The 112th chapter of the Qur’an is called al-Ikhlās, which literally means “sincerity” or “purity”. It is given this name since it affirms the purity of faith, uncorrupted by polytheism, and sincerity of worship to Allah alone without partner. It affirms in the most emphatic terms that Allah is One (al-Ahad), the only true God. It affirms that He is wholly Self-Subsisting (al-Samad), and negates any claim that He was born of another or that He has a child. It then concludes by affirming His absolute uniqueness.
Allah’s names al-Ahad and al-Samad appear in the Qur’an only in this chapter.
Much can be said about the importance of this short chapter of the Qur’an. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to recite this chapter in the second unit of the Morning Prayer. He would also recite it in the Witr prayer at night and in the prayer that he would offer after completing the circumambulation of the Ka`bah.
Al-Ikhlās was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during the early days of Islam when the Muslims were still living in Mecca. The pagans of Mecca one day approached him and challenged: “Give us the genealogy of your Lord.”
It was then that Allah revealed the four brief verses of Sūrah al-Ikhlās to His Prophet:
Say: He is Allah, the One. Allah, the Self-Subsisting. He begets not, nor is He begotten, and there is none like unto Him. [Sūrah al-Ikhlās: 1-4]
The pagan Arabs understood Islam’s position on their question. Nothing is born except that it dies, and nothing dies except that its legacy is inherited by others. Allah neither dies, nor does anyone inherit His divinity. Moreover, nothing is comparable to Allah in any way.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) honored al-Ikhlās more than any other chapter of the Qur’an. Abū Hurayrah relates the following:
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once announced to his Companions: “Assemble in my presence, for I will recite to you one-third of the Qur’an.”
When they had assembled, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) came out to them and recited: “Say: He is Allah, the One. Allah, the Self-Subsisting. He begets not, nor is He begotten, and there is none like unto Him.” Then he returned to his home.
The Companions began speaking to one another about it. Someone said: “I think a revelation has just come to Him from the heavens. That is why he went back inside.”
Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) emerged from his home again: “I had told you that I would recite to you a third of the Qur’an. That is indeed a third of the Qur’an.” [Sahīh Muslim (812)]
There are a number of reasons why al-Ikhlās may be regarded as being equal to a third of the Qur’an. The Qur’an addresses three matters: (1) reports of past and future events, (2) commandments, prohibitions and other injunctions, and (3) issues of faith and religious belief.
This chapter covers in comprehensive, though concise, terms the Islamic concept of God, therefore it addresses matters of faith. Also, it could be that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) asserted that al-Ikhlās equals one third of the Qur’an as an indication of the chapter’s its importance and inherent virtue.
Another account from Prophet Muhammad’s time illustrates the importance of this chapter:
A man from the original inhabitants of Madinah was appointed to lead prayers in the Qubā’ Mosque. In every unit of prayer, he would recite al-Ikhlās followed by another chapter of the Qur’an. He used to do this this in every unit of every prayer. His congregation confronted him about his practice, saying: “You recite this chapter, and then it is as if you feel it is not enough so you recite another one after it. Either recite it on its own or recite some other chapter.”
He told them: “I will not stop reciting it this way. If you like me to lead you in prayer like this, then I will do so. Otherwise, I will stop leading you in prayer.”
Now, the congregation of the Qubā’ Mosque regarded him as the best of their number, and they did not like the idea of anyone else leading prayer at that mosque. Therefore, when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) paid a visit to the mosque, they approached him with their concerns.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) approached the man and said: “What prevents you from complying with the demands of your congregation? Why do you insist on reading this chapter in every unit of prayer?”
The man replied: “O Messenger of Allah! It is because I love it so.”
To this, the Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “Your love of it will admit you into Paradise.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhī (2901)]
On another occasion, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent a man out at the head of an expedition. During their travels, the man led his party in prayers and always recited al-Ikhlās. When the expedition returned they told the Prophet about it, and he told them to ask the man why he did so. The man replied: “It is because it describes the Beneficent, and therefore I love to recite it.”
Upon hearing this man’s reply, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Tell that man that Allah loves him.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī (7375) and Sahīh Muslim (813)]
Al-Ikhlās is one of the shortest chapters of the Qur’ān, yet it is one of the richest and most profound in meaning. It is a chapter devoted to propounding a Muslim’s faith in Allah, and in its doing this so thoroughly, it is equal to a third of the Qur’ān.