Friday, 24 August 2012

The purpose of creation

The purpose of creation is a topic that puzzles every human being at some point of his or her lifetime. Although most people put the question of why we are created aside after occasional brief reflection, it is extremely critical for human beings to know the answer. Without knowledge of the correct answer, human beings become indistinguishable from the other animals around them. The animal necessities and desires of eating, drinking and procreating become the purpose of human existence by default, and human effort is then focussed in this limited sphere.
Without knowledge of the purpose of life, human existence loses all meaning and is consequently wasted, and the reward of an eternal life of happiness in the hereafter is completely destroyed.
Humans most often turn to other human beings like themselves for the answers. However, the only place that clear and precise answers to these questions can be found is in the books of divine revelation. It was necessary that God reveal the purpose to man through His prophets, because human beings are incapable of arriving at the correct answers themselves. All of the prophets of God taught their followers the answers to the question "Why did God create man?"
From the point of view of God, an even more fundamental question needs to be asked, "Why did God create?" This question should be asked because humankind is not, in fact, the greatest creation. God says in chapter Ghaafir of the final revelation " Indeed, the creation of the heavens and the earth is greater than the creation of mankind, but most of mankind do not realize it." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 40: Verse 57 The composition of human beings is far less complex than the composition of the universe in which they exist. However, very few people reflect on this reality. Because of the apparent supremacy of human beings over other creatures on this earth, man's journeys through space and the continued advancement of their technology and knowledge, humankind in every age becomes arrogant and considers itself the greatest thing in this world. It is worth noting that the majority of humankind's amazing discoveries are not concerning the human being, but his surroundings. In this verse, God brings human beings back to their actual status in this world. Humankind is merely a small part of the existence which resulted from the miraculous act of divine creation.
Creation is fundamentally the consequence of the divine attribute of being the Creator. A creator who does not create is something of a contradiction in terms. This is not to say God needs His creation. God is free from all needs. It is the creation which needs Him. But, as the greatness of a writer becomes apparent in his writings, the perfection of divine creative attribute is manifest in creation. Creation in the true sense is unique to God alone. Although humans ascribe the act of creation to themselves, what they do is not true creation. Humankind merely manipulates what already exists - what was already created by God.
In the creation of humankind, the divine attributes of forgiveness, mercy and kindness are also manifested.
God's love is manifest in beings brought into existence, whether believer or disbeliever, to enjoy life, if only for a brief moment. It is also realized in the creation of paradise for those who choose righteousness over evil.
Why did God create mankind?

