This Meccan sûrah, which is recited a total of seventeen times in the five daily prayers, serves as the cornerstone of the Qurʾān. It sums up the relationship between the Creator and His creation, Allāh's undisputed authority in this world and the Hereafter, and humanity's constant dependence on Him for guidance and assistance. The underlying theme is to acknowledge that He is the only god worthy of worship-a simple truth which the disbelievers fail to grasp. All fundamental principles encapsulated in this sûrah are spelled out in the rest of the Qurʾān.
Details from Tafheem-ul-Qurʾān
NameThis Surah is named Al-Fatiha because of its subject-matter. Fatihah is that which opens a subject or a book or any other thing. In other words, Al-Fatihah is a sort of preface.
Period of RevelationIt is one of the very earliest Revelations to the Holy Prophet. As a matter of fact, we learn from authentic Traditions that it was the first complete Surah which was revealed to Muhammed ﷺ. Before this, only a few miscellaneous verses were revealed which form parts of Surah Alaq, Muzzammil, Muddathir, etc.
ThemeThis Surah is in fact a prayer which Allāh has taught to all those who want to make a study of his book. It has been placed at the very beginning of the book to teach this lesson to the reader: if you sincerely want to benefit from the Qurʾān, you should offer this prayer to the Lord of the Universe.
This preface is meant to create a strong desire in the heart of the reader to seek guidance from the Lord of the Universe, who alone can grant it. Thus Al-Fatiha indirectly teaches that the best thing for a man is to pray for guidance to the straight path, to study the Qurʾān with the mental attitude of a seeker-after-truth and to recognize the fact that the Lord of the Universe is the source of all knowledge. He should, therefore, begin the study of the Qurʾān with a prayer to him for guidance.
From this theme, it becomes clear that the real relation between Al-Fatiha and the Qurʾān is not that of an introduction to a book but that of a prayer and its answer. Al-Fatiha is the prayer from the servant and the Qurʾān is the answer from the the Master to his prayer. The servant prays to Allāh to show him guidance and the Master places the whole of the Qurʾān before him in answer to his prayer, as if to say, "This is the Guidance you begged from Me."