The Purpose of Life from an Islamic Perspective

The Quran teaches that the purpose of life is to worship our Creator by believing in Him and by doing good deeds.

By Sheima Salam Sumer

What is the purpose of life? The holy Quran, believed by Muslims to be the direct word of God to humanity, encourages us to ask this question:
“Did you then think that We created you in vain, and that you would not be returned to Us?” (Holy Quran 23:115).
God associates the value of justice with the belief in a purpose to life:
“And We have not created the heaven and earth and what is between them in vain. That is the opinion of those who disbelieve. And woe to such disbelievers, because of the Fire. Shall we treat those who believe and do good deeds as those who spread corruption on the earth? Or shall we treat the pious as sinners?” (Holy Quran 38:27-8)

The Purpose of Life: Belief and Good Deeds
The Quran teaches that the purpose of life is to worship our Creator by believing in Him and by doing good deeds:
And I created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (alone).” (Holy Quran 51:56)
“…Who has created life and death so that He may try you which of you are best in deeds…” (Holy Quran 67:2)

Seeking the pleasure of God is the aim of every sincere believer:
“And among the people there is he who sells himself for the pleasure of Allah, and Allah is kind to His worshippers.” (The Holy Quran 2:207)
Believing in God and doing good deeds benefits our souls. The Quran teaches that the truly successful people are those who purify their souls:
“By the soul, and the proportion and the order given to it; and its enlightenment as to its wrong or right; truly he succeeds who purifies it, and he fails who corrupts it.” (Holy Quran 91:7-10)

How to Please and Worship God
Muslims believe that God sent the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to teach us how to please and worship the One Creator:
“…There has come to you from God a light and a luminous Book, through which God, by His grace, guides all who seek His good pleasure on the path of peace, and brings them out of the depths of darkness into light and guides them unto a Straight Path.” (Holy Quran 5:15-16)
Allah (Glory be to Him) says that if you truly love Him, then follow His Messenger:
“Say (O Muhammad), if you (really) love Allah, then follow me, and Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful”. (Holy Quran 3:31)

Good Deeds
Good, righteous deeds include giving charity, freeing slaves, praying, keeping promises, and being patient during hardships:
“It is not righteousness that you turn your faces east or west. But it is righteousness to believe in God, and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity, to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing.” (Holy Quran 2:177)
Working for peace among people is a great deed that is better than charity, fasting and prayer. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.” (recorded in Muslim & Bukhari)

Warnings to Humanity
The Quran and hadiths warn humanity that they will be accountable for their actions in this life:
“Say, ‘It is God who gives you life, then makes you die; and in the end He shall gather you on the Day of Resurrection (the coming of) which is beyond all doubt, but most people do not understand. To God belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. And on that Day when the Last Hour is come—on that Day all those who refused to believe (shall be) the real losers. And you shall see all people hobbling on their knees, for all people will be called upon to (face) their record: ‘Today you shall be recompensed for all that you ever did. This is Our record, it speaks about you in all truth; for We had been recording all that you were doing.’” (Holy Quran 45:26-29)
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) echoes this message of accountability:
“A man shall be asked concerning five (things) on the Day of Resurrection: concerning his life and how he spent it, concerning his youth and how he grew old, concerning his wealth: where he acquired it and in what way he spent it, and what was it that he did with the knowledge that he had.” (recorded in Tirmidhi)
Our looks and wealth are not the criteria for success in the sight of God. The Prophet (peace be upon him) stated:
“The Almighty Allah judges you neither by your countenance nor your wealth, but by the purity of your hearts and your deeds.” (recorded in Muslim)

Even our Difficulties Have a Purpose
Our hardships in life have a purpose too: they are a test of our faith, and they also purify our souls:
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe,” and they will not be tested?”
(Holy Quran 29:2)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Whoever Allah wants good for him, he puts them to test. He puts them through difficulties, like a diamond or some metal that has to be burnt and then that which is bad from it is removed so that you have that which is the pure diamond or the pure gold…” (Recorded in Bukhari and Muslim)

The Next World
Belief in a life purpose for the Muslim is closely tied to belief in the afterlife. Our worldly possessions will not last, but our good deeds done for God’s sake will:
“Whatever you have will end, but whatever is with Allah is everlasting. And We will surely give those who were patient their reward according to the best of what they used to do.” (Holy Quran 16:96)
“Know that the life of this world is play and a passing show, and adornment and boasting among you, and rivalry between you over piled up goods and children. It is like vegetation after a rain whose growth is pleasing to the farmers, but later it dries up and turns yellow and becomes straw stubble. And in the Final World there is a terrible chastisement and (also) forgiveness from God, and contentment. The present life is but the enjoyment of delusion.” (Holy Quran 57:20)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that God the Exalted and Glorious has said: “I have prepared for My pious servants which no eye has ever seen, and no ear has ever heard, and no human heart has ever perceived, but it is testified by the Book of God.” He then recited (the Quranic verse), “No soul knows what comfort has been concealed from it, as a reward for what it did.” (Recorded in Muslim)
(Sheima Salam Sumer can be reached at [email protected]).

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