Friday, 31 December 2010

The Purpose of Life

A Brief Explanation

In the Name of Allah, The All Merciful, The Most Merciful

The questions of why we are here, where we have come from, and where we are going are relevant to all of humanity. Indeed the question of where we are going is addressed by Allah, in the Noble Qurʾān, in the following verses:

“And he [Muḥammad, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him] is not stingy with the revelation, and it [the Qurʾān] is not the speech of the accursed Satan. So where, then, are you going? Indeed it [the Qurʾān] is only a reminder for all of creation. For whoever wants to, from amongst you, let him be upright, and you do not will except that Allah wills, the Lord of all creation.” [Sūrah at-Takwīr 81:24-29]

These verses are primarily addressed to the disbelievers of Makkah. Where are they going? Are they going to accept salvation and the Message or are they going to reject it and become lost for all eternity?

This leads us to the next verse where Allah states very clearly why He created us:

"And I have not created the jinn and the humans except that they should worship Me." [Sūrah adh-Dhāriyāt 51:56]

This is the purpose of our existence, but what does worshipping Allah mean? The great Companion of the Messenger of Allah may Allah's prayers and peace be upon him, Ibn ʿAbbās, may Allah be pleased with him, states in his commentary on the Qurʾān that Allah has not created us except that we should worship Him as the only god in existence. This is called Tawḥīd in Arabic. Allah has said:

"Know that there is no god but Allah, and seek forgiveness for your sins." [Surah Muḥammad 47:19]

Worshipping Allah also means having a direct relationship with Him. Allah is constantly calling humanity to Him, offering them guidance and forgiveness of their sins:

"O humanity! Worship your Lord Who created you and those who came before you so that you may achieve Taqwa." [Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:21]

‘Their messengers said: “Is there doubt in Allah, the Originator of the Heavens and the Earth?” He calls on you in order to forgive you your sins, and he gives you respite until an appointed time.’ [Sūrah Ibrāhīm 14:10]

"And if My slaves ask you [Muhammad, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him] about Me, indeed I am Near. I respond to the call of the caller when he calls on Me, so let them respond to Me, and let them believe in Me so that they may be rightly-guided." [Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:186]

Allah does not reject humanity. It is humanity that accepts or rejects Him. This brings us to the issue of free will. Every individual has the choice to believe or disbelieve:

"And whoever from amongst you wants to, let him believe, and whoever from amongst you wants to, let him disbelieve." [Sūrah al-Kahf 18:29]

"He is the One Who created you, and from you is the disbeliever and from you is the believer." [Sūrah at-Taghābun 64:2]

"There is no compulsion in religion. Truth has been clearly distinguished from falsehood." [Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:256]

Does Allah need humanity to believe in Him and worship Him? Allah gives us the answer:

"If you disbelieve Allah has no need of you, and Allah is not pleased with disbelief for His slaves." [Sūrah az-Zumar 39:7]

Allah does not need us to have a relationship with Him, but He wants us to. This should make us realise that Allah’s mercy towards us is absolutely sincere.

What about salvation and perdition? As shown above, there are two kinds of people: the believer and the disbeliever, and Allah has made promises to both of them:

"Allah has promised the believing men and women that they shall have the Paradise, under which rivers flow." [Sūrah at-Tawbah 9:72]

"Allah has promised the hypocrites, men and women, and the disbelievers, the Fire of Hell, and they shall be in there forever." [Sūrah at-Tawbah 9:68]

"Indeed Allah does not break His promise." [Sūrah Āl-Imrān 3:9 and Sūrah ar-Raʿd 13:31]

Does Allah want to punish humanity for their disbelief? The following verse is very telling:

'Indeed those who disbelieved will be called [on the Day of Judgement]: “Your hatred of yourselves on this day is not as great as Allah’s hatred of the fact that you were called to faith [in this life] and you rejected it.”' [Sūrah al-Ghāfir 40:10]

Allah does not want anybody to go into the Hellfire, but He keeps His Word. This should make us realise that Paradise and Hell are not merely about reward and punishment, but they exist as a further impetus for humanity to have a relationship with Allah, their Lord and Creator.

The motivations behind worshipping Allah can be narrowed down to three:

1. Worshipping Allah out of fear of the Hellfire. This is the lowest.
2. Worshipping Allah out of desire for the Paradise.
3. Worshipping Allah for Who He is. This is the perfection of worship.

Worshipping Allah simply for Who He is could explain why the greatest reward for the believers is not necessarily to be in Paradise itself, but to see Him. The culmination of having a direct relationship with Allah in this life is simply to gaze at Him for all eternity in the next:

"Faces on that Day radiant, looking at their Lord." [Sūrah al-Qiyāmah 75:22-23]

"For those who did excellence is the best reward and something extra." [Sūrah Yūnus 10:26]

That something extra, according to all orthodox commentaries, is the seeing of Allah. How exactly this will be only Allah knows, but what a reward!

This is the purpose of life. It is left to humanity to make their own decision and they will be held responsible for that decision. Allah is At-Tawwāb [the Oft-Returning]; He is always ready to accept anybody who comes to Him, sincerely seeking a relationship with Him. Once that relationship is established Allah will never let go, but humanity is still free to do as they wish.

"There is no compulsion in religion: guidance has been clearly distinguished from error, so whoever rejects false gods and believes in Allah has grasped the firmest handhold, one that will never break."[Al-Baqarah 2:256]

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