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The Meaning of Hidayah (Guidance) in the Quran

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Quran 1:6-7

Guide us to the straight path – The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray.

The following excerpt is taken from “Maariful Quran” Vol.1 pg. 72-77:

The Implications of Guidance

A problem of highest significance arises here. The teaching with
regard to the prayer for being guided in the straight path is addressed
equally to all men or all Muslims and to saints and prophets who have
already received guidance and are even a source of guidance for other
men. Why should these repeatedly pray for something they already
possess? The answer to this question depends on knowing all that is
implied by guidance. The answer would, at the same time, remove all
difficulties and confusions which arise in the minds of those who, not
being familiar with the true signification of guidance, begin to suspect
that certain verses of the Holy Qur’an were contradicting certain

The Meaning of Hidayah or Guidance

The best explanation of the word, Hidayah (guidance) has been
offered by Imam Raghib al-Isfahani in his Mufradat al-Qur’an, which
can be summed up thus: Hidayah signifies leading someone towards
his destination, gently and kindly; while guidance, in the real sense,
issues forth from Allah alone, and it has several degrees.

The First Degree of Guidance

The first degree of guidance is general, and covers everything that
exists in the universe — minerals, plants, animals etc. It would
surprise many to hear of guidance in relation to minerals. But the
Holy Qur’an makes it quite clear that all forms of existents in the
universe, and every particle of dust possesses life, sensitivity, and
even consciousness and understanding in its own degree and according
to its own sphere of existence. Some of these existents possess more of
this essence than others, and some less. Hence, those who have very
little of it are considered to be inanimate and devoid of consciousness.
The Shari‘ah too has recognized this difference, and such creatures
have not been made to bear the obligation of observing the injunctions
of Allah. The creatures which show obvious signs of life but not those
of consiousness and reason are considered to be living, but not
rational; whereas, creatures showing the signs of conscicusness and
reason, along with those of life, are called rational beings. Because of
these differences in the degrees of consciousness, men and jinn alone,
of all the existents in the universe, have been made subservient to the

injunctions of the Shari‘ah and accountable for their actions, for they
alone have the necessary consciousness and understanding. But, it
does not mean that other creatures or existents are totally devoid of
life or sensitivity, or of consciousness and understanding. The Holy
Qur’an is very explicit on this point:

Nothing exists that does not slehawn His praise, but you do
not understand their (mode of) praising. (17:44)

Have you not seen that everything in the heavens and the
earth proclaims Allah’s purity, and the birds too that spread
their wings? Each of them knows its prayer and its (mode of)
praising. And Allah is aware of what they do. (24:41)

Evidently, one cannot extol and praise Allah without knowing
Allah. It is equally evident that knowing Allah is the highest form of
knowledge possible, and such a knowledge cannot be gained unless one
possesses consciousness and understanding. These verses, therefore,
show that everything that exists in the universe possesses life,
sensitivity, understanding and consciousness, though it may not
always be apparent to the ordinary observer — a truth which has been
endorsed by all the great religions, by certain ancient philosophers,
and lately even by experimental science.

This, then, is the first degree of guidance which is common to
minerals, plants, animals, men, jinns and all the forms of creation.
The Holy Qur’an speaks of this primary and general guidance in these

He gave to everything its distinctive form, and then guided it. (20:50)
Or, as we find in another Surah:

Celebrate the name of your Lord, the Most High, Who has
created all things, well proportioned them, and Who has de-
termined and guided them. (87:1-2)

That is to say, Allah has given every creature a particular nature
and function, and guided it in a way which should correspond to its
station in the scheme of things. Thanks to this general guidance,
everything in the universe is performing its allotted function with
such marvellous efficiency. For example, it is the ears that hear a
sound and not the eyes or the nose. Similarly, the nose smells but
cannot see; the eyes see but cannot smell. In short:

There is nothing in the heavens and the earth but comes to
the All-Merciful as a servant. (19:93)

The Second Degree of Guidance

Unlike the first, the second degree of guidance is not general but
particular. It is limited to these creatures which are considered to be
rational, that is, men and jinns. This kind of guidance comes to every
man through prophets and revealed books. Some accept this guidance,
and become believers (Muslims): some reject it and become disbelievers

