1 All but one of the 114 sūrahs of the Quran begin with In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, known as the basmalah in Arabic, which also appears in 27:30. There is a debate as to whether the basmalah is a verse of each sūrah or an indication of the beginning of a new sūrah. Whether or not it is considered a numbered verse, in most schools of Islamic Law, with the exception of the Shāfiʿī and Jaʿfarī schools, the basmalah is not recited with any of the sūrahs during the daily prayers. In this regard, Anas ibn Mālik (d. 91/709), a close Companion of the Prophet, is reported to have said, “I have prayed behind the Prophet, Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, and ʿUthmān [the first three Caliphs of Islam], and they each began their recitation with Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds, without mentioning In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful” (IK, Q, Sh, Z). But in another tradition, Abū Hurayrah (d. 61/681), another of the Prophet’s Companions, is reported to have recited the basmalah while leading the prayer and to have then said, “Among you I perform the prayer that is closest to the prayer of the Messenger of God” (IK). Based upon a saying of Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/765), the sixth Shiite Imam, who was also a pivotal intellectual figure in the Sunni tradition, which states that the basmalah is “the greatest verse in the Book of God,” Shiite scholars all maintain that the basmalah is a verse of the Fātiḥah and of every other sūrah that begins with it (Ṭb, Ṭs). Others say that it is a verse, though separate from the sūrahs that begin with it (IK). In this regard, Ibn ʿAbbās (d. 68/687), a cousin of the Prophet who was among the most important scholars of the Quran in the first generation of Muslims, is reported to have said that the Prophet did not know the point at which to separate one sūrah from the next until God revealed In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful (Sh).
The basmalah, or its shortened form, In the Name of God, is employed by pious Muslims to consecrate all licit actions, since from a Quranic perspective all things should be performed for the sake of God and in His Name. In this vein the Prophet said, “Any important matter not begun with the Name of God shall be cut off” (Ṭb). The preposition in (bi) could imply a verb at the beginning of the sentence, such as “I begin” or “I seek help” in the Name of God (R, Ṭb), or a noun, such as “The beginning of the discussion is in the Name of God” (R). Alternately, these same phrases could be seen as following the verse, for example, “In the Name of God I begin” (R). In the Name of God is also understood to mean, “I began in the Name of God, so you too begin,” as if God were saying, “I began through My Name, was united with My Name, and have
commenced in My Name, so begin through My Name, unite with My Name, and commence in My Name” (My).
God renders Allāh, which according to some is a unique word with no root and according to others derives from the word al-Ilāh, or “the Divine” (Ṭb). The Quranic usage of Allāh indicates that it was already known to the pre-Islamic Arabs, as in 43:87, which says of the pagan Arabs, Wert thou to ask them, “Who created you?” they would surely say, “God (Allāh)” (cf. 29:61, 63; 31:25; 39:38). Nonetheless, the supreme sovereignty of Allāh was not accepted by the vast majority of those who worshipped idols in a period referred to in the Quran as the Age of Ignorance (jāhiliyyah; 3:154; 5:50; 33:33; 48:26). Allāh is not only the most universal and all-embracing Name, but also the most specific of the Divine Names in that it cannot be used to describe any being other than God, whereas some other Divine Names may (al-Ghazzālī, Divine Names). Some refer to Allāh as the All-Encompassing Name, which comprises all of the Names and Attributes of God (Bq); see 112:1c. The ordering of the three Divine Names in the basmalah can be seen as an allusion to the levels of Divinity in relation to the created order: God (Allāh) refers to the Divine Essence, Principle, or Self; the Compassionate (al-Raḥmān) refers to the unity of God’s Attributes; and the Merciful (al-Raḥīm) to the unity of God’s acts (K).