The Merits of Bismillah

Mariful Quran by Mufti Shafi (RA)

It was a custom in the Age of Ignorance (Jahiliyyah) before the advent of Islam that people began everything they did with the names of their idols or gods. It was to eradicate this practice that the first verse of the Holy Qur'an which the Archangel Jibra'il brought down to the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him commanded him to begin the Qur'an with the name of Allah "Read with the name of your Lord."

The famous commentator al-Suyuti says that beside the Holy Qur'an all the other divine books too begin with Bismillah. Certain other scholars are of the opinion that Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim is peculiar to the Qur'an and to the followers of Muhammad. The two views can be brought into agreement with each other if we say that all the divine books share the common trait of beginning with the name of Allah, but the words Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim are peculiar to the Holy Qur'an, as is evident from certain Traditions (Ahadith) which report that in order to begin with the name of Allah anything he. undertook, the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him    used to say the words (Bismika Allahumma), but when the verse Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim was revealed, he adopted these words. Since then this practice was established through the verbal command of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him or through his act or tacit approval. (See Qurtubi and Ruh al-Ma'ani)

The Holy Qur'an again and again instructs us to begin what we do with the name. of Allah. The Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him has said that no important work receives the blessings of Allah, unless it is begun with His name. According to yet another hadith (Tradition), closing the door of one's house, putting out the lamp, covering a vessel, should all be done with the recitation of Bismillah. The Holy Qur'an and the ahadith (Traditions) repeatedly instruct us to recite this verse while taking food, drinking water, performing the wudu (ablution), getting on a carriage or getting down from it. (See Qurtubi)

By instructing man to begin everything with the name of Allah, Islam has given to the whole of his life an orientation towards Allah so that he may, with each step he takes, renew his allegiance to the covenant with Allah that nothing he does, not even his very being can come into existence without the will and the help of Allah. Thus, all the economic and worldly activities of man, each movement and gesture becomes transformed into an act of worship. How brief is the action, which consumes neither time nor energy, and yet how immense is the gain -- it is a regular alchemy, transmuting the profane (dunya) into the sacred (din); a disbeliever eats and drinks just as a Muslim does but in saying 'Bismillah' as he begins to eat, the Muslim affirms that it was not in his power to obtain this little morsel of food which has passed through innumerable stages from the sowing of the seed to the reaping of the grain corn, and which has during this process required the labours of the wind, the rain, the sun, of the heavens and of the earth, and of a thousand men -- and that it is Allah alone who has granted him this morsel of food or this draught of water by making it go through all these stages. A disbeliever goes to sleep, wakes up and goes about as much as a Muslim. But while going to sleep or waking up, the Muslim mentions the name of Allah, renewing his relationship with Him. Thus his economic and worldly needs and activities acquire the nature of the remembrance of Allah, and are counted as acts of worship. Similarly, in saying 'Bismillah' while getting on to a carriage, the Muslim testifies to the fact that it is beyond the power of man to produce this carriage and to procure it for him, and that it is only the infallible and divinely-created order of things that has brought together from all the corners of the world the wood, the steel and other metals which have gone into the making of the carriage, as well as the mechanics who have given a particular shape to these components, and the driver -- and finally put all these into the service of man who can make use of the labour of this army of the creatures of man who can God by spending a few coins. And even these coins have not been created by him, it is Allah himself who has provided the complex ways and means of earning them. Veritably, 'Bismillah' is the legendary philosopher's stone which transmutes, not copper, but mere dust into the purest of gold. : 'So then, praised be Allah for the religion of Islam and its teachings.'