Quranic Reflection No 681. Āyat 84:6 – The Difficult Path


This verse addresses mankind regardless of their creed or worldview, and regardless of whether they are living a life of piety or one of sin. It informs them that no matter what path someone chooses, they are always moving towards their Lord. Both the pious believer and the sinful transgressor are on a path towards Allah ‘azza wajall!

This may seem difficult to understand. Of course, the path of piety is understood to be a path that is going towards Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā. Through his piety, a believer is manifesting more and more of Allah’s perfection and is moving towards His mercy. But how are we to understand this verse with regards to the sinful transgressor? How could his path be explained such that this person is also moving towards Allah?

In response to this question, scholars of Islamic philosophy and mysticism have explained that it is impossible to move away from Allah (swt). What is possible is that man can move away from Allah’s mercy. For if we were to say that man is moving away from Allah this implies a duality, as if there is a focal point away from Allah and man can move away from Allah towards that supposed focal point. This is not the case! The only independent existence is Allah the Exalted. Hence, when a sinful person transgresses, he is traversing a path that is also leading him towards Allah. However, he moves towards the wrath of Allah and away from His mercy.

In this explanation both the paths of piety and sin ultimately lead to Allah (swt). But the Divine attribute they lead man to is synchronous with the path. The path of piety leads to Allah’s mercy while the path of sin leads to Allah’s wrath.

Another question that arises from the above verse is: what is intended by the difficulty mentioned? When Allah says we are struggling laboriously, how is this to be understood for the two different paths? The verse uses the Arabic root word ka-da-ha, which describes a path filled with a lot of difficulty. In the scenario of the path of piety it is easily understood that to live a life of submission can be difficult. Allah will test us in our life, and we must struggle to obey Him amid these tests. But what about the path of sin? What hardships does that path entail?

The answer is that there is a real harm in sin, that is why the Merciful Lord forbade us from performing it. This harm goes back to us, Allah is not harmed by our disobedience. Thus, the difficulty being mentioned in this verse lies in the effects that result from sin. Consider the following examples. If someone does not control their base desires and looks at forbidden scenes, it makes their appetite for pleasure so intense that nothing can satisfy them. Another example: when someone allows their anger to take control of them, they can destroy close and important relationships. Āyatullāh Tehrani says the following about the effects of sins on the individual: Its [the sin’s] consequences for the individual are, among others: the darkening and hardening of one’s heart; depriving the sinner of knowledge of the Divine secrets and gnosis; the transformation of the heart into a niche for Satan; being barred from self-knowledge; relinquishing the pleasure of Divine conversation. (Question 39, Faith and Reason).

In this manner we can see that regardless of which path we choose; we are always traveling towards Allah and in both paths lies difficulty. All man is allowed to do is to choose the direction of travel, towards Allah’s mercy or His wrath. 

We pray to Allah to bless us to move towards His mercy. In these difficult times for the Muslim ummah we pray that He showers His mercy upon the oppressed Palestinians, Rohingyas and Sudanese, etc. and accept the efforts of all supporting the cause of deprived throughout the world.

Sources: ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī, Usūl-e Falsafeh Va Ravish-e Riyālism; Āyatullāh Mahdi Tehrani, Faith and Reason