The concept of ‘divine guidance’ is fundamentally a theological one, presented by most religions and accepted by nearly all believers, regardless of creed. The philosophical dimension of this concept, however, is more likely to seduce the attention of non-believers. An agnostic who also claims to be a rationalist, being predisposed towards relying entirely on reason, would instinctively ask: Should not rationality alone be sufficient? Should not reason, without ‘guidance from on high’, be enough? Reason and logic should appear to any rational mind to be the best tools for conducting any intellectual exercise.
But the problem is that these tools are useful only when the information or data to which they are applied is itself reliable. And information can be assumed reliable only when its source is reliable. Herein lies the challenge. And this challenge leads us to a counter-question: Does information obtained from material sources, through average human physical cognitive faculties, and subjected to average human analysis, always lead to correct conclusions? Reason itself, would respond to this question with an apologetic no. Human dependence on a superior intelligence – let’s call it ‘divine guidance’ – is, therefore, a possibility that cannot be casually brushed aside. Thus, it behoves us to explore the true nature of divine guidance, the ways it is manifested, and what its mechanisms are.
The Qur’an and Divine Guidance
For an unbiased student of comparative religion, it would be of particular interest to examine the perspective of the Qur’an in this regard. Why the Qur’an? Because the Qur’an is unique in that it not only claims to have originated from a Superior Intelligence, but also to be the actual spoken word of God – the word of God verbatim – thus presenting the most classic case of divine guidance.
Indeed, the very first prayer that is taught in the Qur’an is the prayer for divine guidance: one is taught to seek it. When we examine the text of the Holy Qur’an from the beginning to the end, the very first words of supplication that we come across are in the opening chapter Surah al-Fatihah. The words are: ‘Guide us along the right path.’  Upon uttering these words of prayer, not only does the believer confess his need for divine guidance in the presence of God, he also asks for this guidance. The prayer goes on to lead the believer even further. In the succeeding verse, the believer is taught to pray to be able to not only tread the right path but also to reach the final destination of divine favour. The next verse reads: ‘The path of those whom Thou blessed; those who neither earned Thy displeasure nor went astray.’  Surah al-Fatihah contains a total of seven verses, all of which are recited compulsorily in every single unit or rak’ah, as it is known, of the formal Islamic prayer. Hence, two out of the seven most frequently-recited verses of the Qur’an dwell upon the subject of ‘divine guidance’.
The Qur’an addresses the theme of divine guidance from a variety of angles, touching every possible aspect. The Qur’an introduces God as ‘The Guide’. The Arabic for guide – Hadi – is an attributive name of Allah. Referring to this particular name of God – Hadi – the Qur’an states: ‘And sufficient is thy Lord as a Guide.’  More interestingly, the very first verse of the Qur’an reads, ‘In the name of Allah, the Gracious, Ever-Merciful’,  and introduces Allah primarily as the God of compassion and mercy, thus, placing all other attributes of God, including His attribute of being the Guide, subservient to His supreme attribute of mercy. The Qur’an thus presents divine guidance as a manifestation of divine mercy. It logically follows that any human interpretation of the word of God that contravenes the fundamental principle of mercy, should be treated as an erroneous interpretation.
Guidance, whether divine or human, can be relied upon only if it is founded upon information that is both correct and complete. Even a compassionate guide can be misinformed, and so liable to lead others to disaster. God, as introduced to us by the Qur’an, is Aleem  and Khabir . Aleem means the All-Knowing and Khabir refers to the One Who is All-Aware. Divine guidance, as the Qur’an presents it, is reliable because it emanates from a Guide Who is Gracious and Merciful on one hand and All-Knowing and All-Aware on the other. Moreover, as stated by the Qur’an, Allah is also Noor, or the Light. He is beyond being merely the Bestower of light. He is introduced as the Light itself. We read: ‘Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.’  In other words, it is He Who illuminates the cosmos. It is He that lights up the human mind. It is He Who brightens the human heart and soul. Any guidance coming from a being who is compassionate, all-knowing, and ‘the Light’, can deservedly be called the true guidance. The Qur’an elaborates: ‘Indeed, the guidance of Allah alone is the True guidance.’ 
Divine Guidance in Nature
According to the Qur’an, divine guidance is an all-embracing phenomenon. Humans are not the only beneficiaries of divine guidance. God, according to the Qur’an, guides and ‘speaks’, as it were, to everything and everyone, living and inanimate. How He communicates with His creation and how His creation perceives His guidance may well be beyond the scope of material sciences or even, perhaps, human comprehension. According to the Qur’an, however, He metaphorically speaks to even the inanimate matter that fills the heavens, He speaks to the Earth, He speaks to animals, He speaks to the angels, and of course to humans. To humans, according to the Qur’an, it is through the medium of angels, that divine guidance is communicated. Be it divine revelation or inspiration, the Qur’an uses the same term – wahy.