The Third Degree of guidance

The third degree of guidance is still more particular, being special
to true believers (Mu’minin) and the God-fearing (Muttaqin). Like the
first degree, the third kind of guidance too descends directly to the
individual from Allah, and it is called, Tawfig. That is to say, Allah’s
grace provides a man with internal and external means and
circumstances which should make it easy, and even pleasant for him
to accept and act upon the guidance of the Holy Qur’an, and difficult to
ignore or oppose it. The scope of the third degree of guidance is
limitless, and its levels indefinite.5 Here is the sphere in which man,
not only can, but is required to make a progress in the veritable sense
of the term. The agency of this progress is the performance of virtuous deeds.

All increase in virtuous deeds brings with it an increase in
divine guidance. The Holy Qur’an itself gives us the promise of such

As for those who follow the straight path, Allah will increase
their guidance. (47: 17)

And whoever believes in Allah, He guides his heart. (64:11)

Those who strive for (literally, ‘in’) Us, We will surely guide
them in Our paths. (29:69)

It is in this field of progress that we see even the greatest prophets
and men of Allah striving, and it is an increase in divine guidance and help that they keep seeking to their last breath.

A Cumulative view of guidance

Keeping in mind the three distinct degrees of guidance, one can
easily see that guidance is a thing which everyone does possess in
some way, and yet no one, not even the greatest, can do without
wishing to attain more of its advanced and higher stages. Hence, of all
the prayers man can address to Allah, the most important is the
prayer for guidance, which has been taught to us in the very first
Surah of the Holy Qur’an; and this prayer is as necessary for the
greatest of prophets and men of Allah as for an ordinary Muslim. That
is why the Surah Al-Fath (Victory), in enumerating the material and
spiritual benefits of the conquest of Makkah i in the last days of the
Holy Prophet plus ade di be, also says: nae bl bie Kind: 4s (and to guide you
on the straight path) (48:20). When these verses were revealed, the
Holy Prophet lass Kole ali io had already received guidance and was a
source of guidance for others. The good tidings of receiving guidance
can, in this situation, have only one meaning that he attained some
very high station of guidance at the time.

Guidance: Some notes of caution

In concluding this discussion about the different implications ofguidance (Hidayah), we repeat points that would help the reader of
the Holy Qur’an avoid certain confusions and errors:

  1. The Holy Qur’an sometimes speaks of divine guidance as being
    general and common to believers and non-believers, in fact to all
    creatures, and sometimes makes it out to be particular and special to
    the God-fearing. So, the unwary may be led to sense a contradiction
    here. But once it is understood that one degree of guidance is common
    to all, whereas another degree is limited to particular cases, the doubt
    and confusion readily resolves itself.
  2. On the-one hand, the Holy Qur’an reminds us again and again
    that Allah does not grant guidance to the unjust and the unrighteous;
    on the other hand, it repeatedly declares that Allah guides all. The
    misunderstanding which may arise here is also dispelled by a
    knowledge of the degrees of guidance. Now we can easily see that the
    general guidance is given to all without any distinction, but the third
    and very special degree of guidance is not granted to the unjust and
    the unrighteous.
  3. The first and the third degrees of guidance pertain to a direct act

of divine grace, and no prophet can have anything to do with it, for the
function of the prophets is related only to the second degree.

Whenever the Holy Qur’an speaks of Prophets (as) as guides, it
is always referring to this second degree, and to it alone. On the other
hand, when the Holy Qur’ an, addressing the noble Prophet (S), says:
(You cannot guide whom you please) (28:56), it is the
third decgee of guidance which is intended, that is to say, it is neither
the function of a prophet nor is it in his power to provide tawfig to any-
one, in other words, to make it easy for anyone to accept guidance.

To sum up, the Qur’anic prayer (guide us in the
straight path) is most comprehensive, and certainly, one of the most
important prayers taught to man. No member of the human family
can claim not to need it. No success, no prosperity in this or in the
other world can really come without being on the straight path.
Particularly so, for man lost in the anxieties of mortal life, the prayer
for the straight path is an elixir, though people do not realize it.

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