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If and how does Allah misguide people?

Waqar Akbar Cheema


Some verses of the Qur’an are commonly misunderstood by those who are either unaware of the Arabic language, unfamiliar with the context of the verses or they just simply want to confuse others by making Islam look bad. One such misconception is the idea that Allah misguides people due to the many verses that are translated as such. However, if one were to take a closer look at the meaning of misguidance in these verses, they would see that the words used do not mean what is suggested by some. This article will explain what the meaning of the word ‘guidance’ is in the Qur’an, and it will examine many of the verses that use such phrases to make clear their overall context and meaning.

1. Introduction

Critics of Islam try their best to dispute specific Qur’anic verses by arguing that Allah Himself misguides people. In this article, we will look into the issue and unravel the misconceptions related to this topic.

There are three types of verses that are used in this regard:

  1.  Verses that state Allah guides and misguides whom He wills.
  2.  Verses that use the Arabic word ghayy or ghawah.
  3.  Verses that say Allah has sealed the hearts of certain people.

In the following lines, we consider these types of verses one by one. However, before that discussion, we need to understand the word hadayah (guidance) as the Qur’an speaks of it.

2. Degrees of guidance

The Holy Quran speaks of certain guidance on certain degrees. It has been expounded upon well by Raghib al-Isfahani (d. 502 AH).

The first degree of guidance is universal and is granted to all beings, living and otherwise:

“He said: Our Lord is He Who gave to each (created) thing its form and nature, and further, gave (it) guidance.”[1]

This means Allah has given every creation a particular function and then guided it to correspond to its role in the scheme of things. This guidance is granted to every being that is to be held accountable, in fact to all living beings.

The second degree is for all humans (and the jinn) and it has been granted through the Prophets and revealed scriptures. This is what is meant in the following verse about Isaac and Jacob from amongst the prophets;

“And We made them leaders guiding by Our command.”[2]          

The third degree of guidance is for those who heed to the message of truth and grants them more help in their pursuit of righteousness.

“But to those who receive guidance, He increases the (light of) guidance, and bestows on them their piety and restraint (from evil).”[3]

And there is the fourth degree which is guidance to the craved destination of the abode of eternal bliss, the Paradise. Speaking of the inmates of Paradise Qur’an says:

And We will have removed whatever is within their breasts of resentment, [while] flowing beneath them are rivers. And they will say, “Praise to Allah, who has guided us to this; and we would never have been guided if Allah had not guided us. Certainly the messengers of our Lord had come with the truth.” And they will be called, “This is Paradise, which you have been made to inherit for what you used to do.”[4]

When Allah says that He does not guide people, it only refers to the third degree of guidance and He does this only because they do not show the yearning for what is the prerequisite for it.

Explanation the relation of these degrees Al-Isfahani writes:

وهذه الهدايات الأربع مترتّبة، فإنّ من لم تحصل له الأولى لا تحصل له الثّانية بل لا يصحّ تكليفه، ومن لم تحصل له الثّانية لا تحصل له الثّالثة والرّابعة، ومن حصل له الرّابع فقد حصل له الثلاث التي قبلها، ومن حصل له الثالث فقد حصل له اللّذان قبله. ثمّ ينعكس، فقد تحصل الأولى ولا يحصل له الثاني ولا يحصل الثالث

“These degrees of guidance are sequential. If someone has not attained the first degree he cannot reach the second, rather he is not accountable even. The one who has not attained the second degree he is not on the third or fourth. And the one who has achieved the fourth degree has attained the first three already. Likewise, the one who has attained the third has achieved the first two. Conversely, attaining the first degree does not entail achievement of the second, and that of second does not necessitate attaining of the third.”[5]

3. Meaning of “Allah guides whom He Wills…”

There are some verses in the Holy Quran which say that Allah guides whom He wills and leaves astray whom He wills, such as:

“So, Allah lets go astray whom He wills and lets find guidance whom He wills. And He is the Mighty, the Wise.”[6]

Some people argue that Allah Himself misguides people and does not give them free will; and therefore He would be unjust in punishing them. This is an utterly wrong interpretation!

No Qur’anic verse should be taken in isolation from the rest of the Qur’an and hadiths.

3.1. Humans have a choice

Multiple passages of the Qur’an refute such an interpretation. In fact, the Qur’an maintains that Allah has made truth and falsehood clear and now humans have a choice to accept either of them.

“By the soul, and the proportion and order given to it; and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; truly he succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it!”[7]

“Say: ‘The truth is from your Lord.’ Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it): for the wrongdoers We have prepared a fire whose (smoke and flames), like the walls and roof of a tent, will hem them in.”[8]

3.2 Those whom Allah guides

We see whom Allah guides and whom He leaves astray; and at the same time Allah also clarifies what is for whom.

“… He guides to Himself those who turn to Him in penitence.”[9]

“And those who strive in Our (cause), We will certainly guide them to our paths: for verily Allah is with those who do right.”[10]

“Allah chooses to Himself those whom He pleases, and guides to Himself those who turn (to Him).”[11]

3.3 Those whom Allah misguides

Similarly, He plainly tells us:

“… He causes not to stray, except those who forsake (the path).”[12]

“… but Allah will leave astray those who do wrong: Allah does what He wills.”[13]

3.4 How does Allah misguide?

Now for the question as to how Allah misguides; this is plainly mentioned in the Qur’an:

“If anyone contends with the Messenger even after guidance has been plainly conveyed to him, and follows a path other than that becoming to men of faith, We shall leave him in the path he has chosen, and land him in hell – what an evil refuge!”[14]

So Allah misguides the evildoers and those who reject the guidance brought by the Messenger by letting those people follow the path they choose.

