The scholars of the Qur'ân have made various comments about the meaning
of the verse "Guide us to the Straight Path."
`Alî b. `Abî Tâlib and Ubayy b. Ka`b explained it to be a request
to be made firm and constant on the Straight Path. Ibn `Abbâs said it was
a request to be shown the way to the Straight Path or to be inspired to follow
it. This covers all the different aspects of guidance that we mentioned in the
The scholars also disagreed in how they expressed the meaning of the "Straight
Path". Some said it refers to the Qur'ân. Others, like Ibn Mas`ûd,
al-Hasan, and Abû `Aliyah, said it refers to Islam. It is related that Ibn
`Abbâs described it as "the path to Paradise".
All of these descriptions are true. Ibn Taymiyah says: "All the commentators
of the Qur'ân describe the Straight Path with some of its characteristics…
Some of them describe the Straight path as Allah's Book or the act of following
Allah's Book. Others say it is the religion of Islam. There are those who say it
is the Sunnah and the community that follows the Sunnah. Some describe it as the
path of worship or the path of placing one's love, fear, and hope in Allah and
obedience to his commands and prohibitions. Others say that it is following the
Qur'ân and Sunnah or obedience to Allah. The Straight Path is a name that
embraces many characteristics."
From this we should be able to see that this verse encompasses many meanings.
For the remainder of our discussion, we will explore this verse's five overall
meanings and their relevance to the issue of constancy and renewal.
The first meaning:
The first meaning that the verse conveys is our request to be made firm and constant
on the Straight Path with all that the Straight path implies. The Prophet (peace
be upon him) said: "The hearts of all human beings are between two fingers
of the Merciful as if they are one heart. He moves them as He pleases." [Sahîh
Muslim] This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to ask in his supplications:
"O mover of our hearts, move our hearts towards obeying You. O turner of
our hearts! Turn our hearts towards Your religion."
Anas asked the Prophet (peace be upon him): "O Messenger of Allah! We believe
in you and in what you have brought. Then do you still fear for us?"
The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: "Yes. Our hearts are between two
of Allah's fingers. He moves them as He pleases."
The Straight Path that we need to remain constant upon is the religion of Islam,
so we must never desire any other religion. It is the Qur'ân, so we must
never desire another Book. It is our faith, so we must never fall into unbelief.
It is the Sunnah, so we should never fall into innovation.
The essential factors upon which we need constancy are the five pillars of Islam,
the six pillars of faith, our ethical principles, and the basics of what is lawful
and prohibited that are clearly expressed in the Qur'ân and Sunnah and that
are matters of consensus among the Muslims since the earliest days. A believer
asks his Lord day and night in all of his prayers for constancy in these matters,
since there is no room for doubt. He prays to his Lord to remain firm and unshaken
in his conviction until the day that he meets Him, since he knows that many people
are in fact shaken in their faith from time to time.
The most precious thing that a Muslim possesses that ensures his welfare in this
life and his success in the Hereafter is his faith.
The second meaning:
The second meaning that the verse conveys is our request to attain an increase
in guidance. Allah says: "Allah increases the guidance
of those who are guided."
A person does not receive full guidance
all at once. Even the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not receive the revelation
at once. The revelation came gradually until it ultimately reached its completion.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) continued to worship Allah and grow in his certainty
and devotion until the time of his death. Allah says to him in the Qur'ân:
"Worship your Lord until that which is certain (death) approaches you."
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: 'Though my heart gets preoccupied, still
I seek of Allah's forgiveness 100 times a day." [Sahîh Muslim]
It is the duty of a person to seek to increase in guidance. One aspect of this
increase is contentment and tranquility in the heart. Abraham (peace be upon him)
said: "My lord! Show me how you restore the dead to life." Allah said
to him: "Do you not believe?" He said: "Yes, but I merely wish
to settle my heart."
An increase in knowledge about matters of faith and matters of conduct is an increase
in guidance. Allah says: "Whenever a chapter is revealed, some of them say:
'Which of you has had his faith increased by it?' Those who believe, their faith
is increased and they rejoice. As for those in whose hearts is a disease, it will
add foulness to their foulness and they will die in a state of unbelief."
We can see in this verse that when a believer hears a new verse of the Qur'ân,
he believes in it and it increases his faith whereas a hypocrite when he hears
it, it increases his hypocrisy. Likewise, in the Qur'ân, Allah commands
his Prophet (peace be upon him) to say: "O my Lord! Increase me in knowledge."
Knowledge is not to be sought as an academic exercise. It is sought as a matter
of faith. The earliest Muslims used to seek knowledge even when they were terminally
ill. When Ahmad b. Hanbal was on his deathbed, he began to moan from the severity
of the pain that he was suffering. Some of those who were with him said: "The
moan is recorded" (i.e. it is recorded that the person is not patient in
his affliction). Upon hearing this, Ahmad stopped moaning.
