The Holy Qur'an

Exegesis of Ihdinaṣ-Ṣirāṭ al-Mustaqīm

اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ

Guide us on the right path


The prayer taught in this verse is so exalted and complete, the like of which is not found anywhere. This prayer is not limited to any specific matter; rather, it addresses all needs [of man],big and small. One can benefit from this prayer with respect to all secular and religious matters. Whether a task is religious or worldly, there is always one way or another of completing it. By adopting this way, one will attain success. Moreover, at times, there are seemingly numerous ways of executing a task, of which some are impermissible, and others are permissible. And from among those which are permissible, some ways will lead to the objective quickly, while others will take time.

The prayer اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ  [guide us on the right path] teaches us that we should continue praying to Allah the Almighty to guide us to that way which is good and virtuous, and by following this guidance we can achieve our objectives swiftly. How complete, simple and comprehensive this prayer is!  Which goal is there that we wish to achieve in our lives for which we cannot use this prayer?And the one  who makes it a habit to say this prayer: to what lengths will he not go, what effort will he not put in to be successful? This is because if one is continuously reminded that there are both good and bad ways of achieving any objective, and that one should always try to seek, and adopt the good way, and even from amongst these good ways, one should adopt the closest path that leads to their objective. This principle is in accordance with human nature.

It is evident that the mind of the person who prays to Allah the Almighty to be shown the right path will also be influenced by this thought; and his own efforts too will be exerted in seeking such a path in all his affairs. And a person who observes the following principles in respect of his affairs, namely, (1) all his affairs should be settled through permissible means; (2) when reaching a particular stage, he should not become content with that alone but, instead, his heart should always yearn for unlimited progress; (3) his time should not be wasted. Rather, he should work in such a way that he accomplishes all tasks in the shortest possible time. There can be no doubt about the loftiness of his aims, the rightness of his actions and the consistency of his efforts.

I believe that if Muslims consistently offered this prayer with sincerity, and impressed its meanings on their minds, they would unquestionably reap the rewards of this supplication. This prayer will also naturally have a great impact on the perspectives of the Muslims, which in itself is of great value.

Some critics object that as Muslims were enjoined to recite اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ [Guide us on the right path] in every prayer and that their Messenger also used to offer this prayer daily, does this not suggest that they had not found the right path for which they used to supplicate repeatedly? How absurd is this objection! And how strange it is that educated Christians and Hindus, frankly raise this objection and then wonder how Muslims can respond to this! [The reply to this is that] first, just as the meanings of hidāyah have been mentioned above, it does not only mean to explain something, but rather it also means, to lead to and accompany someone [to their destination]. Thus, this prayer will have different meanings for different supplicants. For those who are ignorant of what hidāyah is, it would mean: ‘Inform us what hidāyah is and in which religion or path it can be found’. As for those who know what hidāyahis, but have difficulty accepting it because of their own weakness, or because their friends and dear ones have become so hostile that they prevent them from accepting the truth, or because the perfect guide is far away and cannot be reached, or the company of righteous people is not available in their area, this prayer would mean: ‘Enable us to reach hidāyah!’ that is,  ‘We have understood the meaning of hidāyah, but remove the practical difficulties that we face in practicing it’.

However, if there is someone who has understood the meaning of hidāyah and their practical difficulties in this regard have also been removed and they tread upon the paths of guidance, for them, this prayer means: ‘O God, Your guidance is vast and the paths of divine knowledge are unlimited, so, through Your grace, make me move ever forward along the path of hidāyah. Let me not stay stationary along the path. Let me continue to be acquainted with the secrets of truth evermore. And may I be granted ever greater ability to act upon it.’

Keeping in mind these three meanings, can anyone say that they can manage without this prayer during their life? There is no doubt that the Messenger of the Muslims (sa) was certainly perfect, but the God of Islam possesses unlimited powers. No matter how much progress one may make, there always remains room to make further progress, and so even then one always needs the prayer of اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيم [Guide us on the right path].

Setting aside spiritual [matters], even man’s knowledge of worldly matters continues to increase. There is no type of knowledge wherein there is no scope for further progress. Thus, even in worldly matters, man is always in need of offering the prayer اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيم [Guide us on the right path] so that through it, one should increase in knowledge.

