A Variant Text of the Fatiha

Arthur Jeffery

SURA I OF THE KORAN bears on its face evidence that it was not originally part of the text, but was a prayer composed to be placed at the head of the assembled volume, to be recited before reading the book, a custom not unfamiliar to us from other sacred books of the Near East. The Koranic style, as is well known, is that in it, from beginning to end, Allah is addressing man. In the Fatiha, however, it is man addressing Allah, and the common explanation that the word “Say!” is to be understood at its beginning, is obviously due to the desire to bring this first sura into harmony with the style of the rest of the book. The sura, moreover, when we examine it, proves to be more or less a cento of ideas and expressions taken from other parts of the Koran. It is possible, of course, that as a prayer it was constructed by the Prophet himself, but its use and its position in our present Koran are due to the compilers, who placed it there, perhaps on the fly-leaf of the standard codex. Its division into seven members in orthodox Muslim tradition has suggested the idea that it was put together as an Islamic counterpart to the Lord’s Prayer.

The peculiar nature of the Fatiha has been recognized by Western scholars1 from Nöldeke downward, but it is not merely a hostile Western opinion, for Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi2 quotes Abu Bakr al-Asamm († 313)3 as saying that he considered it not to be part of the Koran and apparently the oldest commentaries began with Surat al-Baqara. It is also well-known that the Fatiha was not included in the codex of Ibn Mas’ud.4 It is said that some early Küfic manuscripts of the Koran are to be found which commence with the second sura, and if they have the Fatiha, have it only at the end; but the present writer has never seen such an exemplar.

Originally published in The Muslim World 29 (1939): 158-62. Reprinted with permission.

It should not surprise us then if the Fatiha should have been handed down in somewhat different forms. One such variant form has for long circulated in Shī‘a circles. In the Tadhkirat al-A‘imma of Muhammad Bāqir Majlisī (edition of Teheran, 1331, p. 18) it is given:

Nuhammidu’llāha, Rabba‘l- ‘ālamīna,


Mallāka yaumi’d-dīni,

Hayyāka na‘budu wa wiyyaka nasta’ī nu,

Turshidu sabīla‘l-mustaqī mi,

Sabīla’lladhīna na’ ‘amta ‘alaihim,

Siwā’l-magbdū bi ‘alaihim, wa la’ d-dāllī na,

which we may translate:

We greatly praise Allah, Lord of the worlds,

he Merciful, the Compassionate,

He who has possession of the Day of Judgement.

Thee do we worship, and on Thee do we call for help.

Thou dost direct to the path of the Upright One,

The path of those to whom Thou hast shown favor,

Not that of those with whom Thou are angered, or those who

go astray,

Last summer in Cairo I came across a similar variant version. It is given in a little manual of Fiqh, whose beginning, unfortunately, is missing, so that we do not know the name of the author. It is a quite unimportant summary of Shāfi‘ī Fiqh, written, if one may venture a judgment from the writing, about one hundred and fifty years ago, perhaps a little earlier, in a clerkly hand, and the variant version is written on the inside cover under the rubric-qirā’a shadhdha li’l-Fatiha. The manuscript is in private possession, and though the owner was willing to let me copy the passage, and use it if I saw fit, he was not willing that his name be revealed, lest he come into disrepute among his orthodox neighbors for allowing an unbeliever to see such an uncanonical version of the opening sura of their Holy Book.

The text of this variant has certain similarities to that already given, and runs:


Al-hamdu li’llāhi, Sayyidi‘l-‘ālamīna,


Mallāki yaumi’d-dīni,

Innā laka na‘budu wa innā laka nasta’īnu,

Arshidnā sabīla‘l-mustaqīmi,

Sabīla’lladhīna mananta ‘alaihim,

Siwā’l-maghdūbi ‘alaihim, wa ghaira’d-dāllina.

which, being interpreted, means:

In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds,

The Bountiful, the Compassionate,

He who has possession of the Day of Judgment,

As for us, to Thee do we worship, and to Thee we turn for help,

Direct us to the path of the Upright One,

The path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed favors,

Not that of those with whom Thou art angered,

Nor that of those who go astray.

Under the text follows the statement: Riwāyat Abī‘l-Fathi’l-Jubbā‘ī ‘an shaikbihi’s-Susī ‘an an-Nahrawānī ‘an Abī ’s-Sa‘ādāti’l-Maidānī ‘an al-Marzubānī ‘an al-Khalīl b. Ahmad.

