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Last Updated: 2008/11/04
Summary of question
What is meant by the verse: “He (Allah (swt)) guides whosoever he desires, and misguides whosoever he desires.”
What does the verse: “He (Allah (swt)) guides whosoever He wishes and misguides whosoever He wishes.” Isn't this verse asserting that man is deprived of his free will and that he has no choice in choosing between right and wrong?
Concise answer

It has been proven in theology that man is of free will and Quranic teachings are in no conflict with this fact and actually emphasize this point. Yet since some Quranic verses interpret and explain others, one must put different verses next to each other in order to understand their true meanings. The word “idhlal”(which means to mislead) has been related to Allah (swt), Shaytan and others in the Quran. Allah’s (swt) misguidance isn't initial meaning that He isn't the one who initially causes it. His misguidance solely belongs to those who have paved the way for their own misguidance using their own will and by making the wrong choice. In verse 26 of surah Baqarah, Allah (swt) states: “Thereby He leads many astray, and thereby He guides many”.[i] At first, it might seem that this verse is implying that guidance and misguidance have an imposing side to them and that they solely depend on the will of Allah (swt), while the end of the verse sheds light on the truth and tells us that the true origin of one’s guidance or misguidance are his/her actions.

[i] "ان الله لایستحی ان یضرب مثلا ما بعوضة فما فوقها فامٌا الذین آمنوا فیعلمون انه الحق من ربهم و اما الذین کفروا فیقولون ماذا ارادالله بهذا مثلاً یضل به کثیراً و یهدی به کثیراً و ما یضل به الا الفاسقین".

Detailed Answer

Allah (swt) has explained the matter of guidance and misguidance in different ways.

Firstly, it is important to pay attention to the fact that in the case of some verses of the Quran, it is wrong to interpret and reach a final conclusion on them by themselves. On the contrary, it is required to interpret them with the help of other verses.

We will begin by listing a few examples of verses resembling the one mentioned in the question:

Verse 93 of surah Nahl states: “If God had wished, He would have set you up as one community, but He lets anyone He wishes go astray, and guides anyone He wishes. You shall (all) be questioned about what you had been doing.”[1]

Verse 17 of surah Kahf says: “Whomever Allah guides is rightly guided, and whomever He leads astray, you will never find for him any guardian or guide.”[2]

Verse 186 of surah A’raf: “Whomever Allah leads astray has no guide, and He leaves them bewildered in their rebellion.”[3]

Verses 36-37 of surah Zumar: “Yet whomever Allah leads astray, has no guide. And whomever Allah guides, there is no one who can lead him astray.”[4]

In his tafsir of Al-Mizan, regarding the interpretation of verse 93 of surah Nahl, Allamah Tabatabai says: “This verse is asserting that Allah (swt) can give everyone an equal share of guidance and salvation when creating them.  What is meant in the verse by guidance and misguidance aren’t initial ones, what is truly meant by the two are the guidance and misguidance that are given to individuals as a result of their good/bad deeds, because all people, regardless of their religious status, are equal when it comes to initial guidance, meaning that Allah (swt) gives all people an equal share of it. Those whom Allah (swt) misguides are those who have chosen a sinful way of life and don’t regret it either. On the other hand, Allah (swt) guides those who haven’t lost the guidance He has embedded in their nature or fitrah and live in full compliance with it, continuously obeying Allah (swt) and showing Him servitude and in the cases of occasional sin and disobedience, repenting and returning to His way, the straight path and His tradition which accepts no change. The sentence: “And you will be questioned regarding what you had been doing” is an answer to a question that might come up for some, which is: “If guidance and misguidance belong to Allah (swt), man will no longer possess free will, resulting in the annulment of prophethood (because prophets are sent to teach man how to make the right use of his free will and in the case of man having no free will, the sending of messengers will be useless). The answer to this question is that man’s free will remains and the fact that guidance and misguidance belong to Allah (swt) has nothing to do with this subject because Allah (swt) doesn’t initially guide or misguide individuals; His guidance and misguidance are a result of and depend on our own deeds. In other words, He guides those who truly want guidance, and misguides those who have chosen misguidance. In one word, Allah (swt) helps everyone in the way they have chosen (let it be the right way or not; it all depends on our choice).”[5]

