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These are the four categories of those who find favour with Allah. Among them all, the prophets are the greatest. The siddiqin (the constantly true) are those who acquire spiritual perfection, and thus -- attain the highest rank among the followers of a prophet. In common parlance, they are called Men of Allah, or saints.' The Shuhada' (martyrs) are those who sacrifice even their lives for the sake of their faith (or, who bear witness to the truth, as the word admits of both meanings). The righteous (the Salihin) are those who follow the Shari'ah completely, not only in the matter of obligations (Wiijibat) but also with regard to commendable (mustahabb) actions. In everyday language they are called the pious or the virtuous or the good.
This verse, then, determines the straight path in a positive manner, identifying it with the path followed by men of these four categories. The next verse, by a process of elimination, does the same in a negative manner by says:
غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ
Not of those who have incurred your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray.
Those who have incurred Allah's wrath are the people, who inspite of being quite familiar with the commandments of Allah wilfully go against them out of a calculated perversity or in the service of their desires, or, in other words, who are deficient in obeying divine injunctions. This, for example, was the general condition of the Jews who were ready to sacrifice their religion for the sake of a petty worldly gain, and used to insult and sometimes even to kill their prophets.
As for الضَّالِّينَ (those who go astray), they are the people who, out of ignorance or lack of thought, go beyond the limits appointed by Allah, and indulge in excess and exaggeration in religious matters. This, for example, has generally been the error of the Christians who exceeded the limits in their reverence for a prophet and turned him into a god. On the one hand, there is the rebelliousness of the Jews who not only refused to listen to the prophets of Allah but went on to kill them; on the other hand, there is the excessive zeal of the Christians who deified a prophet.
Thus, the essential meaning of the verse is that, in praying for the straight path, we do not ask for the path of those who are the slaves of their desires, perverse in thought and action, and deficient in performing their religious obligations, nor the path of those who are ignorant or unmindful or misled, and indulge in excess and exaggeration in religious matters, but wish for a path between these two extremes, which inclines neither towards excess nor towards deficiency, and which is as free of the promptings of desires as of doubts and confusions and of erroneous beliefs.
In short, the prayer for the straight path is the essence of the Siirah Al-Fatihah. Since knowing and following the straight path is the real knowledge and the real achievement in this mortal world, a mistake in picking it up right takes peoples and nations to riiins; otherwise, therk are even non-Muslims who claim to be seeking God and undertake stupendous labours to attain this end. The Holy Qur'an has, therefore, defined the straight path so explicitly from a positive as well as eliminative point of view.
The Key to the Straight Path But, before we proceed, there is another problem to be considered, the answer to which would open the door to a new and more comprehensive understanding. It would seem that in order to define the straight path it should have been sufficient to call it 'the path of the Prophet (SM) or 'the path of the Qur'an', which should also have been more succinct and more explicit, for the whole of the Holy Qur'an is really an explanation of the straight path, and the teachings of the Holy Prophet (SM) , an elaboration. But, setting aside the succinct and explicit form of expression, the Holy Qur'an has taken up two verses of this short Surah for defining and delimiting the straight path positively and negatively, and has thus indicated that if one wishes to follow the straight path, one should seek such and such men 'those on whom Allah has bestowed His grace...', and adopt their way. Here, the Holy Qur'an does not ask us to follow the 'path of the Qur'an', for a book alone is not sufficient for the grooming of man; nor does it ask us to follow 'the path of the prophet', for the Holy Prophet (SM) was not to be in this world for ever, and no other prophet was to come after him. So, in enumerating those whose teaching and example can help us attain the straight path, the Holy Qur'an has, besides the prophets (SM) , included those too, who will always be found living among us till the last day of the world -- namely, the siddiqin, the Shuhada, and the righteous.
For the purpose of indicating the manner in which one can find the straight path, the Holy Qur'an has thus referred not to a book but to certain men. According to a hadst, when the Holy Prophet (SM) in-formed his Companions that, like earlier communities, his 'Ummah' too would be divided into seventy or seventy-two sects, and that only one among them would be on the right path, they wanted to know as to which group it would be. The answer he gave also leads on to certain men of Allah, for he said: ما أنا عليه وأصحابي (That which follows my way and the way of my Companions). All this comes to mean that written books or oral traditions alone cannot teach, train and discipline man; for this, one has to be with knowing men, and learning from them. In yet other words, the real teacher and groomer of man has to be another man; a book cannot take that place all by itself. How curtly this was pointed out by Akbar, the famous Urdu poet-humourist, who said:
كورس تو لفظ بي سكها تى بيس
آدمى آدمى بنا تى بيش
which, in English, comes close to saying: "Courses teach words. But, men train men." This truth holds good even for spheres of everyday life.
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