The fact is that this prayer, far from being the object of critcism, puts forth Islam’s comprehensive view of knowledge which furnishes a magnificent proof of the superiority of the Holy Qur’an. The Qur’an came in the presence of other religions and, having abrogated them, claimed to have established a new and complete religion. Yet, unlike other religions, the Qur’an did not claim that knowledge had reached its pinnacle during its time. On the contrary, it claimed that through it, knowledge would continue to increase ever more and, to this end, it taught this prayer to the Muslims and made it incumbent on them to recite it thirty or thirty-five times daily. Thus, in this way, it expanded mankind’s perspective towards knowledge.

Some people criticise this view because it implies that the Holy Qur’an is not the final book of guidance. For if knowledge continues to increase, then why should one deny that, at some time, the Holy Qur’an too would be abrogated and be replaced by a scripture superior to it? The reply to this is that, first of all, we do not object to someone producing a better book than the Holy Qur’an and declaring it to be abrogated. However, for the last thirteen hundred years, such a book has not been produced; philosophers and those who adhere to false ideologies have tried their utmost, but have remained unsuccessful to this day. Thus, since no such book to date has been produced as a match to it, why should we even consider this objection? The second reply is that the Qur’an is a spiritual realm. Whatever is true about the material realm is also true about it. In worldly matters, human knowledge also increases daily. However, it is not the case that [with the increase of knowledge] a new world is created daily. Rather, the secrets and the mysteries of this same old world are disclosed to the people. Likewise, after the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, which is the spiritual universe, no need remains for a new book, nor has the Qur’an created obstacles in the advancement of knowledge. Just as the study of physical laws increases secular knowledge, so too the Holy Qur’an, keeping in view the vast and spiritual advancement of man, comprises unlimited knowledge. The secrets of the Holy Qur’an continue to be disclosed to those who reflect upon it in proportion to the degree of their sincerity in supplication with the prayer اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيم [Guide us on the right path]. Thus, even though the Holy Qur’an is the last revealed book, the progress in knowledge has not declined, but, rather, it has accelerated more than ever before. These meanings are supported by the clear words of the Holy Qur’an which states:

الَّذِينَ اهْتَدَوْا زَادَهُمْ هُدًى 

Those who attain guidance, Almighty Allah bestows on them ever more guidance. [1]

Thus, hidāyah does not refer to any one thing. Rather, it is a name for a long chain of truths, such that when a link ends, another begins. It is my personal experience that there is no religious issue regarding which the Holy Qur’an does not contain sufficient knowledge. Given this fact, listening to the message of another shariah is tantamount to one who sits at the mouth of a spring yet sets out in search of water.

I am amazed at the people who offer the prayer اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيم [Guide us on the right path] daily and yet deem it impermissible to write anything in addition to what the past Qur’anic commentators have written on; they believe that there is no knowledge in the Qur’an aside from that which they [the commentators] have discussed. If this is true, then why do they offer the prayer اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيم [Guide us on the right path]? According to their belief, God Almighty does not have anything to give to them. They should buy, or borrow, the old commentaries and read them, as opposed to wasting their time in offering this prayer.

This prayer is so comprehensive that man can benefit from it in every matter, be it religious or secular. Anyone seeking guidance, whatever their religion, can have no excuse for failing to take advantage of this prayer.. In اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيم [Guide us on the right path], one only begs to be shown the straight and flawless path. There is no mention in it of any religion, nor of any particular way, nor does it include any indication of any specific fundamental principle. It consists only of a request to be granted the truth – truth that is unadulterated and pure. The prayer can be repeatedly offered by anyone without causing injury to their belief or view. No Christian, Jew, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Buddhist or atheist can raise an objection against these words. An atheist does not believe in God Almighty. However, they can pray in these words: ‘If God exists, then I beseech Him to show me the right path’. Thus, this is a comprehensive, sound and universal prayer; every one, in all circumstances, needs it and can have no reservation about offering it. It is my experience that those irreligious people who have offered this prayer on my advice, Allah Almighty has disclosed to them the truth of Islam. Furthermore, I am certain on the basis of my experience that whosoever offers this prayer out of sincerity of heart, will surely have the means of their guidance be brought about by God the Almighty. For it is not possible that the Creator of this world should exist, and yet the one who is crying out for guidance should return from His threshold disappointed.


[1] The Holy Qur’an, 47:18.