Quranic verses explain and interpret one another; the same Allah (swt) that has said “He misguides whomever He wills”, has also said “Allah (swt) misguides the evildoers”[6] and “That is how Allah leads astray those who are profligate, skeptical”[7] and “Allah (swt) leads astray the disbelievers (Kafirs)”[8]. Therefore, although it is true to say that Allah (swt) misguides whomever He wishes, yet one should pay attention and know which type of people are subject to this misguidance. Allah (swt) misguides the evil-doers, the profligate, the liars, the disobedient, the kafirs and those who willingly sin. Therefore, the first and preliminary step to misguidance lies in the hands of man himself and has nothing to do with Allah (swt). The same goes with guidance as well; there are criteria for one to be guided by Allah (swt). The Quran both says that Allah (swt) guides whomever He pleases, and at the same time makes us aware of the conditions for this guidance by saying: “We shall guide the ones who strive for Us to Our ways”[9] and “Verily Allah does not guide the transgressing lot”, “(Allah) does not guide the disbelievers”, “Allah does not guide the plotting of traitors”, “Indeed Allah does not guide the one who is a liar and an ingrate” etc., and in other words, Allah (swt) does not guide those who aren’t qualified for guidance. Hence, the pious and righteous will never be led astray, and the hostile and stubborn don’t deserve guidance.

One fact that must be noted is that showing the way is the job of the creator, and practicing it is the responsibility of the created. Therefore, if one chooses not to remain on the path introduced to him by God, it is clear that he/she is the one to blame. Allah (swt) says: “والله یدعوا الی دارالسلام[10], meaning that Allah (swt) invites all to the abode of peace and tranquility and eternal salvation. He also says: “Whosoever desires, can choose the way to his lord” and “And those who strive in our way, we will surely guide them to our ways”. Therefore, those who don’t have the least tendency to the lord and despise the lord’s way and don’t believe in his signs and messengers and the Day of Judgment are the ones being spoken of in the verse: “Verily those who disbelieve in Allah’s signs will not be guided and have a painful punishment”[11].

Taken into consideration these verses, one can easily conclude that Allah (swt) has given everyone free will and independence in choice: “انا هدیناه السبیل اما شاکراً و اما کفوراً” “Indeed We have guided him (man) to the way, be he grateful or ungrateful”[12].

Conclusion: Allah (swt) does not guide the evil-doers, liars and transgressors and this group of people are in misguidance themselves without the need for anyone else to misguide them: “Whoever disobeys Allah and His Apostle has certainly gone astray a manifest straying”[13]. So Allah (swt) guides to paradise those who deserve it and no one can prevent him from doing so, and takes whoever deserves punishment to the Hellfire without anyone being able to stop him; it is up to man himself to choose whether to be of the first group or the second through his actions and beliefs.

If a person becomes a transgressor, he will not be guided (“Verily Allah does not guide the transgressors”), and if one chooses to be pious, Allah (swt) will guide him (“Oh you who believe! If you have taqwa [piety] He will grant you a power of distinction [between right and wrong]”)[14].

Therefore it is up to us to choose the good or bad way and this is a reality that everyone can feel on the inside (that he/she can freely choose between the two).

[1] "ان الله لایستحی ان یضرب مثلا ما بعوضة فما فوقها فامٌا الذین آمنوا فیعلمون انه الحق من ربهم و اما الذین کفروا فیقولون ماذا ارادالله بهذا مثلاً یضل به کثیراً و یهدی به کثیراً و ما یضل به الا الفاسقین".

[2] "من یهدالله فهوا المهتد و من یضلل فلن تجدله ولیاً مرشداً".

[3] "من یضلل الله فلاهادی له ویذرهم فی طغیانهم یعمهون".

[4] "و من یضلل الله فما له من هاد و من یهدالله فما له من مضل".

[5] Al-Mizan, vol.12, pg. 48, verse 98 of surah Nahl and its translation.

[6] Ibrahim:27.

[7] Ghafir:34.

[8] Ghafir:74.

[9] Ankabut:69.

[10] Yunus:25.

[11] Nahl:106.

[12] Insan:3.

[13] Ahzab:36.

[14] Anfal:29.

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