Could A Muslim Go Astray?

27 December, 2016
Q Salams. Does verse 16:125 refer to non-practicing Muslims? I mean, I know it refers to non-Muslims and giving da`wah; but what struck me was about the part where it spoke of those who went astray. Now can that refer to Muslims as well, like the ones who are misguided and do haram things?

Answer

Asalam Alaikum Ali,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with such a great question.
Let me, first of all, commend and praise your reflection on the Quran, which is highly encouraged by the Quran and the Sunnah. Muslims are thus invited to ponder on, understand, and follow the instructions of the Quran.

As for the Quranic verse you have referred to, it reads:

{Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and argue with them in the best way possible. Your Lord surely knows best who has gone astray from His way, and He knows best who are the rightly guided.} (An-Nahl 16:125)

Before delving deeply into the significant points you have raised, I’d like to draw your attention to the precious pieces of advice for a dayee (caller to Islam) conveyed in the above Quranic verse.

Callers to Islam and scholars are advised to adopt wisdom, fair exhortation, kindness, leniency, scientific means, and noble manners in their dawah (explaining Islam to people).

Though the above Quranic verse addresses Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him-PBUH), the general meanings of the verse are applicable to all Muslims.

Exploring the Divine messages by means of wisdom and noble manners is the approach that was adopted by all prophets of God.

For instance, Allah commanded Musa (Moses) and Harun (Aaron) (peace be on them) to speak kindly with Pharaoh, one of the worst dictators and oppressive rulers the world has ever known, hoping that he may perceive and follow the Divine message.

Thus, Allah says in the Quran:

{Go, both of you, unto Pharaoh. Lo! He has transgressed (the bounds). And speak unto him a gentle word, that perhaps he may heed or fear.} (Ta-Ha 20:43-44)

Moreover, Allah Almighty has warned scholars and callers to Islam against harshness and hardheartedness. He, Almighty, addresses the Prophet, and callers to Islam as well, saying:

{It was by the mercy of Allah that you were lenient with them (O Muhammad), for if you had been stern and fierce of heart, they would have dispersed from round about you. So, pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs. And when you are resolved, then put your trust in Allah. Lo! Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him).} (Aal-Imran 3:159)

Now, let’s move to the points you raised. The above-mentioned Quranic verse of surat (chapter) an-Nahl (16:125) refers to both Muslims and non-Muslims. In his well-known book, Al-Jami` li Ahkam Al-Quran, Imam Al-Qurtubi says:

This Quranic verse (An-Nahl 16:125) was revealed in Makkah […] Allah instructs His Prophet [and callers to Islam as well] to call to the Divine religion and message by means of kindness and leniency, away from harshness and sternness. This way, Muslims should be preached and invited to the straight path until the Day of Judgment […] It, thus, applies to preaching [to] sinful Muslims […] And, it is applicable to preaching [to] disbelievers too […] (Al-Qurtubi, Al-Jami` li Ahkam Al-Quran, 10:200)

Therefore, the closing of the Quranic verse (16:125) (Your Lord surely knows best who has gone astray from His way, and He knows best who are the rightly guided) alludes to a message that a Muslim could go astray if he or she doesn’t remain steadfast in the straight path of Islam or doesn’t closely adhere to the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah.

It is no wonder, then, that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself has taught Muslims to frequently make dua (supplications) to Allah to help them be steadfast in the straight path of Islam.

Shahr ibn Hawshab said:

I said to Umm Salamah: “O Mother of the Believers! What was the supplication that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said most frequently when he was with you?” She said: “The supplication he said most frequently was: ‘Yaa muqallib al-quloob thabbit qalbee `alaa deenika (O Changer of Hearts, keep my heart steadfast on Your religion)’. She said: “So I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, why do you supplicate so frequently: O Changer of hearts, keep my heart steadfast on Your religion’? He said: “O Umm Salamah! Verily, there is no human being except that his heart is between Two Fingers of the Fingers of Allah, so whomever He wills He makes steadfast, and whomever He wills He causes to deviate.” So (one of the narrators) Mua`dh recited: (O our Lord, do not cause our hearts to deviate after You have guided us.) (Aal -Imran 3: 8)”. (At-Tirmidhi, Sunan, Hadith No. 3522)

In every rakah (prayer unit) of our salah (daily and optional prayers), we read surat Al-Fatihah where we call on Allah, saying: 

{Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom You have favored; Not (the path) of those who earn Your anger nor of those who [go] astray}. (1:6-7)

This Quranic dua, that a Muslim reads at least 17 times every day, shows how far a Muslim is in need of asking Allah Almighty to guide him to the straight path and help him be steadfast on it. This dua also includes calling on Allah to help a Muslim keep away from going astray.

Given the above, every Muslim needs to:

  1. Frequently ask Allah to guide him to the straight path and help him be steadfast on it,
  2. Draw him or herself closer to Allah by means of carrying out the religious duties, doing as many good deeds as possible, and steering clear of all prohibitions,
  3. Enhance his faith and iman,
  4. Enrich his knowledge of Islam by means of frequently visiting the nearby Islamic center or masjid, browsing reliable Islamic websites, and reading good books about Islam, and
  5. Encircle himself with good, practicing friends who could help in being steadfast on the straight path of Islam.

May Allah Almighty guide us to all that is best for us in this world and in the Hereafter, Ameen.

Walaikum Asalam and please keep in touch.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

How Does Islam Affect Our Lives?

Striving for God’s Guidance

How To Avoid Distance from God?

Heart & its Connection with God

My Brother is Drifting Away from Islam