Biʿthat and Guidance

وَإِنَّكَ لَتَهْدِي إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُسْتَقِيمٍ

[42:52] …and indeed you guide to a straight path

The 27th of Rajab is considered to be the day the Prophet (p) received the first revelation in the cave of Hira and marks the beginning of his (p) prophethood – the biʿthat. While prophethood is the most important subject of discussion after God, it also happens to be one of the most neglected ones. In our communities, we generally hear a little about the Prophet (p) on the day of biʿthat, or on his birth and death dates. But what are the arguments for his (p) prophethood, what are his (p) characteristics, what are the arguments for his (p) infallibility, what does this infallibility entail, what does it mean for him (p) to be an Uswah al-Ḥasanah (an excellent model of conduct), how can his sīrah be made relevant in the 21st century and so on? Unfortunately, these are questions our communities are not strongly equipped to answer.

One of the topics concerning the general subject of prophethood is guidance (hidāyah). Muslim scholars acknowledge that one of the major – if not the only – responsibility of the Prophet is to guide. Other apparent responsibilities can all be put under the large umbrella of the responsibility of giving guidance. Imam ‘Alī (a) describes people before the prophethood of Muḥammad (p) and explicitly states it was through him (p) that Allah (swt) guided them:

وَأهْلُ الاْرْضِ يَوْمَئِذ مِلَلٌ مُتَفَرِّقَةٌ، وَأَهْوَاءٌ مُنْتَشِرَةٌ، وَطَرَائِقُ مُتَشَتِّتَةٌ، بَيْنَ مُشَبِّه للهِ بِخَلْقِهِ، أَوْ مُلْحِد في اسْمِهِ، أَوْ مُشِير إِلَى غَيْرهِ، فَهَدَاهُمْ بهِ مِنَ الضَّلاَلَةِ، وَأَنْقَذَهُمْ بمَكانِهِ مِنَ الجَهَالَةِ

The people of the earth at this time were divided in different parties, their aims were separate, and ways were diverse. They either likened Allah with His creation, or twisted His Names, or turned to else than Him. Through Muḥammad (p) Allah guided them (fa-hadā-hum) out of wrong, and with his efforts took them out of ignorance.1

The Qurānic verses also reiterate that the Prophet’s (p) job was to give guidance. Numerous Qurānic verses define for us what this guidance entailed. For example, this guidance is essentially the removal of humanity from darkness to light:

الر ۚ كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ لِتُخْرِجَ النَّاسَ مِنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِمْ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَمِيدِ

[14:1] Alif, Lām, Rā. [This is] a Book We have sent down to you that you may bring mankind out from darkness into light, by the command of their Lord, to the path of the All-mighty, the All laudable

And that this light is the straight path:

[23:73] Indeed you invite them to a straight path,

And that this guidance results in people ultimately living a monotheistic life – a life of servitude (4:36), purifying themselves and learning wisdom (62:2), and the removal of shackles and burdens off of themselves (7:157).

The Prophetic invitation to this guidance was to happen in the best of manners:

[16:125] Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good advice and dispute with them in a manner that is best.

Some exegetes have said the command “dispute with them” is an alternative to when people do not heed the Prophet’s (p) wisdom and good advise, resorting to arguing back with him (p). In other words, the verse is not telling him (p) to give them wisdom and at the same time also dispute with them in the best of manners, rather the latter is only meant to be done when others initiate disputing with him (p).

It should be clarified that the Prophet (p) exerted a lot of effort in guiding people. It was not a petty task where he came and made a public announcement one time and that was the end of it. Rather, a number of verses in the Qurān show that the Prophet (p) went beyond what was expected from him due to the genuine concern and eagerness he (p) had for his community, wanting to see people guided on the true path.

لَقَدْ جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولٌ مِنْ أَنْفُسِكُمْ عَزِيزٌ عَلَيْهِ مَا عَنِتُّمْ حَرِيصٌ عَلَيْكُمْ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ رَءُوفٌ رَحِيمٌ

[9:128] There has certainly come to you an apostle from among yourselves. Grievous to him is your distress; he has deep concern for you, and is most kind and merciful to the faithful

However, at the same time, Allah (swt) repeatedly tells the Prophet (p) to not be over-concerned. He (swt) sends down tranquility upon the heart of the Prophet (p), and informs him (p) that extreme eagerness will not achieve anything:

إِن تَحْرِصْ عَلَىٰ هُدَاهُمْ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي مَن يُضِلُّ

