Lecture 4 in the Ramadaan series:
UNPACKING THE MOST INTRIGUING QUESTIONS IN THE QURAN
Tuesday 28 April 2020 (4 Ramadaan 1441)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
The big question we want to unpack today is, why does Almighty Allah (SWT) speak in the Holy Quran about misguidance and then connects this misguidance to himself, saying that He misguides whomsoever He pleases? What does this mean?
Why would Almighty Allah (SWT) like to misguide anyone, and why does the Holy Quran emphasize this point, saying that Almighty Allah (SWT) guides whomever he wants. We will unpack this critical question in today’s lecture.
QURANIC VERSES WHICH SEEM TO ATTRIBUTE MISGUIDANCE TO ALLAH
First of all, there is absolutely no doubt, that there are numerous verses of the Holy Quran which very clearly say that Almighty Allah (SWT) misguides whoever He wants. I will provide a few of these verses as examples.
The first is verse 143 of Surah Nisaa (chapter 4 of the Holy Quran), describing the hypocrites:
مُذَبْذَبِينَ بَيْنَ ذَٰلِكَ لَا إِلَىٰ هَٰؤُلَاءِ وَلَا إِلَىٰ هَٰؤُلَاءِ ۚ وَمَنْ يُضْلِلِ اللَّهُ فَلَنْ تَجِدَ لَهُ سَبِيلًا
“Wavering between that (and this), (belonging) neither to these nor to those; and whomsoever Allah causes to err, you shall not find a way for him.”
Next is verse 39 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6 of the Holy Quran):
وَالَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِنَا صُمٌّ وَبُكْمٌ فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ ۗ مَنْ يَشَإِ اللَّهُ يُضْلِلْهُ وَمَنْ يَشَأْ يَجْعَلْهُ عَلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُسْتَقِيمٍ
“And they who reject Our communications are deaf and dumb, in utter darkness; whom Allah pleases He causes to err and whom He pleases He puts on the right way.”
Then verse 178 of Surah A’araaf (chapter 7 of the Holy Quran):
مَنْ يَهْدِ اللَّهُ فَهُوَ الْمُهْتَدِي ۖ وَمَنْ يُضْلِلْ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ
“Whomsoever Allah guides, he is the one who follows the right way; and whomsoever He causes to err, these are the losers.”
And the last example is verse 125 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6 of the Holy Quran):
فَمَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ أَنْ يَهْدِيَهُ يَشْرَحْ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ ۖ وَمَنْ يُرِدْ أَنْ يُضِلَّهُ يَجْعَلْ صَدْرَهُ ضَيِّقًا حَرَجًا كَأَنَّمَا يَصَّعَّدُ فِي السَّمَاءِ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يَجْعَلُ اللَّهُ الرِّجْسَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
“Therefore (for) whomsoever Allah intends that He would guide him aright, He expands his breast for Islam, and (for) whomsoever He intends that He should cause him to err, He makes his breast strait and narrow as though he were ascending upwards; thus does Allah lay uncleanness on those who do not believe.”
So the question naturally leaves us perplexed – why does Almighty Allah (SWT) assign misguidance to Himself? Misguidance is a malicious act, so how can this be attributed to Almighty Allah (SWT)? Furthermore, if Almighty Allah (SWT) misguides us, then why should we be punished for our misguidance and shortcomings? It doesn’t make sense for us to be punished by Him if He misguides us?
It also does not make sense that He misguides and then sends Prophets (a.s) and Apostles to this world to guide the people. He sends Divine Books of guidance, but then guidance and misguidance is in His own Hands? So then, what is the point of sending Prophets (a.s) and the Divine Books?
As you can see, I am introducing this discussion by opening up the question as much as possible!
Amazingly, the Quran itself condemns others for misguidance! Example it is Satan who is condemned because he misguides human beings. Similarly, the Quran condemns leaders of kufr (disbelief) because they misguide people and lead them astray.
So, Allah (SWT) condemns misguidance as ugly and malicious, but then He ascribes this to Himself. How can that be?
