Quranic Reflection No 624 Āyat 1:2 – Understanding Rubūbiyyah

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الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of all the worlds.

(Sūrat al-Hamd, No. 1, Āyat 2)

The significance of this oft-repeated verse can be seen in the following narration from Imam Ja‘far al-Sādiq ‘alayhis-salāmWhen the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) would enter the morning he would say, alhamdulillāhi rabbil ‘ālamīn abundantly and in every state, three hundred and sixty times. And when he would enter the evening, he would say the same thing [the same number of times]. (Al-Kāfī, v 2, p 503)

Given this significance, even though we looked at the same verse in a previous Quranic Reflection (No 622), we will further expound upon it in this Reflection. Last time, we commented on the merits of hamd, and how we are unable to truly perform the hamd of Allah ‘azza wajall. Today, we will comment on the meaning of the word Rabb and how understanding its reality should profoundly affect us.

In this verse Allah refers to Himself with the word rabb. By doing this, He reminds us about His rubūbiyyah over the entirety of creation. Rubūbiyyah is a verbal noun that indicates the position that the Rabb holds. If rabb is translated as Lord, then rubūbiyyah would be Lordship. Both words stem from the trilateral root ‘ra-ba-ba’ meaning to nurture or train something until it reaches its perfection. Hence, the word rabb is used to refer to Allah’s role in guiding His creation, training them, managing, nurturing, sustaining, etc.

The idea of Allah being the Rabb is very much connected with the concept of Him being the true mālik (owner), a concept mentioned by Allah later in this same chapter. Ownership, as is explained in Islamic philosophy, can be divided into two: real ownership and that which is based off a social construct. Consider your ownership over your thoughts versus your ownership of your phone. You cannot be separated from your thoughts; they cannot be transferred to anyone else. As opposed to your phone which can easily be taken away from you. The former is an example of true ownership. When we talk of the ownership of Allah it is in a sense like our ownership over our thoughts, but even more perfect than this. Just as how our thoughts are entirely dependent on us, similarly the creation of Allah is existentially dependent on Him, their creator, their owner, and their Rabb. These three attributes of Allah are aspects of the same reality. For this reason, in a narration from Imam Ali al-Ridā (a) commenting on this verse, he says: Rabb of the worlds is [to attest to] His unity, to praise Him, and to bear witness that He—and none other—is the creator and the owner. (Al-Faqīh, v 1, p 310)

Just like in the example of our thoughts, only I can develop and sustain my own thoughts. Similarly, only Allah, the creator, can be the sustainer and manager of His creation. Therefore, we see that in this verse we are not only stating that the entirety of praise belongs to Allah, but we are also declaring that He is not in need of this praise or the one who is praising. Rather, all of existence is sustained by Him alone.  This is a profound statement, indicating a deep level of monotheism.

Applying this to our daily life, when we come across any praiseworthy item in life, we must bear in mind that the praiseworthy nature is itself sourced in the existence of that item. Meaning that that praiseworthy quality is only an extension of that item’s existence. The same Rabb of all existence is also the rabb and sustainer of that item. Hence, when we praise anything, we are in fact praising Allah, for He is the source and sustainer of that item’s existence. This is the reality even if we may not be aware that we are praising Allah.

We pray to Allah the Exalted to give us this realization that all praise goes back to Him as He is the only rabb, the sustainer of all that exists. We beseech Him by the sake of these holy nights to build in us the capacity to experience the apparent traits of His creation while seeing them as being entirely dependant on Allah.

Source: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān.