Show us the straight path,
The Path of those you have favoured.
Guidance is a central theme of the Qur'ân, it is mentioned far more than a hundred times therein. It is itself called "the guidance for the god-fearing" and "the criterion (of right and wrong)". Unfortunately, Qur'ân and Sunnah are nowadays mostly reduced to its function as the "lawgiver" only, not so much seen as a spiritual guide.
We pray every day numerous times for guidance, however, do we realize, how this guidance comes to us? Ask yourself: When you ask Allah for guidance, how do you expect Him to guide you? I think most people never gave much thought about it. Therefore let us try to become aware of this matter because it is of the utmost importance for us.
This kind of guidance is reserved for the Prophets (but is also used in the Qur'an in connection with bees, earth, heaven and angels), normally in the sense of "inspiration" or "revelation". The nature of this kind of guidance is different from that of the average believer in its form and function. As the Prophets are closer to God, the guidance is as well; to Musa a.s. Allah spoke even directly. And, the revelations are normally for the public whereas the guidance for the normal believer is not.
And it was not [vouchsafed] to any mortal that Allah should speak to him unless [it be] by revelation or from behind a veil, or [that] He sendeth a messenger to reveal what He will by His leave. Lo! He is Exalted, Wise. (As-Shura 51)
But although the quality of the guidance of them was different from the average believer, they still serve as example for us in different aspects: Their trust in God! Their surrender to His will! Their recognition of being a servant of Allah! Being afraid of Allah only and nobody else, knowing that all power is in His hands and so on. They make us understand what we need to develop in order to be able to receive guidance.
Indeed, in their stories is a lesson for those of understanding. This is no forged tale, rather, it is a confirmation of the previous, a distinguishing of all things, a guidance and a mercy to a nation who believe. (12: 111)
Every Prophet had his special mission! Prophet Musa a.s. for example was sent to confront Pharaoh, bring Bani Israil out of Egypt and reveal to them their law. As it is said, the Ummah is like a body, and if one part of the body is sick, the whole body suffers, would it be possible that every part has his very function to fulfill? Everybody has certain abilities with which Allah created him, so it seems logical that Allah wants us to use exactly these individual abilities for the best of the Ummah and Islam! We have to become aware our mission. If we find it insyaAllah, service becomes easy and even joy.
Intuition is a form of guidance which can be received by ordinary man. This intuition does not equal the divine inspiration (wahy) of the prophets in strenght or certainty, because of the possibility that what is apprehended by the friend of Allah (wali) is merely thoughts of his own mind. As it is sometimes admixed, and other things are mistaken for it, the possibility of error exists in it, and it cannot be a basis for establishing legal rulings or a criterion for works. Examples for this form of guidance are e.g. Abu Bakr r.a. who knew that his wife was pregnant with a boy and Umar r.a., who was aware of an ambush towards a Muslim army in Persia and called during a Friday sermon the name of the Amir of this army: "O Sariya, the mountain!"
The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Koran was sent down, a guidance for people, and clear verses of guidance and the criterion. (2:272)
Through Wahy the first source of guidance for mankind was revealed: Al-Qur'ân! Directly in the second Surah, after in the first Surah we ask for guidance, Allah let us know: "This is the Book (the Qur'ân), whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqûn . "
But, there are some problems attached:
Most Muslims today are Non-Arabs and need a translation. A translation however is never equal with the original and distorts to a certain degree its meaning. Even Arabs do not always know the subtlety of the Qur'ânic Arabic.
The Qur'ân needs interpretation! Although most things appear to be quite clear, many need additional explanations. Especially if a ruling has to be established, a verse must be categorized and seen in relation with other verses and ahadith. This has to be done by qualified people, the Mujtahid Imams, who often disagree with each other, causing the Ummah thereby to split. As most of us are not scholars and therefore not really in the position to judge them, how do we choose the one we want to follow? It appears we need again guidance to understand the guidance.
It is not always possible to put the Sharia and Sunnah into practice in today's world. Who works in Europe will have difficulties explaining his employer that he needs to take a nap at noon because it is Sunna! Even things which are explicit haram appear sometimes not avoidable: If we look seriously in the matter of the use of paper money, we will come to the conclusion it is haram because riba is attached to it. But if you ask today's scholars about the ruling, most of them will only make a funny face; some will say we have no choice and it is excusable by "darurat" / emergency; and a minor percentage will tell us that we have to make our best efforts to get rid of it by building up a dinar based economy. But did you ever meet only one scholar who told you: "Yes, it is haram, so do not use it"? Again, which scholar do you want to follow and who is right? It can be that Allah will tell us on the day of resurrection: "I made this very clear in the Qur'ân (2:275) that riba is one of the greatest sins and that the doer of it will be in hellfire. In addition, my Prophet told you already that in the last times holding to Islam would be equal to holding to a piece of burning coal. So there were only a very few who did not use the 'legal tender', and for them is paradise. The others I will surely punish!"
(Abu Tha'labah al-Khashani (may Allaah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "After you there will come days of patience, in which the patience required will be like having to hold a burning coal in one's hand.")
As I myself did not use money for 1 ½ years and know how it is, I certainly would prefer not using it again to holding a piece of burning coal in my hand! But, let's hope for the best and it will be excusable as "darurat", because we all are using it, don't we?
The next source of guidance for us is the reports from the Prophet s.a.w. The same problems we have with the Qur'ân we have also with the ahadith but even more: The ahadith are less reliable than al-Qur'ân and not immune against forgery and error. Needless to say that because of this problem, there are even more debates among the scholars. And we are again caught in the middle with no sufficient knowledge to judge who is right and mostly trusting our "instinct", although some believe their choice is solely based on "dalil".
So obviously, to solve these problems mentioned above, besides solving the problems of our daily life which are not covered by Qur'ân and Sunnah, we will need additional guidance! The question is how we receive this additional guidance, which we want to call Hidaya to distinguish it from the other forms of guidance mentioned above.
Conditions for receiving guidance
Allah mentions in the Qur'ân several conditions in order that He may guide us. Allah does not guide fasiq (evil-doers), dhalim (oppressors) and kafir (nonbelievers). He does not guide unjust people; those who took their desires as lord (follow their nafs) and so on. In short, He does not guide those who do not believe in Him and do not fulfill His commands and abstain from the forbidden things! Of course, exceptions are possible: He guides unbelievers to Islam and makes sinners repent. Allah first of all guides those who believe, the god-fearing, the doers of good, the patient, those who remember Allah much and those who believe in goodness.
Explaining the Qur’anic passage: "As for those who strive in Us, We shall guide them to Our paths", Imam Ibn al-Qayyim wrote:
“The most compulsory form of jihad (afrad al-jihad) is jihad againt the ego (nafs); against unbridled passions (hawa); against the Devil (shaytan); and against being worldly (dunya). Those who wage jihad against these four, in obedience to Allah, shall be guided by Allah to the paths of His good pleasure which, [in turn], will lead to His Paradise. Those who neglect jihad will be veiled from guidance to the degree they forsake jihad. Junayd expressed: “Those who strive against their carnal desires and repent for Allah’s sake, shall be guided to the ways of sincerity. One cannot struggle against his enemy outwardly save if he has striven against his enemies inwardly. Whoever is then given victory over them, will be victorious over his enemy; whoever is defeated by them, his enemy shall defeat him.””
The passive form of receiving Hidaya
This form of Hidaya we certainly all experienced once, especially those who entered Islam: We think the right things, make the right decisions and things fall into place as they should. If we look later into the past, we see, that we had not really a choice, things just happened and "fate" took us like wind takes a leaf or waves a piece of wood. We realized that what happened to us was somehow "planned" and that God gave us guidance.