The third meaning:
The third meaning that the verse conveys is our request to arrive at the right
answer for matters wherein opinions differ and wherein people have different levels
of understanding. Among the supplications that the Prophet (peace be upon him)
used to offer in his night prayer was the following: "O Allah! Lord of Gabriel,
Michael, and Ariel! Creator of the heavens and the Earth! Knower of the Unseen
and the manifest! You judge between your servants in what they disagreed about.
Guide me, with your permission, to the truth in matters where people differ. Truly
You guide whom You please to a Straight Path." [Sahîh Muslim, Musnad
Ahmad, among others]
This supplication covers the first aspect of guidance, that of steadfastness and
constancy, but it encompasses more than that. It is a request for guidance in
matters that are problematic. Scholars offer this supplication quite often when
faced with a question about which they are uncertain or one in which there is
a lot of disagreement.
This form of guidance is in fact guidance to constancy, but it a type of constancy
that does not always manifest itself with a constant, unchanging appearance. It
is constancy in approach and methodology. It is the constancy of seeking guidance
and remaining firm on the principles of Islam in all circumstances. It is the
constancy of always seeking the truth. This is why we can say that one of the
greatest constant principles in Islam is the principle of juristic discretion
(ijtihâd), though ijtihâd is the force of change and renewal in Islamic
Law. If a jurist uses his juristic discretion in a matter and is correct, he receives
a double reward. If he does so and is mistaken, he receives a single reward.
The fourth meaning
The fourth meaning that the verse "Guide us to the Straight Path"
conveys is that of seeking guidance to the devotion and worship that should
be exhibited in every circumstance. A healthy person has devotions to perform
using his strength and energy to please Allah. A sick person has other devotions
in the way of patience, fortitude, acceptance, and supplication. A wealthy person
gives in charity and offers thanks to his Lord. A poor person worships his Lord
by being reconciled to his state and by being pleased with what his Lord has
apportioned to him without harboring any envy against those to whom Allah has
There are devotions to be offered from our strength as individuals, communities,
nations, and a global Muslim community. With such strength, we must defend and
protect the Muslims and prevent vice and wrongdoing. There are devotions that
we are responsible for when we are weak, including patience, nurturing hope,
and thinking about how to better our state for Allah's sake.
There are different responsibilities in times of weakness than there are in
times of strength. It is the duty of the Muslims to think and to plan, to assess
and mobilize the little strength that they have, and to shrug off the weakness
that plagues them. They must work for the future generations who will come after
them, even if they cannot realize any benefits for themselves.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Every worshipper goes through a
period of intense fervor and that period then comes to an end." He observed
some people going to enormous lengths in their worship of Allah and said: "That
is the most intense and enthusiastic expression of Islam. Every period of such
fervor has its period of time that is followed by a milder period. If that milder
period is one of moderation, correctness, and balance, then this is quite good.
If that period is a period of sin, then it leads to destruction. [Musnad Ahmad]
Here the Prophet (peace be upon him) is telling us that every time and circumstance
has its expression of worship that suits it. Therefore, a believer must ask
his Lord to guide him to the manner of devotion that best suits his circumstances.
This same guidance is needed by the Muslims as a community and as a nation.
Ibn Taymiyah writes:
Every worshipper is forced constantly to supplicate and ask
for guidance to the Straight Path. There is neither salvation from damnation
nor any felicity except through this guidance. Whoever fails to attain it
will be either among those upon whom is Allah's wrath or among those
who are astray. This guidance is only from Allah. Whomever Allah guides is
rightly guided and whomever Allah leaves to stray will never find anyone to
guide him. The Straight Path is to always, at every time, do what you are
commanded at that particular time with both your knowledge and your works
and to abstain from what you are forbidden. You continue to do this until
your firm desire is to do what is right and you truly detest doing what is
Ibn Taymiyah here explains to us that guidance at every moment
is according to the needs of the moment. We consequently need renewed guidance
every day, every hour, and every moment of our lives. He also explains just how necessary
this guidance is for us.
When we ask to be guided, we are seeking guidance to understand our every situation
and circumstance so we may realize how to properly worship Allah at all times
and under all conditions. We can never hope to know this except by the grace
This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave the following advice to Mu`âdh
b. Jabal when he sent him to Yemen: "You are going to a people from among
the people of the scripture, so the first thing towards which you should call
them is to testify that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger
of Allah. If they obey you in this, then teach them that Allah has made compulsory
upon them five prayers. Then if they obey you in this, teach them that there
is charity to be taken from their wealthy people and given to their poor people...
