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Surah al-Fatihah - Interpretation of Ihdina’s-sirat al-mustaqim

“Ihdina’s-sirat al-mustaqim”‌ {Guide us on the Straight Path}


The caravan of creation is constantly moving toward God, the Exalted: “Toward Him is the return”‌[1] and man is also endeavoring and moving: “You are laboring toward your Lord”‌[1] and in every movement, there is only one straight path and all other paths are deviant. Islam has also determined both the path and guide for this movement, specified the destination, and given man the means of wayfaring. And it is us who have to choose which way to traverse.


God has endowed the desire for growth, perfection and the quest for truth in the depth of the soul and the natural disposition of every human being. If they are nurtured in the light of the teachings of the prophets (PBUH), this desire and endeavor will earn the special favor of God: “As for those who are {rightly} guided, He enhances their guidance.”‌[3]


The Qur’an talks about two types of guidance. One is creational guidance {hidayat-e takwini} such as the guidance endowed the honeybee about how to suck the nectar of flowers and how to make honey. The other type of guidance is religious guidance {hidayat-e tashri‘i} which is specific to human beings and it refers to the instructions of the divine prophets (PBUH).


Which one is the Straight Path {Sirat Al-Mustaqim}?


The word “sirat”‌ which has been mentioned in the Qur’an more than 40 times means a path that is permanent, luminous and wide. There are numerous paths in the life of man one of which has to choose: The path of one’s desires; the path of people’s inclinations; the path of the taghuts; the path of our ancestors and the predecessors in terms of ethnic and racial fanaticisms; the path of satanic insinuations; the uncharted paths; and finally, the path of God and the divine saints.


It is natural that the person who believes in God would choose the path of God and the divine saints alone because this path has merits which the other paths do not possess:


· The straight path is the shortest route between two points. So, this is the fastest way to arrive at the destination.


· The divine path is permanent. It is contrary to other paths which change everyday according to one’s desires or the desires of others.


· There is only one way between two points; there is only straight path. Other paths are different in one way or another.


· It is the certain and harmless path. It is contrary to other paths where man is always under the threat of perdition.


· This is the way that leads to the destination, i.e. the pleasure of God, in which there is no defeat and failure.


· The straight path is the way of God: “Indeed my Lord is on a straight path.”‌[4]


· The straight path is the very path of the prophets (PBUH): “You are indeed one of the apostles, on a straight path.”‌[5]


· The straight path is the path of servitude to God: “Worship Me. This is a straight path.”‌[6]


· The straight path is the path of trust and reliance on God: “And whoever takes recourse in Allah is certainly guided to a straight path.”‌[7]


Man should turn to God for help in choosing the path as well as in traversing and keeping on the path. It is just like an electric lamp that should continuously receive electricity from the main source in order to keep alight. Thus, not only the common people but also the prophets of God and the infallible Imams (A.S) have to pray to God to keep them on the straight path.


Not only in prayer but rather in all conditions and in every task, whether it is in choosing one’s occupation or friend, in marriage and in studies, man should always pray to God to keep him on the straight path. It is because there are many cases when a certain person has correct beliefs but he has shortcomings in practice at times even acting to the contrary.


The straight path is the middle path of moderation. Imam Ali (A.S) says: اَلْيَمِينُ وَ الشِّمالُ مَضَلَّة وظ±لطَّريقُ ظ±الْوُسْطىٰ هِىَ الجادَّة “Left and right are deviations and the path of felicity is the middle way.”‌[8]


The straight path means to keep aloof from any sort of immoderation {ifrat} and profligacy {tafrit}; neither the denial of truth nor extremism in truth; neither predestination {jabr} nor Divine Resignation {tafwid}; neither individualism nor collectivism; neither mere theory nor mere practice; neither worldliness nor otherworldliness; neither negligence of the Truth (God) {haqq} nor disregard for the people {khalq}; neither intellectualism nor emotionalism; neither forbiddance of good deeds nor plunging into carnal desires; neither stinginess nor extravagance; neither covetousness nor flattery; neither fear nor impetuosity; etc.


As a matter of fact, we have to always adopt the middle path of moderation in belief and thought as well as in behavior and action.


In moving along the straight path, we have to always seek assistance from God because this path is narrower than a hair and sharper than a sword, and every moment, there is the danger of falling down. The one who will pass by the straight path on the Day of Resurrection is he who did not deviate from the straight path of God in the world whether in the form of intellectual deviations or practical and moral deviations.


One believes in predestination and attributes to God all actions, as if man has no role in charting his own destiny as if he is without control and will. And the other one regards himself as the sole actor of all his deeds, considering the hand of God as tied.


