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The distinction between the definite article and the indefinite article is obvious. With respect to the flawless, perfect precision of the Qur'an, I would like to know whether there is an in depth analysis of "The path" versus "A path" in tafseer books or in other sources.

In my view, the distinction is crucial, considering that in Arabic, the chosen word for "path" has no plural. (Thus the figurative link is that there is only one (straight) path to Allah.) So the use of "the way" is somewhat already implied, but "a path" still eludes me. Some examples:

The (straight) path

Show us the straight path, [1:6]

Say, "Each [of us] is waiting; so wait. For you will know who are the companions of the sound path and who is guided." [20:135]

But indeed, those who do not believe in the Hereafter are deviating from the path. [23:74]

If it had been our Will, We could surely have blotted out their eyes; then should they have run about groping for the Path, but how could they have seen? [36:66]

And We guided them on the straight path. [37:118]

A (straight) path

Truly! Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him (Alone). This is a straight path. [3:51]

And how could you disbelieve while to you are being recited the verses of Allah and among you is His Messenger? And whoever holds firmly to Allah has [indeed] been guided to a straight path. [3:101]

By which Allah guides those who pursue His pleasure to the ways of peace and brings them out from darknesses into the light, by His permission, and guides them to a straight path. [5:16]

  • If this question is motivated by an idea of reading non-exclusivity into Islamic doctrine, this'll be an exercise in futility due to very clear source texts, see e.g. here. If that's not where this is going, I don't understand the question. If it's purely a matter of Arabic, this'll be offtopic. – G. Bach Nov 4 '17 at 9:29
  • Your claim "the chosen word for "path" has no plural." is simply wrong of course صِراط (path) has a plural صُرُط. almaany.com/ar/dict/ar-ar/%D8%B5%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B7 so to me it is unclear what you are asking! – Medi1Saif Nov 4 '17 at 20:08
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First no in fact صِراط (path) in Arabic has a plural which is plural صُرُط. But in the qur'an this plural never appears. The synonym السُّبُلَ was used instead for example in this verse:

And, [moreover], this is My path, which is straight, so follow it; and do not follow [other] ways, for you will be separated from His way. This has He instructed you that you may become righteous. (6:153)
وَأَنَّ هَـذَا صِرَطِي مُسْتَقِيمًا فَاتَّبِعُوهُ وَلاَ تَتَّبِعُواْ السُّبُلَ فَتَفَرَّقَ بِكُمْ عَن سَبِيلِهِ

So basically the main difference in usage is that:

"The (straight) path": الصراط (المسقيم)
Is used in the qur'an if it refers to the path of Allah (only): the only correct path. And if those who have been guided were guided by Allah or asked for His guidance. Like in:

  • Guide us to the straight path (1:6)

  • And We guided them on the straight path. (37:118)

while "A (straight) path: صراط (مسقيم)
Is used in the qur'an, if the addressed person thinks that his/her chosen path is correct, while other paths exist, even if actually the chosen path could be correct. Like in:

  • The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray. (1:7)
    Note that "the" refers to "those whom You have bestowed … " so basically the sentence means neither of those paths and therefore in Arabic it appears without article like "the" in the translation.

  • … guides whom He wills to a straight path." (2:142, 2:213)

  • Say, "Indeed, my Lord has guided me to a straight path - a correct religion - the way of Abraham, inclining toward truth. And he was not among those who associated others with Allah ." (6:161)

The guidance to "the straight path" can only come from Allah. And He may guide us a straight path amongst other paths.

Note that with two exceptions the word path was used in the meaning of a guiding way and referring to Allah's guidance (religion), except with (7:86) and (36:66) in which it appears in a rather material meaning.

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