Quran -- Al-Fatihah. The call for help in Bismillah (With the assistance of the name of Allah) possesses the essence of ‘iya ka nabadu wa iya ka nastaeen’, which means, ‘Thee do we worship and Thee do we ask for help’. The attribute Rahman possesses within itself the prayer, ‘ihdinas sirat al-mustaqeem’ which means, ‘show us the correct path’. And, it is apparent that this correct path is found through the correct and complete knowledge which is necessarily the stipulation of the attribute Rahman. The attribute Rahim keeps within itself the blessing of the prayer ‘siratul alazina an’umta alaihim’, that is make our deeds and actions so perfect, that we may become part of those people who are blessed by God. So when any person at the time of recitation of the Quran, or at the time of any other work, requests from God, the perfect knowledge of the correct path and for the ability to achieve excellence in deeds, and requests that these actions may reap successful results, it is apparent that such a person has found the purpose of the Quran. He is blissful in this world and he is assured of success in the hereafter. This is because, the Quran was revealed so that mankind could achieve excellence in both knowledge and deeds, and it is on this excellence of knowledge and deeds that success in this world and the hereafter is based.

So, in this Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim not only is there a summary of the chapter Fatihah, but in essence there is also a summary of the whole Quran. Whoever recites Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim, asks for complete and correct knowledge, as well as perfection in deeds, which produce excellent results. In other words, he asked for knowledge of the Quran and good deeds, and further requested perfection in these. One who receives the correct and complete knowledge of the Quran, and furthermore is blessed with excellence in works, is successful and achieves goodness in this world and the hereafter.

5. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Sahib of Qadian’s Commentary on the names: ‘Ar-Rahman’, ‘Ar-Rahim’, Ahmad and Muhammad:

The Late Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Sahib of Qadian, the Mujaddid (reviver/reformer of religion) of this time (i.e., the 14th century Hijrah), has in his book - Ijaz-ul-Masih, given a subtle exposition, in a Sufi manner, about these successes. To summarise in a few sentences: Allah, Most High, is perfect in Hossun (goodness/beauty) and Ihsan (benevolence). When man, without any effort on his own part, is granted through Allah’s attribute of Rahman, limitless mercy and blessings, and observes the Hossun and Ihsan of God, then in the heart of the worshipper, a love for God is born. As these blessings and the grace of Allah’s Hossun and Ihsan descend upon the believer, his love for God keeps on increasing. It is true that the more one loves something the more one praises it. So, a person who reaches a position of excellence, in the love of and praise of Allah, the Most High, comes to be called Ahmad, i.e., one who praises profusely and frequently. It is apparent that the person who so praises God, and spreads His praise in the world, would become the beloved of God, as required by the attribute of Rahim. Finally, the more a person becomes a beloved of God, the more praiseworthy he becomes. So, a person who, through His constant praise, attains the highest stages of the position of the beloved of God, would correspondingly be highly worthy of praise and would be called Muhammad, which means one praised exceedingly. So the two names, Ahmad and Muhammad, of our Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, are, in fact, the manifestation of the two attributes Rahman and Rahim of Allah, the Most High. These names reflect the best results man can achieve, through the help of these attributes of God, and there are no better meaningful names for this position than Ahmad and Muhammad.



Holy Quran Section > Commentary of the Holy Quran by Dr. Basharat Ahmad > Commentary on the Opening Verse of the Holy Quran (Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim)


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