Superficial People Live Lives far Removed from the Purposes of Creation
A Muslim realizes the beauty of the morality pleasing to Allah and appropriate to Paradise, and aims to live by it. However, some people are unaware of such a goal. They do not feel the inner desire to attain the moral qualities pleasing to Allah. They think it’s enough if they attain a level of morality and personal qualities generally acceptable to others, that will let them survive in this world, keep them from being lonely, establish friendships and reach the worldly goals they desire. Allah has revealed the kind of moral behavior that pleases Him; but these people’s narrow goals prevent them from caring about trying to win Allah’s favor and mercy and attain Paradise. They prefer to be among those who strive for the ordinary, the mediocre. Worldly goals are enough for them.
However, the basic purpose of human creation is quite different, and of a higher order than these worldly ambitions. Allah reveals us in the Qur’an what this purpose is: “[He] created death and life to test which of you is best in action . . .” (Surat al-Mulk: 2). In another verse, He asks this question of those who are unaware of this purpose and choose to live a shallow, superficial life:
Did you suppose that We created you for amusement and that you would not return to Us? (Surat al-Muminun: 115)
During their time of testing in this world, humans are responsible for seeking Allah’s favor in everything they think and do, acting according to their conscience, leading a good moral life and doing good deeds. In spite of this evident truth, as we said earlier, many live without regard for the purpose of creation and establish other superficial goals for themselves. Though these goals differ in every culture and segment of society, none of them in fact is directed purely toward serving Allah and winning His favor.
They want to graduate from good schools, attend the university of their choice, have good marriages with beautiful healthy children, endow their children with a good future, rise to high positions in their career, make good investments, buy a comfortable house, a late-model car and a summer home, have fashionable clothes for themselves and their children, and travel.
Most superficial people live for these goals only. But none of them is the purpose for which humans find themselves in this world. And these worldly things should not be made into goals or ideals; each one is merely a means to an end. Clearly, a person is in this world not to graduate from a good school or to rise in his or her career. Of course, these things are all blessings from Allah and there is no harm in enjoying them. But in the pursuit of these temporary goals, it is a mistake for anyone to disregard Allah and the Hereafter. It is also commendable to be knowledgeable and have a good education, however it’s not the goal of life to become an intellectual hoping to please others, while disregarding Allah and the life to come. In the Qur’an, Allah tells us that this is not the purpose of His creation:
We did not create heaven and Earth and everything in between them as a game. If We had desired to have some amusement, We would have derived it from Our Presence, but We did not do that. (Surat al-Anbiya': 16-17)
The world is not a place of games and entertainment, but an arena in which to serve Allah and work toward the Hereafter. The ideals of those who cannot grasp this truth are so trivial and fleeting that, even if they attained all their worldly goals, they would realize their loss when the angels of death came for them. Imagine a person who has become an expert in his field and become a world-famous professor. He has children and grandchildren; he has bequeathed them a good standard of living. But he has disregarded Allah and not lived the kind of moral life that pleases Him. Such a person may have worked hard for years, but he has nothing that counts toward the world to come, where he will live forever.
As pointed out in the Qur’an, such a person has left behind everything that is good: “. . . You dissipated the good things you had in your worldly life and enjoyed yourself in it. . . .” (Surat al-Ahqaf: 20). Compared to eternity, the 60 or perhaps 70 years that he has lived are of no value. The Prophet (saas) describes the folly of such people:
"He is the man of wisdom and of consciousness who makes his lower self a slave [to Allah] and engages in good deeds for the life after death. The one who fails to prevail over his lower self is the man who fails to guard his lower self from the prohibited deeds. And then he asks for forgiveness from Allah." (Ibn Majah)
Those who persist in this error see the world too simply: only as a place where they can fulfill their desires and passions. As they live to satisfy their egos, they have no inclination to become esteemed, build a strong faith or possess the superior moral qualities that prophets had. They have no real desire to be closer to Allah and, as a result, their behavior doesn’t display the maturity and moderation of a Muslim nor the nobility that arises from these qualities. Rather, they seem totally unaware of Allah’s existence and the closeness of death. They disregard the fact that Allah sees them and knows what they are doing. However, no matter where one glances, he sees evidence of Allah’s existence.
Clearly, everything that exists has been created by Allah’s infinite power. A person needs only to consider the workings of his own body in order to arrive at faith. As revealed in the Qur’an, Allah has given humans “the best of forms” endowing their bodies with many excellent systems. To come to faith, it is enough for a person to gaze up into the heavens. In the Qur’an, Allah says:
How many signs there are in the heavens and Earth! Yet they pass them by, turning away from them. (Surah Yusuf: 105)
They disregard the fact that Allah in His infinite power and wisdom created everything, both animate and inanimate, in the universe. If they considered these things, they would realize that they are responsible for living the kind of moral life that is pleasing to Him. But instead, they prefer to live in their own superficial worlds striving for ordinary and transient goals.
However, every human has been created to be Allah's servant. To disregard this basic purpose and seek other ideals leads people to a debased and superficial way of life. Allah has created humans so that they can become superior and noble only if they serve Him. We are told in the Qur'an that Allah created human beings, that He knows what is good for them and what will bring them honor and respect: "Does He Who created not then know? . . . " (Surat al-Mulk: 14). Therefore, Allah has chosen for humans the religion of Islam as the way of life most befitting their nature. Allah reveals this truth in the Qur'an:
So set your face firmly towards the Religion, as a pure natural believer, Allah's natural pattern on which He made humanity. There is no changing Allah's creation. That is the true Religion but most people do not know it. (Surat ar-Rum: 30)
Elsewhere in the Qur'an, Allah reveals that He is pleased with the religion of Islam for His servants:
. . . Today I have perfected your religion for you and completed My blessing upon you and I am pleased with Islam as a religion for you. . . (Surat al-Ma'ida: 3)
Religion teaches humans the kind of moral behavior that pleases Allah. Every other way of life conflicts with human creation. This truth lies at the root of the superficiality of those who embrace different ideals and live apart from religious morality. They cast aside the way of life that Allah has chosen for them and live according to the shallowness of their own minds. Such individuals cannot rescue themselves from superficiality or from the debased culture that then inevitably reflects in their thoughts and behavior. Even if they try to present themselves as apart from this culture with various mind games and false personalities, it will be of no use because superficiality can never be hidden, no matter what personality one pretends. This debased attitude is unavoidably reflected in a person’s conversation, behavior and, most importantly, in his way of thinking. This is no ordinary behavioral aberration that can be hidden and covered up, as is usually believed.
Therefore, anyone who fears Allah and is careful to avoid Hell must not try to deceive himself or those around him by pretending to be religious, but live an authentically religious life. Even if being religious conflicts with a person’s ego and with worldly gain, he must never compromise on the moral teachings of the Qur’an.