Quranic Reflection No. 406. Ayat 28:50 – Misguidance through following desires

وَمَنْ أَضَلُّ مِمَّنِ اتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ بِغَيْرِ هُدًى مِنَ اللَّهِ
Waman adhallu mimanittaba‘a hawāhu bighayri hudan minal-lāhi
And who is more astray than him who follows his desires without any guidance from Allah?
(Sūrat al-Qasas, No.28, Āyat 50)

Human beings have strong emotions and desires. The desire for intimacy, for beauty, for wealth, children, all have been placed within the human psyche to help in the journey towards perfection. When channeled appropriately they help the human being achieve a higher status in life. But desires can be very powerful. They can hold sway over the mind and lead a person away from reality. When a person follows desires and submits to them, without giving consideration to the guidance received from God, he goes astray. Following of desires is directly linked to misguidance.

To understand the effect of desire it is important to analyze what desire does to human intelligence. It puts a curtain over the eyes of the mind. It makes a person so attached to its target that reality is overlooked. The conditions to understand reality include an objectivity to it. It means acceptance of reality whether palatable or bitter, whether it is for personal gain or against it. These conditions are not in line with the dictates of desire.

In another verse Almighty Allah puts forth this truth in even stronger terms. He calls desire the god of some human beings. He says: Have you seen him who has taken his desire to be his god? (Q 25:43). Such a god has been condemned in the strongest terms in Hadith. The Prophet (s) has said: There is no god under the sky that has been worshipped other than Allah that is worse than the desire. (Taken from Tafsīr Namūne). No other deity is as despicable as the human being’s own desire.

Imam al-Sādiq (a) says: Be apprehensive of your desires in the same way as you are apprehensive of your enemies. For there is no greater enemy for human beings than their own desires and what their tongues reap (Al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 2: 336.)

Following of desires is often not recognized for the lowly quality it is. It can be masqueraded as freedom, having fun, being with the masses, etc. It clads a veil over the person as well as others who are exposed to him. Only those who have insight and reflect on reality are able to see through it.

This verse reminds us of the danger of misguidance through following our own desires and opinions. A Hadith from Abu al-Hasan Imam Musa al-Kāzim (a) explaining the above verse says ‘It means a person who takes his opinion as his religion without following a rightly guided Imam.’ (Tafsīr Nūr al-Thaqalayn, 4:132). Whoever rejects guidance that has come from the original source of creation has indeed succumbed to personal desires and is included in the verse above.

Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr Nūr; Abd Ali b. Jumu’ah al-‘Arusi al-Huwayzī, Tafsir Nūr ath-Thaqalayn.