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Does Allah Misguide Anyone?

By:  Dr. Mansoor Alam

Most Muslims begin any religious speech or sermon by reciting a traditional prayer and praise to Allah, and the Prophet (S) and his family. In this prayer, the following words are constantly heard:

"Maee yahdihillahu fala mudilla lah, wa maee yudlilhu fala haadiya lah."

And the translation of this is usually given as:

"Whomever Allah guides, no one can misguide, and whomever Allah misguides, no one can guide."

Please keep these words in mind, while we look at the following facts from the Quran:

"And if, as is sure, there comes to you guidance from Me, whomsoever follows my guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. But those, who reject Faith and belie our Signs, they shall be companions of Fire, They shall abide therein." (2:38-39, Yusuf Ali)

"Say, ‘The Truth is from your Lord’: Let him who will, believe; and let him who will, reject…" (18:29, Yusuf Ali)

Now if Allah gives the freedom to accept or reject His guidance as is absolutely clear from the above verses, how can He also say that whomever He guides no one can misguide and whomever He misguides no one can guide? Clearly, these are two contradictory statements and Allah is beyond contradiction (4:82). Furthermore, there is nothing in the Quran which will lead to doubt (2:2, 32:2). Therefore, this requires us to stop and seriously think and ponder. We cannot simply say "Allah knows best." Or we cannot say "The Ulema know best," and move on as we usually do in such cases. Doing this is akin to giving an architect a contract to build our house, and then not caring to check what the architect is building. Wouldn’t it be foolish to leave everything to him while we ourselves go on with our daily routine? Perhaps when the architect is done and we move into our house, much to our surprise, we might find he has built us something we did not want. But in the case of the afterlife, it would be a shame if we go to move into our house only to see that our beloved architects have built our houses in the hellfire. This is why we need to double-check our "architects of Islam." The Ulema or religious scholars, always remind the Muslim masses of their ignorance of Islam. Perhaps they do not want us to analyze what they are building for us. That is why Iqbal says that we have to check ourselves and ask our own hearts:

"Ai Musalman apne dil se pooch, Mullah se na pooch."

"Oh Muslims! Ask your own hearts, do not ask the Mullahs (religious scholars)."

So let us ask ourselves: Why this contradiction? Obviously, there is some problem in our scholars’ interpretation and understanding of this issue. Also, we cannot simply brush this off by saying, "Since the majority of our Islamic scholars (i.e. Ijma’), agree on this issue, therefore we have to accept these two contradictory statements." Or, we also cannot accept the fact that this has been passed on by our ancestors and therefore, we have to accept this contradiction. The Quran says that kuffar and mushrikun used to say these things (2:170, 5:104, 31:21, 34:43, 43:21-24). Once again, we need to double-check our beloved architects of Islam, so that we can see for ourselves whether or not the house they are building is on a shaky foundation.

The final authority is only One, and that authority is Allah. And since our only contact with Allah is through his book, Al-Quran, the authority in Islam is therefore the Quran. The Quran is the only book which Allah has taken the responsibility to protect (15:9). No one can change it (6:34, 18:27, 10:64). It is complete (6:115). Nothing essential has been left out of it (6:38, 6:59, 10:61, 34:3). Those who do not decide matters according to what Allah has revealed (i.e. the Quran) are kafirs (5:44).

Coming back to the central question now: Does Allah personally misguide anyone? Most Muslims have one scapegoat which they always use when they are faced with such situations. They say, "Allah can do anything. He has unlimited power and control over everything and everyone." If that is the case, then why did Allah send His Book of guidance to us? Why did He send all His messengers? Why did our Prophet (S) face so many enemies in daily life as well as in the battlefields? Why did he (S) and the sahaba (R) suffer so much throughout their lives, for the sake of Allah? Allah has all the powers and he can do anything! He could have directly punished all the enemies of the Prophet (S)- but He didn’t. Instead, He ordered them to fight the enemies of Islam; to go to battlefields; and give their lives if need be- so much so, that they were warned that those who would try to run away from the battlefield will go directly to Hell (8:16).

There is yet another side of this usual reply of "Allah knows best," or "Allah can do anything." First, if that is so, then why do we need all these Ulema and religious scholars anyway? Since Allah can do anything (e.g. send anyone to Hell or Heaven as he pleases, give wealth or poverty to anyone, dignity or poverty to anyone, etc.), then why do human beings have to be held accountable for their deeds. It doesn’t seem fair and just or even logical to send someone to Hell if Allah misguided him or her. Second, the Quran clearly tells that it is Iblees who says that God misguided him and put him in the wrong (15:39). So is it not our duty to pause and seriously reflect on these extremely important questions impacting our lives—here as well as in the hereafter?

