“Guide us to the straight way.”
Our request for guidance has many meanings, among which are the following:
The first meaning: We are asking to be made steadfast on the straight way, so we will not deviate or stray from it. This is because it is possible for a person to be guided one day and become deviant on the next. Therefore, our request is immediately followed by the words: “…The way of those on whom you have bestowed Your grace, not the way of those who earn Your anger, nor of those who go astray.” We are, then, asking Allah to make us steadfast on the path of those who receive His grace.
The second meaning: We are asking Allah to strengthen our level of guidance. Guidance has various degrees, and those who are guided are on different levels. Some reach the level of true piety (alsiddîqiyyah in Arabic) while others attain lower levels. The status a person will have in Paradise will be based on the level of that person’s guidance in this world.
There are actually two “straight ways”: one in this world, and one in the Hereafter. The one in the Hereafter is a bridge that must be traversed, and a person’s success in crossing this bridge will be contingent on the how well that person adhered to the straight way during his or her life on Earth.
The worldly straight way is the way of Allah. It entails obeying His commandments and avoiding what He has prohibited. Allah says: “The way of Allah to whom belongs all things in the heavens and on Earth” [Sûrah al-Shûrâ: 53] and “So Allah may forgive you the faults of the past and those to follow, fulfill His favor to you, and guide you on the straight way.” [Sûrah al-Fath: 2]
The servant will move across the bridge in the Hereafter in the same manner that he moved along the straight way in his worldly life.
This bridge in the Hereafter is suspended over the Hellfire, and it is an untenable, slippery bridge. People will cross it according to their worldly deeds. Some will cross it at lightning speed. Some will move across it like the wind. Some will cross it at the speed of a good steed. Some will cross it as if on horseback. Some will go walking, and others will take faltering steps. Still others will be worse off.
So “Guide us to the straight way” means: “Strengthen us in guidance and increase our faith.”
Allah instructs us, saying: “Say: ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge’.” [Sûrah TâHâ: 114] Knowledge is from faith, and whenever our adherence to the straight way increases, our knowledge increases. Allah says: “As for those who believe, their faith is increased and they rejoice.” [Sûrah al-Tawbah: 124] This increase in faith is in fact an increase in the adherence to the straight way. Allah makes it clear when he says: “And those who receive guidance, He increases in guidance.” [Sûrah Muhammad: 17] Allah describes the inhabitants of the cave, saying: “Verily, they were youths who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in faith.” [Sûrah al-Kahf: 13]
It is possible for a person to be rightly guided, yet still increase in insight, knowledge, and understanding. Such a person will consequently attain a higher level of devotion, patience, and other good qualities and then call others to the truth with greater vigor. All of this is implied in the statement: “ Guide us to the straight way.” The third meaning: The straight way entails that the servant knows and does everything that Allah has commanded him to do at any given time while avoiding what Allah has prohibited. This requires constant awareness and action at all times, so that an ardent desire can be nurtured in the heart to do what Allah has commanded and a hatred can be fostered in the heart against doing what Allah has prohibited. This detailed knowledge and stron g desire has to be maintained by Allah in the heart of the servant at all times, so that He or she can be guided to the straight way.16
Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) says: “The servant is in constant need of guidance to deal with everything that comes his way: There are some matters that he has embarked upon without guidance, so he needs to repent from them. There are other matters where he possesses general guidance, but needs to be guided in the details. Then there are matters in which he has partial guidance wherein he needs to be guided completely. There are those matters that he had been guided about in the past, but will need similar guidance for them in the future. Still, there are those matters about which he possesses no belief whatsoever, so he needs to be guided about them from the start. There are deeds that he has not yet performed, so he needs to be guided to carry them out. There are those matters about which he already possesses proper beliefs and engages in correct actions, so he needs guidance so he may remain steadfast upon them. Beyond all of this, these are many other forms of guidance. Since the servant is in need of all of this, Allah has made it incumbent upon him to ask for guidance in his best circumstances, numerous times throughout morning and night.”17
The nature of guidance:
The following are needed for the realization of guidance:
1. The ruling on the matter must be known; that is: what does Allah and His Messenger want from the servant on this matter?
2. The ruling must then be acted upon on the basis of strong faith in the heart that inspires the servant to act.
So, when the servant says: “Guide us to the straight way”, he is calling out to his Lord, saying: “Our Lord, direct us to what you love and to what pleases you in everything that will confront us in our lives. Then strengthen us and assist us to act in accordance with what we have come to know because You have directed us to it and taught us.”
All misguidance stems from one of two things: an absence of knowledge or the failure to act upon it.
The opposite of knowledge is ignorance. A person may have the desire to perform righteous deeds, but be ignorant of the Islamically correct way to go about it. He then follows a path of innovation on which he strives without benefit. How many are the Muslims who have fallen into all sorts of innovation and deviance while believing that they are conducting themselves in the best manner. The reason for this is lack of knowledge. So, when the servant says: “Guide us to the straight way”, he is asking his Lord to instruct him and direct him so that he will not remain in misguided ignorance, stumbling about blindly.
Besides ignorance, there are vain desires. Knowledge may remove ignorance, but the person possessing knowledge may have no inclination to act according to it. He could purposely neglect his obligations or fall into forbidden acts, though he knows what the rulings are, because of his weak faith, his overriding passions, and his desire for immediate, worldly enjoyment.
So the servant must recite “Guide us to the straight way” in every unit of prayer. This shows us that the need for guidance is constant and enduring.
16 Majmû` al-Fatâwâ: 14/37.
17 Ibn al-Qayyim, Kitâb al-Salâh.