"{Remember] when your Lord extracted from the loins of Adam's children and their descendents and made them testify [saying] : 'Am I not your Lord?' They said: 'Yes, we testify to it.' [This was] in case you say on the Day of Judgment: 'We were unaware of this.' Or you say: 'It was our ancestors who worshipped others besides God and we are only their descendents. Will you then destroy us for what those liars did?' " The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 7, Verses 172-3 The Prophet(pbuh) explained that when Allah created Adam, He took from him a covenant at a place called Na'maan on the 9th day of the 12th month. He then extracted from Adam all of his descendents who would be born until the end of the world, generation after generation, and spread them out before Him to take a covenant from them also. He spoke to them, face to face, making them bear witness that He was their Lord. Consequently, every human being is responsible for belief in God, which is imprinted on each and every soul. It is based on this inborn belief that Allah defined the purpose of humankind's creation:
"I have created the jinn and humankind only for My worship" The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 51, Verse 56
Thus, the essential purpose for which humankind was created is the worship of God. However, the Almighty is not in need of human worship. He did not create human beings out of a need on His part. If not a single human worshipped God, it would not diminish His glory in any way, and if all mankind worshipped Him, it would not increase His glory in any way. God is perfect. He alone exists without any needs. All created beings have needs. Consequently, it is humankind that needs to worship God.
In the Islamic system, each and every human act can be transformed into an act of worship. In chapter al-An'aam, Allah says: "Say: 'Surely my prayer, my sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.' " The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 6, Verse 162 However, for that dedication to be acceptable to Allah, each act must fulfill two basic conditions:
1) The act must be done sincerely for the pleasure of God and not for the recognition and praise of human beings. In order to facilitate this transformation of mundane deeds into worship, Allah instructed the last Prophet(pbuh) to prescribe short prayers to be said before even the simplest of acts. The shortest prayer which may be used for any circumstance is : Bismillah (In the name of Allah). There are, however, many other prayers prescribed for specific occasions.
2) The second condition is that the act be done in accordance with the prophetic way, called in Arabic the Sunnah. All of the prophets instructed their followers to follow their way because they were guided by God. The only acceptable way to worship God is according to the ways of the prophets. That being the case, innovation in religious affairs would be considered by God among the worst of all evils. It is fundamentally due to innovations that the messages of the earlier prophets were distorted and the many false religions in existence today evolved. The general rule to follow in order to avoid innovation in religion is that all forms of worship are prohibited, except those which have been specifically prescribed by God and conveyed to humans by the true messengers of God.
The question concerning the purpose of mankind's creation may be expanded to include the world in which they live. The question would then be, "Why did God create human beings in this world?" Again, the answer to this question can easily be found in the final revelation, Chapters al-Mulk and al-Kahf:
"[It is He] who created death and life to test which of you is best in conduct; and He is the Mighty, the Forgiving" The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 67, Verse 2
"Surely I have created all that is on earth as its ornaments that I may test which of them is best in conduct." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 18, Verse 7
Thus, the purpose for the creation of human beings in this world is to test their conduct. This world of life and death, wealth and poverty, sickness and health, was created to sift out the righteous souls from the evil souls. The tests serve to confirm on the Day of Judgment that those going to hell deserve it and those going to paradise only got there by God's grace.
Greed and stinginess are corrupt forms of the natural human desire to possess. The believers are informed by revelation that wealth is a trust given to humankind by God. Possessions exist in the world before humans are born and remain there after they die. If wealth is used according to divine instructions, it benefits those who have it, in both worlds. But if it is used selfishly, it becomes a curse in this life and a cause for punishment in the next. In chapter al-Anfaal of the final revelation, God warns the believers to beware of the dangers of wealth and children:
"Know that your wealth and children are a test". the Holy Qur'an, Chapter 8, Verse 28
The desire to accumulate wealth cannot be satisfied in this life. The more human beings have, the more they want. This negative desire can only be overcome by giving of one's wealth charitably. Thus, Allah commanded the prophets to collect charity from the more wealthy among their followers for distribution among the poor.
"Take charity from their wealth to purify them and make them grow." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 9, Verse 103
Abu Hurayrah quoted the last Messenger(pbuh) as saying, "Wealth is not [measured] in property, but in contentment." Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol 8, p. 328,no. 497
Being content does not mean that human beings should accept whatever circumstance they find themselves in and not try to better themselves. It means that, after striving to do one's best to achieve a good standard of living, one should accept what Allah destines with a clear conscience. It is only by leaving one's affairs in the hands of God, after making an effort, that the hearts find rest from the desires for the pleasures of this world. In this regard, God states in chapter ar-Ra'd of the final revelation: "Indeed, it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts find rest." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 13, Verse 28
Tests of this life also come in the form of 'misfortune' and calamities which contribute to the spiritual growth of the true believers and purify them of sin. Trust in God is embodied in the firm belief that Allah alone knows what is best for humankind; firm belief that what humans may perceive as being good for them may not, in the long run, be good for them. As Allah said in Chapter al-Baqarah:
"Perhaps you may dislike something and it is good for you, and you may like something and it is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 2, Verse 216
The trials by which Allah tests human beings are specifically tailored to their own individual needs and circumstances. God creates trials for each person according to their abilities in order to bring out the best in them.
If Allah is truly just, it means that the trials human beings face are not beyond their ability to handle. In order to reassure humankind, Allah states this fact repeatedly in the Qur'an. An example of His reassurance may be found in the second chapter, entitled al-Baqarah:
"Allah does not burden a soul beyond its capacity." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 2, Verse 286
Furthermore, the Almighty promises that the difficult situations which humans face in life will not be without intervals of rest. If trials were continuous they would certainly become unbearable. Consequently, every test is followed by a period of relief, as Allah emphatically states twice in chapter al-Inshiraah: "For surely with difficulty comes [a period of] ease, Surely with difficulty comes [another period of] ease." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 94, Verses 5-6
Without knowledge of the purpose of creation, human beings wander aimlessly through life, like ships at sea without rudders. Their goals are either wrong due to incorrect religious teachings, or materialistic and thus confined to this world. It is, therefore, essential for their own well-being that they know why God created them. Fundamentally, Allah created in order to manifest His attributes. Consequently,
  • Creation is the consequence of His being the Creator
  • Paradise manifests His Mercy and Grace
  • Hell, His justice
  • Humankind's errors, His forgiveness
  • Living and non-living beings, His Generosity, etc.
The significance of knowing that creation is a means by which Allah manifests His attributes is that human beings can then correctly recognize God and accept His decree and their destiny.
However, it is of even greater importance that human beings know the purpose for which they were created. The final revelation teaches that it is to worship God because humankind must worship Him in order to attain righteousness and the spiritual status necessary to enter paradise. The significance of this knowledge is that human beings understand that worship is as much a necessity as eating and breathing and that it is not a favour they are doing for God.
It is also essential that human beings grasp the importance of this world's bounties and trials. Without knowledge of the purpose behind their creation, humans tend to look at this world as being hostile to them. However, God created it primarily for their benefit. The tests of good and evil are designed to bring out the higher spiritual qualities of the human being. However, humans are not able to benefit from the tests unless they put complete trust in God and have patience in what He has destined for them. For those who reject God, the trials of this world become a punishment for them in this life prior to the eternal punishment in the next world.
- Excerpted from "The Purpose of Creation" by Dr.Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips