The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam – Part 14No Comments | February 2012
Translated from Urdu by
Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan
The Object of Man’s Life and the Means of its Attainment
Different people, being short-sighted and lacking high resolve, appoint different purposes for their lives and limit themselves to worldly goals and ambitions. But the purpose that God Almighty has appointed for man in His Holy Word is as follows: I have created men and jinn so that they may know Me and worship Me. Thus, the true purpose of man’s life is the worship of God, His understanding and complete devotion to Him.
It is obvious that man is not in a position to appoint the purpose of his own life, for he does not come into the world of his own accord, nor will he depart therefrom of his own will. He is a creature and the One Who created him and invested him with better and higher faculties than those of all other animals, has also appointed a purpose for his life. Whether anyone penetrates it or not, the purpose of man’s creation without a doubt, is the worship and the understanding of God and complete devotion to Him. At another place, God Almighty has said in the Holy Qur’an, that the religion which provides true understanding of God and prescribes His true worship is Islam. Islam is inherent in man’s nature and man has been created in accord with Islam. That is the everlasting faith. This means that God has desired that man should devote himself to His worship and obedience and love, with all his faculties. That is why He has bestowed on man all the faculties that are appropriate for Islam.
These verses have a very wide meaning, a part of which we have set out in the third part of the answer to the first question. Here we wish to state briefly that the true purpose of the internal and external limbs and faculties that have been bestowed on man, is the understanding of God and His worship and His love. That is why, despite occupying himself with diverse projects in this life, man does not find his true welfare except in God. Having had great wealth, having held a high office, having become a great merchant, having ruled a great kingdom, having been known as a great philosopher, in the end he departs from all these involvements with great regret. His heart constantly rebukes him on his total preoccupation with worldly affairs, and his conscience never approves his cunning and deceit and illicit activities. An intelligent person can appreciate this problem in this way also, that the purpose of everything is to be determined by its highest performance, beyond which its faculties cannot operate. For instance, the highest function of a bullock is ploughing or irrigation or transportation. Its faculties are not adapted to anything else. Therefore, the purpose of a bullock’s life is just these three things. It has no power to do anything else. But when we look into the faculties of man and try to discover what their highest reach is, we find that he seeks after God, the Exalted. He desires to become so devoted to God that he should keep nothing as his own, and all that is his should become God’s. He shares with the other animals his natural urge towards eating, sleeping etc. In industry some animals are far ahead of him. Indeed, the bees extracting the essence of different types of flowers produce such excellent honey, that man has not yet been able to match them. It is obvious, therefore, that the highest reach of man’s faculties is to meet God, the Exalted. Thus, the true purpose of his life is that the window of his heart should open towards God.
Means of the Attainment of Man’s Purpose
It may be asked how can this purpose be achieved and through what means can a person find God? The very first means of achieving this goal is to recognise God Almighty correctly and to believe in the True God. For if the very first step is not right, for instance, if a person believes in a bird, or an animal, or in the elements, or in the issue of a human being, as god, there can be no hope of his treading along the straight path in his further progress towards God. The True God helps His seekers, but how can a dead god help the dead? In this context God the Glorious has set forth an excellent illustration: Unto Him alone is the true prayer, as He has the power to do all things. Those on whom they call beside Him, do not respond to them at all. Their case is like that of one who stretches forth his hand towards water that it may reach his mouth, but it reaches it not. The prayers of those who are unaware of the True God are but a delusion.
The second means is to be informed of the perfect beauty of God Almighty; for the heart is naturally drawn to beauty, the observation of which generates love in the heart. God’s Beauty is His Unity and His Greatness and His Majesty and His other attributes, as the Holy Qur’an has said that God is One in His being and His attributes and His glory. He has no partner. All are dependent upon Him. He bestows life on every particle. He is the source of grace for everything, and is not in need of grace from any. He is neither a son nor a father, for He has no equal and no one is like unto Him. The Qur’an repeatedly draws attention to God’s Greatness and Grandeur, and thus impresses upon the minds of men that only such a God can be the desired objective of the heart, and not any dead or weak or pitiless or powerless being.
The third means of approach to God is knowledge of His Beneficence; for beauty and beneficence are the two incentives of love. The beneficent attributes of God are summed up in Surah Fatihah as follows: God creates His servants from nothing, out of perfect Beneficence and His Providence is available to them all the time. He is the support of everything and every type of His Beneficence has been manifested for His creatures. His Benevolence is without limit as He has said that if you try to count the bounties of Allah you will not be able to number them.
The fourth means of achieving the true purpose of life appointed by God Almighty is supplication, as He has said: call on Me, I shall respond to you. We are repeatedly urged to supplicate so that we should find God, not through our power but through God’s power.
The fifth means of achieving the purpose of life appointed by God Almighty, is striving in His cause; that is to say, we should seek God by spending our wealth in His cause, and by employing all our faculties in furthering His cause, and by laying down our lives in His cause, and by employing our reason in His cause; as He has said to strive in His way with your wealth and your lives and with all your faculties: Whatever We have bestowed upon you of intelligence and knowledge and understanding and art, employ it in Our cause. We surely guide along Our ways those who strive after Us.