We read in the Qur’an: ‘They (the angels) are in awe of their Lord above them. And they do what they are commanded to,’  which simply means that God speaks to the angels and they obey Him. According to the Qur’an, God also communicates with creatures of lesser intelligence. An instance quoted by the Qur’an is that of the bee. It is stated in the Qur’an: ‘And thy Lord inspired the bee, saying, ‘make houses in the hills and in the trees.”  Thus, according to the Qur’an, God even speaks to and guides His inanimate creation. Again, it is stated in the Qur’an that God addressed the Heaven and the Earth collectively, and instructed the two: ‘Come ye twain, willingly or unwillingly.’ And the two replied, ‘We come willingly.’  God also spoke to each heaven individually and guided each heaven separately. Hence, it is stated: ‘He completed them into seven heavens in two days, and He spoke to each heaven, revealing to it, its specifically assigned duty.’  Thus, according to the Qur’an, both living and non-living entities operate under the influence of divine guidance. The cosmos moulds and adapts itself according to the will and guidance of its Creator, and life continues to originate, evolve, mutate, and terminate under the guidance of its Maker. Thus, all the processes and cycles of the natural world are actually the result of divine guidance.
What distinguishes man from the rest of creation is his freedom to disobey divine guidance. Disobedience is an option not known to the rest of God’s creation. The will of God’s creation, with the exception of humans, is invariably in harmony with the will of God. When God summons the heavens and earth, as the Qur’an puts it, they submit: ‘We come willingly.’  When the bee, as a species, was instructed to make honey, it complied with divine guidance to which God testifies, saying, ‘a drink of varying hues, in which there is a cure for humans.’  Neither the heavens, nor the earth, nor for that matter the bee, defy divine guidance. They all submitted and continued to submit. They obey their Creator because obedience to God is inherent to their nature. It is a default setting.
Man’s case, in contrast, is unique in that, out of all of God’s creation, man alone has been given the choice to obey God or not to obey. God says, in relation to the freedom of choice granted to man: ‘Whoever chooses to believe, may believe; and whoever chooses to disbelieve, may disbelieve.’  That man’s freedom of choice may well be exercised by him, to his own detriment, was obviously not unknown to God. Yet, God holds the freedom of choice he gifted to man so sacred that even His apostles are not permitted to contravene it. Addressing His most beloved messenger, Muhammad (sa), God says in the Qur’an: ‘Thou art not to compel them. Therefore, merely admonish by means of the Qur’an.’  He also says, ‘Admonish, therefore, for thou art but an admonisher. Thou hast no authority to compel them.’  As a fundamental unchangeable principle, the Qur’an proclaims: ‘There is no coercion in matters of religion.’  While God takes it upon Himself to guide man, He leaves man with the freedom to abide by this guidance or to disobey. It is this freedom of choice in relation to divine guidance that justifies man’s accountability before God. Without this freedom, the very concept of judgement would cease to make sense. Hence, it is only in the case of man that divine guidance is coupled with divine judgement.
The Supply Chain for Divine Guidance
To humans, divine guidance can come in diverse forms, ranging in spectrum from an illuminated thought to inspiration, from a dream to a vision, from a vision in complete wakefulness to a clearly-worded verbal revelation; and all these forms of guidance can come to prophets and non-prophets alike. For instance, God spoke to the mother of Moses (as) who was not a prophet. We read, ‘And we sent Our revelation to the mother of Moses.’  An angel was also sent to another non-prophet, Mary (as) the mother of Jesus (as) as God says, ‘We sent Our angel to her (Mary), and he appeared before her in the form of a perfect human.’  The disciples of Jesus (as), mentioned in the Qur’an as the hawariyyin, were otherwise righteous people, but not prophets according to the Qur’an. Yet, we are told that God sent His revelation to them. God says, ‘And when I sent revelation to the disciples of Jesus, to believe in Me and My messenger, they said, ‘We believe. And bear thou witness that we have submitted.”  Then, regarding all such pious people who affirm their faith in God and remain steadfast thereafter, God says: ‘Indeed, those who say ‘Our Lord is Allah’ and then remain steadfast, Angels descend on them saying ‘Fear not, nor grieve, and rejoice in the garden that was promised to you. We are your friends in this life and in the next.”  No doubt, prophets stand out in that the abundance of divine guidance which they receive, is not shared by non-prophets. In fact, it is precisely this abundance of divine revelation that defines ‘prophethood’.
