So says the Quran. Not for me to repeat it without trying to understand the truth, the reminder, in it. I can’t be reminded of what I do not already know and I don’t need to be reminded of something that is neither true nor beautiful. So my first response to such a claim “as revelation” is to ask myself – what truth does it convey to me? why and how and when is this utterance a truthful and beneficial thing for me to feel and/or utter? shall I cry out to my maker with this metaphor, the metaphor of a “path” of a particular kind (I am just going to call it “a straight path” because it is probably the most well-known rendition of the phrase in English, but I want to immediately note that calling it “a straight path” does not help me much, as it raises questions: wherein lies the straightness of the straight path? what is straight and why should I give importance to anything “straight”? and as opposed to what? crooked? What am I to understand by this metaphor?)
In my view, mustaqim is that “path” upon which I, as a human being, can remain firm (and not shaky), steadfast, comfortable and at ease at a given point: (while moving from one thing to another, from one interaction to another, from being in the middle of an experience to a point where I give meaning to that particular experience, from the start of a reflection to some endpoint or conclusion of that reflection, from a reflection and deliberation to a decision which is final in relation to that deliberation but is not a terminal point for all reflection if I am on a “path” that presumably continues – there are many ways to think about “path”). The key think about the path (sirat) that my maker (if its my maker speaking) tells me is that it is mustaqim – something I can allegedly remain on.
The truth of such a statement then is revealed to me when I consider the paths I find myself on – are they ones I can stay on without running into trouble? If I find myself on paths that I can comfortably tread, remain firm on and find satisfying, I would have no need for a supplication such as this – why would I ask anyone to “guide” me? The statement is given to me to think: am I or am I not in need of help with finding a path, a movement of thought, a decision or direction which is comfortable and not threatening and anxiety-producing and not disappointing.
Think about going from your workplace to your home or vice versa. Day in , day out, what makes this journey, this movement something that you can remain on comfortably, without causing injury to yourself, such that you never feel a need for a change, for help, never feel you need to ask for help in remaining steadfast on it? It must be that the journey, from your home to your workplace, is a comfortable one, you love your work, the workplace (the boss, co-workers etc) are all to your satisfaction. you find it fulfilling and joyful to make the trip. If such be the case, whenever you leave home for work, you are on a “path” that is easy for you to “remain firm on”. If you left home and repeatedly found yourself in a sewage or a toxic workplace, you would want to change your path, you would be ready to ditch it, you can’t be “firm” on it in any meaningful way.
I have to think about my life – what are the paths i travel? are they ones I can be firm on? What is it about them that make them paths that I wish I could change? What is it that is missing in any given path which, if it were present or available to me, would make that path one that I could be steadfast on? What would make it so that my path would be one where I encounter whatever it is that I am currently encountering, as blessings? What would make me feel “blessed” and well-treated? Again, if I already feel blessed on my “paths” without feeling any need for help in making my wish to be blessed into my reality (to actually witness myself being “blessed”), then I would see no point in this phrase or, indeed, revelation as a whole.
Finally, the verse/statement suggests that feeling blessed would be possible only when the reasons for feeling blessed come from my maker – it asks me to ask my maker to guide me. In other words, it suggests that while I may have my ideas about what are the good ends/goals I should aim for, those paths whose ends I have chosen myself are not good enough to make those paths “mustaqim” for me. The verse claims I need to ask my maker to specify the ends and meanings of my “paths” for me to experience those paths as comfortable, paths that I can stay on without feeling the need to change course.
To me, the verse and perhaps also the fatiha as a chapter is setting up expectations and asking the reader to check if they are here to seek help or not. Do they find themselves, as if, “punished” (for no reason)? Are they puzzled about why they should find themselves in an existence such as this? Why they suffer as they do? Why they find themselves on paths that do not lead to ultimate fulfillment but to disappointment and worries and confusions and heartache and drudgery (even looking at a beautiful scenery, after a few hours, becomes tiring – even such a path ends by raising doubts about whether I should keep looking at beautiful things, whether it gives my heart such joy on this “path” that I can just remain on it, never wanting it to change.