We present extracts from the writings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdias, on the purpose and meaning of life. These are republished from the second volume of Essence of Islam.
The Purpose of Creation
Though different people, on account of their short-sightedness or lack of courage, appoint various types of objectives for their lives and stop short at worldly purposes and desires, yet the purpose that God Almighty has specified in His Holy Word is:1
I have created jinn and men so that they should recognize and worship Me.
According to this verse the true purpose of human life is the worship and understanding of God Almighty and devotion to Him.
Only the Creator can Enjoin the Purpose of Life
It is obvious that it is not open to man that he should himself lay down the purpose of his life by his own authority inasmuch as man does not arrive in the world of his own will, nor will he depart from this world of his own will. He is a created being and He Who created him and bestowed upon him better and higher faculties than those bestowed upon other animates, has enjoined a purpose for his life. Whether anyone comprehends that purpose or not, without doubt the purpose of man’s creation is the worship and understanding of God Almighty and to lose himself in Him.2
3This means that the Divine Trust, by which is meant the love of God and complete obedience to Him even in the face of hardship, was offered to the angels and the whole of creation and the mountains, all apparently full of strength, but they all refused to undertake it, being afraid of its grandeur. But man undertook it for he possessed two qualities: that he could force himself in the cause of God Almighty and could advance so far in love of Him as to forget altogether everything else.4
The Three Objects of Life
The real purpose of all the external and internal limbs and faculties that have been bestowed on man is understanding and worship and love of God. That is why, despite a thousand occupations, man does not find his true well-being except in God Almighty. Having acquired great wealth, or achieved high office, or having become a great merchant, or having acquired governing authority, or become a great philosopher, he departs in the end from these worldly involvements with a sense of frustration. His heart rebukes him all the time about his deep concern with the world and his conscience never approves his wiles and deceits and wrongful actions. This problem can be appreciated in another way. The purpose of the creation of a thing is determined by its highest achievement beyond which its faculties cannot rise. For instance, the highest a bullock is capable of is ploughing, or irrigation, or transportation, and therefore these are the purpose of its life and it cannot rise above them. But when we take stock of man’s faculties and powers to discover his highest capacity, we find that he is invested with the faculty of seeking after God so much so that he desires that he should become so devoted to God’s love that he should have nothing of his own and that everything should become God’s. He shares his natural needs like food and drink and rest with other animates, and in industry some animals are ahead of him; for instance, the bees produce such excellent honey from every type of flower that man has so far not been able to compete with them. It is clear, therefore, that the highest capacity of man is meeting with God Almighty and thus the true purpose of his life is that the window of his heart should open towards God.
How to Achieve the Purpose of Life
The question is how and through what means can man achieve this purpose?
Let it be clear that the principal means for achieving this purpose is the correct recognition of and faith in the True God. If this first step is wrongly taken and a person sets up a bird, or an animal, or any of the elements, or a human being as his god, it cannot be expected that his subsequent steps would be taken along the straight path. The True God helps His seekers; but that which is dead cannot help the dead. Allah the Glorious has illustrated this point beautifully in this verse:5
Worthy of worship alone is the same true God Who is Omnipotent. Those, on whom they call for help beside Him, do not respond to them at all. Their case is like that of one who stretches forth his hands towards water and asks it to enter his mouth. But will it come do so? Not at all. Thus all the prayers of those who are not cognizant of the True God are futile.
The second means of achieving the true purpose of life is to become aware of the perfect beauty of God Almighty, for beauty is something which naturally attracts the hearts and generates love. The beauty of God Almighty is His Unity and His Greatness and His other attributes, as the Holy Qur’an says:6
This means that, in His Being and His attributes and His Glory, God is One without associate. All are dependent upon Him and every particle derives its life from Him. He is the Source of grace for everything and receives no grace from anything. He is neither a son nor a father for none is equal to Him. The Holy Qur’an repeatedly draws attention to God’s perfection and greatness and points out that such God is the Besought of all hearts and not one who is dead or weak or lacks mercy or power.
The third means of achieving the purpose of life is to become aware of the benevolence of God Almighty for love is generated by beauty and benevolence. The benevolent attributes of God Almighty are set forth briefly in the Surah Fatihah, where it is said:7
It is obvious that the perfection of benevolence consists in that God Almighty created His servants from nothing and thereafter His Providence was bestowed upon them and He became the support of everything, and all types of His mercy were manifested for His servants. His benevolence is without limit and beyond count as is repeatedly set forth in the Holy Qur’an, as, for instance:8
If you try to number the bounties of Allah, you will certainly not be able to count them.
The fourth means of achieving the true purpose is Prayer, as is said:9
You pray and I shall accept your prayer. There is repeated urge towards Prayer, so that man should achieve his purpose not through his own power, but through God’s power.
The fifth means of achieving the purpose of life is striving in the cause of Allah with one’s property and one’s faculties and one’s life and one’s reason, as He says:10
Dedicate in the path of Allah your possessions, your lives, and your selves to their fullest capacity.