The supply chain for divine guidance, according to the Qur’an, starts with God. Guidance travels from God to His angels, from the angels to the prophets, and from the prophets to the people. The angels, according to the Promised Messiah (as) play the role of the indispensable ‘medium’, through which God’s word and guidance must travel before it can be received and perceived by its recipient. In fact, in his books Taudih-e-Maram written in 1891, and A’inah-e-Kamalat-e-Islam of 1893, the Promised Messiah (as) has drawn clear parallels between the role of air as a medium for sound and the role of the angels as an imperative medium for divine guidance. The Promised Messiah (as) has written pages upon pages asserting that just as sound cannot reach the ear without the medium of air, similarly, divine guidance cannot reach its recipient without the medium of the angels. The angelic messengers carry God’s message, without any aberration, to the human messengers, who then, with similar trustworthiness and diligence, convey it to the people. Thus, both angels and prophets serve as messengers of God. We read: ‘Allah chooses His messengers from among the angels, as well as from among humans.’ The human messengers are distinct from the angels in that they have an additional responsibility of playing the roles of exemplars by acting upon the dispatched guidance themselves – a duty that angels do not have to carry out.
When God chooses to guide people collectively, He does so through prophets, and after them, through their successors. Through prophets, God’s guidance can come either in the form of a newly ‘revealed law’, or in the form of ‘inspired insight’, in order to illuminate the way within the premises of existing revealed laws. Correspondingly, there are also two categories of prophets, depending upon the kind of guidance assigned to them: the law-bearing ones and the non-law-bearing ones. A law-bearing prophet is one who is sent with a newly revealed law. A non-law-bearing prophet, on the other hand, is one who is sent to revive and interpret an already revealed law. We read in the Qur’an: ‘For each of you, We have prescribed a shariah (revealed law) and a minhaj (clear way).’  Shariah means a divinely revealed law and minhaj refers to the clear way that is shown as an interpretation of the revealed law. The law-bearing prophet is sent with a shariah. But, when people cannot find the way in spite of the law, God sends a non-law-bearing prophet to show the minhaj, or the way, within the bounds of the revealed law.
God says in the Qur’an: ‘These messengers; We have exalted some above others. Among them, there are those to whom Allah has spoken, and some, has He exalted in rank.’  Those who are ‘spoken to’ are the law-giving prophets and those who are ‘elevated’ are the non-law-giving ones. This does not mean to imply that the prophets who were exalted in rank were not spoken to by God; nor does it mean that those who were spoken to were not exalted. This merely suggests that while one set of prophets were honoured by means of being granted a new law, the other set of prophets were honoured by means of being inspired with new interpretations of an existing law. So, while all prophets were honoured, and all indeed, were also spoken to by God, only the law-bearing ones came with new sets of commandments. The most telling case, perhaps, of this classification of prophets is that of the Prophet Moses (as) and the Prophet Aaron (as). Both were prophets, brothers, and contemporaries. In the Qur’an, God clearly names Aaron (as) among the recipients of His wahy or revelation.  But Aaron (as) was sent only to interpret and preach the word of God spoken to Moses (as), which comprised the law. Regarding Moses (as), the Qur’an says, ‘And Allah did indeed speak to Moses.’  To Moses (as), God spoke in the form of the Torah, and divine guidance came to him in the form of a ‘revealed law’. Aaron (as), in contrast, was spiritually exalted without a separate law being revealed to him. To Aaron (as), God spoke in order to enlighten him on the wisdom contained in the law revealed to Moses (as). Thus, was Aaron (as) able to show his people the ‘clear way’.
