In the age of globalisation and mass media, the promotion and exchange of ideas has never been so easy. Whilst this can lead to a healthy growth in knowledge and wisdom, it can also add to more confusion, especially when falsehood is given a mouthpiece to espouse its views. In fact, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) predicted that towards the end of time ignorance will become prevalent.
“Near the establishment of the Hour there will be days during which knowledge will be taken away (vanish) and general ignorance will spread, and there will be Al-Ḥarj in abundance, and Al-Ḥarj means killing.”
The spread of ignorance is further entrenched by the ignorant not being aware of their ignorance, thus resulting in the worst form of ignorance, al jahl al murakkab (compounded ignorance). Without a shadow of doubt, knowledge is key to removing the state of ignorance, however, a precursor to that is that guidance (hidāyah) from Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) reaches the person. Sound information alone is not sufficient in removing the state of ignorance, rather the heart must be receptive enough to internalise and benefit from sound information and knowledge. This is where hidāyah or divine guidance plays a role.
The need for guidance is quite evident when we reflect upon the most recited chapter of the Qur’ān, al Fātiḥah or ‘The Opening’. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says:
“Ihdinā al Ṣirāṭ al Mustaqīm”
“Guide us to the straight path.”
This is the only supplication we explicitly mention in the sūrah which should make us question ourselves as to why we have to repeat this supplication so often during the day. So what exactly is hidāyah or huda?
Lexically, it has the connotation of inclination (imālah). Thus a person who is guided to a matter is naturally inclined to it.
Ibn al Qayyim (raḥimahu Allāhu) mentioned that there are four types of guidance:
1. Guidance that directs a person to what is generally beneficial for him. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) said:
“He said, “Our Lord is He who gave each thing its form and then guided [it].””
He guided each form and creation by directing it towards how to procreate, eat and take shelter. If one was to reflect over the animal kingdom they would easily come to the conclusion that animals have received some form of instruction and guidance as to how to live and fulfill their basic needs.
2. The guidance of Irshād (instruction). This is the guidance whereby a person is shown the right path to take. Whether the person chooses to act upon that guidance is another matter. Thus, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) said about the disbelieving people of Thamūd:
“And as for Thamūd, We guided them, but they preferred blindness over guidance, so the thunderbolt of humiliating punishment seized them for what they used to earn.”
3. The guidance of Tawfīq (Divine assistance). This is when Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) opens the heart to guidance and so it settles and shapes the person’s character and behavior. This form of guidance comes from Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) alone. Hence, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) said to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam):
“Indeed, you do not guide whom you like, but Allāh guides whom He wills. And He is most knowing of the [rightly] guided.”
Whereas He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) said:
“And indeed, [O Muḥammad], you guide to a straight path…”
The first verse points to the guidance of tawfīq whereas the second points to the guidance of irshād.
A fundamental matter we learn from the distinction between these last two forms of guidance should make a person realise that they need to ultimately depend on Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) for guidance, and beseech him for it rather than solely depend upon one’s own intellectual capabilities and faculties. If one was to reflect over the Prophet’s (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) supplications one would realise the extent he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) depended upon Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) for guidance. The sense of urgency that can be found in his invocations should really make us reflect upon our own state and question ourselves as to whether we truly rely upon Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) for guidance. He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would often supplicate:
“O Allāh guide me among those You have guided, pardon me among those You have pardoned, befriend me among those You have befriended, bless me in what You have granted, and save me from the evil that You decreed. Indeed You decree, and none can pass decree, and none can pass decree upon You, indeed he is not humiliated whom You have befriended, blessed are You our Lord and Exalted.”
He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would also supplicate:
“O Allah! I ask You for guidance, piety, chastity and self-sufficiency”
“…And guide me to the best of the manners, none guides to the best of them except You, and turn the evil of them away from me, [verily,] none can turn the evil of them away from me except You. I have believed in You…”
4. The fourth form of guidance that Ibn al Qayyim mentioned was a special form of guidance given to the believers when they enter into Paradise. It has been reported that the believers will instinctively know where their homes in Paradise will be upon entering Paradise. This is the meaning for the verse:
“And admit them to Paradise, which He has made known to them.”
The levels of guidance
Ibn al Qayyim (raḥimahu Allāhu) explained in his magnum opus, ‘Madārij al Sālikīn’, that guidance has a number of stages that need to be surpassed in order for a person to be truly guided:
i. He needs to be guided to knowing what the truth is.
ii. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) gives the person the physical capabilities of acting upon it, otherwise he would not have been able to act upon it.
iii. He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) assists the person in desiring to do the action.
iv. He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) assists the person in performing the action.
v. He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) makes the person devoted to the action.
vi. He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) diverts all impediments and obstacles that would have otherwise prevented the person from doing the action.
vii. He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) guides the person to the finer details and subtleties of the action.
viii. He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) makes the person see and witness the intended purpose and goal behind the path he traverses.
ix. He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) makes the person acknowledge his state of poverty in front of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and how his need for guidance is above every other need.
x. He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) makes the person aware of the two paths that could divert him away from the straight path. These two paths are the paths of those who earned the wrath of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) by obstinately refusing to obey Him (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), and the path of the ignorant and misguided.
Steps towards guidance
In order to be guided by Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) a person must remove the impediments that prevent reaching a person’s heart such as pride, arrogance and the following of desires. If these impediments exist in a person’s heart, guidance cannot penetrate his heart due to a seal that is on his heart. In addition to that, one must have a fervent desire for the truth and internally acknowledge that the guidance of tawfīq only comes from Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and therefore beseech Him (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) for it. And finally, one must resort to the ultimate source of guidance; the Qur’ān, the ultimate Huda (Guidance) and Furqān (Criterion). Upon this point we have to come to the realisation that the Qur’ān is not simply a book that teaches us the do’s and don’ts, but it is a book that shapes our psyche, intellectual make-up, character and spiritual behavior as well. We therefore have to immerse ourselves into the world of the Qur’ān: live it, breathe it and be transformed by it. Only then will we be truly guided.
 Agreed upon.
 Al-Qur’ān, 20:50
 Al-Qur’ān, 41:17
 Al-Qur’ān, 28:56
 Al-Qur’ān, 42:52
 Al Tirmidhi
 See Zād al Masīr, Ibn al Jawzi, 4/117
 Al-Qur’ān, 47:6
 Madārij al Sālikīn, 3/472
Ustdah Alomgir has a BA in Arabic & English language and has studied Arabic and Islamic studies in Cairo. He is currently pursuing a degree in Shariah at al Azhar University in Cairo. He has translated a number of books and holds weekly Tafseer classes in London and is a regular Khateeb in a number of mosques in London. He also taught Arabic and Islamic studies at the Tayyibun Institute in London and is currently an instructor for the Sabeel retreats and seminars.