QUESTION OF POSSIBILITY OF DIVINE MISGUIDANCE CREATED DIVERSE SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT
In the history of Tafsir (commentary) of the Holy Quran and in Islamic Theology, this question was a serious challenge. Different schools of thought and different theological approaches responded to this question according to their principles of ideology regarding Tauheed.
The Asha’ira, who believe in “compulsion” (and the fact that in essence we do not have freewill) and do not believe in the inherent goodness or badness of an act, replied to this question without a rational approach and hence does not appeal to anybody with sound reasoning. Hence, I will also not delve deeper into their response to this question. Mu’tazilites (who believed in absolute freewill) also presented their own response to this question, but again, this will not be my focus for this discussion.
What I plan to do is present a response to this question from the great commentators of the Holy Quran from the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), based upon the teachings of the purified household of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
I will focus the discussion on responses provided by commentators like Shaykh Tabarsi in his famous commentary of the Quran titled Majma’ al-Bayan and Allama Tabataba’i in his popular commentary Tafsir al-Mizan and our contemporary great scholar and mystic, Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli.
A further question that arises as we formulate our response is, how does one reconcile misguidance with the essence of Almighty Allah (SWT)? Misguidance cannot be properly understood without first understanding guidance, because they go together. In fact, in most verses which explain misguidance of Allah (SWT), we find that guidance is also mentioned.
To put it in simple terms, most verses say that Allah (SWT) is the one who guides, and it is He who misguides. So, guidance and misguidance are attributed to Almighty Allah (SWT) together in the Holy Quran. That is why we need to first understand divine guidance in the Quran and then we will also understand misguidance as a result, and what divine misguidance means.
TWO FORMS OF DIVINE GUIDANCE
Allamah Tabataba’i says that there are 2 types of guidance, the first is called “primary guidance” and the second is called “secondary guidance”.
He says primary guidance is the guidance which is the responsibility of the human being himself to respond to. In other words, he is the one who decides to take the right/correct path and as a result to be further guided. This response to the first type of guidance in principle is the action of the human being himself.
Every human being has pure nature (fitra) and thinking power (intellect). If human beings take guidance from the pure unpolluted nature and accepts through his own free will what his intellect is guiding him toward, his intellect guides him based on the basic nature installed in him to realise that he is a dependent existent, the fact that he has been created and a Creator exists (which we refer to as God/Allah).
If a human being accepts this basic nature and common rationality that everyone has, it will lead him to Tauheed (Belief in Onness of Allah). It also leads him to believe that if there is a God, who at the same time is caring and Kareem and Lateef or Graceful, then a human being will also naturally come to the understanding that this God should support us or His creation to live a successful life in this world and to have success in the Hereafter.
When human beings out of their own free will listen to this call of their inner nature and reasoning of his rationality, he is guided. This is his own choice.
But even this guidance cannot happen without the Will of Almighty Allah! It is the Will of Allah that human beings, through their own free will, listen to this call of nature and take the path of salvation. This nature and power of thinking is given by Allah. Even this power of choice to listen to what our intellect says is also given by Allah. So, Allah is there at every point in the process.
Thus, Allalamah Tabataba’i insists that even this initial guidance which is a result of the free choice or free will of human beings has the will of Allah attached to it in the background.
After accepting this initial guidance, there is a support system that comes to help us due to making this choice.
SECONDARY DIVINE GUIDANCE
Besides our intellect guiding us, Allah sends us Prophets (a.s) who also guide us to show us what is right and wrong.
Surah Insaan Verse 3 says:
إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ إِمَّا شَاكِرًا وَإِمَّا كَفُورًا
“Surely We showed him the Way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful (is up to him).”
How did Allah show us the path? It is through our pure nature, through our intellect and through Prophets (a.s) and Books He revealed. This is our initial guidance.
After making this choice and taking a few steps towards it having faith in Allah and other basic principles, now Allah honours us with a very special form of guidance which is considered to be secondary Divine Guidance.
Allamah Tabataba’i mentions that there are numerous verses in the Quran that refers to this secondary guidance which is the reward for the correct first choice that you made.