Hope and Despair
Where there is guidance, there is hope and where there is no guidance there is despair. The prophets of God, by virtue of their being the vessels of divine guidance, inspire hope. The very hope of being able to move towards God and of being able to find Him, itself, imparts a positive attitude to the human mind and gives contentment to the heart. According to the Qur’an, the first message of hope sent to mankind was through Adam (as), the first prophet. ‘Adam’, in the Qur’an, thus, symbolises hope and his antithesis Iblees, who rejected Adam, exemplifies despair. In fact, the word Iblees is derived from the Arabic expression ablasa, which means ‘he became hopeless’. Each time a prophet is sent by God to deliver divine guidance to humans, he assumes the role of the ‘Adam of the age’, and the forces that oppose and reject this guidance earn for themselves the role of Iblees. The advent of a prophet, thus, unveils two forms of leadership – one that inspires hope and the other that prompts despair. Regarding the hope-inspiring leaders, the prophets, we read in the Qur’an: ‘And We made them leaders who guided people by our command, and We sent revelation to them enjoining the doing of good.’  These leaders guide under God’s instructions. On the other hand, regarding the despair-inducing leaders, we read: ‘And We made them leaders who invite people towards the Fire.’  This does not mean to say that it was God Who made them invite people towards Hell, but only that they were judged by God as those who lead others to Hell. While the ‘Adam of the age’ acquaints people with divine guidance, the ‘Iblees of the age’, with matching resilience, preaches the idea of the deathly silence of God. We read: ‘they do not make a just estimate of Allah when they say: ‘Allah does not reveal anything to man.”  This despondent attitude is dealt with by the Qur’an in the following words: ‘And indeed they thought, as do you think, that Allah would never again raise any messenger.’  Regarding the people of the Prophet Josephas, too, we are told in the Qur’an: ‘When he (Joseph) died, you said: ‘Allah will never appoint a messenger after him.’ Thus, does Allah adjudge as lost, anyone who is an extremist or is a sceptic.’  The author confesses that the terms ‘extremism’ and ‘scepticism’ were coined much after the revelation of the Qur’an. However, in essence, these latterly coined expressions are as close translations of the actual words of the Qur’an, as any other. This verse indicates that extremism and scepticism are negative social attitudes that eventually lead society to the pessimistic dogma that there is no longer divine guidance.
God says in the Qur’an, ‘We have made you a moderate community.’  A moderate community will obviously avoid taking an extremist view on any issue. But alas, whenever divine guidance does come, people tend to take an extremist stance, behave sceptically and resort to mockery for want of rational arguments. God says, ‘Alas for My servants – there comes not to them a messenger but they mock at him.’ 
According to the Qur’an, divine guidance unites people. God kept sending his prophets to unite mankind. God says: ‘Humanity is but a single community.’ Therefore, Allah raised prophets.  Each prophet embodied divine mercy and brought divine guidance for his people, creating a platform on which his people could be brought together. For instance, regarding the prophet Jesus (as), God says, ‘mercy from Us’,  suggesting that God’s mercy appeared on Earth in the form of Jesus (as). Eventually, however, when in God’s wisdom, it was time to send a global messenger with a universal message for the entire human race, God sent the Prophet Muhammad (sa), saying: ‘And We have sent thee as mercy embodied for all the worlds.’  In another verse, God addresses the Holy Prophet (sa) and says, ‘We have sent thee unto all humanity.’ 
The Revealed Books of God
All the revealed books of God, sent through the ages, were also sent as divine guidance for their respective times. Regarding the Torah, the last revealed book before the Qur’an, God says: ‘Surely, We sent down the Torah, containing guidance and light.’  We also read, ‘The Book of Moses – a guide and mercy’,  suggesting as a matter of principle that each revealed scripture contained mercy, guidance, and light from God. Finally, however, through God’s universal Messenger Muhammad (sa), was revealed the final word of God for all humankind – the Qur’an. God says, ‘the Qur’an – guidance for all mankind.’  Interestingly, the very first commandment that appears in the Qur’an, reads, ‘O humanity, worship your Lord Who created you,’  and addresses the entire human race. Another equally interesting fact is that the very last word that appears in the text of the Qur’an is al-Nas,  which translates as ‘all humanity’. In other words, the text of the Qur’an ends on the final note of humanity.
God took it upon Himself to guard and protect the text as well as the meanings of His Book – the Qur’an. God Almighty says, ‘We have sent this Exhortation and We are its Protector.’  The textual preservation of the Qur’an was brought about through the tradition of memorising the entire Qur’an, whereby Muslims commit the entire text of the Qur’an to memory. In order to preserve its wisdom, however, God continued to inspire His servants with the true meanings of the Qur’an, even after the Prophet Muhammad (sa).
Divine guidance continued to enlighten the spiritual deputies of the Prophet Muhammad (sa), who appeared after him, in the form of caliphs, or successors, reformers and saints. They not only preached the correct meanings of the Qur’an but also presented new interpretations of the Qur’an, to meet the changing needs of changing times. Hence, just as the light of Islam was kindled by means of divine guidance, so was it was kept alive by means of continued divine guidance.