Through His signs, He makes things clear and those who show passion to follow the truth, He guides them further and but those who resort to evil, He lets them follow the path they choose, so He would not be unjust in punishing such.

Al-Isfahani after giving the degrees of guidance writes:

وكلّ هداية ذكر الله عزّ وجلّ أنه منع الظالمين والكافرين فهي الهداية الثالثة، وهي التّوفيق الذي يختصّ به المهتدون

“Whatever Allah mentions of guidance that He holds from the transgressors and the disbelievers is this third degree of guidance. It is the ability (tawfiq) that He has reserved for the guided one.”[15]

4. Meaning of the verse “If Allah leads you astray…”

Some quote the following verse which speaks about Prophet Noah saying to his rebellious people:

“Of no profit will be my counsel to you, much as I desire to give you (good) counsel, if it be that Allah wills to leave you astray (yughwiyakum): He is your Lord! And to Him you will return!”[16]

We have to see that here Prophet Noah is speaking to the people when they have crossed all limits and even challenged to bring the torment that he used to warned them of. Here, Allah’s act of misleading is just as explained earlier – He will leave them on the path they have chosen by stubbornly rejecting the truth. This may even be about the punishment that Prophet Noah knew was due for these people because the same word is used in the meanings of punishment and destruction as well, such as in the following verse:

“But after them there followed a posterity who missed prayers and followed after lusts soon, then, will they face destruction (ghayyah).”[17]

Some also use the following verses:

“He (Satan) said, .Now that You have led me astray (aghwaytanee), I will certainly sit for them (in ambush) on Your straight path.”[18]

“He (Satan) said, My Lord, since You made me go astray (aghwaytanee), I swear that I shall beautify for them (evils) on the earth, and shall lead all of them astray.”[19]

Interestingly, one can see that these are only the words of Satan who is just seeking excuses for his transgression by accusing Almighty Allah of misleading him. It is not wise to turn to the words of Satan, who wishes humankind to be led astray (as evidenced by these words), as a means of slandering Allah![20]

5. Meaning of the statement “Allah seals the hearts…”

Some people argue that when Allah Himself says that He puts a seal on the heart of disbelievers, then why are they to be blamed for their acts? Such arguments come only because of a basic misunderstanding of the whole issue.

Allah seals the hearts of only those who stubbornly reject the message or simply, as explained above, Allah seals the hearts of those who reject the second degree of guidance which is universal and only needs one’s own will to be attained. Thus, we see that whenever Allah says something along these lines in the Qur’an, it is always about the stern rejecters of truth (i.e. Qur’an 2:7, 4:168 and 16:106-109). All such passages talk about those who reject the truth and do no show the will to follow the right path. In the words of Daryabadi;

“the Divine sealing of the hearts follows the deliberate choice of disbelief, and not causes it.”[21]

6. Biblical references

The same concept is also made apparent in the Bible, as will be discussed briefly below.

At least six places in the Bible mention that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and against the will of God, he did not let the people of Israel go.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.”[22]

The same thing is repeated in Exodus 7:3, 10:1, 10:20 & 10:27.

Moreover, we read in the Bible;

“Yet the LORD hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.”[23]

“He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”[24]

“(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.”[25]

The purpose of sharing these verses is to open up the eyes of some of those who malign Islam by making them realize that there are verses in other Holy Books that are very similar, if not the exact same, in meaning to those in the Qur’an. In order to get the true understanding of the verses of the Qur’an, one must look at them with open eyes and an open heart.

7. Summary and Conclusion

The gist of the matter is that Allah grants guidance to all by making the truth and falsehood clear through His signs within our own selves and the phenomenon around us, and through the blessed prophets and the scriptures; and everyone is free to follow what they will. One who hearkens to the message and shows yearning, Allah guides that person further, but one who rejects the truth, Allah lets that person follow the way he likes and withholds further degrees of guidance from him and thus, so to say, misguides him.

[1] Qur’an 20:50

[2] Qur’an 21:73

[3] Qur’an 47:17

[4] Qur’an 7:43

[5] al-Isfahani, Ragheb, al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Quran, (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 1492 AH) 836

[6] Qur’an 14:4

[7] Qur’an 91:7-10

[8] Qur’an 18:29

[9] Qur’an 13:27

[10] Qur’an 29:69

[11] Qur’an 42:13

[12] Qur’an 2:26

[13] Qur’an 14:27

[14] Qur’an 4:115

[15] al-Isfahani, Ragheb, al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Quran, 836

[16] Qur’an 11:34

[17] Qur’an 19:59

[18] Qur’an 7:16

[19] Qur’an 15:39

[20] Daryabadi, Abdul Majid, Tafsir-ul-Quran, – Translation and Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, (Lucknow: Academy of Islamic Research and Publications, 2007) Vol.2, 99

[21] ibid., Vol.1, 11

[22] Exodus 4:21

[23] Deuteronomy 29:4

[24] John 12:40

[25] Romans 11:8

Published : March 25, 2014

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