Remembering the Purpose of Creation
If you are in the street, look around you. If you are at home, look through the window. Think, too, about all the places on the face of the Earth which you cannot see at this moment; the oceans, the lakes and the mountains, the millions of people other than those you can see and the millions of living creatures you never encounter in life… Finally, leave the world and think about the universe, a boundless space that accommodates hundreds of millions of galaxies with hundreds of millions of stars, planets, comets and a great many more celestial bodies…
Now listen to your conscience sincerely and think. Why and how do all these creatures and things exist? Living and non-living alike, how do they carry on a harmonious existence together within such a flawless system? What is the divine purpose behind this magnificence in the universe and the superior characteristics which living things – especially human beings – possess? What are all these things, particularly man, the only being with consciousness on the face of the Earth, doing in the world?
We are told the true purpose of creation in the Qur'an which Allah sent down as a guide to His servants. This purpose is to serve our Lord Who created us and allows us to live. Allah describes this purpose in a verse of the Qur'an as follows:
… I only created jinn and man to worship Me. (Surat adh-Dhariyat: 56)
So the world with all the features described above, and its seas, lakes, oceans, flowers, trees, mountains and living things, is an environment specially created by Allah to test whether or not people fulfill this obligation. The universe and all the systems in it, stars, planets and other celestial bodies, have been created so that people may see the greatness and boundless mercy of our Lord and praise His power. In the same way, each of the events which a person experiences in life and all the places in which he finds himself are parts of the test which he undergoes in the world. Allah informs us in the following verse of the Qur'an that the purpose of creation and placing people in the world is to test them:
We created man from a mingled drop to test him, and We made him hearing and seeing. (Surat al-Insan: 2)
In this testing environment, a person is responsible for considering Allah's instructions and prohibitions at every moment and acting in such a way as to earn His approval. We are told in the Qur'an that people who reject or evade this responsibility will be repaid for eternity with the torment of Hell because of their enormous ingratitude for all the blessings Allah provides.
In spite of this most people are strangely insensitive. Forgetting the true purpose of their lives, they find different priorities for themselves and adopt different aims. They struggle for months, even years, for worldly purposes but they do not even want to think about their responsibilities to Allah. They never consider the possibility that the consequence in the Hereafter for irresponsibility in this world is Hell. However, there is not a single person on the face of the Earth who can claim to be unaware of these truths. Allah has shown them to people in every age from that of Prophet Adam (as) onwards. He has sent down the Book that announces Him and teaches how He should be followed and He has sent His prophets. After all this, people cannot plead ignorance. A verse of the Qur'an reminds us of this truth:
Messengers bringing good news and giving warning, so that people will have no argument against Allah after the coming of the messengers. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (Surat an-Nisa': 165)
The prophets sent by Allah, the books He has sent down and likewise the advice given to people by the believers are all vehicles for this teaching. Throughout history a great many believers have invited others to join the religion of Allah and have warned them about the Day of Judgment by pointing out the existence of Paradise and Hell.
Aside from these, let us suppose that a person says that he has never heard anything about the true purpose of life, has never been advised of this by anybody and has never read Allah's Book. As we stated at the outset, by thinking about creation and the flawless systems around him, such a person can still realize that these were brought into being by an infinitely powerful Creator for a definite purpose. As a living being who was himself created, he can understand his responsibilities towards our Creator because Allah created people with a conscience which tells them what is right and true. People who evaluate what is around them by listening to the voice of their conscience, can arrive at these truths. A story we are told in the Qur'an about Prophet Ibrahim (as) is an outstanding and enlightening example:
Because of that We showed Ibrahim the dominions of the heavens and the Earth so that he might be one of the people of certainty. When night covered him he saw a star and said, "This is my Lord!" Then when it set he said, "I do not love what sets." Then when he saw the Moon come up he said, "This is my Lord!" Then when it set he said, "If my Lord does not guide me, I will be one of the misguided people." Then when he saw the Sun come up he said, "This is my Lord! This is greater!" Then when it set he said, "My people, I am free of what you associate with Allah! I have turned my face to Him Who brought the heavens and Earth into being, a pure natural believer. I am not one of the idolaters." (Surat al-An'am: 75-79)
As we can see in the above story, Prophet Ibrahim (as) realized the existence of Allah, the Creator of the heavens and the Earth, and understood the need to serve Him solely by listening to his conscience. We understand from this example that looking at their surroundings through the eyes of the conscience is enough for people to understand their need to serve Allah. However, in spite of this, Allah in His goodness has provided people by various means with detailed information about the purpose of their existence and how they should serve Him. Without doubt this is a sign of Allah's boundless mercy and compassion towards humanity, and a manifestation of His name, Al-Hadi, the Guide showing people the true path. In the world, Allah uses many methods of pointing this out to people and also gives them time to understand these signs.