I strongly believe that most Europeans who became Muslims never were very interested in Islam! Islam is just too strange for the European mind educated by the West. It was a "coincidence"! A book "fell" in our hands; we made a journey to a Muslim country or worked there and came to know about Islam; we fell in love with a Muslim girl, and suddenly we became Muslims. Later on we become aware, Allah planned it:
Allâh calls to the home of peace (i.e. Paradise, by accepting Allâh's religion of Islâmic Monotheism) and guides whom He wills to a Straight Path. (10: 35)
This is the form of Hidaya most people have probably in mind when they are doing their Istikharat. As this form of Hidaya happens so to speak "automatically", there is not much to say about it.
Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah :
The Prophet (p.b.u.h) used to teach us the way of doing Istikhara (Istikhara means to ask Allah to guide one to the right sort of action concerning any job or a deed), in all matters as he taught us the Suras of the Quran. He said, "If anyone of you thinks of doing any "job" he should offer a two Rakat prayer other than the compulsory ones and say (after the prayer): O Allah! I ask guidance from Your knowledge, And Power from Your Might and I ask for Your great blessings. You are capable and I am not. You know and I do not and You know the unseen. O Allah! If You know that this "job" is good for my religion and my subsistence and in my Hereafter--(or said: If it is better for my present and later needs)--Then You ordain it for me and make it easy for me to get, And then bless me in it, and if You know that this "job" is harmful to me In my religion and subsistence and in the Hereafter--(or said: If it is worse for my present and later needs)--Then keep it away from me and let me be away from it. And ordain for me whatever is good for me, And make me satisfied with it). The Prophet added that then the person should name (mention) his need. (Buchari. Volume: 2, Book Number: 21, Hadith Number: 263)
The active form of receiving Hidaya
This form of Hidaya differs from the former one in this respect that we have to become aware of it while it happens and have actively to make a choice if we want to follow it or reject it! As we are already praying at least 17 times a day "Show us the straight path", we are expecting that Allah does so by showing us signs we can understand and follow. First of all these are the "signs" = "ayaat" of the Qur'an but also those of creation itself:
"Verily! In the creation of the Heavens and the Earth and in the alteration of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding." (3.190)
These signs are to be seen with "understanding" or "wisdom", which is not equal with knowledge. Our lives are a part of the creation; therefore in our lives are also signs for us.
"You eat and let your cattle graze. Surely, in this there are signs for those of understanding." (20:54)
These "signs" can be a thought entering our mind, something we read, something we hear about, a dream, something we see, just anything, as all is part of the creation. These signs often happen in connection with other things and form a "coincidence", pieces which appear to fit together and form a puzzle. The puzzle creates a picture and a direction. Let's take an example:
We often tried to establish tahajjud prayer on a regular base but somehow we never had the discipline and gave it up again. One day we get the thought like "I should try again to make it regularly!" But it is more a slight feeling, not sufficient to make us take action. A little while later we see our wife reading an Islamic magazine and when looking over her shoulders we read the headline of an article: "The merits of the night prayer". And in this very moment we come to understand that the coincidence between our thought and what we just read is Allah's guidance! And by realizing this, the tahajjud suddenly becomes easy and we are able to establish it on a regular basis.
"Sounds good, but where in Qur'ân and Sunnah do you have it from?"
"Indeed, when a visitation (whispering) of Satan touches the cautious (worshipers) they remember, and then see aright." (7:201) Although in most cases it will be easier to identify the whispering of Shaitan rather than God's guidance in case he orders us something to do which is against Sharia, this must not be necessarily the case. The thought "Divorce your wife" can be from Shaitan but can be also Allah's guidance! Nonetheless by remembering Allah we should be able to differentiate and see what is right.
