What is True Guidance?
Here, I would like to reflect on very important Verses of Quran, on the subject of being rightly guided. These are not Verses known by or quoted by the extremist groups, since they don’t delve very much into Quran itself for guidance. But extremists claim to be rightly-guided, while they claim the rest of us are not.
Let us see what God says about right guidance.
In Verse 12 of the Chapter ‘Maryam,’ God says:
‘O John, take the book, God’s Guidance, with strength.’
Many of the Prophets, not just Prophet John peace be upon him, are told this by God.
Why ‘strength’? Because to respond to guidance needs strength – religion is not a game, and has never been an easy little accessory that fits into a worldly life, or functions as one commitment amongst many. Religion asks that all of our commitment be to God Alone, our Creator, our Protector, our Sustainer. This means we are committed to being good, through and through, and resisting the false gods of the ego and Satan.
Throughout all of history, choosing God’s Guidance has meant abandoning other temptations – sin, worldliness, luxury, fame, arrogance, desire for power, abuse of others, and contentment with this life alone. God recognizes that the revival of the heart is an experience that calls for strength – that kind of strength to fully seek God’s illumination of all of one’s dark spots. This strength is to be differentiated from the strength of might, the strength that is material and ego-strength – that manifests as arrogance and pride in one’s beliefs, desire to impose what one believes on others or use them to critique and judge others, and desire to be extreme and fanatical about one’s positions. The desire to be good, to commit one’s life to the Truth, must never be confused with extremism or perverted towards extremism, as it is being today.
And then right after this statement to Prophet John, God continues:
‘and We gave him resolve in his youth.’
We read that when revelation was received by the Prophets it made them fall on their knees, trembling and shaking, and we read that it takes resolve to receive guidance.
God says after that:
‘and We gave him loving affection towards others, and purity and charitableness, and he was mindful of God. And he was so kind to his Parents. And he was not harsh, forceful and difficult to deal with. So peace was upon him the day he was born, the day he died, and the day he is raised to life again.’
This list of qualities is attached to the first quality (strength) – they come together. God says: and he was not harsh – to differentiate between the strength He is calling us to demonstrate and the strength which is harsh: arrogant, forceful, forcing of others. Harshness and speaking or acting disrespectfully or being in any way difficult to deal with have no place in the behaviour of one who is guided.
This is entire scriptural message is one that our youth are in great need of understanding today.
Firstly, we need to understand that we cannot give our youth a diluted version of faith, one that fails to require of them their full strength. We cannot expect them to accept faith-lite. It’s not natural: it’s not the genuine article, and it’s also against the nature with which God has created youth and how He wants them to be: He wants them to take things seriously.
But our youth need to understand that they need to have all the qualities God mentions with this strength, all together. With strength in taking God’s Guidance comes the ability to show affectionate kindness towards others. With strength in taking God’s Guidance comes purity of character and a charitable attitude.With strength in taking God’s Guidance comes goodness to one’s Parents. So if you think you have strength in holding onto guidance, but you cannot find shining within yourself these traits, then you should know that you are not on the right track. If indeed you find yourself closer to the contrast – someone who is at times harsh and difficult to deal with – then know that you are in great danger. In essence, you have not taken true guidance.
Let me make this extremely clear, in case it was missed: being religious – that is, adhering to a set of theological beliefs and practising certain rituals – is not the same thing as receiving God’s Guidance. This is the answer to the question many people pose: but why are some religious people so mean? The answer is simple: being religious is not the same as being guided. Granted, everyone is on a journey, and they may be striving to receive the beautiful qualities God named, and may not have reached that point of perfect attainment yet. But these must be priorities, and this is where a mentor, a guide, can be very helpful in assisting this process.
God never asked us to be ‘religious’ – He asked us to take guidance from Him.
