Striving for Allah's Guidance

Since 2008-07-01

I was thinking about how rich in meaning Sûrah al-Fâtihah is. Take verse six, for instance, where we say "Guide us to the straight way.", {اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ}, Transliteration: Ahdinā Aş-Şirāţa Al-Mustaqīma.

Here we are offering a supplication, not for our individual selves, but for everyone else who offers the supplication. By doing so, we are putting aside our egotistical tendencies.

The supplicant who utters this supplication is not looking to expose the errors of others and show himself to be the only one with the truth. When we offer this supplication, we are asking for the guidance of others as well as for ourselves. This supplication in the plural form "we" is a collective call for guidance for all those who offer it. All of us make this humble petition together.

This verse of the Qur'ân emphasizes that guidance is not merely a personal matter. It is not a private concern. It matters to everyone: the individual, the family, and the community. On the individual level, guidance is focused primarily on personal beliefs, worship, and ethical conduct towards others. On the societal level, it is concerned with social justice and human rights, with spreading understanding and building civilization.

When we ask Allah to guide us to the straight path, we are asking Allah to supplementing our efforts to attain guidance with His help. We make our efforts to think, learn and contemplate. As we read in the Qur'ân: "Now those who submit their wills - they have sought out (the path) of right conduct" [Sûrah al-Jinn: 14], {فَمَنْ أَسْلَمَ فَأُولَٰئِكَ تَحَرَّوْا رَشَدًا}, Transliteration: Faman 'Aslama Fa'ūlā'ika Taĥarraw Rashadāan.

However, we then follow our efforts up with supplication, beseeching Allah's help to remedy the deficiencies in our efforts to attain the "straight way".

We understand that as the path to salvation in the Hereafter. However, its meaning in this world is to attain correct objectives in the easiest and best manner possible. This encompasses all of the pressing questions that we face in our lives. Whenever a person faces many options and does not know what to decide, there is always an option that is the most straight and other less conducive. There may be options that are downright crooked.

When we face a decision regarding our studies, marriage, a business deal, a project we are thinking of undertaking, a trip abroad, or some other major decision, we will have many options, some better than others. Our supplication: "Guide us to the straight way", {اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ}, Transliteration: Ahdinā Aş-Şirāţa Al-Mustaqīma, covers all of these matters. We are beseeching Allah to guide us to the best way. Likewise, our supplication pertains to the realm of ides, viewpoints, and opinions.

The "straight way" is described as being "finer than a hair and sharper than a blade." Is this meant to frustrate us, to make us think we will never be able to navigate such a path? Not at all. Rather it is an invitation for us to always strive for improvement, to attain what is better and closer to perfection. Whatever we might arrive at of balance in our thoughts and correctness in our conduct, there is always a higher level we can aspire to. We can come to attain this by Allah's grace, by continuing to beseech him humbly for guidance, which we do by reading this verse of the Qur'ân, by reading Sûrâh al-Fâtihah, and by reading the Qur'ân in general. We can come to this by everything we read that is beneficial and every effort we make to perfect our conduct, while being wary not to fall into the conceit of self-satisfaction thinking we have "arrived". Guidance is a lifelong process. Allah says: "And worship your Lord until there come unto you the Hour that is certain." [Sûrah al-Hijr: 99], {وَاعْبُدْ رَبَّكَ حَتَّىٰ يَأْتِيَكَ الْيَقِينُ}, Transliteration: Wa A`bud Rabbaka Ĥattá Ya'tiyaka Al-Yaqīnu.

So many people reach a level where they cease to improve. They think they have attained everything that it means to be guided. They turn from improving themselves to the preoccupation of judging others, heedless of their own shortcomings. We come to know by way of experience that attaining a proper level of religious adherence does not happen overnight. It des not come from a mere profession on the lips, nor even by sincere desire. It takes continued effort and repeated attempts. It takes always looking to improve oneself.

The issue at hand is not merely to move from error to what is correct. It is to move from one point of equilibrium to another that is even more precise. This requires continuous critical self-appraisal, and a willingness to always beseeching Allah for His help. How many times have we adopted a stance on a matter of faith based upon evidence, only to find with further study and understanding that there is a stance which is even better.

We see that Allah says: "Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best (meaning) in it: those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding." [Sûrah al-Zumar: 18], {الَّذِينَ يَسْتَمِعُونَ الْقَوْلَ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ أَحْسَنَهُ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ هَدَاهُمُ اللَّهُ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمْ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ}, Transliteration: Al-Ladhīna Yastami`ūna Al-Qawla Fayattabi`ūna 'Aĥsanahu 'Ūlā'ika Al-Ladhīna Hadāhumu Allāhu Wa 'Ūlā'ika Hum 'Ūlū Al-'Albābi.

And He says: "And follow the best of (the courses) revealed to you from your Lord" [Sûrah al-Zumar: 55], {وَاتَّبِعُوا أَحْسَنَ مَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُم مِّن رَّبِّكُم}, Transliteration: Wa Attabi`ū 'Aĥsana Mā 'Unzila 'Ilaykum Min Rabbikum.

And He says: "And We ordained for him (Moses) in the tablets admonition of every kind and clear explanation of all things; so take hold of them with firmness and enjoin your people to take hold of what is best thereof…" [Sûrah al-A`râf: 145], {وَكَتَبْنَا لَهُ فِي الْأَلْوَاحِ مِن كُلِّ شَيْءٍ مَّوْعِظَةً وَتَفْصِيلًا لِّكُلِّ شَيْءٍ فَخُذْهَا بِقُوَّةٍ وَأْمُرْ قَوْمَكَ يَأْخُذُوا بِأَحْسَنِهَا}, Transliteration: Wa Katabnā Lahu Fī Al-'Alwāĥi Min Kulli Shay'in Maw`ižatan Wa Tafşīlāan Likulli Shay'in Fakhudh/hā Biqūwatin Wa 'Mur Qawmaka Ya'khudhū Bi'aĥsanihā.

In matters of faith, our concern is to do the best we can in accordance with the dictates of our religion, and in worldly matters our concern is to achieve our worldly welfare. In all matters, we need to be objective, sincere, and free from base motives. We need to aspire to excellence.

And Allah know best.

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

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