الَّذِينَ يَصُدُّونَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَيَبْغُونَهَا عِوَجًا وَهُم بِالْآخِرَةِ كَافِرُونَ
Alladhīna yasuddūna ‘an sabīlillī wayabghūnahā ‘iwajan wahum bil’ākhirati kāfirūn
Those who hinder [others] from the way of Allah, and seek to make it crooked, and disbelieve in the Hereafter.
(Sūrat al-A‘rāf, No 7, Āyat 45)
This verse describes some qualities of the zālimīn – the unjust or the wrong doers. They: 1) Prevent others from following the path of Allah, ‘azza wajall, 2) Seek crookedness on the path, and 3) Have no faith in the hereafter.
The verse shows how comprehensive the meaning of zulm is. Oppression is of many types. One of the most severe forms of zulm is religious and spiritual oppression. It aims to stop people from advancing on the right path towards Almighty Allah. This is exactly the opposite of what the Divine guides were sent to do, and what the true scholars continue to do. Such unjust people try to unravel the efforts of those who lead towards Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā.
The path towards Allah is the path of pure Tawhīd, submission, faith, and struggle. The zālimīn bring about doubts and misgivings in the hearts of people who wish to have these qualities. They do this by spreading falsehood and weakening beliefs, making innovations in faith, and conspiring against those who sincerely guide towards the truth. Through these tactics these wrong doers attempt to turn people away from following the right path. They claim to reform but they actually twist the path out of shape. It is not recognizable anymore.
Allāmah Tabātabā’ī in Tafsīr al-Mīzān says that if one treads the true path in an upright fashion, as called for by the fitrah, then the path will lead the person to happiness. This is the Straight Path, free of deviation. But there are those who go through the path differently, such as those who do not recognize any form of worship and deity whatsoever, as in the case of pure materialism. According to Tafsīr-e Namūneh, seeking crookedness in religion is presenting the straight path in a different way. They put efforts in misrepresenting truths, instilling doubts, and spreading false and toxic propaganda. Either way, it is an attempt to make the divinely gifted Straight Path crooked.
Seeking crookedness on God’s path has been mentioned many times in the Quran – see Q 3:99, Q 7:86, Q 11:19, and Q 14:3. In each of these verses the people are described as hindering others from the right path and wishing to make it crooked. These two qualities go together for such people, they want to distort the path, so people are stopped from the right path.
In today’s society some people are out to make the straight path crooked in various ways, besides worshipping fake deities and being attached to materialism. Their motivations differ. At the very simplest, it could be out of ignorance. They do not have deep knowledge of the right path and seek to convey the little they know. Or they want to cover up their ignorance and pretend that they do know. In the process they distort the path. Another reason could be self promotion. Using mesmerizing language and other appealing methods they try to draw large numbers of people to themselves. Sadly, many people are taken in by outer forms of appeal and succumb to it. Very few really dig deep and reflect on the truth behind it. We see evidence of this in the crowds that throng behind such speakers and their followers. A more insidious reason could be the desire to lead people astray. Those who do not wish to see the truth progress or are threatened that people on the true path will become strong and lead others against them. Such people often use subtle ways to leading people away from the truth. They cannot outrightly condemn it, but they will mix it with falsehood and confuse people. Many people are duped by this strategy as it may have some scent of truth in it.
Amīrul-Mu’minīn Imam Ali ‘alayhis-salām mentions this in Nahjul Balāgha: The basis of the occurrence of evils are those desires which are acted upon and the orders that are innovated. They are against the Book of Allah. People co-operate with each other about them even though it is against the Religion of Allah. If wrong had been pure and unmixed it would not be hidden from those who are in search of it. And if right had been pure without admixture of wrong, those who bear hatred towards it would have been silenced. What is, however, done is that something is taken from here and something from there and the two are mixed! At this stage Satan overpowers his friends and they alone escape for whom ‘virtue has been apportioned by Allah from before’ (referring to Q 21:101) (Sermon 50).
Let this verse remind us that there are people out there who wish to make the straight path crooked. They should not deceive us into stepping away from the right path. We need to think carefully about who is doing this, their motives behind it, and what the Quran has warned us about it.
Sources: Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shīrāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr Nūr.