"I shall fill them with fancies and order them to cut off the ears of cattle. I shall order them to alter the creation of Allah.' Indeed, whosoever chooses Satan for a guide, instead of Allah, has surely suffered a clear loss." (4:120) Allah tells us that we can choose between Him and Satan as a guide. That is only possible when being aware of our thoughts and from which direction they are coming from. Of course, one could narrow down the meaning by saying: whoever follows the Qur'an has chosen Allah as a guide. But that would contradict the following verse:
"In truth We tell to you their news. They were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance." (18:13) These young men got guidance, but obviously not in the form of wahy (as they were not Prophets according to scholarly consensus) or understanding of the Qur'an (because it did simply not exist yet)!
Narrated Abu Said: A group of the companions of Allah's Apostle proceeded on a journey till they dismounted near one of the Arab tribes and requested them to entertain them as their guests, but they (the tribe people) refused to entertain them. Then the chief of that tribe was bitten by a snake (or stung by a scorpion) and he was given all sorts of treatment, but all in vain. Some of them said, "Will you go to the group (those travelers) who have dismounted near you and see if one of them has something useful?" They came to them and said, "O the group! Our leader has been bitten by a snake (or stung by a scorpion) and we have treated him with everything but nothing benefited him. Has anyone of you anything useful?" One of them replied, "Yes, by Allah, I know how to treat with a Ruqya. But by Allah, we wanted you to receive us as your guests but you refused. I will not treat your patient with a Ruqya till you fix for us something as wages." Consequently they agreed to give those travelers a flock of sheep. The man went with them (the people of the tribe) and started spitting (on the bite) and reciting Surat-al-Fatiha till the patient was healed and started walking as if he had not been sick. When the tribe people paid them their wages they had agreed upon, some of them (the Prophet's companions) said, "Distribute (the sheep)." But the one who treated with the Ruqya said, "Do not do that till we go to Allah's Apostle and mention to him what has happened, and see what he will order us." So they came to Allah's Apostle and mentioned the story to him and he said, "How do you know that Surat-al-Fatiha is a Ruqya? You have done the right thing. Divide (what you have got) and assign for me a share with you." (Buchari, Volume: 7, Book Number: 71, Hadith Number: 645) The question of Rasulallah s.a.w. appears to be rhetorical! Obviously this Sahaba received guidance and was so sure about it that he boldly asked for a reward. We see here a demonstration of guidance, faith and trust in Allah! What could we do if we would have such faith?
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Among the nation of Bani Israel who lived before you, there were men who used to be inspired with guidance though they were not prophets, and if there is any of such persons amongst my followers, it is 'Umar." (Buchari. Volume: 5, Book Number: 57, Hadith Number: 38) Here there is mention of a special form of guidance, not the one we are normally praying for in Istikharat, because this kind of guidance everybody can receive.
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: Allah (mighty and sublime is He) said: Whosoever shows enmity to someone devoted to Me, I shall be at war with him. My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him. (al-Bukhari)
Another evidence is our daily prayers! A very obvious reason why we have to pray at these fixed times is to wake us up again and remember Allah, to ask for guidance and to make us open again for receiving it, which we are not if caught in our own little thoughts and plans: "By Allah, We [also] sent [Our messengers] to Peoples before thee; but Satan made, [to the wicked], their own acts seem alluring." (16: 63) " Lo! those who ward off [evil], when a glamour from the devil troubleth them, they do but remember [Allah's Guidance] and behold them seers!" (7:201)
In Qur'an and Hadith there is mentioning of several incidents where normal people, not Prophets, were doing miracles (Karamat): (19:25; 3:37; 27:40; story of the people in the cave removing the big stone at the entrance; the story of Khubayb al-Ansari r.a. and so on). So if normal people are even able to do miracles, why not identify guidance and understand "signs", which is a much simpler task? And this task is already necessary for doing "karamat" as without an active form of guidance one cannot do them!
When we all are normally able to recognize guidance AFTER it happened, why should we not become aware of it WHILE it happens? Apparently, when Allah makes us aware of His guidance He can also test us if we obediently and voluntarily follow His guidance rather than just enforce it on us! Like in the verse already mentioned above, He tells us in numerous verses that we have a choice and shows us in the story of the Prophets a shining example with many lessons for us!
So why then do not most of the scholars emphasize on it?
The problem with "Hidaya" is the same with that of "Il-Ham": There is no certainty! First of all, we have to follow knowledge and not guesswork in the sense of "Why did I hit on my thumb with the hammer, is it a sign from Allah?"
"Say: This is my Way: I call on Allah with sure knowledge. I and whosoever followeth me - Glory be to Allah! - and I am not of the idolaters." (12: 108)
Some people get crazy about "seeing signs" where actually none are. It is not easy to find the right balance. And it can also lead to the following serious error:
Narrated 'Aisha: Allah's Apostle recited the Verse: "It is He who has sent down to you the Book. In it are Verses that are entirely clear, they are the foundation of the Book, others not entirely clear. So as for those in whose hearts there is a deviation (from the Truth ) follow thereof that is not entirely clear seeking affliction and searching for its hidden meanings; but no one knows its hidden meanings but Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in it (i.e. in the Qur'an) the whole of it (i.e. its clear and unclear Verses) are from our Lord. And none receive admonition except men of understanding." (3.7 ) Then Allah's Apostle said, "If you see those who follow thereof that is not entirely clear, then they are those whom Allah has named [as having deviation (from the Truth)] 'So beware of them." (Buchari, Volume: 6, Book Number: 60, Hadith Number: 70)
One should leave the things which are doubtful for the things which are not. Seeking knowledge is a much safer path and of course a duty on us all. However, if we have only knowledge without guidance we are like "an ass carrying books"! Also knowledge can deceive us (by making us arrogant, quarrelsome and increasing riya in our hearts)!
Knowledge we can store in our memory, in a book, on our hard disk; we can quarrel with it; we can boast with it and show others our ijazah! But Hidaya, the understanding of Allah's signs, is a gift which we cannot keep. We can study years and years but do not get it. We cannot reason or debate on it; we cannot make money with it and we cannot force to get it. Even not the Prophet s.a.w.! When the Jews asked him three questions, he told them, he would answer them tomorrow, as if he could force Allah to give him guidance, and was rebuked for this. Who are we in comparison to the Prophet s.a.w.? Any follower of a Sufi-Sheik should remember this!
Say: "It is Allâh Who guides to the truth. Is then He, Who gives guidance to the truth, more worthy to be followed, or he who finds not guidance (himself) unless he is guided? Then, what is the matter with you? How judge you?" (10:35)
If we realize that an active form of receiving Hidaya exists, a guidance not through any scholar or Sheik, not knowledge, but "understanding of signs" we are much more open for receiving it! And we will need it in times to come when rational thinking will not help us anymore!
When Musa a.s. stood in front of the Red Sea, Pharaoh and his army approached from behind. Some of those in Musa's midst began to divide. Looking ahead, those people saw only defeat:
"And when the two bodies saw each other, the people of Moses said: 'We are sure to be overtaken.'" (26:61).
They said this because they were using reason! From a rational point of view there was no way out. But Musa a.s. had different eyes. His eyes were spiritual eyes, he saw through. With a heart connected to the Most High, looking at the same seemingly impossible situation, Musa saw only God:
"(Moses) said: 'By no means! My Lord is with me! He will guide me through!'" (26:61-62)
And indeed Allah did just that:
"Then We told Moses by inspiration: 'Strike the sea with thy rod.' So it divided, and each separate part became like the huge, firm mass of a mountain. And We made the other party approach thither. We delivered Moses and all who were with him; But We drowned the others." (26: 63-66).
Why does Allah narrate us such stories? He encourages us! We also have to leave tyranny and slave work! And "reason" will not open us the door, will not divide the sea and bring us through the desert. Rather than thinking and trying to figure out a rational solution, we should more often trying "to see".
Say: 'The guidance of Allah is the Guidance. We are commanded to submit to the Lord of the Worlds." (6:88)