Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database. Guests are not required to login during this beta-testing phase

BISMILLAH

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The invocation bi-smillahi l-rahmani l-rahim (In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate) occurs 114 times in the Koran at the head of every sura except ninth, which is entitled Surat al-Tauba or Surat al-Bara'a, and also once in 27:30 as the opening of Solomon's letter to the queen of Sheba.

Zamakhshari (d. 538/1144) noted the pre-Islamic Arab use of parallel formulae, such as "in the name of al-Lat or al-Uzza, vide Kashshaf (1:29). There is also a parallel in the Mazdean formula : pad nam'i yazdan (in the name of the God) attested as early as the 3rd century, vide Encyclopaedia Iranica (1982, 4:172). The Prophet also used to begin his works with bismikalla humma. But when the Koranic verse (11:41) revealed, he started using the word bismillah, and after the verse (17:110), qulid-ul-laha awid-ur-rahman, the word rahman was added in the bismillah. Finally, when the verse (27:30) revealed, the term was conclusively structured: bi-smillahi l-rahmani l-rahim.

There are frequent invocation of God’s name in the Koran apart from basmala. The short formula, “in the name of God” occurs only in 11:41 : “(Noah) said, ‘Embark in it (the ark). In the name of God be its sailing and its mooring.’” The term bi-smi rabbika (in the name of your Lord) occurs four times, after the command to “glorify” (56:74, 96, 69:52 and 87:1) or to “recite” (96:1) expressing similarly the invoking God’s name in performing an action. “Mentioning” or “remembering” God’s name occurs 13 times and speaks of blessing God’s name (tabaraka smurabbika).

The elements of bismillah occur in the Koran separately, bismi llah (without the alif in bismi, as in bismillah) occurs once in 11:41 and the twin attributes, al-rahman al-rahim, occur together four times in the Koran (1:3, 2:163, 39:2 and 41:22).

The Arabic preposition bi has several meaning : beginning, dedication, accomplishment and instrumentality. In this passage all these are applicable, so the preposition has multiple meaning. Unfortunately there is no equivalent English word that carries the same range of meaning, and consequently, there is an inevitable loss in translation.

The Koranic formula, bismillah contains the Ism-i Dhat, Allah (occurs in Koran for 2702 times) and two Ism-i Sifat, i.e., al-Rahman (occurs 57 times) and al-Rahim (occurs 114 times), i.e., the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. Both arrtibutes of God are intensive form of the adjective in Arabic. Translators give a variety of renderings: Gracious and Merciful, Compassionate and Merciful, Beneficent and Merciful, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Both words derive from the same root in Arabic r-h-m the general meaning of which is mercy.

Exegets of the Koran have given different opinions of the meanings of these words. Some take rahman as showing mercy in this world and the next with rahim applying only to the next. Others see rahman applying to believers and non-believers, and rahim to believers only; or rahman as Provider of mercy in relation to large scale things and rahim to small scale things, or rahman as Provider of mercy which only God can provide, while rahim can also be provided by humans.

The two words rahman and rahim are paired only four times in the Koran (1:3, 2:163, 41:2 and 59:22) apart from the basmala and can in each case be cogently constructed as a substantive (al-rahman) with a following adjective (al-rahim), “the Compassionate Merciful (One).” Rahman occurs in the Koran only with the definite article al- (57 instances in numbered verses). Rahim occurs 81 times without the definite article. Al-rahim is found 32 times (including four occurances apart from basmala with al-rahman), all but once (34:2) : al-rahim al-ghafur as an attribute: al-Aziz, al-Gafur, al-Tawwab and al-Birr


Back to top