If you recall during the first night’s lecture a question was asked by a listener regarding why the Quran says that it is “a guidance for mankind” but elsewhere says at the beginning of Surah Baqarah that it is a “guidance for the God conscious ones”. The above-mentioned analysis reconciles these verses.
The Quran as “a guidance for mankind” refers to the initial guidance to the whole of humanity irrespective of your subsequent orientation and acceptance or rejection thereof and the Quran as a “guidance for the God conscious ones” refers to the secondary guidance which is a special guidance reserved for those who accepted the initial guidance.
To further demonstrate this, Allamah Tabataba’i then refers to Verse 27 of Surah Ibrahim where Almighty Allah says:
يُثَبّـِتُ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا بِالْقَوْلِ الثَّابِتِ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الأَخِرَةِ وَيُضِلُّ اللَّهُ الظَّالِمِينَ وَيَفْعَلُ اللَّهُ مَا يَشَآءُ
“Allah confirms/establishes those who believe by a firm saying in the life of the world and in the Hereafter, and Allah leaves the unjust to stray; and Allah does what He pleases.”
Allah establishes those who believe – which is an act they did out of their own free will. As a result thereof, Allah supports and “establishes” them.
But at the same time Allah misguides the unjust as they oppressed their own pure nature and pure intellect.
Another verse that demonstrates this point is Verse 28 of Surah Hadid wherein we read:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَآمِنُوا بِرَسُولِهِ يُؤْتِكُمْ كِفْلَيْنِ مِن رَّحْمَتِهِ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ نُورًا تَمْشُونَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“O you who believe! Fear Allah and believe in His Messenger such that He will give you a double portion of His Mercy and He will give you a light by which you shall walk in this world and the Hereafter and He will forgive you. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
Here the people who chose faith out of their own free will are given support in terms of a “double portion of Mercy” and a “Light” with which they are guided in this world.
So, the first guidance is the acceptance of the initial guidance wherein we all have a choice. And the secondary guidance comes from Allah wherein we do not have choice in it per se, but it is not completely void of our choice either as we made ourselves deserving of this guidance due to accepting the initial guidance.
On the same note in Surah Ankabut Verse 69 we read:
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا
“And those who strive hard for Us, We will certainly guide them in Our ways”
Who is doing this striving? It is us human beings. But once we do that, the promise is “We will CERTAINLY guide you”!!
Allah will open for us gates of guidance and ma’rifat and knowledge that you can’t reach by yourself through your own struggle. Just a little initiative from your side results in Allah’s support.
SUSTENANCE OF SECONDARY GUIDANCE DEPENDS ON US
Furthermore, Allamah Tabataba’i then adds that even the sustenance of this secondary guidance again depends on us!
Allah says in Surah Ibrahim Verse 7:
وَإِذْ تَاَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ
“And (remember) when your Lord declared: ‘If you be thankful I will certainly increase you (your blessings)”
If we are thankful of this secondary guidance as analysed above, that will cause the sustenance of this guidance and even further increase therein!
But if we lose focus and again indulge in going in the wrong direction, then this secondary guidance can again be lost!
Thus the above mentioned verse ends by saying:
وَلَئِن كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِي لَشَدِيدٌ
“if you be ungrateful, verily My chastisement is indeed severe”
MISGUIDANCE IS ALSO OF TWO TYPES
Having discussed the concept of Divine Guidance in some detail, it is now appropriate to examine the question of misguidance.
Allamah Tabataba’i now says that misguidance is also of 2 types – initial misguidance and secondary misguidance.
What is initial misguidance? It is the exact opposite of initial guidance. When crushing your pure nature and you oppose your pure intellect and follow your base desires and fall into the trap of satan and do not want to surrender to the truth that is present in your nature, it is by your own free will that you choose the path of initial misguidance.
Thus, the Quran always attributes this initial misguidance to those who are “non believers”, “polytheists”, “hypocrites”, “oppressors”, etc. because such people are actually oppressing their very nature and intellect and willingly destroy their own future in the process. Who is the one doing this? Not Allah! They are misguiding themselves.
