The Basmalah & Reading It During Qurʾān Recital
By Mohammad Mustafa Ali (5th Year ʿĀlim Student, DarusSalam Seminary)
The Qurʾān is a literary miracle filled with profound insights and life-changing advices. It is the basis of our religion. It is the Prophet Muḥammad’s greatest miracle. The Qurʾān’s beauty and eloquence is endless. When its recitation is heard, it immediately captures the ears of its listeners. When its verses are recited by a master Qurʾān reciter, hard hearts soften and no eye is left dry. Those who wish to recite it must know the rulings of its recitation. They must try their utmost to observe these rules with diligence and precision.
From the fundamental rules of Qurʾān recitation are those rules that pertain to the basmalah. The basmalah is to say: bismiLlāh al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm. This is translated into English as: “In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Mercy-Giving.”
There is a difference of opinion between the scholars regarding whether the basmalah is part of the Qurʾān. Qāḍī Bayḍāwī mentioned:
“BismiLlāh al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm is part of Sūrat al-Fātiḥah according to the qurrāʾ of Makkah and Kūfah. The fuqahāʾ of these cities opined this too. The qurrāʾ of Madinah, Baṣrah, and Shām disagreed; as well, the fuqahāʾ, such as Imāms Mālik and Awzāʿī, disagreed. There is no clear statement narrated from Imām Abū Ḥanīfah regarding this. It is presumed that he reckoned it is not part of Sūrat al-Fātiḥah. Imām Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī was asked regarding it. And he replied: “What is between the two covers (i.e. the muṣḥaf) is Allah’s speech.”
It should be noted that there is an established report of scholarly consensus that says it is a part of Sūrat al-Naml.
When analyzing the words of the basmalah, three points must be reviewed. These points are:
(1) The bāʾ (ب)
(1.a) BismiLlāh is translated as: “In the name of Allah.” One may observe that this sentence is incomplete. The scholars agree that there is ellipsis, but they differ regarding what is omitted. The foremost opinion is that the verb aqraʾu is implied. Thus, the meaning is: “I shall recite the Qurʾān in the name of Allah.”
(1.b) There is a difference of opinion as to whether the bāʾ is for istiʿānah or muṣāḥabah (i.e. mulābasah). If we were to consider the second opinion, the bismiLlāh would mean: “I begin my recitation accompanied by the blessings of Allah.” Qāḍī Bayḍāwī opined that the first is correct; thus, the meaning is: “I begin my recitation beseeching the name of Allah.”
(2) The word ism (اسم)
(2.a) The Baṣrīyūn said that the word ism is a derivative of the word سمو. The Kūfīyūn say that it is from the word وسم. The Baṣrīyūn argued that the word ism cannot be from وسم as the verb conjugations do not reflect this. The Kūfīyūn responded by saying that these words are all affected by qalb al-makān. Qalb al-makān is when the letters alternate from their original positions.
(2.b) Why does one say “I begin my recitation beseeching the name of Allah” but not “I begin my recitation beseeching Allah?” Firstly, this phrase has been transmitted. And one must not exercise their own reasoning when narrations are present.
Secondly, through the basmalah one seeks divine assistance and blessings. The word ism is general; and when one mentions it thus, he is not beseeching Allah by only one specific name. Therefore, when the word ism is used, one is beseeching Allah through all His beautiful names and lofty qualities.
(3) Lafẓ al-Jalālah (الله)
(3.a) There are four opinions regarding the Lafẓ al-Jalālah. They are:
(3.a.i) Ism mushtaqq (trans. a derived noun). According to this, the word Allah is derived from the word Ilāh.
(3.a.ii) ʿAlam lī dhātiHī (trans. a proper noun that refers to His essence). Allah is simply the name of God. This opinion seems plausible because the word Allah often grammatically features as a mawṣūf along with ṣifāt that are connected to it.
(3.a.iii) Ṣifah mushtaqqah (trans. a derived adjective). The word Allah was originally a ṣifah. But it was used exclusively for Allah; and thus, it became an ʿalam (trans. proper noun).
(3.a.iv) Derived from lāhā. Originally, lāhā was a non-Arabic word and it was later Arabicized. However, this opinion does not seem correct. Most Qurʾānic words are Arabic and finding a few similarities between the two words is not enough to prove that lāhā is the etymological source of the word Allah.
The qurrāʾ agree that every sūrah begins with the basmalah. The only is exception is Sūrat al-Tawbah; the qurrāʾ agree that when one is reciting Sūrat al-Anfāl and continuing to Sūrat al-Tawbah or he is beginning from Sūrat al-Tawbah, he should not recite the basmalah.
Imām Shāṭibī says:
ولا بدّ منها في ابتدائك سورة … سواها وفي الأجزاء خيّر من تلا
ومهما تصلها مع أواخر سورة … فلا تقفنّ الدّهر فيها فتثقلا
The basmalah is necessary at the beginning of every sūrah the only exception is Sūrat al-Tawbah. The reciter may choose to recite it in the middle of various sections (of a sūrah).
When you join it with the end of a sūrah, do not make waqf on the basmalah; otherwise you will become a cause of burden.
Here, we see that one must recite the basmalah when beginning any sūrah besides Sūrat al-Tawbah. And he may opt to recite it when beginning from the middle of a sūrah.
The second line explains how to connect one sūrah to another. There are four ways (only three of them are permissible). They are:
(1) One stops at the end of the first sūrah. Then, he recites the basmalah and stops. Thereafter, he begins the next sūrah.
(2) One stops at the end of the first sūrah. Then, he recites the basmalah by connecting it with the following sūrah.
(3) One recites the end of the sūrah, then the basmalah, and then the next sūrah by connecting them.
(4) One connects the first sūrah to the basmalah and then stops. And then, he begins reciting the next sūrah.
(4.a) This is impermissible, as it gives the impression that the basmalah is the last verse of the first sūrah.
And Allah knows best.
 This translation was taken from Dr. Ahmad Zaki Hammad’s The Gracious Quran: A Modern-Phrased Interpretation in English.
 Tafsīr al-Bayḍāwī, Qāḍī Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Bayḍāwī, 15.
 al-Aḥkām fī Uṣūl al- Aḥkām, Abū al-Ḥasan al-Āmidī, 1:161.
 Ḥāshiyat Muḥyī al-Dīn Shaykh Zādah ʿalā Tafsīr al-Qāḍī al-Bayḍāwī, Shaykh Zādah, 1:28-59.
 al-Budūr al-Zāhirah, Shaykh ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Qāḍī, 15.
 al-Wāfī, Shaykh ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Qāḍī, 39-40.
 Ḥirz al-Amānī wa Wajh al-Tahānī, Imām Shāṭibī, Verses 106-107.