Allāh Opens the Hearts of Whom He Wills
In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and Thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of al-‘alameen. There is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu alayhi wasallam, is His Messenger.
Allāh guides whom He wills and all of us would be astray except for those Allah have guided. It means Allāh opens the hearts, the ‘hidayah’ of whom He Wills and likewise Seals the hearts of others.
The Arabic term ‘hidāyah’ means ‘guidance’. The verb ‘yahdi’ means 'to grant guidance'. Indeed it is Almighty Allāh who grants guidance to mankind. Thus hidāyah is a God-given gift, which Almighty Allāh alone who places in the heart of whomever He wants to provide guidance. And, Allāh Almighty does what He Wills.
Allāh Subhānahu wa ta’ala, opens the hearts of which He Wills and similarly Seals the hearts of others as He Wills.
The Qur’an mentions twice that Allāh seals the hearts of those who do not believe:
Allāh Subhānahu wa ta’ala Says:
“As to those who reject faith, it is the same to them whether you warn them or not; they will not believe. Allah has set a seal on their hearts and on their ears, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they [incur]” [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 6 – 7]
“Then see the one who took as his god his own vain desire? Allah has, [knowing him as such], left him astray as he did not follow the guidance of his own knowledge, and Allah sealed his ears and his heart [and understanding], and put a cover on his sight. Who, then, will guide him after Allah [has withdrawn guidance]? Will you not then receive admonition?” [Surah Al-Jathiyah, 45: 23]
Or perhaps you are asking about a verse which means:
“The foolish among the people will say: “What has turned them from the direction to which they were praying [From Jerusalem to Makkah]?” Say: “To Allah belong both East and West: He guides whom He will to a straight path.”
[Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:142]
This phrase, here translated to mean that “Allāh guides whom He wills”, is repeated many times in the Qur’an. Some scholars who interpret the Qur’an grasp the meaning of this phrase as: “Allah guides ‘he’ who wants to be guided.” This then directly relates to the many verses that describe who will not be guided as the unjust, rebellious, agnostic, etc.
However, if the Arabic is understood with the meaning that Allāh Almighty Guides whom He wills, we may well ask whether Allah has created believers and non-believers? This raises the question: is everything predestined or ordained in advance, or do we have a free will? The answer does not conflict with the first interpretation.
If Allāh Almighty did create or ordain our actions, then we would not have free will, and it would not be just to hold us accountable on the Day of Judgment. Likewise, it would not be just if it were ordained at our creation that we would end up in Paradise or Hell, no matter what our choices turned to be.
But one of the names or attributes of Allāh is Al-‘Adl, the Just. Allāh cannot and does not do anything unjust. Therefore we must reject the Doctrine of Pre-Destination other than stipulated in the Quran and Sunnah.
The Question of Free Will
So do we have a total free will? If we give this question careful thought and investigation, we might reach the conclusion that there are a few aspects of our life about which we have no say. We cannot choose when we are born, to which parents, nor when we are going to die, whether we are born into a rich or poor family, or what sex we are born into. But after that we can choose how to act, what moral code we abide by, what social and political responsibilities we fulfill or ignore.
There is a Hadith (tradition of Prophet Muhammad, Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) on this subject that describes this. It was narrated by his companion ‘Abdullah (radiyallāhu‘anhu) as follows:
Allāh’s Messenger (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:
“Each one of you was collected within the womb of his mother for forty days, and then turns into a clot [or something that clings] for an equal period [of forty days] and turns into a piece of flesh for a similar period [of forty days] and then Allāh sends an angel and orders him to write four things, i.e., his provision, his age [at death], and whether he will be of the wretched or the blessed [in the Hereafter].
Then the soul is breathed into him. And by Allāh, a person among you [or a man] may do deeds of the people of the Hellfire till there is only a cubit or an arm-breadth distance between him and the Hellfire, but then that writing [which Allāh has ordered the angel to write] precedes, and then he does the deeds of the people of Paradise and enters it; and a man may do the deeds of the people of Paradise till there is only a cubit or two between him and Paradise, and then that writing precedes and he does the deeds of the people of the Fire and enters it.”
