Why does Allah make a slave go astray according to the following verse: "…Allah guideth not such as He leaves to stray…" (an-Nahl, 16/37)?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

It will be more appropriate to read the verse mentioned in the question together with the previous verse:

“For We assuredly sent amongst every People a messenger, (with the Command), ‘Serve Allah, and eschew Evil’: of the People were some whom Allah guided, and some on whom error became inevitably (established). So travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who denied (the Truth). If thou art anxious for their guidance, yet Allah guideth not such as He leaves to stray, and there is none to help them.” (an-Nahl, 16/36-37)

The word "ummah" translated as people in the verse means a large community of people most of whom come from the same origin and who have been brought together with the characteristics inherited from the previous generations or common interests and ideals or factors like religion, time and land. The plural form of the word is “umam”.

In religious terminology, ummah means a group of tribes or nations that belong to a heavenly religion, believe in a prophet and follow his way. For instance, the ummah of Muhammad, Islamic ummah and Christian ummah.

It is understood that it is used in the first sense in the verse in question.

Allah sent a prophet to every nation, every large community of people; the aim of this is expressed concisely in the following verse:  “…Serve Allah, and eschew Evil…” (see an-Nahl, 16/36) For, the essence of the religion and the main purpose of sending prophets are oneness and to eschew all kinds of faiths, thoughts and deeds that will harm the principle of Allah's oneness.

Some of the nations to whom Allah sent prophets attained guidance thanks to their well-intentioned and unprejudiced attitudes when they heard the divine truths while others remained on the wrong path due to their denying, stubborn and uncompromising attitudes against the prophets and revelation – like some Makkan idolaters did

The Prophet (pbuh) wanted everybody including those who treated him unjustly and relentlessly to attain happiness both in the world and the hereafter and did his best as a necessity of the responsibility of fulfilling the duty of conveying the message to people and guiding them as well as a manifestation of his high ethics and deep love of humanity; as the Quran states clearly in the following verse, he almost fretted himself for it:

“(O Muhammad!) It may be thou frettest thy soul with grief, that they do not become Believers.” (ash-Shuara, 26/3)

It is indicated in the verse in question how much the Prophet (pbuh) wanted the idolaters to attain guidance. However, the following issue is particularly reminded:

The Prophet’s wish and efforts are not enough for the salvation of people. People undergo a life of testing in this world; they will deserve salvation when they pass this test and Allah will give them guidance if they use their will in that way. Only Allah can help them related to guidance. In that case, even the Prophet (pbuh) cannot help those who do not deserve salvation.

This state, which is a requirement of belief, is expressed in the following verse:

“It is true thou wilt not be able to guide every one, whom thou lovest; but Allah guides those whom He will and He knows best those who receive guidance.” (al-Qasas, 28/56)

Thus, guidance is a light that Allah places into the heart of a slave after he uses his will.

Since both good and evil come from Allah, it is Allah who gives people guidance and causes them to go astray. Some people misunderstand Allah Almighty’s creation of guidance and aberration and say, “Guidance is from Allah. Man cannot enter the right path if He does not give it.” Thus, they block the way of warning and guiding others; they also want to show themselves as excused related to their faults. 

It is only Allah who leads man to happiness and to aberration.  However, our Lord leads a person to aberration because he uses his partial free will in that way. Otherwise, Allah Almighty will not lead a person to aberration unless the slave himself heads toward it. 

The same thing is valid for guidance. After a person does his best for his sustenance and acts in accordance with causes, he expects the result from Allah. For, only Allah is ar-Razzaq (the Sustainer). When we act in accordance with causes perfectly, we cannot regard our sustenance as guaranteed. Similarly, a person who conveys people Allah's orders and prohibitions to people in the best way cannot be sure of the result. For, only Allah is al-Hadi (the Guide). Allah's giving guidance to whomever He wishes means giving guidance to the people who act in accordance with the conditions of guidance. It does not mean “He does not take into consideration any causes for guidance.” This way of thinking is like expecting crops without sowing seeds in a field. 

It is necessary to explain the following point regarding the issue:

It is certain that a person who does not sow seeds in his field will not get crops. A person who acts in accordance with causes fully will almost definitely (ninety-nine percent) get crops. A misfortune like hail, flood and drought might occur (one percent). The slight possibility of not getting crops is to make man take refuge in Allah and to pray to Him. The fact explained by this example is also valid for guidance.

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