[16:37] If you are eager for them to be guided, indeed Allah does not guide those who mislead…

Due to the Prophet’s (p) eagerness to see people guided, he (p) would often feel upset when people would reject his words and when he would not see the result of his invitations. The Qurān speaks many times of the Prophet’s (p) chest being constricted, a reference to the sadness and worry he (p) would feel for people. So Allah (swt) repeatedly provides him comfort:

وَمَنْ كَفَرَ فَلَا يَحْزُنْكَ كُفْرُهُ

[31:23] As for those who are faithless, let their faithlessness not grieve you

Allah offers the Prophet (p) comfort and tells him (p) that their disbelief and rejection should not sadden you. Your task is to invite them and guide them to a certain extent, but beyond that is none of your business nor of your concern. Elsewhere, Allah (swt) says:

وَلَقَدْ كُذِّبَتْ رُسُلٌ مِّن قَبْلِكَ فَصَبَرُوا عَلَىٰ مَا كُذِّبُوا وَأُوذُوا حَتَّىٰ أَتَاهُمْ نَصْرُنَا ۚ وَلَا مُبَدِّلَ لِكَلِمَاتِ اللَّهِ ۚ وَلَقَدْ جَاءَكَ مِن نَّبَإِ الْمُرْسَلِينَ

وَإِن كَانَ كَبُرَ عَلَيْكَ إِعْرَاضُهُمْ فَإِنِ اسْتَطَعْتَ أَن تَبْتَغِيَ نَفَقًا فِي الْأَرْضِ أَوْ سُلَّمًا فِي السَّمَاءِ فَتَأْتِيَهُم بِآيَةٍ ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَجَمَعَهُمْ عَلَى الْهُدَىٰ ۚ فَلَا تَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ

[6:35] Apostles were certainly denied before you, yet they patiently bore being denied and tormented until Our help came to them. Nothing can change the words of Allah, and there have certainly come to you some of the accounts of the apostles.

[6:35] And should their aversion be hard on you, find, if you can, a tunnel into the ground, or a ladder into sky, that you may bring them a sign. Had Allah wished, He would have brought them together on guidance. So do not be one of the ignorant.

Allah informs the Prophet (p) that he has no reason to worry, that it is not him (p) these people are against, rather their opponent and enemy is Allah (swt). Further, Allah (swt) tells the Prophet (p) that had He (swt) wanted, He (swt) could have guided them all:

قُلْ فَلِلَّهِ الْحُجَّةُ الْبَالِغَةُ ۖ فَلَوْ شَاءَ لَهَدَاكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ

[6:149] Say, ‘To Allah belongs the conclusive argument. Had He wished, He would have surely guided you all.’

أَفَأَنتَ تُكْرِهُ النَّاسَ حَتَّىٰ يَكُونُوا مُؤْمِنِينَ

[10:99] And had your Lord wished, all those who are on earth would have believed. Would you then force people until they become faithful?

Allah (swt) is essentially informing the Prophet (p) that if He (swt) is not forcing people to be guided, why are you (p) so desperate and eager to see them guided to the extent that you stress out, tire yourself and grieve about it? Once the Prophet (p) has shown people the path and brought them convincing arguments, there is no further responsibility on him (p). If they accept the message then that is for their own benefit, and if they reject it then that is their loss. There is no reason to stress and occupy your thoughts with their poor decision. Other verses make it clear that the responsibility of the Prophets (p) was to convey the message and that they were not there to baby-sit their communities:

قُلْ يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءَكُمُ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكُمْ ۖ فَمَنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۖ وَمَا أَنَا عَلَيْكُم بِوَكِيلٍ

[10:108] Say, ‘O mankind! The truth has already come to you from your Lord. Whoever is guided, is guided only for [the good of] his own soul, and whoever goes astray, goes astray only to its detriment, and it is not my business to watch over you.’

فَإِنْ حَاجُّوكَ فَقُلْ أَسْلَمْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّهِ وَمَنِ اتَّبَعَنِ ۗ وَقُل لِّلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ وَالْأُمِّيِّينَ أَأَسْلَمْتُمْ ۚ فَإِنْ أَسْلَمُوا فَقَدِ اهْتَدَوا ۖ وَّإِن تَوَلَّوْا فَإِنَّمَا عَلَيْكَ الْبَلَاغُ ۗ وَاللَّهُ بَصِيرٌ بِالْعِبَادِ

[3:20] So if they argue with you, say, ‘I have submitted my will to Allah, and [so has] he who follows me.’ And say to those who were given the Book and the uninstructed ones, ‘Do you submit?’ If they submit, they will certainly be guided; but if they turn away, then your duty is only to communicate; and Allah sees best the servants.