The sixth means of achieving this purpose has been described as steadfastness, meaning that a seeker should not get tired or disheartened and should not be afraid of being tried, as God has said that – upon those who affirm – God is our Lord, and turn away from false gods and are steadfast, remain firm under trials and calamities, descend angels, reassuring them: Fear not nor grieve, and be filled with happiness; and rejoice that you have inherited the joy that you had been promised. We are your friends in this life and in the hereafter. These verses indicate that steadfastness wins the Pleasure of God Almighty. It is true, as has been said, that steadfastness is more than a miracle. The perfection of steadfastness is that when one is encircled by calamities and life and honour and good name are all in peril in the cause of Allah, and no means of comfort are available, so much so, that even visions and dreams and revelation are suspended by God as a trial, and one is left helpless among terrible dangers, at such a time one should not lose heart nor retreat like a coward, nor let one’s faithfulness be put in doubt in the least. One should not let one’s sincerity and perseverance be weakened, one should be pleased with one’s disgrace; one should be reconciled to death; one should not wait for a friend to lend one his support in order to keep one firm; nor seek glad tidings from God because of the severity of the trial. One should stand straight and firm despite one’s helplessness and weakness, and lack of comfort from any direction. Come what may, one should present oneself for sacrifice and should be completely reconciled to divine decrees, and one should exhibit no restlessness nor utter any complaint, right till the end of the trial. This is the steadfastness which leads to God. This is the perfume of which still reaches us from the dust of Messengers and Prophets and Faithful ones and Martyrs.
This is also indicated in the following supplication: Guide us along the path of steadfastness, the path that attracts Thy bounties and favours and by treading along which one wins Thy pleasure. Another verse also indicates the same: Lord, send down on us steadfastness in this time of trial and cause us to die in a state of submission to Thee’ It should be realised that at a time of misfortunes and hardships, God Almighty causes a light to descend upon the hearts of those He loves; by being strengthened with this light they face those misfortunes with great serenity; and out of the sweetness of faith they kiss the chains that fetter them. When a godly person is afflicted and the signs of death become manifest, he does not start a contention with his Beneficent Lord, that he might be delivered from that condition, inasmuch as to persist in a supplication for security in such a condition means fighting God’s Decree and is inconsistent with complete submission. A true lover goes further forward under misfortunes and holding life as nothing at such a time, and saying goodbye to it, submits completely to the Will of God and seeks only His Pleasure. Concerning such people God Almighty has said that he whom God loves offers his life in the cause of God in return for God’s Pleasure. Such people win the compassion of God. This is the spirit of steadfastness through which one meets God. Let him who will understand.
The seventh means of achieving the purpose of life is to keep company with the righteous, and to observe their perfect example. One of the needs for the advent of prophets is that man naturally desires a perfect example, and such an example fosters zeal and promotes high resolve. He who does not follow an example becomes slothful and is led astray. This is indicated by Allah, the Glorious, in the verse about keeping company with the righteous; and in the verse about guiding us along the path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed Thy favours. You should keep company with the righteous and learn the ways of those who have been the recipients of grace before you.
The eighth means of achieving the purpose of life are visions and true dreams and revelation. As the path that leads to God Almighty is a difficult one, and is studded with misfortunes and hardships, and it is possible that a person might go astray while treading along this unfamiliar, path and might begin to despair and stop going forward, the Mercy of God desires to keep comforting him and encouraging him and augmenting his zeal and eagerness. So it is His way that from time to time He comforts such people with His Word and His revelation, and makes it manifest to them that He is with them. Thus, they are strengthened and go forward eagerly on this journey. He has said that the Holy Qur’an has set forth several other means for the achievement of the purpose of life, but we refrain from setting them down here out of consideration of time.
CONTINUES IN THE NEXT EDITION
- And I have not created the Jinn and the men but that they may worship Me. (Ch.51:V.57)
- Surely, the true religion with Allah is Islam (complete submission). (Ch.3:V.20)
- Follow the nature made by Allah— the nature in which He has created Mankind… That is the right religion. (Ch.30:V.31)
- Unto Him is the true prayer. And those on whom they call beside Him answer them not at all, except as he is answered who stretches forth his two hands toward water that it may reach his mouth, but it reaches it not. And the prayer of the disbelievers is but a thing wasted. (Ch.13:V.15)
- Say, ‘He is Allah, the One; Allah, the Independent and Besought of all. He begets not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.’ (Ch.112:Vs.2-5)
- All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of all the worlds, The Gracious, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment. (Ch.1:Vs.2-4)
- And if you try to count the favours of Allah, you will not be able to number them. (Ch.14:V.35)
- ‘Pray unto Me; I will answer your prayer. (Ch.40:V.61)
- Strive with your property and your persons in the cause of Allah. That is better for you, if only you knew. (Ch.9:V.41)
- As for those who say, ‘Our Lord is Allah,’ and then remain steadfast, the angels descend on them, saying: ‘Fear you not, nor grieve; and rejoice in the Garden that you were promised. ‘We are your friends in this life and in the Hereafter. (Ch.41:Vs.31-32)
- Guide us in the right path—The path of those on whom You have bestowed Your blessings (Ch.1:V.6-7)
- Our Lord, pour forth upon us steadfastness and cause us to die resigned unto You. (Ch.7:V.127)
- And of men there is he who would sell himself to seek the pleasure of Allah; and Allah is Compassionate to His servants. (Ch.2:V.208)
- Be with the truthful. (Ch.9:V.119)
- The path of those on whom You have bestowed Your blessings (Ch.1:V.7)
- For them are glad tidings in the present life and also in the Hereafter (Ch.10:V.65)