“Guide Us to the Straight Path”… but we’re already guided?
Some of them say concerning His saying, اهدِنَــــا الصِّرَاطَ المُستَقِيمَ ‘Guide us to the Straight Path’ saying: ‘Allaah has already guided the believer, so what benefit is there in seeking guidance?’ Then some of them reply by saying that the meaning is ‘keep us firm upon guidance’, as the Arab would say to the one who is asleep, ‘sleep until I come to you.’ Others from amongst them say that the meaning is, ‘keep our hearts firm upon the guidance’ and that the request for firmness has been omitted. Yet others from amongst them say that it means, ‘increase me in guidance’.
This question really occurs due to the absence of their contemplating upon the Straight Path to which the servant seeks guidance to, for the meaning (of the verse) is (seeking guidance to) act according to what Allaah ordered, and leave what He forbade in all matters.
This is because the person, even if he has believed that Muhammad salAllaahu alayhi wasallam is the Messenger of Allaah and that the Qur’aan is the Truth in a general way, is commonly in need of knowledge of that which would benefit him and harm him, and he is in need of knowledge of what he has been commanded to do and forbidden from doing in the finer aspects of matters and in those areas of which he has no knowledge – and that which he does have knowledge of, he does not put the greater part of it into practice! Assuming that all of the commands and prohibitions contained in the Qur’aan and Sunnah have reached him, then the Qur’aan and Sunnah contain laws that are general and universal and it is not possible to specify these to each individual. Due to this, each individual person has been commanded to ask for guidance to the Straight Path. Guidance to the Straight Path includes all of the following matters: cognizance of what the Messenger salAllaahu alayhi wasallam came with in detail, cognizance of what comes under his general orders and concern for acting according to one’s knowledge, for indeed just having knowledge is not a cause for attaining guidance if one does not act according to his knowledge. This is why He said to His Prophet after the treaty of Hudaybiyyah,
إِنَّا فَتَحْنَا لَكَ فَتْحًا مُّبِينًا
لِيَغْفِرَ لَكَ اللَّهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِن ذَنبِكَ وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ وَيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكَ وَيَهْدِيَكَ صِرَاطًا مُّسْتَقِيمًا
Indeed We have given you a manifest victory. That Allaah may forgive you your sins of the past and future, and complete His Favour upon you, and guided you on the Straight Path. (Soorah al-Fath (48): 1-2)
He said with respect to Moosaa and Haroon,
وَآتَيْنَاهُمَا الْكِتَابَ الْمُسْتَبِينَ
وَهَدَيْنَاهُمَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
And We gave them the clear Scripture, and guided them to the Right Path.(Soorah as-Safaat (37): 117-118)
The Muslims have differed in opinion as to what Allaah has Willed in textual sources – matters of knowledge, belief and action while all of them are agreed that Muhammad salAllaahu alayhi wasallam is the truth and the Qur’aan is the truth, and if all of them were to attain guidance to the Straight Path in its totality then they would never have differed. The majority of those who know what Allaah has ordered, disobey Him and do not follow His Way, and if they were guided to the Straight Path in these matters then they certainly would have performed what they had been commanded to do, and left what they had been forbidden. And there are those whom Allaah guided from amongst this nation until they became the God-Fearing friends of Allaah. The greatest reason for this was their supplicating to Allaah with the supplication اهدِنَــــا الصِّرَاطَ المُستَقِيمَ (Guide us to the Straight Path) in every prayer along with their knowledge of their continuous need of Allaah to guide them towards the Straight Path. So due to their continually reciting this supplication and their acknowledging their continuous need of Him they became God-Fearing Friends of Allaah. Sahl bin ‘Abdullaah at-Tustoree said, ‘There is not a route between a servant and Allaah closer to Him than need.’
The one who has attained guidance in the past is in need of guidance in the future; this is the real meaning behind the saying of those who say it means: Establish us and guide us to being firm upon the Straight Path. The opinion of those who say that it means: ‘Increase us in guidance’ includes what has preceded. But all that has been stated refers to His guidance to the Straight Path that is to be granted in the future, for indeed action in the future is upon knowledge that is not yet attained. The person is not considered to be one who is guided until he acts according to his knowledge in the future, but it is possible that this knowledge may not be there in the future, rather it could be removed from the heart , and if it is still present it is also possible that it is not acted upon. Therefore, all of mankind is in dire need of this supplication, this is why Allaah made it obligatory upon them in every prayer and they are not in need of any other supplication more than this one. When guidance is obtained to the Straight Path then help, provision and all of the happiness that the soul seeks are obtained (from Allaah). Allaah knows best.