And devote to the Divine cause all that you have been granted by God including reason, knowledge, understanding and skill.11
And those who strive after Us in every way, We guide them along the paths that lead to Us.12
The sixth means for achieving the purpose of life is steadfastness; that is to say, that a seeker should not become tired and should not be daunted by trials, as Allah the Exalted says:13
On them who affirm: Our Lord is Allah; and then remain steadfast, angels descend, reassuring them: Fear not, nor grieve, and rejoice in the Garden that you were promised. We are your friends in this life and in the hereafter.
This is an indication that the pleasure of God Almighty is won through steadfastness. It is true that steadfastness is more than a miracle. Perfect steadfastness is that one should find oneself surrounded on all sides by calamities and one should find one’s life and honour in danger and nothing comforting should be available, so much so, that God Almighty should stop—by way of trials—the comforting visions and dreams and revelation and should leave one in the midst of terrifying fears, but that at such a time, one should not abandon courage and should not step back like a coward and should not let one’s fidelity be weakened. One’s sincerity and loyalty should not be shaken, one should be pleased with the humiliation, one should be reconciled to death, one should not await the support of a friend, one should not seek glad tidings from God, because of one’s delicate situation, and one should stand up straight despite helplessness and weakness and the lack of every comfort. One should stretch forth one’s neck, saying: Whatever is to happen, let it happen; one should face courageously whatever has been determined and one should not be impatient nor complain till the trial is over. This is the steadfastness the reward of which is God. This is the quality by virtue of which the dust of Messengers, Prophets, Siddiqs [The Truthful] and martyrs is still so fragrant. This is indicated by the Glorious God in the prayer:14
meaning, O Allah! show us the path of steadfastness by treading along which one wins Thy bounties and favours and Thou art pleased.
This is also indicated in another verse:
meaning, Lord: at this time of trial send down upon our hearts the comfort that should make us steadfast and do Thou so ordain that we should die in a state of submission to Thee.15
At the time of trials and misfortune, God Almighty causes a light to descend upon the hearts of those who are dear to Him, being strengthened by which they face misfortunes calmly and, out of the sweetness of their faith, they kiss the chains that are put round their feet in His cause. When calamities descend upon a man of God and signs of death appear, he does not contend with his Lord that He might be safeguarded against them, inasmuch as to persist at such a time in supplications for security amounts to fighting God Almighty and is contrary to complete submission. A true lover advances forward at a time of calamity and holding life as nothing, and saying goodbye to love of it, submits himself completely to the will of his Lord and seeks only His pleasure. Concerning such people, God the Glorious says:16
It means that the man of God dedicates his life in the path of God and, in return, earns the pleasure of Allah. These are the people who receive the special mercy of Allah.
In short, this indeed is the spirit of the steadfastness which we have described and which leads to the God. Let him who wills, grasp this point.
The seventh means of achieving the purpose of life is keeping company with the righteous and to follow their example. One of the needs of the advent of Prophets is that man naturally seeks a perfect example, for it fosters eagerness and resolve. He who does not follow a good example becomes slothful and goes astray. This is indicated by Allah the Glorious in the verses:17
Keep company with the righteous, and adopt the path of those on whom Allah’s favours have been bestowed before you.18
The eighth means of achieving the purpose of life are pure visions and dreams and revelation from God Almighty. To travel towards God is to tread upon a very delicate path which is attended by diverse types of calamities and sufferings. It is possible that a person may be overtaken by forgetfulness in pursuing this unfamiliar path or may give up hope and should abandon further advance. Therefore, the mercy of God Almighty seeks to comfort him in his progress in this journey and strengthen his heart and to uphold his resolve and to increase his eagerness. Thus it is God’s way that from time to time he comforts those who are voyaging along this path with His revelation and manifests to them that He is with them. Thus strengthened, they perform this journey with great eagerness. He has said:19
There are several other means for achieving the purpose of life which the Holy Qur’an has set out, but considerations of space forbid us from setting them out here.20
1. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Dhariyat, Verse 57.
2. [Islami Usul ki Philosophy, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 10, p. 414 (Eng. Translation in The Essence of Islam, Vol.2, p. 461)].
3. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Ahzab, Verse 73.
4. [Taudih-e-Maram, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 3, pp. 75-76 (Eng. Translation in The Essence of Islam, Vol.2, p. 462)].
5. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Ra‘d, Verse 15.
6. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Ikhlas, Verses 2-5.
7. “All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of all the worlds, The Gracious, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgement.” (Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Fatihah, Verses 2-4).
8. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Ibrahim, Verse 35.
9. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Mu’min, Verse 61.
10. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Tauba, Verse 41.
11. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 4.
12. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-‘Ankabut, Verse 70.
13. Holy Qur’an, Surah Ha Mim Al-Sajdah, Verses 31-32.
14. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Fatihah, Verses 6-7.
15. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-A‘raf, Verse 127.
16. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 208.
17. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Tauba, Verse 119.
18. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Fatihah, Verse 7.
19. “For them are glad tidings in the present life and also in the Hereafter…” (Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Yunus, Verse 65).
20. [Islami Usul ki Philosophy, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 10, pp. 415-422 (Eng Translation in The Essence of Islam, Vol 2, pp. 462-470)].