One treats the heavenly leaders as common people while the other one elevates them to the status of divinity, considering al-Masih (the Christ) (A.S) as the son of God, nay God Himself!


One maintains that ziyarah {paying homage} and tawassul [9] are acts of polytheism {shirk} while the other resorts to even a tree or a wall! Due to misplaced jealousy, one does not allow his wife to go out of the house while the other one, out of dastardliness, sends his wife to the alley and market without having proper Islamic modest dress {hijab}.


All of the above are deviations from the course of the straight path. God says:


قُلْ إِنَّنِي هَدَانِي رَبِّي إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ دِينًا قِيَمًا


“Say, ‘Indeed my Lord has guided me to a straight path, the upright religion.”‌[10]


Elsewhere He states:


جَعَلْنَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسطاً لِّتَكونُوا شهَدَاءَ عَلى النَّاسِ


“Thus We have made you a middle nation that you may be witness to the people.”‌[11]


It has been recorded in the traditions that the infallible Imams (A.S) used to say: “We are the straight path.”‌ That is, the actual and practical straight path, and the model and paradigm on how to traverse this path are the heavenly leaders.


In their instructions regarding all aspects of life such as work, entertainment, studies, criticism, giving of charity, and expressions of interest, love, anger, and harmony, they have always admonished us to exercise moderation and equilibrium. These instructions have been recorded in the noble Usul al-Kafi under the heading, “Al-Iqtisad fi’l-‘Ibadat”‌ {Moderation in Acts of Worship}.


At this point, we shall quote some Qur’anic verses and Prophetic traditions in which moderation has been emphasized while going to extremes has been prohibited:


· “Eat and drink, but do not waste.”‌[12]


· “Do not keep your hand chained to your neck, nor open it all together.”‌[13]


· “Those who, when spending, are neither wasteful nor tightfisted, and moderation lies between these {extremes}.”‌[14]


· “Be neither loud in your prayer, nor murmur it, but follow a middle course between these.”‌[15][276]


· “And those who are with him are hard against the faithless and merciful among themselves.”‌[16]


· “And maintain the prayer and give the zakah.”‌[17] That is, keep your relationship with both the Creator {khaliq} by praying to Him and with the creatures (people) {makhluq} by giving zakat.


· “And those who have faith and do righteous deeds…”‌[18] That is, both faith and conviction of the heart, and righteous deeds and behavior are required.


· Although the Qur’an says, “And do good to the parents,”‌[19] in another place it states on the contrary: “(But if they urge you to ascribe to Me as partner that of which you have no knowledge,) then do not obey them”‌[20]


· “Be witnesses for the sake of Allah, even if it should be against yourselves”‌[21]  and “And ill feeling for a people should never lead you to be unfair.”‌[22]


· On the night of ‘Ashura’ Imam al-Hussaein (A.S) was praying intimately to God as well as sharpening his sword!


· The pilgrims of the House of God are praying on the Day of ‘Arafah and the night preceding the Feast of Sacrifice {‘id al-qurban}, but on the day of the feast they have to go to the slaughterhouse and familiarize themselves with blood!


· And finally, Islam is not one-dimensional and has not focused on only one aspect while neglecting others. Rather, it has paid attention to all the dimensions of life in a balanced manner.






[1] Surah al-Ma’idah 5:18.


[2] Surah al-Inshiqaq 84:6.


[3] Surah Muhammad 47:17.


[4] Surah Hud 11:56.


[5] Surah Ya Sin 36:3-4.


[6] Surah Ya Sin 36:61.


[7] Surah Al ‘Imran 3:101.


[8] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 87, p. 3.


[9] Tawassul: literally, to resort to intermediaries. Technically, it refers to the practice of petition prayer addressed to God through a holy personage such as a prophet {nabi} or a saint {wali}. {Trans.}


[10] Surah al-An‘am 6:161.


[11] Surah al-Baqarah 2:143.


[12] Surah al-A‘raf 7:31.


[13] Surah al-Isra’ 17:29.


[14] Surah al-Furqan 25:67.


[15] Surah al-Isra’ 17:110.


[16] Surah al-Fath 48:29.


[17] Surah al-Baqarah 2:43.x`


[18] Surah al-Baqarah 2:82.


[19] Surah al-Baqarah 2:83.


[20] Surah al-‘Ankabut 29:8.


[21] Surah an-Nisa’ 4:135.


[22] Surah al-Ma’idah 5:8.




Source: A Commentary on Prayer by Muhsin Qara’ati

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