When we study the ahadith [oral traditions of the Holy Prophet (sa)], we find conspicuously frequent mention of a deputy of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), prophesied to appear in the latter days, known as the Mahdi. With reference to this discussion on divine guidance, it is interesting to note that the term Mahdi means ‘the guided one’. The Holy Prophet (sa) conferred upon this foretold lieutenant of his, two very unique titles – Mahdi and Messiah – where the title Mahdi emphasises the fact that he would be guided by God, and the title Messiah, indicates that he would come in the spirit of Jesus (as). Hence, there were dual roles destined for this foretold reformer – the role of the Mahdi and the role of the Messiah. The individual prophecies about the Mahdi and the Messiah, therefore, collectively converge on a single individual. In relation to the awaited Mahdi, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) has said: ‘Khalifatullah al-Mahdi,’  meaning ‘God’s vicegerent, the Mahdi.’ With reference to the Promised Messiah (as), on the other hand, the Holy Prophet (sa) said Nabiyyullah,  meaning ‘prophet of Allah.’ The Mahdi is thus, unique, in that among all the deputies of Prophet Muhammad (sa) he alone has been spoken of by the Prophet as Khalifatullah and Nabiyyullah, terms used exclusively for the prophets of God.
In 1889, this prophecy of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) was finally fulfilled when Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) of Qadian, under divine guidance, proclaimed that he had been commissioned by God as the awaited Mahdi and Promised Messiah.
With the advent of the awaited Mahdi, the doors of heaven were once again flung open, and divine guidance was once again sent pouring down with all its splendour. This time, divine guidance had come, not to introduce any new teachings, but to revive and expound the original teachings of Islam. This time, the ‘Adam of the age’ appeared, not as a law-giving prophet, but as a subservient follower prophet, subordinate to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa). Ahmad the Mahdi declared that his relationship to his master and mentor, Muhammad (sa) was that of an image to the actual object. Just as a shadow cannot exist of its own accord and owes its existence to the ‘real’, so does the existence of the follower prophet depend on the master prophet. The Arabic for shadow is dhill and the Mahdi claimed that his prophethood was actually dhilli or reflectional in nature and that he thus, was a dhilli nabi or a reflective prophet, reflecting the light of his master – Muhammad (sa). The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) brought the religion of Islam to the world and the Mahdi revived it by showing the world the clear way – the minhaj – within Islam. By means of an elaborately penned will, titled Al-Wasiyyat, meaning ‘The Will’, he also laid the lasting foundations of a viable system that would ensure continuous religious and spiritual reform, even after him. He departed from this world in 1908.
Today, by the grace of God, the blessings of divine guidance continue to bless humankind through the Promised Messiah’s (as) caliphate or spiritual successorship, which continues to show the world the ‘clear way’ as did Ahmad (as) the Messiah himself. The institution of the Ahmadiyya caliphate is a spiritual, non-temporal, and apolitical one. It offers moral, religious, and spiritual guidance to all humans without distinction. It offers good counsel in the light of divine guidance to those who are willing to take it, and untiringly, keeps aloft the banner of peace, all over the world. May Allah always guard and protect the Ahmadiyya caliphate and may the blessings of divine guidance continue forever, ameen.
- The Holy Qur’an, 1:6.
- The Holy Qur’an, 1:7.
- The Holy Qur’an, 25:32.
- The Holy Qur’an, 1:1.
- The Holy Qur’an, 2:30.
- The Holy Qur’an, 2:235.
- The Holy Qur’an, 24:36.
- The Holy Qur’an 2:121.
- The Holy Qur’an 16:51.
- The Holy Qur’an 16:69.
- The Holy Qur’an 41:12.
- The Holy Qur’an 41:13.
- The Holy Qur’an 41:12.
- The Holy Qur’an 16:70.
- The Holy Qur’an 18:30.
- The Holy Qur’an 50:46.
- The Holy Qur’an 88:22, 23.
- The Holy Qur’an 2:256.
- The Holy Qur’an 28:8.
- The Holy Qur’an 19:18.
- The Holy Qur’an 5:112.
- The Holy Qur’an 41:31.
- The Holy Qur’an 22:76.
- The Holy Qur’an 5:49.
- The Holy Qur’an 2:254.
- The Holy Qur’an 4:164.
- The Holy Qur’an 4:165.
- The Holy Qur’an 21:74.
- The Holy Qur’an 28:42.
- The Holy Qur’an 6:92.
- The Holy Qur’an 11:18.
- The Holy Qur’an 40:35.
- The Holy Qur’an 2:144.
- The Holy Qur’an 36:31.
- The Holy Qur’an 2:214.
- The Holy Qur’an 19:22.
- The Holy Qur’an 21:108.
- The Holy Qur’an 34:29.
- The Holy Qur’an 5:45.
- The Holy Qur’an 11:18.
- The Holy Qur’an 2:185.
- The Holy Qur’an 2:22.
- The Holy Qur’an 114:7.
- The Holy Qur’an 15:10.
- Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Fitan, Hadith No. 4084.
- Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Fitan wa Ashrat al-Sa’ah, Hadith No. 2937a.