Quranic Reflection No. 414. Ayat 61:5 – Roots of guidance and misguidance

فَلَمَّا زَاغُوا أَزَاغَ اللَّهُ قُلُوبَهُمْ
Falammā zāghū azāgal-lāhu qulūbahum
So, when they turned aside, Allah made their hearts turn aside

(Sūratِ al-Saff No.61, Āyat 5)

Does Allah subhānahu wa-ta‘ālā guide and misguide people according to His will? Is guidance available for all or only for a select few? These are common questions, with people being perplexed by verses that say Allah ‘azza wa-jall guides whom He wishes and misguides whom He wishes (Q 16:93, 35:8, 74:31). The verse above shows how the first step of moving away from guidance comes from the human being himself. He chooses to turn away. There are certain consequences of that turning away, consequences that are the result of the cause and effect system put into place by Almighty Allah. It would include a dimming of the inner light, a hardening of the heart, a curtain over the inner eyes and ears, etc. The human being makes a choice and lays the foundation for misguidance, fulfilling its prerequisites. The ensuing misguidance is thus a self-inflicted punishment.

Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī has discussed this concept in detail in Tafsir Namūne. He explains that guidance is of two types:
1. Showing the path. Sometimes someone may ask you for directions to a certain place. You give them the directions and show them the steps they need to take to reach their destination. Essentially, you guide them to the path. Traversing the path and reaching the destination is in the hands of the traveler. Almighty Allah gives this type of guidance to the straight path leading to Him, to everyone. It is available through the inner instinct, the outer revelations of His message, and in the form of Divinely appointed leaders. This type of guidance given with knowledge, attention and grace, is accessible to all.
2. Leading to the destination. Extending the above example, the seeker of directions is not only given directions but is also escorted to the eventual destination, ensuring that the person reaches safely. There may be obstacles on the path, delays, and dangers. There also may be necessities required. All these are undertaken by the guide. The guidance goes beyond just giving directions. It conveys extraordinary concern and love for the traveler. This type of guidance is reserved for a special group.

The question now is who enters the special group worthy of the second type of guidance and who is barred from it? The verse discussed at the beginning gives one quality of the group not worthy of it. Their act of turning away from the first type of guidance makes them ineligible for the second. The Quran says they receive misguidance which means they are deprived of the second type of guidance they could have received. Misguidance is not an entity in itself that can be received. It is the absence of guidance, just as darkness is the absence of light. Other qualities that result in being deprived of the second form of guidance include the evil acts or transgression (Q 2:26), injustice (Q 2:258), rejecting faith (Q 2:264), extravagance and lying (Q 40:28).

On the other hand, qualities that are the permits to enter the group worthy of full escorting include seeking God’s pleasure (Q 5:16), turning to Him for guidance (Q 13:27), struggling in His way (Q 29:69), and following guidance – the first type – (Q 47:17).

This is a simple understanding of the roots of guidance and misguidance and an answer for those who seek to understand the verses that talk of it being as Allah (swt) wishes. There are deeper understandings and more complicated discussions on this issue. Let it suffice for us to remember this week’s verse as one that makes it clear that the process of guidance or lack of it starts with the human being himself. It is he who is responsible for his eventual fate.

Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh