Meaning and Tafseer of Bismillah (بسم الله)

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Translation of بسم الله

'In (or With) the name of Allah'.

[Note: The full phrase Bismillah hirrahman nirraheem (بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم) translates to In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. The explanation of Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim will be done separately, In-sha Allah. The phrase is also called Basmalah in short.]

Explanation

'I begin with every name that belongs to Allah' because the word “Ism” (Name) is Mufrad Mudaf (singular, genitive) and therefore inclusive of all Names [Al-Asmaa Al-Husna].[1]

Features of بسم الله

Seeking Help

The ‘B’ [بِ] in Bismillah is a ‘B’ [ب] of Isti’anah (استعانة), which means ‘seeking help’. So, we are empowering ourselves by seeking Allah’s help before starting an action.

Incomplete Sentence

Allah left the phrase “Bismillah” as an incomplete sentence. When we say “With the name of Allah,” the verb or action is missing from the sentence. It is not included because the context of where it is used completes the meaning. For instance, when we say Bismillah before reading, the context/intention delivers the meaning as “With the name of Allah, I begin reading.” Therefore, the phrase can be used in different situations.

Before the Action

Scholars also say that the phrase Bismillah should come before the action. Although it is acceptable as a sentence construction to say, for example, “I read with the name of Allah,” there are two reasons why Bismillah should come first (i.e. “With the name of Allah, I read”):

  • To seek blessings by beginning with the name of Allah first and not your action.
  • To express the fact that the action is only for Allah. In Arabic language, when you delay the verb, it means exclusivity. So, when we place our action/verb after “With the name of Allah,” it means beginning exclusively with Allah’s Name, seeking His Help alone and solely for His Sake. The Basmalah is used for three primary reasons:
    1. Ikhlaas (Sincerity) – the action is for His Sake alone;
    2. Barakah – seeking His help/blessing for the action;
    3. Qabool (Acceptance) – that Allah accepts and is pleased with our action.

Meaning of the name 'Allah'

Linguistic or Literal Meaning

The term 'Allah' is derived from a contraction of the Arabic definite article al- "the" and ilāh "deity, god" to al-lāh meaning "the [sole] deity, God." [Encyclopedia of Islam]

The linguistic meaning of the name of Allah is 'the [sole] deity that deserves to be worshiped'. The word ‘Allah’ comes from the root aliha ya’lahu (bi ma’na “abada ya’budu”). He is the ultimate being who is worthy of being worshipped.

Greatest Name

It is said [2] that ‘Allah’ is His Greatest Name, because it is referred to when describing Allah by the various attributes. For instance, Allah said:

هُوَ اللَّهُ الَّذِى لاَ إِلَـهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ عَالِمُ الْغَيْبِ وَالشَّهَـدَةِ هُوَ الرَّحْمَـنُ الرَّحِيمُ

He is Allah , other than whom there is no deity, Knower of the unseen and the witnessed. He is the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.

هُوَ اللَّهُ الَّذِى لاَ إِلَـهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ الْمَلِكُ الْقُدُّوسُ السَّلَـمُ الْمُؤْمِنُ الْمُهَيْمِنُ الْعَزِيزُ الْجَبَّارُ الْمُتَكَبِّرُ سُبْحَـنَ اللَّهِ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ 

He is Allah , other than whom there is no deity, the Sovereign, the Pure, the Perfection, the Bestower of Faith, the Overseer, the Exalted in Might, the Compeller, the Superior. Exalted is Allah above whatever they associate with Him.

هُوَ اللَّهُ الْخَـلِقُ الْبَارِىءُ الْمُصَوِّرُ لَهُ الاٌّسْمَآءُ الْحُسْنَى يُسَبِّحُ لَهُ مَا فِى السَّمَـوَتِ وَالاٌّرْضِ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

He is Allah , the Creator, the Inventor, the Fashioner; to Him belong the best names. Whatever is in the heavens and earth is exalting Him. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. [Quran, 59:22-24]

Hence, Allah mentioned several of His Names as Attributes for His Name ‘Allah’. Similarly, Allah said,

وَللَّهِ الأَسْمَآءُ الْحُسْنَى فَادْعُوهُ بِهَا

And (all) the Most Beautiful Names belong to Allah, so call on Him by them. [Quran, 7:180] 

How the Prophet (ﷺ) recited the Quran

Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him), when asked about the recitation of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, said:
"His recitation would be elongated, then he recited 'بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم' elongating Bismillah, elongating Ar-Rahman and elongating Ar-Rahim." [Sahih Al-Bukhari; 6/513, no. 566]

References

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