Despite all this, people, who fail to evaluate with open consciences the signs and the manifest truths they see, make up the majority in the world. Such people exhibit behavior which is completely heedless of these truths even though this behavior will cause them harm in their eternal lives in the Hereafter.
Look around you once again. Children, teenagers, men, women, old people; most of them are going about their daily business as if they will never be faced with death and the Day of Judgment. One is trying to catch the school bus, another is hurrying towards his car to avoid being late for work. One is busy shopping for guests who will arrive in the evening, another making preparations for the arrival of the grandchild who will be born in a few weeks. Of course, these are things that everybody experiences in the normal course of daily life. Obviously they are all extremely commonplace. The problem is that people live through them in a completely heedless mental state and do not stop to think that Allah is with them, that death is coming quickly and that in the presence of Allah they will be called to account for the years during which they forgot our Lord.
So how can people be so blind to these blatant truths in spite of the countless signs of Allah's existence and the many signs of their impotence in His presence? How can they close their eyes to the truth like ostriches burying their heads in the sand – especially when they will be afflicted with the harm this behavior causes?
Without any doubt this happens with most people not because they cannot understand what they should do, but because they deceive themselves even though their consciences can see what is right. We are using the word "deception" because, as we have said, on this matter these people do not have a problem of ignorance or inability to understand. The problem is the level of commitment of these people to worldly life and their failure to approach realities honestly because of secret or open rejection of the Hereafter. Allah tells us in the Qur'an about the existence of such people as follows:
I will divert from My signs all those who are arrogant in the Earth without any right. If they see every sign, they will not believe in it. If they see the way of right guidance, they will not take it as a way. But if they see the way of error, they will take that as a way. That is because they denied Our signs and paid no attention to them. As for those who denied Our signs and the encounter of the Hereafter, their actions will come to nothing. Will they be repaid except for what they did? (Surat al-A'raf: 146-147)
Those who prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter, and bar access to the way of Allah, seeking in it something crooked; they are greatly misguided. (Surah Ibrahim: 3)
In another verse, Allah speaks of the heedless spiritual state into which these people plunge themselves by deceiving themselves and closing their eyes to the truth:
Mankind's reckoning has drawn very close to them, yet they heedlessly turn away. (Surat al-Anbiya': 1)
It is blatantly obvious that a person will be faced with the Day of Judgment and called to account for his actions during his life in the world. Remaining completely heedless and making no attempt to escape from this heedless attitude is the greatest senselessness and the most unscrupulous behavior. It is Allah's will that in the Hereafter this behavior will be justly repaid. Our Prophet (saas) also reminded people of the existence and nearness of the Hereafter in these words:
Paradise is nearer to any of you than the strap of his shoe, and so is the [Hell] Fire. (Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Volume 1, Number 387; Imam Ibn Kathir, The Life of This World Is Fleeting Enjoyment)
If you do not wish to cause yourself eternal remorse for which there is no comfort, be careful. Do not deceive yourself by devoting yourself to worldly aims. The real purpose of your presence in the world is not for you to have a successful career or become rich or establish a happy home or have children. None of these is the real reason for your existence. Your greatest purpose is to serve Allah and earn His approval, His mercy and entry into His Paradise. Naturally, during their life in the world people may be successful in business, rise to a superior position, marry and have children and grandchildren, or make an effort to accomplish these things, but only on condition that they do not make them the sole aim of their lives in the world, and that they are seeking Allah's approval at the same time. A person who does otherwise will find at his death that everything else loses its meaning and he will realize that serving Allah is the only thing that is really important. Allah relates in a verse of the Qur'an:
It is not your wealth or your children that will bring you near to Us – only in the case of people who believe and act rightly; such people will have a double recompense for what they did. They will be safe from all harm in the high halls of Paradise. (Surah Saba': 37)
In other verses, Allah speaks of the situation of people who deceive themselves in the life of this world with property and opportunities, and forget the purpose of creation and who, as a result, are liable to great suffering in the Hereafter:
[He will say:] "If only death had really been the end! My wealth has been of no use to me. My power has vanished." "Seize him and truss him up. Then roast him in the Blazing Fire." (Surat al-Haqqa: 27-31)