[Bukhari Vol 8, Book 77, Number 593]
Most people, when they read this, think that it means that when the angel writes these four things, Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta‘ala is commanding these things to happen. However, scholars explain that while this is true for one’s age and provision - at least at birth - the angel is recording something that will happen, but that record does not ‘make’ it happen.
It simply reflects a conception of time and knowledge of Allāh beyond time and space. We have to always remember that Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala Says is never limited by the boundaries of time and space. He gives us free will, but He knows beforehand — even before we were created — what our choices and their consequences will be.
The Question of Guidance
The Qur’an related to the question of guidance:
“Allah disdains not to use the similitude of things, lowest as well as highest. Those who believe know that it is truth from their Lord; but those who reject faith say: ‘What means Allah by this similitude?’ By it He causes many to stray, and many He leads into the right path; But He causes not to stray, except those who forsake [the path]”
[Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 26]
Then in following verses Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala Says:
“If We had ordered them [the hypocrites] to sacrifice their lives or to leave their homes, very few of them would have done it; but if they had done what they were [actually] told, it would have been best for them, and would have gone farthest to strengthen their [faith]; and We should then have given them from Our Presence a great reward; and We should have shown them the Straight Way.” [Surah An-Nisā’, 4: 66 – 68]
Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala also Says:
“Some He has guided; others have [by their choice] deserved the loss of their way, in that they took the evil ones, in preference to God, for their friends and protectors, and think that they receive guidance.” [Surah Al-‘Araf, 7: 30]
“Verily God will not deal unjustly with man in aught; it is man that wrongs his own soul. One day He will gather them together; [it will be] as if they had tarried but an hour of a day; they will recognize each other; assuredly those will be lost who denied the meeting with God and refused to receive true guidance.” [Surah Yunus, 10: 44 – 45]
Allāh Almighty Guides whom He wills
Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala Says:
“… Say: “Truly Allah leaves to stray whom He will; but He guides to Himself those who turn to Him in penitence.”
[Surah Ar-Raad, 13: 27]
Allāh said to His Messenger (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam):
“And the Jews will not be pleased with thee, nor will the Christians, till thou follow their creed. Say: Lo! The guidance of Allāh (Himself) is Guidance. And if thou shouldst follow their desires after the knowledge which hath come unto thee, then wouldst thou have from Allah no protecting guardian nor helper.” [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:120]
“Verily, you (O Muhammad) guide not whom you like, but Allāh guides whom He wills. And He knows best those who are the guided” [Al-Qasas, 28:56]
These are but a few of the many verses in the Qur’an that speak of guidance.
In addition, in many verses the Qur’an says: “Allāh guides not the people who are unjust…” [Surah Al-Mā'idah, 5:51]; “Allāh guides not those who reject faith…” [Surah 'Āli `Imrān, 3:86];
In a nutshell Allāh Almighty does not guide the unjust and those who reject the faith.
Finally, a Hadith Qudsi, which means the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) reported in his own words what Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala had revealed to him:
Abu Hurairah, (radiyallāhu‘anhu), narrated, Allāh’s Messenger (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:
“Allāh, the Exalted and Glorious, stated: ‘I am near to the thought of My servant as he thinks about Me, and I am with him as he remembers Me. And if he remembers Me in his heart, I also remember him in My Heart, and if he remembers Me in assembly I remember him in assembly, better than his [remembrance], and if he draws near Me by the span of a palm, I draw near him by a cubit, and if he draws near Me by a cubit I draw near him by the space [covered by] two arms. And if he walks towards Me, I rush towards him.’”
[Reported by Muslim]
In one of the most comprehensive Hadith Qudsi Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam) narrated that Allah Almighty Says::
'O My slaves, I have forbidden oppression for Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another.
O My slaves, all of you are astray except for those I have guided, so seek guidance of Me and I shall guide you.
O My slaves, all of you are hungry except for those I have fed, so seek food of Me and I shall feed you.
O My slaves, all of you are naked except for those I have clothed, so seek clothing of Me and I shall clothe you.
O My slaves, you sin by night and by day, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive you.
O My slaves, you will not harm Me so nor will you benefit Me.
O My slaves, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as pious as the most pious heart of any one man of you, that would not increase My kingdom in anything.
O My slaves, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as wicked as the most wicked heart of any one man of you, that would not decrease My kingdom in anything.
O My slaves, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to rise up in one place and make a request of Me, and were I to give everyone what he requested, that would not decrease what I have, any more than a needle decreases the sea if put into it.
O My slaves, it is but your deeds that I reckon up for you and then recompense you for, so let him who finds good praise Allāh and let him who finds other than that blame no one but himself.”
[Recorded by Muslim]
Seek Guidance from Allāh Almighty
The Qur'an makes it clear that there are certain conditions and qualifications to gain hidāyah. In the very beginning of Surat Al-Fātihah, believers are instructed to seek guidance from Allāh: “Show us the straight path. The path of those whom Thou hast favored; not [the path] of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who astray.” [Surah Al-Fatihah, 1:6-7]
Every day in our prayers we ask Allāh to guide us to the straight path, the path that leads directly to His mercy and forgiveness. At least seventeen times a day Muslims repeat the words of the opening chapter of the Quran. We ask for Allāh’s guidance, acknowledge that we worship Him alone and seek help from Him alone.
“In the Name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. All the praises and thanks be to Allāh, the Lord of mankind, jinn and all that exists. The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. The Only Owner (and the Only Ruling Judge) of the Day of Recompense (i.e. the Day of Resurrection). You (Alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help. Guide us to the Straight Path. The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who incur Your wrath (i.e. those who knew the Truth, but did not follow it) nor of those who went astray (i.e. those who did not follow the Truth out of ignorance and error).” (Al-Fātihah, 1: 1-7)
And Allāh also says: “The foolish of the people will say: What hath turned them from the qiblah which they formerly observed? Say: Unto Allah belong the East and the West. He guideth whom He will unto a straight path.” [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:142]
The Qur'an also clarifies that those who gain guidance and feel its sweetness are not the sleepy, the lazy or the advocates of the evil, but it is the pious and the devout who spend their all for the sake of Allāh. Almighty Allāh speaks of the Qur'an as being ‘hudan li-l-muttaqeen’ guidance unto those who ward off - evil.) Simply, because Allāh helps only those who want to help themselves.
Again the Qur'an states that those who seek guidance will be elevated in guidance and given more of it. Thus, two facts are to be considered; hidāyah is the divine gift which Almighty Allāh gives to whomever He loves and people should be qualified with piety and Allāh fearing in order to gain it.
Of course people differ in regards to their reception of guidance; some people are ready and fast in achieving guidance while others are too slow. In the hadith, The Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) categorizes people, in respect of receiving and accepting the guidance he brings, into three categories: those who benefit the guidance themselves and help others get it, those who just help others but are not able to practice it themselves, and those who are like barren land, they do not accept guidance nor do they help people find it.
Abu-Musa `Abdullah ibn Qays al-Ash`ari, better known as Abu Musa al-Ash`ari (radiyallāhu`anhu), reported that the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:
"The similitude of that guidance and knowledge with which Allāh Almighty has sent me is that of rain falling upon the earth. There is a good piece of land which receives the rainfall readily and as a result of it there is grown in it herbage and grass abundantly. Then there is a land hard and barren that retains water and the people derive benefit from it and they drink and make the animals drink.
Then there is another land which is barren, no water is retained, nor is the grass grown. And that is the similitude of the first one who develops the understanding of the religion of Allāh and benefits from the knowledge with which Allāh sent me. He acquires the knowledge of religion and imparts it to others. [Then the other type is] one who does not pay attention to [the revealed knowledge] and thus does not accept guidance of Allāh with which I have been sent."
[Reported in Sahih Muslim]
The Guidance enables a person to be on the Right Path, accept and be grateful for the blessings that Allāh bestows every second of every day. Humankind has the great need for Allāh, while, acknowledging that Allāh has no need for us. He is All Powerful, All Mighty.
So, search for Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala and you will find Him. May Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala Guide us all to the Right Path. The pious and righteous will be rewarded with Jannah whilst the wicked, disbelievers, sinners and evildoers would be in the blazing Hell Fire.
Allāh Almighty says: "Verily, the Abrar (pious and righteous) will be in Delight (Jannah).And verily; the Fujjar (the wicked, disbelievers, sinners and evildoers) will be in the blazing Fire (Hell)." [Al-Infitar, 82:13, 14]
Thus the believers must constantly supplicate to Allah Almighty for his guidance to the straight path, righteous in our deeds and steadfast in Ad-Deen.
The Prophet, (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam) taught the ummmah to seek Allah’s forgiveness, guidance, steadfast and hasanah. ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar (radiyallāhu’anhu) said: We counted Messenger's saying a hundred times during one single sitting: ‘Rabb ighfir li wa tubb `alayya innaka antat-tawwābul ghafūrur -rahīm’ (O Allāh, forgive me and accept my repentance, for You are the Accepter of Repentance, Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful). [Recorded by Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidzi].
It was narrated that the Prophet (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam) said to a man (one of the Sahabah): “What do you say when you prayer (Du’a after the Tashahhud)?” He said: “I recite the Tashahhud, then I say: “Allāhumma inni as alukal-Jannah wa a`udzu bika Minan-nār” (O Allāh, I ask You for Paradise and seek refuge in You from the Fire).I cannot murmur like you and like Mu‘adz.” Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam) said: “It is about them that we were murmuring.” [Narrated by Abu Dawud, 792: sahih]
`Abdullah bin Mas`ud (radiyallahu‘anhu) reported that the Prophet (Sallallahu`alayhi wasallam) used to say: "Allahumma inni as `alukal-huda wat-tuqa wal-`afafa wal-ghina (O Allah! I ask You for guidance, piety, chastity and self-sufficiency)". [Recorded by Muslim].
Guidance here means guidance at every turn of life and steadfastness on the path of truth. Fear of Allah is the greatest means of piety and strongest defense against sins. Chastity is the state of being free from what is unlawful. Self-sufficiency is the antonym of poverty and here it means the self-contentment. What it implies is that one should not care for what people possess. In view of all these qualities, the do’a of the Prophet (Sallallahu`alayhi wasallam) mentioned in this Hadith is very comprehensive and valuable.
Anas Ibn Mālik (radiyallāhu’anhu) who said: “The supplication most often recited by Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam): Rabbana-ātina-fid-dunya hasanah, Wa fil-ākhirati-hasanah, Wa-qina-`ādzabānnār (O Lord! Bestow upon us in this world that which is good and in the Hereafter that which is good, and save us from the punishment of the Fire).’” (Al-Baqārah 2:201) [This is recorded by Al-Bukhāri, Muslim, and Tarmidzi]. Tarmidzi (rahimullāh) said: “Hasanah is very comprehensive and includes in all kinds of good and benefits of this world and of the Hereafter. Good health, wealth and satisfaction of the world and good status in Jannah, forgiveness from sins and Allāh’s bounties and favours in both worlds are included in this duā’” [Recorded in Jāmi’ At-Tarmidzi]
Ibn Abi Hatim and Ibn Jarir recorded that Umm Salamah (radiyallāhu`anha), said that the Prophet (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam) used to supplicate: ‘Ya muqallibal-qulubi, thabbit qalbi `ala dinik (O Controller of the hearts make my heart steadfast in Your religion).”Rasulullah (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam) then recited: Rabbana la tuzia’qulubana ba’ daiz hadaitana wahab Lana min laduñ karahmah; Iñnaka an tal wahhāb. (Our Lord! Let not our hearts deviate (from the truth) after Thou have guided us, and grant us mercy from Thou. Truly, Thou are the Bestower.) (Al-`Imran, 3:8) [This is recorded by Muslim and At-Tirmidzi]
Abu Musa (radiyallāhu‘anhu) reported: The Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said to me, “Shall I not guide you to a treasure from the treasures of Jannah?'' I said: "Yes, O Messenger of Allāh!'' Thereupon he (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: (Recite) ‘Lā hawla wa lā quwwata illa billāhil [‘aly-yul ‘Azeem]’ (There is neither change of any condition nor power except by Allāh [the Most High, the Most Magnificent]).'' [This is recorded by Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
And Allāh Almighty Knows best.
[Excerpted with minor modification from Islam Online (Ask about Islam by Ælfwine Mischler), 24th.May 2003 as obtained via Q&A]