Q: What does guidance mean, and how can one guide someone else?
A: Guidance is a light that God kindles in those people who use their free will in the way of belief. Only God can guide. Many Qur'anic verses state this fact clearly. For example: If God willed, He could have brought them all to the guidance (6:35); If it had been your Lord's will, all who are on earth would have believed, altogether (10:99); You do not guide whom you like, but God guides whom He wills (28:56); and For verily You cannot make the dead to hear, nor can you make the deaf to hear the call when they have turned to flee. Nor can you guide the blind out of their deviation. You can make none to hear save those who believe in Our Revelation so that they surrender and become Muslims (30:52-3).
Since it is God Who guides, we implore Him in every rak'a of our daily prescribed prayers, saying: "Guide us to the Straight Path." God's Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, says: "I have been sent to call people to belief. Only God guides them and places belief in their hearts."
Besides the verses above and many other similar ones, we also see in the Qur'an other verses which state that God's Messenger calls and guides people to the Straight Path, such as follows:
Surely you call them to the Straight Path. (23:73)
Thus We have revealed a Spirit to you from Our Command. You did not know what was the Scripture, nor what the Faith was, but We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our servants. You are indeed guiding to a Straight Path. (42:52)
The verses do not contradict each other. God creates everyone with the potential to accept belief. However, one's family, education, and environment play a certain role in one's guidance or misguidance. To call people to belief, throughout history God sent Messengers and gave some of them Books whereby people could reform themselves. Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, is the last Messenger, and the Qur'an, which God revealed to him, is the last Divine Book. The Qur'an, which has remained uncorrupted, contains the principles of guidance; the Messenger, whether through the Book or his personality, conduct, and good example, functions as a means to guidance. He recites Divine Revelations to the people, shows them the signs of God, and shows them the errors behind their misconceptions, superstitions, and sins.
Everything that exists in the universe is a sign pointing to God's Existence and Unity. Therefore, if one sincerely desires belief, struggles against carnal desire and temptation, and uses his or her free will to find the truth, surely God will guide such a person to Himself. He declares in the Qur'an: Fear God and seek the means [of approach to and knowledge of] Him, and strive in His way in order that you may succeed and be prosperous [in both worlds] (5:35); As for those who strive in Us [in Our way and for Our sake and to reach Us], We surely guide them to Our paths; and verily God is with the good (29:69); and Whoever fears God [and keeps his duty to Him], He will appoint a way out for him (62:2).
In order to find or deserve guidance, one must sincerely strive for it and search for the ways leading to it. Those whom God has blessed with guidance should first of all represent guidance personally and set good examples for others, and then call others to it through all lawful (Islamic) means. In many verses, God commands His Messenger to do just that: Warn your tribe of near kindred [of their end and the consequences of their deeds and of the punishment of Hell] (26:214); Remind and give advice, for you are one to remind (88:21); Proclaim openly and insistently what you are commanded (15:94); Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the most courteous manner (16:125); and Surely in the Messenger of God you have a good example for him who hopes for God and the Last Day, and remembers God oft (33:21).
God's Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, communicated God's Revelations to people and called them to belief in the best and most effective way, and bore all of the resulting difficulties and persecutions. He rejected without a second thought the most alluring bribes offered to him to abandon his call to belief in One God, and continued his mission without expecting any worldly reward. He sought only God's pleasure and the prosperity of people in this life and the next. When he conquered Makka, an event marking his triumph in making God's Word prevail, he forgave those Makkans who had subjected him and his followers to every form of persecution for the past 21 years: "No reproach, this day, shall be on you! God will forgive you. He is the Most Merciful of the Merciful. Go! You are freed."
God's Messenger once said to 'Ali: If someone finds guidance at your hand, this is better for you than having red camels.
According to the rule that one who causes is like the doer, those who lead others to guidance receive the same reward as the others earn thereafter. Their own rewards do not decrease. Similarly, God's Messenger says: Whoever establishes a good path receives the same reward as those who follow that path thereafter until the Last Day. There will be no decrease in their reward. Whoever establishes an evil path is burdened with the same sins as those who follow it thereafter until the Last Day. There will be no decrease in their burden.
Those who lead others to guidance should not keep bringing it up by saying, for example: "If I hadn't brought you to this guidance, you never would have found it." Doing so is a grave sin and shows ingratitude to God, as only God guides and causes one to lead another to guidance. Similarly, those who found guidance through someone else should never attribute their guidance to that person and say, for example: "If I hadn't met you, I never would have found this guidance." Instead, those who lead others to guidance should think: "Praise be to God, for He has allowed me to perform such a meritorious a deed as leading someone else to guidance. God is so powerful, so merciful, and so munificent that He creates clusters of grapes on wood. As wood has no right to ascribe to itself the grapes growing on it, I am no more than that wood to attribute another's guidance to myself." Those who find the guidance should think: "Go, seeing my need and helplessness, has used one of His servants to guide me. All praise be to Him."
Nevertheless, those led to guidance should be thankful to those whom God used to lead them to guidance. After all, God created us and whatever we do, and also creates the means that enable guidance and misguidance. However, this does not negate or diminish the part that our free will plays in our guidance or misguidance.