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     What are we here for - the fundamental question



Below is the text of an article by Dr. Muhammad Naseem in issue 28 (Spring/Summer 1999) of Common Sense on the topic of the purpose of human existence.

What are we here for? - the fundamental question

Man being a rational entity is dependent upon and in need of reason for a proper expression of its personality. A human being is lost if this rational basis is absent, it is confused if this is unclear and it is erratic if it is inconsistent. A persons' ethics, behaviour, relation with other individuals will be based on how he or she perceives the reason for one's existence. It is a question which effects our mental state and determines our social behaviour. It is a question that needs to be understood as soon as awareness develops because on this will depend the future progress of a personality. It is a responsibility which the parents and teachers have to bear in mind in forming a strategy of information and training appropriate to the different stages of development of a child.

Life is an extremely serious responsibility as the Quraan says, 

"We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is in between them for idle play" 21:16 & 44:38

The same idea is conveyed in the form of a parable in ch. 33 para 72. 

"We offered the responsibility to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to bear it, (because they were afraid of it.) But man took it up. He is prone to injustice and ignorance". 

In this story the first part is information and the last part is of the nature of a caution. The message is that this is such an onerous task that even earth which is so vast, and the mountains which are so strong, could not cope with it. It was given to mankind, but it must note that it will not be able to discharge this obligation properly unless it keeps an eye on its weaknesses, namely, a tendency towards injustice and a tendency towards ignorance.

Quraanic view of man's creation and purpose

The story of man begins at a point in time when the Creator pursuing His design and scheme decides to create man. We do not know what that scheme is, how did it start?, how far will it go? These are questions that our intellect cannot answer; it has not got the capability to do so. Our only link with the past and future is through the entity of the Creator who was there from eternity and who will be there for eternity. All we know is that there were heavens - whatever that may signify (such as cosmic division) - there was earth, there was water. There were beings made of light or elements that constitute light. There were also beings made of the elements of fire, and then an entity made of the elements of earth - man was created. The Quraan describes this in the following paragraph: 

"We created the heavens and the earth in six days while His throne of power was on water in order to test which of you is best in conduct" 11:7

Once again we are limited by our ability to comprehend the exact nature of some elements of this statement. The day could be of any length of time depending upon which system of accounting is used, e.g. light years, sound years, etc, and water may signify a state of vapour or the source material of any composite that is created, What is relevant to our situation is that it is a proving phase. We are meant to evolve to a better being, viz, the person of Paradise. In the Creator's scheme, we are the only ones with a potential to develop to a state when we will be able to comprehend the Creators design; how it has been and how it would be. This impression is supported by the information in the Hadith literature that the highest reward available to people who enter paradise will be the revelation of the Divine Being. We are not talking here of a sensual experience but an intellectual experience when the confines that stop our intellect will be removed and the reality will become comprehensible. We had no option in our creation but this information makes life exciting and the future exhilarating.

The concept that this temporary phase of existence is of the nature of an opportunity to develop, is further evident from the story of the creation when the Creator declared His intention by saying: 

"I am going to place a vice-gerent on earth" 21:3

The concept of vice-gerency entails that the recipient of the responsibility has to look after and develop whatever is given to him to the best of his ability. In the context of our life and stay on this planet it means two things (a) ourselves (b) the earth. Ourselves includes our physical and mental aspects and our abilities and faculties. We hold every aspect of ourselves in trust, we do not own it, we are accountable to the Creator for its upkeep and development to its maximum potential.

However, man does not live in isolation, he is a social being and interacts with society. We can not develop as individuals unless we create the social circumstances, which can help our progress. Our task is three dimensional - we have to develop ourselves, we have to develop society and we have to develop the earth which is our abode. Our life is not for play, it is a job and we are required to do it well. We have been given detailed instructions to guide us in performance of this task. Teachers were sent to show us the way this service should be performed, if we fail to realise our duty, we are failing the purpose for which we were created. In such a case our life ceases to have any meaning, God clearly says: 

"We have not created the jinns and the human beings except for service" 51:56.

Unfortunately due to the influence of political situation and the influence of unIslamic cultures we lost the wider significance of service i.e Ibadah and confined ourselves to the performance of ritual practices as an end in themselves. The practices which were meant to create awareness, commitment and discipline failed to create the qualities needed for the purpose for which we were created. We moved from an intellectual rapport with the Divine Being to an emotional bondage with Him. Our prayers which should have been tools of self-regulation, self inducement and direction became hopeless expressions of idle expectancy. These exercises in begging we have been performing for centuries but instead of moving forward we have reached the tail end of the human race. Religious practices when not related to any programme of action are like movements without any direction and are not likely to reach anywhere. Religious man, I am afraid has always been duped with this behaviour and we have not proved to be an exception. Having lost the original guidance others had no option but to break out of this mould to make some relative progress. They had to create a division between secular and religion in order to free the intellect of the confines of the religious dogma which was unclear, and could not provide the stimulus and understanding necessary for progress. We have not lost the guidance, our position is not the same, we have to re-consider our understanding and our obligation.

This universe is governed by laws, the Creator calls these laws His signs and advises us to observe them, understand them and use them to our advantage. There are harmful factors within ourselves and in our society, He calls them disturbing elements or Fasaad. Their nature is like that of friction in physics, if it could be removed, movement would be unstoppable. We have a duty to remove Fasaad to ensure human progress. In chemistry and biology we need optimal conditions for an action to progress to its possible conclusion. In a similar way we need optimal condition for progress of human society. The Creator has determined this condition to be the state of peace or Salaam. This peace has to be created within one's self by removing ego, anger, jealousy, hatred and promoting sincerity, compassion and concern. Outside ourselves we have to endeavour to remove all these factors which disturb human peace. We have to remove ignorance, injustice, disease, poverty, crime and exploitation. This is the service or Ibadah for which we were created. It is in the performance of this service that we would meet the challenges that would require us to harness our inner and outer resources. This is how we would develop and succeed to qualify for being people of the future - the people of Paradise. Our life is not of our asking, we do not understand the why and the wherefore at this time. Our minds are limited but this will change if we can successfully perform the tasks for which we were created.

We are part of a scheme and so we have to work within that scheme. It may not be fully intelligible now but that is due to limitations of our mind in the present phase. We need to get out of these limitations to fully understand. For this we have to work hard to become the successful people of the Hereafter. We would have a new form, new capabilities and a knowledge which is beyond comprehension at this time. For our future even the sky is not the limit, as God says:

"If all the trees were pens and seas with seven more seas (were ink) The words of God would not be exhausted" 31:27

For the sheer joy of understanding we must move forward in the light of what the Creator has sent us. Life has a meaning, everything around us is guided by a wisdom, a method and a purpose. Our life is similar, we have a purpose, we have been informed, it would be a tragedy if we throw our chances away.

Author: Dr. Muhammad Naseem
Date Published: Spring 1999

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