The Arabic phrase shown above is pronounced as Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim, and is a beautifully poetic phrase which offers both deep insight and brilliant inspiration. It has often been said that the phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim contains the true essence of the entire Qur'an, as well as the true essence of all religions.
Muslims often say this phrase when embarking on any significant endeavor, and the phrase is considered by some to be a major pillar of Islam. This expression is so magnificent and so concise that all but one chapter of the Qur'an begins with the words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.
The common translation:
"In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate".
fails to capture either the true depth of meaning or the inspirational message of this beautiful phrase. So, let's look deeper into the meaning of these wonderful words.
Origin and Spelling:
Every chapter of the Qur'an (except the ninth chapter) begins with the Arabic phrase:
However, there are many differing views on how this phrase should be transliterated using the English alphabet, as well as differing views on whether or not to include some of the Arabic rules of grammar. Consequently, one may encounter a variety of different transliterations of this glorious phrase, including:
bismillahi al r-rahmani al r-rahim
bismillahi al rahman al rahim
bismillah al rahman al rahim
bismi Allah al rahman al rahim
bismillahi-r rahmani-r rahim
bismillaah ir rahmaan ir raheem
bismillah ir rahman ir rahim
However, regardless of how one may choose write the English transliteration of the original Arabic, it is neither the writing of the words nor their pronunciation which is crucial, but rather we shall each be rewarded according to what is in our heart and how we act in the world.
Those who say these words with thoughts of self-aggrandizement, or selfish gains, or self-centered vain profit in any manner, will receive their just reward... suffering, pain and confusion. Likewise, those who truly dedicate every step of their life to the glory and service of the Ever-present One shall also receive their just reward... peace, love and beauty.
This phrase is truly an ideal to be expressed from the heart, an ideal to be expressed with the utmost sincerity, an ideal which leads us toward sacred purpose, the purpose for which we have been given life.
Let's look at the deeper meaning of each word of this glorious phrase:
The common translation for bismillah is "In the name of Allah", which is actually an idiom, an expression that really doesn't make much sense on a literal word-by-word basis.
The phrase In the name of is an idiom having the connotation of with the blessings of, under the guidance of, as an instrument of, as a representative of, on behalf of, with the support of, or for the glory of. In each of these cases, the idiom In the name of indicates that one is submitting to, honoring or glorifying that which is referred to.
Now, let's take a deeper look into the Arabic roots of this magnificent word bismillah.
The term bismillah, is a combination of three words:
1. The particle bi which can mean by, for, with the aid of, through or by means of and points toward that which happens next.
2. The next word in this phrase is ism, based on the root variously reported to be s-m-w or a-s-m, which indicates the means by which something is distinguished, whether by use of an identifying mark, or by being raised up high so that it may be distinguished, and would include a name, reputation, light or vibration, and points toward the very essence of something, the inherent qualities and signs of the existence of something, the underlying reality of something.
3. The ending of the term is the word Allah, which is the Arabic name of the One. The Semitic roots of the word Allah extend back several thousand years to the Canaanite Elat, Hebrew El and Elohim, and Aramaic Alaha. These roots point toward unity, oneness, the eternal power which includes all of existence and of non-existence. In modern English this would generally be translated as God (which is old English, likely based on the Sanskrit word hu, meaning that which is worshipped, honored or adored).
Using these basic roots, the term bismillah might be translated as:
- By means of the very essence of God
- For the glory of our Creator
- With the light of the One
- With the guidance of The Divine
- As an instrument of the One
- In harmony with Divine Presence
The central idea here is that whatever we do, every step that we take, every breath that we breathe, is done for, because of, and through the essence of, the One who has created us.
It is not us that does the work, it is not us that makes opportunities appear, it is not us that produces fruits from every action. We alone are powerless. The Creator has given us life and has given us the ability to move and think and feel, yet we are totally dependent upon the Creator for the very essence of life itself.
Thus, this beautiful word bismillah is a magnificent reminder of our relationship to our Creator and our relationship to all of creation.
In one simple word bismillah expresses our wonder, awe and thankfulness while it also expresses our innermost prayer that we may have the blessing of another breath, another moment of life, and that we may walk on a path of truth and understanding.
To say bismillah is to humbly offer one's self as a vehicle for the glory and majesty of The One.
ir rahman ir rahim
These two terms rahman and rahim refer to attributes of the One. While they are often translated simply as Merciful and Compassionate, the roots of the words point to a deeper meaning.
Both rahman and rahim are derived from the Semitic root r-h-m which indicates something of the utmost tenderness which provides protection and nourishment, and that from which all of creation is brought into being. And indeed, the root rhm has meanings of womb, kinship, relationship, loving-kindness, mercy, compassion, and nourishing-tenderness.
Thus, both rahman and rahim point toward that which emerges from the source of all creation, while also conveying a sense of tenderness, loving-kindness, protection and nourishment.
The term rahman is a very emphatic statement, and then the sentiment is echoed by being immediately followed by the use of another form of the same root-word. Such repetition is a joyful celebration of this Divine attribute, much the same as saying "The One who is the Supreme Loving-Kindness, oh such Loving-Kindness".
These two words, rahman and rahim, also express slightly different variations of meaning, as described in the following paragraphs.
The term rahman describes that aspect of the source of all creation which is endlessly radiating, endlessly nourishing, regardless of who or what is receiving the endless flow of blessings.
Rahmân conveys the idea of fullness and extensiveness, indicating the great quality of love and mercy which engulfs all of creation without regard to any effort or request on our part.
According to Ibn Qayyum (1350 AD), rahmân describes the quality of abounding Grace which is inherent in and inseparable from the Almighty.
On the other hand, the term rahim describes that aspect of the source which is issued forth only in response to the actions and behavior of the recipient. It is in this manner that God takes ten steps toward us when we take even a single step toward God.
Rahîm conveys the idea of constant renewal and giving liberal reward in response to the quality of our deeds and thoughts.
According to Ibn Qayyum (1350 AD), rahîm expresses the continuous manifestation of the Grace in our lives and its effect upon us as a result of our own activities.
ir rahman ir rahim:
Rahman points toward the Beneficent One whose endless outpouring of love and mercy are continually showered upon all of creation, while Rahim points toward the Merciful One whose love and mercy are manifested in that which is received as the consequence of one's deeds.
So, the phrase ir rahman ir rahim is a recognition and honoring of the very source of all existence, the source of all blessings, the source of all compassion, the source of all mercy who gives endlessly to us and who also responds according to our moral integrity, our harmony with all of creation and our love of Allah.
There is no way for any one translation to capture the many facets of this beautiful phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim. Here are some poetic renderings that attempt to capture some aspects of the meaning without being literal translations:
With every breath that we breathe, may we be act on behalf of the Divine Presence, the Source of all that we receive.
With every step that we take, may we be instruments of the One Light which guides us, the Source and Nourisher of all of creation.
Every moment of this life is filled with your eternal radiance my Beloved, You are the Beneficent One who endlessly showers all of creation with nourishment and blessings, and the One who generously rewards those who live in harmony with Your Divine Will.
The words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim are so magnificent, so inspiring, so joyous that they have long attracted the hand of calligraphers who have used pen and ink to bring this phrase to life. The samples of calligraphy on this page are all renderings of the magnificent words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.
The magnificence of the meaning of these words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim brings out music from somewhere deep in my soul, celebrating the majesty and glory of the One.... and you can find some of these songs, on my music page.