Is Bismillah a Part of (Every) Chapter?

Is Bismillah a Part of (Every) Chapter?

Amongst the Shia scholars there exists no difference of opinion in the fact that Bismillah is part of Suratul Hamd and every chapter of the Noble Quran (except Suratul Taubah as shall be mentioned later)(1). Basically, the presence of Bismillah in the beginning of all the chapters in the text of the Quran is itself proof of this issue since we do know that nothing has been added to the text of the Qur`an and the mention of Bismillah, at the start of all chapters, has been prevalent since the time of the Noble Prophet (s.a.w) till today.

However, as far as the Sunni scholars are concerned, the author of Tafsirul Manar has presented a comprehensive collection of their views, which is as follows: “There exists a debate amongst scholars as to whether Bismillah, at the start of every chapter, is a part of the chapter or not? The ancient scholars from Makkah - jurisprudents and the Quran-Reciters alike - amongst them Ibn Kathir; those from Kufah, amongst them the Quran-reciters 'Asim and Kasa`i; some of the Companions and the Followers (2) of Medina; Thauri and Ahmad (in one of his two opinions) and so too Shafi'i and his followers - all are of the belief that it is part of the chapter.

And similarly the Twelve-Imam Shia scholars and (according to them) the Companions like 'Ali, Ibn 'Abbas, 'Abdullah b. 'Umar and Abu Hurairah; some scholars from the followers such as Sa'id b. Jubair, 'Ata, Zuhri and Ibn al-Mubarik - all have opted for this opinion.” He then adds: “Their most important proof is that the Companions and those who came after them - despite emphasizing that the Qur`an ought to be purified from everything which is not part of it, for which reason they never mentioned 'Amin' at the end of the (recitation) of Suratul FatiHa - were unanimous in reciting 'Bismillah' at the start of every chapter, except Suratul Baraat.”

He then goes on to state that Malik, the followers of Abu Hanifah and some others considered Bismillah to be a separate verse, which had been revealed to indicate the beginning of the chapters and serve as a separator between them. He then narrates from Ahmad (the renowned Sunni jurisprudent) and some of the Qur`an-reciters of Kufah that they believed Bismillah to be a part of Suratul Hamd only and not of the other chapters.(3)

From what has been mentioned above, it can be concluded that a definite majority of the Ahlus Sunnah are also of the belief that Bismillah is a part of every chapter. We present below a few of the traditions that have been narrated by means of the Sunni and Shi'ite chains of narrators (and confess that mentioning all the traditions that exist in this regard is beyond the scope of this work and more suited to a full-fledged jurisprudential discussion on the issue.)

i. Mua'wiyah b. 'Ammar, one of the companions of Imam as-sadiq (a.s) says: “I asked the Imam (a.s): 'When I stand for prayers, should I recite 'Bismillah' in the beginning of Suratul Hamd?'  The Imam said: 'Yes'. I questioned him once again: 'When al-Hamd is completed and I have to recite another chapter after it, do I have to recite 'Bismillah'?  Again he (a.s) said: 'Yes.'”(4)

ii. Dar Qutni, a Sunni scholar, upon the authority of an authentic chain of narrators reports that a person approached Imam 'Ali (a.s) and asked: “What is the 'al-Saba' al-Mathani?'”(5) The Imam (a.s) replied: “It is Suratul Hamd.”  The person said: ”(But) Suratul Hamd has (only) six verses.”  Whereupon he (a.s) said: “Bismillahir RaHmanir RaHim is also one of its verses.”(6) iii. Baihaqi, the renowned Sunni narrator, upon the authority of an authentic chain of narrators reports from Ibn Jubair that Ibn 'Abbas said:

إِسْتَرَقَ الشَّيْطاَنُ مِنَ النَّاسِ، أَعْظَمَ آيَةٍ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ بِسْمِ اللٌّهِ الرَّحْمٌنِ الرَّحِيْم.

“Satan has tried to steal the greatest verse of the Qur'an away from the people, and that is Bismillahir RaHmanir RaHim) (an allusion to the fact that they do not recite it at the start of the Surahs.”(7)

Apart from all the above, the conduct of the Muslims had always been to recite Bismillah at the start of every chapter while reciting the Qur`an, and it has been established - by means of successive narrations - that the Noble Prophet (s.a.w) too used to recite it. How is it possible that the Noble Prophet (s.a.w) and the other Muslims would recite something that was not part of the Qur`an and persevere in this act of theirs?

The notion that some people have stated about Bismillah being an independent verse and a part of the Quran but not a part of the chapters, is one which appears to be feeble and baseless. This is because the meaning and contents of Bismillah indicate that it is for starting or initiating a task and not that it possesses a meaning that is independent. In reality, this is intense rigidity and bias that in order to prop up their opinion they present forth every conceivable possibility and consider a verse like Bismillah - whose meaning screams out aloud that it is a beginning for that which is to come later - to be an independent verse, totally unrelated with that which is before and after it.

The only plausible objection, which the opponents possess in this regard is that when the verses of the chapters of the Noble Quran are computed - with the exception of Suratul Hamd - Bismillah is usually not taken into account; rather, the verse which follows it, is regarded as the first verse. The answer to this objection is clearly provided by Fakhr Razi in his commentary Tafsir al-Kabir when he says: “There is no harm if 'Bismillah' is the first verse, by itself, in Suratul Hamd, and a part of the first verse, in the other chapters of the Quran.” Thus, for example, in Suratul Kauthar:

بِسْمِ اللٌّهِ الرَّحْمٌنِ الرَّحِيمِ. إَنَّا أَعْطَيْنَاكَ الْكَوْثَرَ

in its entirety, shall be considered to be one verse.

In any event, this issue is so plain that it is reported that once, during his reign, Mu'awiyah did not recite Bismillah during a congregational prayer. After the prayers some of the Muhajirin (The Emigrants) and the Ansar (The Helpers) confronted him and said:

 اَسْرَقْتَ اَمْ نَسَيْتَ؟

“Have you stolen (Bismillah) or have you forgotten it?(8)”(9)

NOTES:

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1. Note by Translator

2. Companions of the companions of the noble Prophet (S).

3. Tafsir al-Manar, vol. 1, pg. 39-40

4. Al-Kafi, vol. 3, pg. 312

5. The Seven Oft-Repeated (verses) (Tr.)

6. al-Itqan, vol. 1, pg. 136

7. Sunan of Baihaqi, vol. 2, pg. 50

8. Sunan of Baihaqi, vol. 2, pg. 49. Hakim has also mentioned this tradition in his book Mustadrak, vol. 1, pg. 233, and has regarded it as correct and authentic.

9. Tafsir-e-Namunah, vol. 1, pg. 17