But you cannot deny the role of Allah behind the scenes in their resultant initial misguidance because their very exercising of the wrong choice is through the very power of choice that Almighty Allah gives them.
Through this understanding one can say that Allah is the actor “behind the scenes”, but with the condition that whichever direction you take, you are doing so with your own freewill. Allah is not saying that we should become misguided.
So after freely choosing the path of misguidance, now this scenario results in a situation which results in being liable for punitive action which is the “misguidance” that Allah repeatedly refers to in the Quran that “He misguides whomsoever He pleases”.
This misguidance is the result of your own actions.
This can be demonstrated in many ways from the Quran. Example in Surah Baqarah Verse 10 it says:
فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ فَزَادَهُمُ اللَّهُ مَرَضًا
“There is a disease in their hearts, so Allah added to their”
There was already a disease in their hearts – Allah did not place it in them, but Allah increased in their existing disease.
Or for example in Surah Saf Verse 5 we read:
فَلَمَّا زَاغُوا أَزَاغَ اللَّهُ قُلُوبَهُمْ ۚ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْفَاسِقِينَ
“Therefore when they turned away from the path of Truth, Allah turned their hearts away [from the path]. And Allah guides not the people who are disobedient to Him”
Or we read in Surah Baqarah Verse 7:
خَتَمَ اللّهُ عَلَى قُلُوبِهمْ وَعَلَى سَمْعِهِمْ وَعَلَى أَبْصَارِهِمْ غِشَاوَةٌ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عظِيمٌ
“Allah has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and over their eyes is a covering, and there awaits them a great punishment.”
This again gives the same meaning in that it is their own disbelief that now results in a seal over their hearts, etc.
MISGUIDANCE IS ABSENCE OF GUIDANCE
Thus far we said that the misguidance is a result of their own action of rejecting the original guidance they received in the form of their nature and intellect.
However, the sticky issue that seems to still remain is that to misguide them and push them towards darkness does not seem like something good even though they are bad.
On this point Allamah Tabataba’i and even more so Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli explain that when Allah says He misguides them it does not mean that He pushes them further into darkness because there is no need to push anyone!
In fact, misguidance is “amrun adami’yun” which is something from the chapter of “non-being” which means that misguidance is the “absence of guidance” and thus does not need someone to push you in the wrong direction.
Misguidance can result when someone purposefully pushes you in the wrong direction OR misguidance can occur due to the very absence of guidance itself.
Allah’s misguidance does not mean that he has a malicious plan to show them the wrong direction! That’s impossible for Allah.
Neither does Allah take away from the misguided ones the means of being guided.
Almighty Allah only withdraws the special guidance (that comes to the believers and the God conscious) from them and that by itself is sufficient to get lost. The cutting of this special Mercy is actually from those who do not want it.
The problem is not from the donor, but it is with the receiver!
This is how we understand that guidance AND misguidance is ONLY in the Hands of Allah.
Thus, we understand the Verse 56 of Surah Qasas which reads:
إِنَّكَ لاَ تَهْدِي مَنْ أَحْبَبْتَ وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَآءُ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ
“Verily you cannot guide whom you like, but Allah guides whomever He pleases, and He knows best those that are guided.”
We also read in Dua Iftatah and other Duas that we would not have been guided if Allah did not guide us.
Yes, we take the path, but without the support of Allah, we are lost.
And in history there are numerous examples that show how people initially take a wrong step and gradually over time become completely lost.
When we read Dua Abu Hamza Thumali, we read his analysis of why we lose our connection with Allah and suddenly feel lazy and sleepy when we seem to want to worship him.
And then he gives possible reasons like perhaps Allah has expelled us due to us providing the ground for being expelled like wanting to occupy ourselves with meaningless things and distancing ourselves from the gatherings of real Ulama and committing excessive sins that darken our hearts. When this happens, nothing seems to have an impact on us including Imam Husayn (a.s)’s advice to Ibn Sa’d on the Day of Ashura.
May Almighty Allah protect us from ever reaching this state wherein our hearts are hardened when guidance is not possible.
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