Basmala

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The Basmala (Arabic: بسملةbasmala), also known by its opening utterance Bismillah (Arabic: بسم الله‎, "In the name of God")[1] is the collective noun for the Islamic phrase "b-ismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīmi". This is the phrase recited before each sura (chapter) of the Qur'an – except for the ninth[Notes 1][2] – and is often translated as "In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful".[citation needed]

It is used by Muslims in various contexts (for instance, during daily prayer) and is usually the first phrase in the preambles to the constitutions of Islamic countries.[citation needed]

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm
"In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful."

In Unicode, the Arabic letters of the Basmala are encoded as one ligature at codepoint U+FDFD ‎.

Name[edit]

Calligraphic rendition of the Basmala as if a motif
The Basmala rendered as if a motif.

The word basmala was derived from a slightly unusual procedure, in which the first four pronounced consonants of the phrase bismi-llāhi... were used as a quadriliteral consonantal root:[3] b-s-m-l (ب س م ل). This abstract consonantal root was used to derive the noun basmala and its related verb forms, meaning "to recite the basmala". Other oft-repeated phrases in Islam given their own names include "Allāhu Akbar" (الله أكبر, called the Takbir and usually translated as "God is [the] Greatest" or "God is Great") and the phrase beginning "A`ūdhu billāhi..." called the Ta'awwudh. The method of coining a quadriliteral name from the consonants of a phrase is paralleled by the name Hamdala for Alhamdulillah.[3]

Recitation of the Basmala is known as tasmiyya (تسمية).

Occurrence[edit]

Calligraphic rendition of the Basmala
Calligraphic rendition of the Basmala.

In the Qur'an, the Basmala is usually numbered as the first verse of the first sura, but, according to the view adopted by Al-Tabari, it precedes the first verse. Apart from the ninth sura ("At-Tawba"),[Notes 1] it occurs at the beginning of each subsequent sura of the Qur'an and is usually not numbered as a verse except at its first appearance at the start of the first sura. The Basmala occurs as part of a sura's text in verse 30 of the 27th sura ("An-Naml"), where it prefaces a letter from Sulayman to Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba.

The Basmala is used extensively in everyday Muslim life, said as the opening of each action in order to receive blessing from God.[4] Reciting the Basmala is a necessary requirement in the preparation of halal food.

In the Indian subcontinent, a Bismillah ceremony is held for a child's initiation into Islam.

Significance[edit]

The three definite nouns of the Basmala—Allah, ar-Rahman and ar-Rahim—correspond to the first three of the traditional 99 names of God in Islam. Both ar-Rahman and ar-Rahim are from the same triliteral root R-Ḥ-M, "to feel sympathy, or pity". According to Lane, ar-raḥmān is more intensive (including in its objects the believer and the unbeliever) and may be rendered as "the Compassionate", while ar-raḥīm has for its peculiar object the believer (considered as expressive of a constant attribute), and may be rendered as "the Merciful".

The Basmala has a special significance for Muslims, who are to begin each task after reciting the verse. It is often preceded by Ta'awwudh. There are several ahadith encouraging Muslims to recite it before eating and drinking. For example:

White-on-black rendering of the Basmala in the shape of a pear
The Basmala, artistically rendered in the shape of a pear
Bismillah calligraphy

Aisha reported:

"The Prophet said, “When any of you wants to eat, he should mention the Name of God in the beginning (Bismillah). If he forgets to do it in the beginning, he should say Bismillah awwalahu wa akhirahu (I begin with the Name of God at the beginning and at the end)”.— From At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud

Umaiyyah bin Makshi reported:

The Prophet was sitting while a man was eating food. That man did not mention the Name of God till only a morsel of food was left. When he raised it to his mouth, he said, Bismillah awwalahu wa akhirahu. The Prophet smiled at this and said, “Satan had been eating with him but when he mentioned the Name of God, Satan vomited all that was in his stomach”. — From Abu Dawud and Al-Nasa'i

Wahshi bin Harb reported:

Some of the Sahaba of the Prophet said, "We eat but are not satisfied." He said, "Perhaps you eat separately." The Sahaba replied in the affirmative. He then said, "Eat together and mention the Name of God over your food. It will be blessed for you". — From Abu Dawood

According to a Tradition, Muhammad said:[5]

"All that is contained in the revealed books is to be found in the Qur’an and all that is contained in the Qur’an is summed up in the surat al-fatihah (‘The opening one’) while this is in its turn contained in the formula Bismillahi-r-Rahmani-r-Rahim (‘In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful’)."

A Tradition ascribed to Imam Ali states:[5]

"The basmalah is in essence contained in the first letter, Ba, and this again in its diacritical point, which thus symbolizes principial Unity."

In a commentary on the Basmala in his Tafsir al-Tabari, al-Tabari writes:

“The Messenger of Allah (the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said that Jesus was handed by his mother Mary over to a school in order that he might be taught. [The teacher] said to him: ‘Write “Bism (In the name of)”.’ And Jesus said to him: ‘What is “Bism”?’ The teacher said: ‘I do not know.’ Jesus said: ‘The “Ba” is Baha’u'llah (the glory of Allah), the “Sin” is His Sana’ (radiance), and the “Mim” is His Mamlakah (sovereignty).”[6]

Alternative Christian meaning[edit]

Arabic-speaking Christians sometimes use the name "Basmala" to refer to the Christian liturgical formula "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (باسم الآب والابن والروح القدس bismi-l-’ābi wa-l-ibni wa-r-rūḥi l-qudusi) from Matthew 28:19.[7][8]

Numerology[edit]

Black-on-white Arabic calligraphy
Thuluth script
Bismillah calligraphy from the Mughal Empire.

