“whom Allah willeth, He leaveth to wander: whom He willeth, He placeth on the way that is straight” – Surat Al-’An`ām 6:39
If you were a Christian living in the days of Muhammad, would you have recognized the signs of God in Muhammad, and realised He was the Prophet of God? What allows a person to recognize the Apostle of God in each era? How can a Muslim today recognize the truth of the station of Baha’u’llah as the promised return of Jesus Christ? ('Imam Husayn' to Shi'ah Islam)
Is the path to receiving divine guidance perhaps through increasing knowledge of the Holy scriptures? In the days of Christ, the Jewish leaders considered themselves scholars of the understanding and interpretation of the Old Testament, yet despite their apparent knowledge of the Word of God, and all of the Prophecies and signs concerning the Messiah, they did not recognize Jesus when He appeared to them, and in fact were the greatest opponents.
“As oft as an Apostle cometh unto you with that which your souls desire not, ye swell with pride, accusing some of being impostors and slaying others.” – [Qur'án 2:87.]
As history has shown, human understanding of Scripture is not the guarantor of Divine Guidance and can be a mighty barrier between man, and the recognition of his God. In fact throughout history, those who occupied positions of authority and respect, were often the least likely to receive Divine Guidance and would be unable to accept the Apostle that God would send to them.
If human understanding of scriptures is not infallible, then by what means can a person of Faith determine the truth of a religious concept or claim? What enabled people such as Peter and Mary Magdalene who were destitute of all outward knowledge and rank to recognize the signs of God in Jesus, wheras the most learned Pharisees and religious scholars of the day were deprived of this bounty?
“whom Allah willeth, He leaveth to wander: whom He willeth, He placeth on the way that is straight” – Surat Al-’An`ām 6:39 (The Cattle)
“Of them there are some who (pretend to) listen to thee; but We have thrown veils on their hearts, So they understand it not, and deafness in their ears;” – Surat Al-’An`ām 6:25 (The Cattle)
From my understanding, these above verses imply that man’s attainment to Divine Guidance, and eternal life is in the hands of his Creator. He both chooses to bestow Faith through His Grace, and likewise chooses to withhold it from man.
And as quoted in the Christian Bible:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.” - Ephesians 2:8 Holy Bible (KJV)
And in the Words of Baha'u'llah:
“Hold Thou, through Thy wondrous favors and mercies, the hands of Thy creatures, and suffer them not to be separated from the grace which Thou hast ordained as the means whereby they can recognize Thee...” - Baha'u'llah
The grace of God is the means by which man attains Faith. But where does human effort and free will come into play? Does Allah guiding "whomsoever He willeth" mean that man has no role to play in something as critical and essential as Faith?
There are numerous verses in the Holy Books of all Faiths showing that man's personal exertions and strivings do have a direct impact on his ability to receive the grace of God - a grace which is the pre-requisite for having Faith. For instance:
Whensoever man has fulfilled the conditions implied in the verse: “Whoso maketh efforts for Us,” he shall enjoy the blessing conferred by the words: “In Our ways shall We assuredly guide him.”  Qur’án 29:69
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” - Matthew 5:8
“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” - Jeremiah 29:13
And in the Words of Baha’u’llah:
“Some, O my God, Thou didst, through Thy strengthening grace, enable to approach it, while others Thou didst keep back by reason of what their hands have wrought in Thy days.” – Baha’u’llah
So although the means by which man attains Faith is the Will and Grace of God, still man's own efforts and actions are likewise essential. Perhaps an analogy which may be used is that the soul of man is like a bird. This bird wishes to soar heavenwards, however it can only do so using the air and breeze which are provided by God, and even the birds wings themselves are provided for by God, and not by the birds effort, nevertheless this bird who has had the breeze, and wings necessary for flight provided for him by God, must still ensure that his wings are kept pure and undefiled from mud and clay, and must exert the effort to flap his wings. Only when the grace of God combines with the birds exertions is flight possible.
There are certainly many other factors at play which contribute to both man's guidance, and misguidance however those related to the purity of the heart of man, and therefore his capacity to receive the grace and guidance of God appear to be the most significant contributing factors.
In another analogy showing man's helplessness and dependence on God's assistance, Baha'u'llah refers to the soul of man as being like a candle - which is incapable of giving light without an external Force lighting it, and also being like a mirror - which is incapable of reflecting light without an external Force polishing it:
“The radiance of these energies may be obscured by worldly desires even as the light of the sun can be concealed beneath the dust and dross which cover the mirror. Neither the candle nor the lamp can be lighted through their own unaided efforts, nor can it ever be possible for the mirror to free itself from its dross. It is clear and evident that until a fire is kindled the lamp will never be ignited, and unless the dross is blotted out from the face of the mirror it can never represent the image of the sun nor reflect its light and glory.” - Baha'u'llah
Except for direct quotations from the Baha'i Writings, all opinions expressed on this blog are simply personal understandings and therefore not authoritative. This site is an individual initiative and is not affiliated with any Baha'i Institutions. To visit the official website of the Baha’i Faith please visit www.bahai.org