Meaning of Iyyaka Na`budu wa Iyyaka Nasta`in


Salam alaykum:

The question I have is on the explanation of an aya in Suratul Fatiha.
To whom is: ‘Iyakka Nacbudu wa iyaka nastacin‘ referring? In other words, who is addressed?


wa `alaykum salam

Allah Most High is addressed, like unto Whom there is nothing and no one. The affirmation in the verse by definition addresses the One and only object of worship of every Muslim, which is not obscure to any Muslim who says the Fatiha and the Shahada five to 1,000 times a day. If we know nothing else, we know that that is our Focus and that is our one
directive in this Path: “O Allah, You are my goal and Your good pleasure is my sole pursuit” (Allahumma anta maqsudi wa-ridaka matlubi).

The deeper levels of the verse are too specialized but they are also available for those who are able to hear their explanation and put them into practice. We make no claim of knowing more than what we are qualified lest we are taken to account. As our Holy Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) taught us to say: “We seek refuge in Allah from the fitna of unbeneficial knowledge!”

After also seeking refuge in Him from the accursed shaytan and beginning with the Name of Allah Most High, we ask Allah for His blessing, His forgiveness and His success here and hereafter in mentioning some of those meanings from the great Tafsir of Qadi Nasir al-Din al-Baydawi (d. 685/1286), entitled The Lights of Revelation and the Secrets of Interpretation (Anwar al-Tanzil wa-Asrar al-Ta’wil), the most read and studied tafsir of all times. May Allah benefit us with his du`as and not deprive us of the states he describes therein.

Al-Baydawi said (Allah have mercy on him):

[al-Fatiha 1:5] “Iyyaaka na`budu wa-iyyaka nasta`eenu – You do we worship and You do we ask for help: After He Who deserves praise was mentioned and described with the magnificent attributes by which He demarked Himself from all other entities, and knowledge clung to a specific object, He was addressed accordingly, thus: ‘O You Whose affair is such, we single You out for worship and recourse!’ This is more indicative of His specificity and forms a progression from demonstration to sight, and a move from the absent third-person to witnessing. It is as if the object of knowledge is now within sight, the rationally conceivable is beheld, and absence has turned to presence. He built the first part of the discourse on the early stage of the state of the
knower–consisting in remembrance, reflection, contemplation of His Names, study of His bounties, and the inference, from His handiwork, of His immense loftiness and astonishing power. Then He followed up with what constitutes the farthest reach of the knower’s quest, which is to probe the depth of arrival and become one of the people of reciprocal vision, whereupon one sees Him with one’s eyes and converses with Him
directly. O Allah, our Lord! Make us of those who have attained the source (al-`ayn) and not just hear the report (al-athar)!

“The Arabs habitually pursue refinement in their speech, switching from style to style in order to refresh it and stimulate the listener. For example, one will switch from the second person to the third and from the third person to the first and vice-versa, as in  the saying of Allah Most High “until, when YOU are in the ships and THEY sail with  them” (Yunus 10:22); and His saying, “And ALLAH it is Who sends the winds and
they raise a cloud; then WE lead it
” (Fatir 35:9); and the saying of Umru’ al-Qays:

[‘The Tripping’ meter (al-mutaqarib)]

“Long is your night with antimonied eyes,
while he sleeps who is care-free, but not you.
“He spends the night; but for him a night passes
such as the night of one eye-specked, inflamed.
“And that is due to the unsettling news I heard, which Abu al-Aswad told

Iyyaa is a disconnected pronoun (damir munfasil) in the accusative, and whatever yaa‘ (‘to me’), kaaf (‘to you’) or haa‘ (‘to him’) is affixed to it are letters added to show the first, second, and third persons respectively, all without desinential place (la mahall lahaa min al-i`raab), just like the ta’ in anta (‘you’) and the kaf in ara’aytaka (‘can you see yourself’). Al-Khalil said that iyyaa was a governed annex (mudaf ilayh), adducing as proof what he reported from an Arab: ‘When a man reaches 60 years of age, let him beware of young women! (fa’iyyaahu wa-iyyaa al-shawaabb)’ but it is aberrant (shaadhdh) and unreliable. It was also said that they [the yaa’, kaaf, and haa‘] were the pronouns, while iyyaa is a prop: for when they became disconnected from the regents (`awaamil), it became impossible to pronounce them by themselves, so iyyaa was joined to them and they can be used independently thanks to it. It was also said that the pronoun was the whole. Among its readings: ayyaaka with a fatha on the glottal stop (hamza), and hayyaaka with its transposition into a haa‘.(**)

Isti`aana is the appeal for help. The latter is either indispensable (daruri) or not. The first type is what the act cannot be performed without, such as the ability of the doer, his conception of the act, and the occurrence of an instrument by which to act and material to act upon. When these conditions are met, a person is described as possessing ability and it is correct that he be legally responsible to do the act. The second type, the non-indispensable, is the obtainment of what facilitates the act and by which it is more easily implemented–such as a mount on a trip for someone who is able to walk–or brings the doer nearer to the act and hastens it for him. This type does not form a criterion for the validity of legal responsibility. The meaning is the request for help in every task, or in the execution of all the types of worship.

