An invocation used by Muslims at the beginning of an undertaking.
“Bismillah-ar-Rahman-ar-Rahim” is the very beginning: a prefatory statement to the Quran.
It is the first word of the first surah (section) of the Quran, and used as a prayer before beginning anything, to do so with mindfulness, in the name of God. This melody was taught to Siobhan Robinsong, founder of the Ubuntu Choirs Network, by a Muslim man she encountered. He was singing his prayer, Bismillah, in this tune, and when she asked him about it later, he taught it to her. He gave her his blessing to share it, and said that we need all the prayers and blessings we can get into this world.
I learned it from fellow Ubuntu leader, Katharine Grant, when she came to visit me in Oakland in Autumn 2017. Katherine had learned it from Siobhan the previous January.
A bit about the term Bismillah:
When one says “Bismillaah” before starting anything, it means, “I start this action accompanied by the name of Allah or seeking help through the name of Allah, seeking blessing thereby. Allah is God, the beloved and worshipped, to Whom hearts turn in love, veneration and obedience (worship). He is al-Rahmaan (the Most Gracious) Whose attribute is vast mercy; and al-Raheem (the Most Merciful) Who causes that mercy to reach His creation.” (Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid). (Source).
Special thanks to my friend Sherifa Zuhur, who helped me with my pronunciation (which is still not perfect, but is already much better thanks to her). Here are some notes from Sherifa:
Arabic is metered – 2 counts for every long syllable and there are two correct ways to this. In the classical way, you pronounce the vowel of the end of the first word (Bismilla-i), but in colloquial, it’s okay to skip that.
Bis (1) mil (1) laah (2) i (1)
Ar (1/2) rah (2) maan (2)
Ar (1/2) rah (2) heem (2)
It’s important that the ll is doubled in Bismillah.
We say this phrase every time we pray – in the name of God, the beneficent and the merciful. And before every road trip, exam, plane trip…when you plant a seed or a tree, or start anything. And when a baby is first born whisper it its ear the whole prayer that starts with these words. Every letter written to someone, every formal announcement.
I’ve recorded this song in the way the melody was taught to me, which uses the colloquial pronunciation of Bismillah.
I’ve also included the prayer at the beginning of the song, as well as a closing prayer of Alhamdulillah: a thanks and praise to Allah for this gift.