On the readings in the two texts we may note: Sayyid for Rabb is merely a case of replacement by synonym. Sayyid is used in sura xii: 25 for Joseph’s master down in Egypt, and in iii: 34 of John Baptist, who is announced as a sayyid, a chaste one, and a prophet, and the plural form is used in xxxiii:67 for the chiefs whom the infidels followed and were led astray. It is not, however, used of Allah.

Ar-razzāq occurs as a title of Allah in li: 58—inna‘llāha huwa’r-razzāq.

Mallak is a reading attributed to the third Kūfan Reader among the Seven, al-Kisa‘i († 189), cf. al-Alusi, Ruhu’l-Ma’ani, I, 78 and Abu Hayyan, Bahr, I, 20. It is curious that both the variant texts agree in this reading. Mallāk is perhaps more precise and emphatic than the alternative forms malik, mālik and malī k, the first of which is perhaps the best attested reading, and the second is the TR [textus receptus, “accepted text”—-Ed.].

Innā laka. This, and hiyyāka, wiyyāka, ayyāka, iyāka and the iyyāka of the TR, seem all to be independent attempts to interpret the unvoweled, unpointed skeleton form that stood in the original codex. Hiyyāka or hayyāka was the reading of Abu’s-Sawwar al-Ghanawi (c. 180) and Abu‘l-Mutawakkil († 102); wiyyāka or wayyāka was read by Abu Raja’ (t 105).

Arshidnā means much the same as the ihdinā of the TR and was the reading in Ibn Mas‘ud’s codex (az-Zamakhshari in loc., and Ibn Khalawaih, p. 1). This imperative does not occur elsewhere in the Koran, but other forms from the root are commonly used, and the Shi’a variant uses the imperfect of Form IV.

Sabīl is a commoner word than the sirāt of the TR, and is much more commonly used in the Koran, though both are foreign words, borrowed through the Aramaic. Sirāta‘l-mustaqī m, taking it as in idāfa, where al-Mustaqīm is a title of Allah, i.e., “the Upright One”, was the reading of Ubai, Ja’far as-Sadiq and ‘Abdallah b. ‘Umar, so that it has very early and good attestation. It is a possible and appropriate reading, even though al-Mustaqī m is not one of the Ninety-nine Names. That sabīla’l-mustaqīm should occur in both these texts is curious.

Mananta and na“amta are simple replacements by synonym for they do not affect the meaning. Form IV of n’m is more common in the Koran than Form II, which is used only once in lxxxix: 14, but manna, with much the same meaning, is used still more often.

Siwā for ghair is a similar replacement by synonym, though siwa is not used elsewhere in the Koran.

Ghair for was the reading of ‘Umar, ‘Ali, Ubai, Ibn az-Zubair, ‘Ikrima and al-Aswad among the early codices, and was supported by Ja‘far as-Sadiq and Zaid b. ‘Ali, so that it has respectable authority for a claim to be the original reading. It makes no change in the sense.

It will have been noticed that the sense of the Fatiha is precisely the same whether we read the TR or either of these variants. There is no ascertainable reason for the variant readings. They are not alterations in the interests of smoother grammatical construction or of clarity, nor do they seem to have any doctrinal significance. They are just such variants as one might expect in the transmission of a prayer at first preserved in an oral form, and then fixed later when the Koran was assembled.

The second variant form comes from Khalil b. Ahmad, who as a Reader belonged to the Basran School, though he is said to have taken buruf from both ‘Asim of Kufa and Ibn Kathir of Mecca, among the seven, and is even noted as the one who transmitted the variant ghaira from Ibn Kathir (Abu Hayyan, Bahr, I, 29; Ibn al-Jazari, Tabaqat, I, 177, 275; Ibn Khalawaih, p. 1). But he was also known to have transmitted from ‘Isa b. ‘Umar († 149) (Ibn Khallikan, II, 420) and was a pupil of Ayyub as-Sakhtiyani (t 131), both of whom were Basrans and famous for the transmission of uncanonical readings. It is thus quite possible that Khalil had access to good old tradition as to the primitive reading of the Fatiha. I can make nothing of the rest of the isnads from Khalil to al-Jubba’i, and possibly it is much later than the matn from Khalil.

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