We can see in this that only when they respond to one teaching are they to be
presented with the next. People as well as whole societies need to be called
to the truth gradually. Likewise, different people are to be approached in different
ways. Some people are best approached from the angle of personal development.
Others are more disposed to detailed academic discourses about Islamic Law and
the meanings of the Qur'ân. Others are more concerned about politics
and current affairs Still others are best approached through action. All of
this must take into consideration the level of faith, knowledge, and readiness
of those being addressed.
Allah says:"And We did not send any Messenger except
with the language of his own people to make matters clear to them."
The way of talking to different people varies depending on their level of understanding.
They way we would address the people of a complex and highly developed civilization
is going to be different than the way we would address the people of a simple
and primitive society. Calling people to Islam in Europe places on us different
demands and challenges than those we face when calling people to Islam in Africa
The norms and idiosyncrasies of different societies pose even
greater challenges. Each society has its own ideas, problems, and concerns and
each must be addressed accordingly.
The fifth meaning
The fifth meaning that the verse "Guide us to the Straight Path"
conveys is that of being guided from what is already good and wholesome to what
is even better. Allah says: "Those who listen to the word and follow the
best of it" and says: "Follow the best of what has come down to
you from your Lord." In some aspects of Islamic Law, we are presented
with choices. For instance, we have choices in how to expiate for our mistakes.
In liability law, the injured party has a choice to take the blood money that
is our right, but he has the better option of pardon.
There are many good works that we can engage in where other works are even better.
Our private worship is something most excellent but its benefit stops with ourselves.
However, if we take some of this time to teach others or call them to Islam,
we will still be engaging in an act of worship, but one that is far better,
since it benefits a greater number of people. This is why Mâlik and al-Zuhrî
said: "Seeking knowledge is better than voluntary worship as long as the
one doing so has correct intentions." This is only because knowledge benefits
everyone, whereas private devotions general benefit only those engaged in them.
This applies to societies and nations just as much as it applies to individuals.
One nation may be inspired by Allah to engage in some good enterprise of particular
benefit to itself. Another nation may be inspired to engage in something else
of greater and more universal benefit. When such inspiration comes, it is important
to act upon it and not waste the opportunity. Moreover, what might be best in
one circumstance might not be best in another.
The sixth meaning
When we ask to be guided to the Straight Path, we ask to be shown what may not
always be apparent to others. For example, when a scholar of hadîth researches
long and hard on the transmission of a hadîth, he may achieve absolute
certainty that the Prophet (peace be upon him) made a certain statement, so
much so that he is willing to swear by it. This level of certainty might not
be achieved by someone else, not even by another scholar. This scholar has attained
guidance in this matter, but it is of such a specific nature that he cannot
require others to share in his certainty.
These are the forms of guidance that we ask for when we offer our prayers.
Reasons for renewal
Finally, we might ask ourselves: What are the reasons for such renewal and diversity
that requires us to perpetually seek renewed guidance? There are actually many
reasons for this.
1. There is the renewal that comes from taking a new look at juristic decisions
as a result of discarding bigotry, vested interests, and blind following. This
requires objectivity and the ability to accept criticism and correction. Our
opinions , in this way, can change for the better and our understandings and
our actions can become more correct.
2. There is the renewal mandated by changing circumstances. Each situation and
each environment has its own demands. A person engaged in Islamic work is like
a merchant who displays his wares in the market. The difference is that the
goods he has to offer are not the goods of this world but are far more precious.
The merchant cannot be arbitrary in the way he sets prices, decides on what
goods to present and how to present them, nor can he choose who his customers
are going to be. If he really wants to sell his wares, he will have to adapt
his approach to the changing demands of the market and use whatever strategies
he must as long as they are in accordance with Islamic Law.
When we look at the behavior of nations, we see that their policies, allegiances,
and legislations change in response to changing circumstances. Even the greatest
nations and empires that desire world domination alter their policies and change
their allegiances in response to the changing world in which they exist.
3. Experience provides us with greater knowledge and expertise. A person can
only acquire such experience after long years immersed in patient work and astute
`Ali b. Abî Tâlib was once asked: "Did Allah's Messenger
give anything to you – his household – that was especially for you?"
He replied: "No, and by Him who brings forth the produce from the Earth
and created the human soul, nothing was given me except understanding that a
person is given about Allah's book."
People are at different levels of knowledge and understanding. This applies
to their understanding of Allah's Book as well as to the contingencies
of the world.
The state of the Muslim world today is definitely not the best it can be. It
is far from the ideals of Islamic Law. Reform is needed and must be carried
out according to the dictates of the Islamic teachings brought to us by Allah's