يَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ
“It is You Alone [O Allāh] that we worship and it is You Alone that we ask for help [in Your obedience and in all of our affairs].”
Imām Mūhammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 411 AH) comments:
[Q]: If someone was to ask: What is the meaning of Allāh commanding His slaves to seek help from Him in carrying out acts of His obedience? Would it be permissible for Him to order His slaves to be obedient and then not aid them in it? Can a person even utter: “You alone do I seek help from in carrying out acts in Your obedience,” except that he is being aided to utter this very saying? This saying, in and of itself, is an act of obedience. What, then, is the point of a slave of Allāh asking His Lord for that which he has obviously already been granted, [otherwise he would not be able to ask it in the first place]?
[A]: The true interpretation of this verse is not what has been surmised. The person from among the believers who invokes his Lord to aid him in the execution of acts of obedience is actually seeking help for that which he has been tasked with for the remaining portion of his life. This invocation does not concern his acts of righteousness which have already transpired in his life, [for that has] occurred in the past. It is most befitting that the servant asks his Lord this because if Allāh chooses to grant it to His slave—even though He is the one who has made [the servant’s] physical body subservient such that he is able to carry out that which he has been tasked with and fulfil the obligations assigned to him—it still represents a blessing from Him, the Exalted in praise, that He has graciously chosen to bestow. A kindness that He has compassionately endowed.
As for Him not bestowing the bounty of true guidance [to the straight path] upon some of His slaves who engage in perpetual disobedience and turn away from His love, while He accentuates His favours to others who struggle constantly to earn His love through rushing towards acts of obedience—this, in no way, represents corruption in His disposal [of the affairs of His creation]. Nor does it denote oppression in His ruling [over them].
Source: Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī 1:162
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī