1. Bismillah: A Detailed Explanation of the Basmala

You know those tiny changes we make that massively improve the quality of our lives? Changes like not consuming caffeine after 4 pm, drinking 3-4 liters of water a day, or strength training 3 times a week? After seeing the benefits, we’re amazed that something so small can 100x our performance, health, happiness… and that we ever managed without them. That’s why they call them life hacks on the interwebs. And I’m about to teach you one right now. Call it an “Islam Hack” if you want. One second is all it takes. Are you ready?

Say Bismillah.

Go ahead, say Bismillah. Seriously, that’s it. I know what you’re thinking: “What? That’s it? He made it sound like such a big deal on the website!” But before you comment in protest, let me explain. The hack isn’t in just saying it. The hack is in internalizing its meaning whenever you do say it. Before you can do that though, you have to understand what it means. So, that’s what we’re gonna do today. Understand the meaning of Bismillah.

There are four parts to it and we’ll tackle them in order:

  • The incomplete sentence
  • The preposition ‘Bi’
  • The word ‘ism’
  • The word ‘Allah’

1. Bismillah is an incomplete sentence

If you look up translations of bismillah you find ‘in the name of Allah,’ ‘with the name of Allah’ or something similar. Leave aside the fact that it doesn’t give you the complete meaning for a second (that’s what this email is for.) It’s not a complete sentence. It’s like saying, “in the house.” In the name of Allah… what?

There’s a good reason for this. The incompleteness and generality of the meaning is a form of versatility. So, how do we complete the meaning? Well, I can’t make this email too long so I won’t go into all the different opinions, but the answer is you insert a verb after bismillah. What verb? Any verb that corresponds with the action you are doing.

  • Bismillah… I eat
  • Bismillah… I write
  • Bismillah… I sleep
  • …And so on.

This is abundant in the well-known supplications that we are taught from childhood. We invoke Allah’s name before performing many mundane acts, and acts of worship.

Why insert the verb after ‘bismillah’ and not before? I.e. why “Bismillah, I eat.” and not “I eat, bismillah.”? Because delaying the verb restricts the meaning.

  • “Bismillah, I eat.” Meaning, ONLY in the name of Allah do I eat.
  • “I eat, Bismillah.” Meaning, I eat in the name of Allah… and I could possibly eat in the name of others.

What is the significance of this? For this, we have to understand…

2. The Preposition “Bi”

There are around 20 different meanings in the lexicon for this preposition. In this context, two are the most appropriate.

  • Seeking aid
  • Seeking closeness/companionship

So, by using the preposition “bi-” we are:

  • Seeking the help of the object of the preposition
  • Seeking nearness to it and its companionship

If you’ve been paying attention so far, a light bulb should be going off in your mind right now. It’s a dua! By invoking Allah’s name before any action we do, we are asking for his help and seeking the blessing of being near Him. Shall we try to improve the translation now?

“I invoke Allah’s name, seeking His help, and blessing (through nearness to Him,) for the action I am about to perform.”

3. The word “Ism”

Why do we invoke “the name of Allah” and not just “Allah”? This one’s a doozie. Invoking ‘ism Allah’ expands the meaning beyond just ‘Allah,’ even though ‘Allah’ is an encompassing name that denotes the entirety of His Being. So we aren’t just invoking the name ‘Allah,’ we are invoking ALL of His Names, in the infinitude.

Y’know, I was thinking about it while writing this lesson and had an epiphany. We are invoking all of the names of Allah AND the specific name(s) that is most appropriate to the action we are doing. Shall we improve the translation more?

“I invoke all of Allah’s names, and those specific names that are most appropriate, seeking His help, and blessing (through nearness to Him,) for the action I am about to perform.”

This is the hack. Whenever you say ‘bismillah’ you need to be conscious of its complete meaning. It will take effort at first but as you keep doing it, it will get easier. Trust me, the quality of every single act you do will massively improve.

Still with me? This next part is the most important part of today’s lesson, so I need you to concentrate and pay attention.

4. The word “Allah”

Who is this Allah, whose Names we invoke from the moment we wake up until the moment we sleep?

Allah is a proper noun, that has no gender or plural, and that denotes the supreme being that possesses all qualitites of perfection, majesty, beauty, power, magnificence etc. It is the name of the Creator and Sustainer of everything that exists. A name that existed pre-eternally before He created any language. Through all cultures and times, mankind has believed in such a being. Whatever word they use to refer to Him, they always speak of him in terms of perfection, awe and reverence. So, what does this name mean?

One possibility is that Allah is derived from the verb a-la-ha, which has the same meaning as the word a-ba-da, “to worship.” An “ilah” or “ma’bud” is anything that is taken as an object of worship. Worship encompasses much more than directed ritual acts. It includes reverence, humility, love, glorification, obedience, hope, fear, reliance and other actions of the soul.

When we worship something, implicit is a belief that this object is something worthy of being worshiped. That is, this object has qualities or characteristics that make it worthy of being worshiped. For example, the ability to cause benefit or bring harm. I could, for example, say that the computer I’m writing this article on is my ilah, my ma’bud. Maybe even direct some acts of worship to it. Does that mean that the laptop is worthy of worship? Is it truly an “ilah”? Can it benefit me or harm me? Did it create me? Does it provide for me? Does it have power and control over the universe? Of course not.

When we use the definite article, Al in Arabic we get Al-ilah; Allah is a contraction of the word Al-ilah. Al-ilah is THE true deity, the ONE and ONLY being that possesses those qualities by which worship is deserved.

A second possibility is that it is derived from the verb a-li-ha, which means to become confused or perplexed by something. When one ponders the magnificence and perfection of Allah one becomes confounded and stupefied by this being.

A third possibility is that is derived from the verb a-li-ha, whose root letters are different to the former, which means to protect, grant refuge, aid, rescue, deliver from evil, render safe and secure etc. Allah is that being whom one turns to for refuge, safety and protection.

A fourth possibility is that the name Allah is not derived from any other word at all that even His name befits His One-ness.

All of these meanings point back to Allah’s Perfection and Supremacy

So, we’ve understood what bismillah means. We’ve understood that it’s a supplication and we’re asking for Allah’s help and blessing every time we say it. We’ve understood who exactly Allah is; who this Being is that we call on continually. Now what? What’s the point?

The point is that when you come to the realization that such a being exists…


Do what? You’ll find out in lesson two.

Start Lesson Two 👉

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