Before we come to resolve the above mentioned contradiction, it may help us in our search for an answer, if we pose another question: Does nature misguide us? This question is easy to comprehend as we are directly in contact with nature. We human beings impact nature directly by our activities and are impacted by it in our daily lives.

Does Nature Misguide Anyone?

The very question seems strange at first. But this will help us in drawing meaningful conclusions as there is a parallel argument in our search for an answer to our original question, "Does Allah misguide anyone?"

Nature has provided guidance to human beings since time immemorial- or, more appropriately, since the dawn of civilization. From the stars guiding the bedouin Arabs in the vast desert (without any signposts or milestones), to the ships, airplanes, and space vehicles equipped with sophisticated, modern, computerized navigation systems- it is Nature which ultimately provides the guidance for following the desired (right) path. It is also nature that provides indications in case of failure (wrong path). Nature provides guidance regarding truth and falsehood in every field of human knowledge and scientific endeavor. It is not nature that misguides, but our imperfect knowledge, improper designs, and improper observations misguide us. The moment knowledge advances to the level of perfect understanding in accordance with nature, human beings succeed in their missions. So, nature provides the touchstone (guidance) to test the validity of all the scientific hypotheses in the various areas of knowledge.

Now, let us consider another parallel argument. The question "Does Allah Misguide Anyone," can be cast as "Does the Quran Misguide Anyone?" This is because Allah has said whatever he had to say to humanity in its finality, totality, and completeness is in the Quran (6:115, 6:38, 10:37, 5:48). There will not come any other book from Allah, nor any other prophet from Allah after our last prophet (S) as declared by Allah in the Quran (33:40). Therefore, our relationship to Allah is only through His book, the Quran and nothing else.

Allah tells us the Quran was sent to guide and give glad tidings to the momineen (2:97). Those who will follow the Quran will benefit from it; those who will not, will suffer the consequences (10:108). Those who will follow it will be guided, and no one can misguide them, and those who will not follow it, will be misguided, and no one can guide them. Can there be any question or doubt about this? Clearly not. Can there be more than one interpretation of this statement? Obviously not. It is our choice whether or not to follow the Quran and after our choice is made, we get what we deserve. It is our choice which data to enter into the calculator, and based on that, we get the right or wrong answer (guidance or misguidance). We cannot say the manufacturer magically chooses who will get right and who will get wrong answers. This is up to the person, and how he or she uses the calculator. In the same way, Allah does not magically choose who will be guided or misguided, rather it is up to the person to choose the Quran as his guidance. If he chooses the Quran, he will be guided. If he chooses anything else, he will be misguided and no one can guide him. Therefore, the saying should be better translated as:

"Whomever Allah guides (i.e. those who independently choose to follow the Quran), no one can misguide, and whomever Allah misguides (i.e. those who choose to follow other than the Quran), no one can guide."

OR

"Whoever follows the Quran will be guided by Allah, and no one can misguide, and whoever does not follow the Quran, will not be guided by Allah, will be misguided, and no one can guide."

Allah does not directly do things for us; we have to do ourselves and follow his laws. Allah does not change our condition until we change our selves (i.e., change our psychology, mental attitudes and behavior) (13:11). However, there are many verses where Allah says that He does or does not do things for human beings. As we know Allah does not directly control the affairs of the human world—be they political, social, military or psychological. This confusion is removed by using the term "Allah’s law" instead of "Allah". After all, our contact with Allah is only through His laws. Allah has given us certain potential and we have to actualize it using His laws. This is very obvious in the material world. We use Allah’s laws in the material world (i.e., natural laws) for all kinds of scientific progress. Similarly, we have to use His laws (i.e., the Quran) in the human world for moral, ethical, and spiritual progress as well.

Let us list a few verses from the Quran to give some examples to illustrate the point above. [The translation is taken from Taqi-u-ddin Al-Hillali and Mohsin Khan.]

"Surely, Allah [i.e., Allah’s law] wastes not the reward of the Muhsinun." (9:120)

"Surely, Allah [i.e., Allah’s law] guides not the plot of the betrayers." (12:52)

"Verily, Allah [i.e., Allah’s law] does not set right the work of Al-Mufsidun (evil-doers, corrupts etc.). (10:81)

"And Allah [i.e., Allah’s law] guides not the people who are Al-Fasiqun (rebellious, disobedient to Allah). (9:24)