It must be said that the majority of youth today who think they are taking the book with strength – even those who are not terrorists or extremists – do not have these beautiful qualities. Instead, they are very difficult people to deal with, hard to get along with, self-righteous. They impose their views on others, and judge and criticize others, especially their parents. It is so common these days for youth to see their parents as being less guided than they are, when in fact, a simple assessment of who has the qualities God mentioned in the Verses above will put their parents in the category of guided, and them outside of it.
Goodness to Parents and Respect for Adults in General
The common denominator shared by all those who believe they are guided, but commit vile acts of terrorism and extremism, is that they are not good to their Parents. In fact, they find it very hard to be good to their Parents. That simple thing eludes them. Look how great this Verse in God’s Revelation is, how complete. It’s really a miracle: these qualities are mentioned altogether in a series so one can know clearly what guidance looks like and how to identify when it’s an illusion. We need to teach our youth that this is what guidance looks like, so they know what to strive for, what to make jihad about! Clearing one’s life of evil qualities and behaviours to make room for good is the jihad the Prophet peace be upon him called the ‘Great Jihad’ which is one we are called upon to engage in all the time. It’s an internal struggle that takes all our resolve.
The Prophet peace be upon him said:
Whoever does not treat his elder with respect and his junior with loving kindness is not one of us.
Respect for the sacredness of human life comes out of how we treat human beings around us, all the time. So yes, the outcome of living a life in which we fail to offer those around us respect and loving kindness – both those who are family and those who are strangers, is that we feel less of an issue with whether they live or die. In most cases, this manifests in people simply not caring much to go out of their way to assist others, to enhance quality and length of life in others, to visit the sick and elderly. In some individuals who are at the centre of a perfect storm of factors, it contributes to an indifferent attitude towards taking others’ lives. This is what unites school shooters and terrorists and serial killers. Somewhere along the line, they stopped looking at their fellow human beings with respect and loving kindness. We cannot ignore the role that modern culture and societal norms plays in laying the foundation for such ugly results.
Religious Deviation: Arrogance
So we understand that taking a path of guidance with strength doesn’t mean using one’s guidance to judge others. Taking the book with strength requires one to purify oneself. ‘None can touch the book except those who are purified,’ God tells us in another verse.
If we read the text of God without being purified of seeds of Satan within us, we will be reading the most pure text with the glasses of: I am better than him, which is the Satanic way of looking at things and considering things, since Satan became Satan by saying: I am better than Prophet Adam, I will not show him respect. We read some verses speaking of the enemies of God and we take for granted that we are His Friends, while these Verses were revealed to make us humble and make us aware of our need to cling to God and our potential to become lost if we are not mindful.
Then if I am Jewish, I read the Torah and think I am the elected, and I am guided, and better than everyone else, and if I am Christian, I read the Bible and believe only I am saved, and likewise, and if I am Muslim, I read the Quran and think I am the good one and everyone else is bad.
This is what leads to extremism, fanaticism, fundamentalism: not realizing that the Book, when it speaks of darkness and light, good and bad, is talking about the forces within me – not about me vs. Others! God is talking about the pharaoh within me, the tyrant within me, the oppressor that is the ego oppressing the soul within me.
As humans, our tendency is to run away when forced to look in the mirror and face our true reality. This is where we need resolve. Many of us hold onto the original concept of guidance, but cannot go further with it because we lack resolve to face ourselves. We must face ourselves and see ourselves in the Book, in order to complete our guidance.
If we fail to do this, what we end up resorting to is using the Book to identify others’ faults. This is not what God asked us to do when He told us: take guidance with strength. We cannot combat extremism except by taking the book with true strength – receiving resolve to face our selves, and thereafter receiving from God beautiful qualities of affectionate kindness, goodness to Parents, and so on, with which to enhance and purify our relationships in this life.
