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The Path to the Light

(Part 1)

Every minute, somewhere in the world, a Muslim stands facing Mecca in prayer. In each unit of prayer, nestled into the verses of chapter Al-Fatihah, a crucial du’a, or supplication, is made:

{Guide us to the straight path} (Quran 1:6)

Often we recite this verse without thinking about what we are asking. What is the straight path? Where does it begin, and to where does it lead? How do we navigate it, and, if we lose our way, how do we come back again?

The allegory of life being like a path or a road is found in many cultures and languages. We often hear things like, “the path to success is never easy,” or “the road of life is filled with twists and turns.”

However, the specific path mentioned in chapter Al-Fatihah must be something significant enough that we ask Allah Almighty for it in every single one of our prayers.

This series of articles hopes, by the will of Allah, to help us learn about this path: the path to the Light.

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The Nature of the Path

Throughout the Quran, Allah Almighty uses metaphors and allegories to help us better understand His words. Had Allah willed, chapter Al-Fatihah could have asked for guidance to a specific place—a single spot in space and time whereby the one arriving at it would have achieved faith.

But Allah, in His infinite wisdom, described it as a path, a way. This is no coincidence.

Think for a moment about a physical path that guides us from one place to another. It may not be paved, but is still distinguishable from the earth around it. The successions of people or animals that have trod over it have worn away at the earth, creating any obvious track in the ground to lead the way. In most cases, the path exists where it does because that is the way upon which travelling is the easiest and safest. For a traveler lost in the woods, finding a path brings much peace of mind.

By definition, a path is not a single spot. It is a series of infinite spots all connected together to form a way. Once we begin taking a path, we don’t just stand in one place. We move forward, step by step. Finding the path doesn’t mean we’ve arrived at our desired destination. It just means that we’ve now found the way to get there.

Similarly in life, we are not all at the same place on our spiritual path to Allah Almighty. Some of us may be just beginning, others may be further ahead. When we recite Al-Fatihah, we ask to be guided to the path, but getting to the path doesn’t mean we’ve arrived at our destination. It just means we’ve found the way. It is up to us to follow that path.

Allah explains this idea in many places in the Quran:

{And verily, this is my Straight Path, so follow it, and follow not [other] paths, for they will separate you away from His Path. This He has ordained for you that you may become pious.} (6:153)

Scholars have explained the straight path that Allah mentions in the Quran in several ways. They have said it is the path of Islam, of peaceful submission to The One; the path detailed in the Book of Allah, and exemplified in the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad; the path of truth; and the path that begins in this life and ultimately leads the believer to al-jannah (Paradise).

Finding the Path

Imagine walking through the woods in the darkness. There is no moon, and we have no flashlight. There may be a very clear path, but in the darkness, we just can’t see it.

Humans naturally don’t do well with darkness. We get uncomfortable by virtue of the fact that we can’t appreciate our surroundings—we can’t see our way.

Our eyes perceive physical darkness. They send signals to our brain and we, in turn, react to the darkness. If we were really lost in the woods at night, each of us might react differently. Some might sit very still and listen, hoping to use sounds to find their way. Others might start feeling around with their hands, relying on their sense of touch to understand their surroundings.

But surely, the wisest step to take when we find ourselves in the midst of physical darkness is to try to find a source of light. That source of light, whether a flashlight, a candle or even just a match, will help us understand our environment far better than if we tried to rely on all our other senses combined. With a source of light we not only find the path, but are better able to keep from veering off of it.

The physical world is one of Allah’s signs to His creation. Allah says in the Quran that in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the transition from the darkness of night to the brightness of the day are signs for people of sound understanding. Our physical realities help us better understand our spiritual realities.

Just as Allah Almighty has enabled us to perceive physical darkness, so too has He enabled us to perceive spiritual darkness. Spiritual darkness makes it difficult to decipher things. Truth is indistinguishable from falsehood. Good and evil become muddled. Spiritual darkness makes it very hard to find our way. However, unlike physical darkness, we don’t perceive spiritual darkness with our eyes. We perceive it with our hearts.

The heart is the vessel that carries our faith. It is the organ with which we know and love Allah Almighty. It is the vehicle we use to traverse the path to Him. We distinguish truth from falsehood with our hearts. We sense spiritual light and darkness with our hearts.

We know that it is very hard to follow a path in the darkness: we need light. What is the source of our spiritual light? Allah Almighty tells us that He is the Light of the heavens and the earth. His Light guides us to the path, helps us follow the path, and ultimately helps us arrive at our destination. Allah has given us the tools we need to increase the spiritual light in our lives. We just need to know how to use them.

In the next article, we will, Allah-willing, examine those tools, aim to better understand them, and learn more about how to best follow the path to the Light.

Read Part 2

(From Discovering Islam archive)

About Marwa Abdalla
Marwa Abdalla received her B.A. in political science from Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Texas, and is currently working toward a degree in Islamic Studies with the American Open University. She is interested in writing about Islam, marriage and family. Her writing has been published in a book entitled Toward the Well Being of Humanity as well as on numerous websites. She lives with her husband and three daughters in San Diego, CA.