Based on the verse cited above, it seems that God controls us. However, the Qur’an says that God has given us reason, intellect, and free will so that we can choose the way of good or evil. How can we reconcile these?

The Arabic word hidaya usually is translated as “guidance.” However, it also has other meanings: rectitude, the straight way, the way to Islam, and the way of those upon whom God has bestowed His blessings. The Arabic word dalala usually is translated as “going astray.” Among its other meanings are corruption, error, the way of those who persistently adhere to false beliefs and willfully break God’s law, and those who refuse to listen to the truth and thus go astray out of their own heedlessness or negligence.

Being guided and being left astray relate to God and depend on His Will. He creates hidaya to manifest His Name al-Hadi (the One Who Guides) and dalala to manifest His Name al-Mudil (the One Who Leads Astray). He creates, or in other words, enables or “gives” being guided or being led astray. This does not mean that He leads someone on the right path or astray. Rather, being guided or being led astray result from our own intentions and actions, for such is a consequence of our attitudes and inclinations. It has nothing to do with an arbitrary predestination.

As this question has generated a great deal of literature, I shall confine my answer to the most pertinent points.

This allegation is made by Orientalists, just as it was by their predecessors: Christian and Jewish writers who deeply resented the spread of Islam. The first people to make it were the Prophet’s own opponents, as we read in the Qur’an: Whenever Our signs are recited to them in a clear way, those who deny say concerning the truth, when it (the truth) comes to them: “This is plain magic.” Or do they say: “He has forged it.” (46:7–8). They were desperate to protect their interests against the rising tide of Islam and hoped, as do their modern counterparts, to spread doubt about the Qur’an’s Divine authorship so that Muslims would start doubting its authority as well.

The Qur’an is unique among Scriptures in two respects, which even its detractors accept. First, the Qur’an exists in Arabic, its original language and one that is still widely spoken today. Second, its text is entirely reliable. It has not been altered, edited, or tampered with since it was revealed.

In contrast, Christianity’s Gospels have not survived in their original language; the language of the earliest surviving version of these Scriptures is a dead language. In addition, and their texts have been shown to be the work of many people over generations, edited and re-edited, altered and interpolated, to promote sectarian interpretations. They have lost their authority as Scriptures, and serve primarily as a national or cultural mythology for groups whose remote ancestors created their particular versions. This is, more or less, the Western scholarly consensus on the status of these once-Divine Books.

When analyzing this issue, some facts must be kept in mind. While we perceive things from a human perspective, God does not. While we act out of necessity or desire, God does not. In other words, we cannot ascribe human attributes and motivations to God.

Who is distressed by the universe’s creation? Who does not desire to enjoy its benefits or seek happiness? Very few people express real sorrow at being in this world. Some have killed themselves, but their numbers are very small. The overwhelming majority of people are glad to be alive, to be here, and to be human. Who complains of being cared for by his or her parents, or of being nourished by that love during childhood? Who complains of being a young person, during which time the exhilaration of life is felt in the very bones? Which mature adult complains of having a family, children, and leading a harmonious life with them? How can we hope to measure the happiness of Muslims who, even as they are cultivating the seed for the next world, are ensuring success in this world? They are discovering the keys to the gates of ultimate happiness, and so are content and feel no distress.

In short, we are sent here to improve our abilities and skills through the responsibilities He ordains for us. Not all people are created with the same ability and the same disposition; rather, they are like rough minerals waiting to be purified and refined.

For example, artists want to express their talents, and so are known by the resulting works of art. In the same way, creation’s majesty, splendor, and artistry present and reflect His sacred Names and Attributes. To show us His art, [1] He created the universe and exhibited aspects of His mysterious, hidden treasures within it. To show us how His Names, Attributes, and Divine Art become manifest, He created the universe step by step. He grants us countless opportunities to know Him better and to acquire sound knowledge about Him. He is the absolute Creator who makes everything from one, and adds thousands of benefits to whatever He wills.