The total value of the letters of Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim, according to one Arabic system of numerology, is 786. There are two methods of arranging the letters of the Arabic alphabet. One method is in common alphabetical order (used for most ordinary purposes), beginning with the letters Alif ا, ba ب, ta ت, tha ث, etc. The other method is known as the Abjad numerals' (or ordinal) method. In this method, the letters are arranged in the Abjadi order: Abjad, Hawwaz, Hutti, Kalaman, Sa'fas, Qarshat, Sakhaz, Zazagh; each letter has an arithmetic value assigned to it, from 1 to 1,000. This arrangement was probably done during the 3rd century of Hijrah during the 'Abbasid period, following the practices of speakers of other Semitic languages such as Aramaic and Hebrew.

Taking into account the numeric values of all the letters of the Basmala, according to the Abjad order the total is 786. In the Indian subcontinent the Abjad numerals have become popular. Some people—mostly in India and Pakistan—use 786 as a substitute for Basmala ("In the name of Allah"). They write this number to avoid writing the word 'Allah' or to avoid writing Qur'anic verses on ordinary paper (which can get dirty or come in contact with materials considered unclean). This practice does not date from the time of Muhammad, and is not universally accepted by Muslims.

In calligraphy[edit]

Bismillah in Persian calligraphy.

In Arabic calligraphy, the Basmala it is the most prevalent motif, even more so than the Shahadah.

Cultural references[edit]

The Tile of Basmala top of door of a house in Tehran

The Iranian authorities permitted an album of songs by the English rock band Queen to be released in Iran in August 2004, partly because the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" contained several exclamations of the word Bismillah.[9] The group's lead singer, Freddie Mercury, was born in Zanzibar as "Farrokh Bulsara" to Indian Parsi parents and was proud of his Persian ancestry.[9]

At the beginning of each of his albums, the American rapper Mos Def recites the Basmala.

The rapper Lupe Fiasco recites the Basmala during the first track of his album Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor.[10]

The rapper Nas recited the phrase in two of his songs, "Black Zombie" from his 2002 compilation album The Lost Tapes and "Smokin" from his 2001 record Stillmatic.

The Wu Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah recites the Takbir and the Basmala in the song "Underwater" from his 2006 record FishScale.

BT's song "Firewater" also features the phrase.

The rapper Rakim closes the last verse of his song "R.A.K.I.M." (from the 8 Mile soundtrack) with "Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim".

In 2008, the remix of the hip hop artist Busta Rhymes's single "Arab Money" was the subject of controversy because of its use of the Basmala in the chorus.

The Basmala, translated as "In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate", was used as the title for the Lambda Literary Award-nominated novel of the same name by Tim Parise,[11] which discusses sovereignty, revolution and anarchism from an Islamic theological perspective.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b See, however, the discussion of the eighth and ninth suras at Al-Anfal (the eighth sura).

References[edit]

  1. ^ Shelquist, Richard (2008-01-03). "Bismillah al rahman al rahim". Living from the Heart. Wahiduddin. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  2. ^ Ali, Kecia; Leaman, Oliver (2008). Islam : the key concepts (Repr. ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-39638-7. 
  3. ^ a b A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language by J.A. Haywood and H.M. Nahmad (London: Lund Humphries, 1965), ISBN 0-85331-585-X, p. 263.
  4. ^ "Islamic-Dictionary.com Definition". 
  5. ^ a b Titus Burckhardt (2008) [1959]. An Introduction to Sufi Doctrine World Wisdom Inc., Bloomington IN, USA. ISBN 1933316500. pp.36.
  6. ^ Momen, M. (2000). Islam and the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. p. 242. ISBN 0-85398-446-8.  In note 330 on page 274 of the same book Dr. Momen states the following: "At-Tabarí, Jámi’-al-Bayán, vol. 1, p.40. Some of the abbreviated editions of this work (such as the Mu’assasah ar-Risálah, Beirut, 1994 edition) omit this passage as does the translation by J. Cooper (Oxford University Press, 1987). Ibn kathír records this Tradition, Tafsír, vol. 1, p. 17. As-Suyútí in ad-Durr al-Manthúr, vol. 1, p. 8, also records this Tradition and gives a list of other scholars who have cited it including Abú Na’ím al-Isfahání in Hilyat al-Awliya’ and Ibn ‘Asákir in Taríkh Dimashq."
  7. ^ Matthew 28:19 (Arabic) Retrieved 2011-07-25.
  8. ^ Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic by Hans Wehr, edited by J.M. Cowan, 4th edition 1979 (ISBN 0-87950-003-4), p. 73.
  9. ^ a b "Queen album brings rock to Iran". BBC News. 2004-08-24. Retrieved 2007-03-04. 
  10. ^ "Lupe Fiasco's Food and Liquor". Rap.about.com. 2014-03-06. Retrieved 2014-08-09. 
  11. ^ "Lambda Literary Award: Current Submissions". Lambda Literary Foundation. October 13, 2014. Retrieved 2014-10-14. 

External links[edit]