This then is the explanation, from a Scriptural Perspective, of what is happening to our youth today. They are seeking a religious life, they are espousing the Book and guidance. But when they get that guidance, they take it with arrogance, and they end up losing it because they do not receive the attendant gift from God of inner resolve to face their own darknesses and uproot them, and clear the way for the other beautiful qualities God gave to Prophet John. Instead, all kinds of ugly spiritual weeds that are the hallmarks of extremism, such as arrogance, pride, and hatred, spring up and take over in that garden of the heart, choking out the light. This is because there is no gardener – there is no respected figure to provide spiritual mentorship. When the garden becomes full of weeds, you can’t even find the seed of guidance anymore. It will have been suffocated. And absolutely no one can come and eat the fruits of that garden, which is the whole point of being a recipient of God’s guidance: that you become a blessing to your society and all those around you.
Black and White Thinking
I’d like to reiterate something that many have said before: extremists tend to see things black and white. That’s why they embrace the most simplistic view of religion, mentioned above: making oneself look pure and upright, in comparison to others or by demonizing others. They start on an individual level, treating their Parents and local community members with arrogance, and then they expand it into a kind of Lord of the Rings paradigm that encompasses the world. In this view, there are the forces of dark and the forces of light; the dark is unredeemably and absolutely dark, and the light is perfectly and abidingly light. Those who buy into this worldview take for granted that they are on the side of light, without ever leaving room for humility and self-questioning before God.
To go back to the Lord of the Rings for comparison, in this worldview the hobbits are the good ones and they tolerate their fellow hobbit when he steals, because he is one of them. A hobbit addicted to drugs is nothing; a hobbit who has no real interest in being close to God is fine. The only crime a hobbit can commit is sell himself to the darkness (the other side). Everything else is forgivable. That is the exact same paradigm that exists in extremist fundamentalist groups. That’s how they perceive religion: a group they belong to, an identity, a superiority. As long as they identify within that identity, they are fine, and every other sin they do including major sins such as drinking and fornication, is not a big deal.
All the extremist groups just want to fight the other. They do not want to see any beauty or any goodness in the other because that would make their entire worldview fall apart.
Their main goal is to bring about the pre-apocalyptic war described in the holy texts, in which the people of good will be fighting those of evil, humanity divided into two groups: people of evil without any goodness in them, and people of goodness without evil in them. When these teachings about the end of times are brought up without any discussion of their authenticity or interpretation, what is presented is a very attractive and simplistic video game or movie-like scenario. The ego offers: It’s an epic war, better than a video game because you as a youth can be part of it. You can be important, you can make history. For once you won’t be on the sidelines; even better, you won’t need to accept any authority above you – it’ll be you be calling the shots.
For extremists, we are at the extreme end of the earth’s lifespan, and it’s time for the final war. All extremist groups around the world from the Baptist clans to the right-wing Jewish clans to the Muslim extremist clans build their raison d’etre around this scenario, and they want to push events towards this brink. They are not interested in dialogue or even guiding those they see as evil towards good. There have to be people they can justifiably call evil out there in order to validate extremists’ existence.
Muslim right-wingers take for granted that they are the true followers of Muhammad ﷺ, and likewise right-wing Christians believe they are true followers of Jesus, and right-wing Jews that they are true followers of Moses. These extremist groups claim their guidance as being total and absolute, and take it for granted without ever engaging in self-questioning. Self-questioning and making space for God Alone to be the Judge are what destroy the thrust of extremist thought. Completely.
At this point, we need to ask how we as religious communities can revive the spirit of Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, and become true People of God whose very presence affects others and reflects the light of God. Until we can send out this blessed call, one that is worthy of being transported and amplified by God Himself, we are not going to be able to stand as a viable alternative to the negative forces pulling at humanity today – be they forces of terrorists or forces of state armies or the whisperings of extremist cults – all bent on bringing about clash and disharmony. We will all have to answer about what we did to resist these forces.
Want to help counter extremism? Shaykh Hamdi and the Team at Sanad Collective are working to provide alternatives to extremism by establishing places from which to share safe teachings on Islam with youth, converts, and people of all backgrounds. Do your part to combat extremism in our community: Support this noble cause today