What strikes me most about this first surah is the emphasis on mercy, which appears four times in these seven ayahs.  The active work of Allah in this surah is all merciful; anything negative is stated in a passive voice (1:7) and is not necessarily applied to Allah.  I have not really thought of Islam as a religion of mercy.  Have you?  I don’t think I have pictured it as hard-lined and works-oriented as some, but that is the trajectory in which I would have placed the religion.  Yet in this first recitation, a prayer that is uttered several times each day, mercy stands out as the main characteristic of this God to which they pray.  I look forward to learning what “mercy” means in an Islamic context.  Mercy is not necessarily the same as grace.   

This is a beautiful prayer.  What a great start!  So inspiring and dependent.  The Qur’an starts with a cry for help.  How easy it is to walk paths that bring anger and lead astray.  How desperately humans need help to walk the straight and narrow.   

Some have likened this surah to the Lord’s Prayer in that it is prayed many times daily by devote Muslims.  There certainly are connections: an initial magnification of God, an acknowledgement that God rules the world (or “worlds” in the Qur’an), a petition for help.  I see more connections to Psalms 1, another introduction to a loosely organized collection of recitations:

1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

There is a way to go and ways to avoid.  What follows will lead the way.