“The covert pronoun (al-damir al-mustakinn) in both verbs represents the reciter and those with him of the recording angels and the attendees of congregational prayer, or the reciter and the rest of the pure monotheists (muwahhid). He enclosed his worship into the folds of their worship and mixed his need with their need so that, perhaps, it would be accepted through its blessing and be answered. This is why congregation was made law. The direct object was put first for magnification, focus, and the indication of exclusivity, hence Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be well-pleased with him and his father) said: ‘Its meaning is, We worship You, and we do not worship anyone other than You.’ [Something similar is narrated by al-Tabari and Ibn Abi Hatim in their Tafsirs for that verse, cf. al-Munawi, al-Fath al-Samawi bi-Takhrij Ahadith al-Qadi al-Baydawi (1:103-104 §7), but with a chain missing a link between al-Dahhak and Ibn `Abbas.]

“The order also gives precedence to what possesses precedence in existence, and warns that Allah’s servant must keep his eyes on the object of his worship first–and for His own sake–and thence to worship, viewed not as worship that issued from him, but as an exalted connection to Allah and a sublime link between him and the Real. For the knower’s arrival is realized only when he becomes immersed in the awareness of the presence of the Holy One, oblivious to everything else, to the point he is not even aware of himself or any of his own states, except insofar as he is aware of Him and connected to Him. This is the reason for the superiority of what Allah related about His Beloved [Muhammad upon him blessings and peace], saying, “Grieve not! Truly, Allah is with us” (al-Tawba 9:40) over what He related from His Interlocutor [Musa upon him blessings and peace], saying, “Truly, with me is my Lord: He shall guide me” (al-Shu`ara’ 26:62).

“He repeated the personal pronoun as an unequivocal declaration that it is He Whose help is sought and no other. Worship was put before seeking help so that the verse endings would match. The verse informs us that giving precedence to the means before asking one’s need is more conducive to fulfillment. And I say: When the speaker attributed worship to himself, he gave the impression that he was boasting and accorded importance to his own doing, so he followed it up with his saying, and You do we ask for help, to indicate that worship, also, is something that does not become complete or consummate except with His help and the success He grants. It was said that the waaw (‘and’) denotes a participial state by which the meaning would be, ‘We worship You seeking Your help.’

“It was also read with a kasra under the n in both words [ni`budu, nista`een],(****) which is the dialect of the Banu Tamim who put a kasra under all aorist initials except the ya‘, provided the next letter does not have a damma.”

End of al-Baydawi’s Tafsir of Surat al-Fatiha, verse 5.

And Allah knows best.

Glorified and exalted be your Lord, the Lord of Might, always beyond what they describe!  And peace upon all the Messengers! And glory, praise and thanks to Allah the Lord of the worlds!


Hajj Gibril


[(*) Beginning of a poem of Umru’ al-Qays narrated by al-Asma`i, Abu `Amr al-Shaybani, Abu `Ubayda, and Ibn al-A`rabi (al-Suyuti, Nawahid al-Abkar). Abu al-Aswad is the name of Umru’ al-Qays’s paternal cousin, so the three lines start with the second person direct address, switch to the narrative third person, then to the first whereby we learn that the subject is the poet himself.]

[(**) Ayyaaka: non-canonical reading of al-Fadl al-Riqashi, Sufyan al-Thawri, and `Ali b. Abi Talib (Allah be well-pleased with him). Ibn `Atiyya said it is a famous dialectical form. Hayyaaka: non-canonical reading of Abu al-Sawwar al-Ghanawi–also a dialectical form. Other non-canonical readings include iyaaka (without shadda of the yaa‘), hiyaaka, and iyyéka with imaala. (al-Khatib, Mu`jam al-Qiraa’aat)]

[(***)  I.e. in the sacred law. As for the sense of ‘sturdy,’ it is meant to imply strength in worship like a tough, well-sewn garment.
(Al-Qunawi, Hashiyat al-Baydawi)]

[(****) By Zayd b. `Ali, Yahya b. Waththab, `Ubayd b. `Umayr al-Laythi, Zirr b. Hubaysh, al-Nakha`i, al-Mutawwi`i, and al-A`mash. It is a dialectical form of Tamim, Qays, Asad, Rabi`a, Hudhayl, and some of Quraysh. (al-Khatib, Mu`jam al-Qiraa’aat)]

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