قُلْ أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ ۖ فَإِن تَوَلَّوْا فَإِنَّمَا عَلَيْهِ مَا حُمِّلَ وَعَلَيْكُم مَّا حُمِّلْتُمْ ۖ وَإِن تُطِيعُوهُ تَهْتَدُوا ۚ وَمَا عَلَى الرَّسُولِ إِلَّا الْبَلَاغُ الْمُبِينُ

[24:54] Say, ‘Obey Allah, and obey the Apostle.’ But if you turn your backs, [you should know that] he is only responsible for his burden and you are responsible for your burden, and if you obey him, you shall be guided, and the Apostle’s duty is only to communicate in clear terms.

وَكَذَّبَ بِهِ قَوْمُكَ وَهُوَ الْحَقُّ ۚ قُل لَّسْتُ عَلَيْكُم بِوَكِيلٍ

[6:66] Your people have denied it, though it is the truth. Say, ‘It is not my business to watch over you.’

All of these verses tell us that while the Prophet’s (p) responsibility was to guide people out of darkness to light, this guidance cannot be enforced upon them. It is the people who out of their own free-will have to accept what he (p) invites them towards.

إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرٌ لِّلْعَالَمِينَ لِمَن شَاءَ مِنكُمْ أَن يَسْتَقِيمَ

[81:27-28] It is just a reminder for all the nations, for those of you who wish to be steadfast.

His (p) guidance is for everyone, but only those who choose to accept it will benefit from it.

[80:11] No indeed! These [verses of the Qurān] are a reminder

[80:12] so let anyone who wishes remember it.

‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī when commenting on these two verses says they allude to the fact that guidance into religion cannot be forced onto anyone and that those who choose to be guided do not give any benefit to the inviter, rather only to themselves.2 Once people choose to be guided and accept the invitation of the Prophet (p), only then does the Prophet (p) begin to further educate and train them, providing them with greater knowledge and guidance.

Imam Khumaynī in his Adāb al-Ṣalāt3 says:

Had it been possible to show the road of good and happiness to the people in a different way, it would have been done, according to the vastness of the mercy. Had it been possible to force the people into happiness, it would have been done. But alas! How far it is! The road to the Hereafter is a road, which cannot be trodden except at one’s free will. Happiness cannot be attained forcibly. Piety and righteous deeds are not so if not done voluntarily.

Less than a month after the victory of the Iranian Revolution, Shahīd Beheshtī noticed that some of the scholars and seminarians had begun “forcing people into heaven” and had the following remarks to make in Masjid al-A’ẓam located in the vicinity of the shrine of Ma’ṣūmah Qom:

به طلاب و فضلای حوزه هم به دنبال این بحث یک پیشنهاد دارم و آن پیشنهاد این است که به مردم ایران فرصت بدهید تا آگاهانه و آزادانه خود را برمبنای معیارهای اسلامی بسازند و این خودسازی را بر مردم ما تحمیل نکنید. آگاهی بدهید، زمینه سازی کنید برای رشد اسلام ، ولی بر مردم هیچ چیز را تحمیل نکنید.

I also have a suggestion for the students and respected figures of the seminary in light of this discussion, and that is to give the people of Iran an opportunity to consciously bring themselves in line with the Islamic principles. Do not enforce this upon people. Give them awareness, create the grounds for the growth of Islam, but do not force anything upon the people.4

If we are to live by the Prophetic sīrah and invite others to Islam, or even within the Muslim community invite others to piety and righteousness, we have to re-evaluate how we go about doing so. No matter how great we become, how popular we become, how influential we become, we will never be at the level of the Prophets (p) and so the responsibility of guiding and inviting others to the truth and piety can never surpass that of the Prophets’ (p).

What we often see in our communities is that some people’s faiths may be at 60%, but there are individuals who feel the need to complete the faith of others by enforcing the remaining 40% onto them. These individuals may not realize that firstly, this is not their responsibility and they have not been asked to do such a thing since accepting guidance is linked to the free-will of an individual, and secondly, there is a great chance of them even causing others to lose that 60% as well.


  1. Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon #1
  2. Al-Mīzān, vol. 20, pg. 201.
  3. Source
  4. Source

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