Sheima Salam Sumer, a trained counsellor, is the author of How to Be a Happy Muslim Insha’Allah and The Basic Values of Islam.
In this column, she reflects on the purpose of life”among the most basic and important questions that we could ask ourselves.
Q Many people might say that we should not bother about God and the Hereafter and that we should focus only on what we can know for ‘sure'”i.e. dimensions related to the physical world. They might argue that God and the Hereafter are unknown, unknowable and speculative and so might claim that we should focus only on this world and seeking to gain ‘fulfillment’ here. That alone, they may claim, is the way to fulfill the purpose of life or lead a truly meaningful life. : How do you see this view?
A: There exist many revelations of God sent to Prophets, such as the holy books. If people choose to believe that these revelations are not from God that is their choice. However, the fact that these books have so much in common is evidence that they came from the one God. The fact that God sent revelations is proof that it’s possible to know something of God. If there was no chance of knowing God, why would God reveal His messages? Many people who have had near death experiences attest to an afterlife. The intelligent design behind creation, such as the DNA code, is impossible to have occurred by chance. I believe that God sent revelations to us to teach us about our real life purpose”to know and worship Him through doing good.
Q: Related to this, some people might say that in order to lead a meaningful life it is enough to be a ‘good’ person and to do ‘good’. They may say that that there is no need to believe in God or cultivate a relationship with God for this purpose, because, they may claim, there is no firm evidence of God. How do you see this argument?
Proponents of this view think that the purpose of life is simply to be ‘good’ and do ‘good’: Do you think this is adequate for success in this world and the Hereafter?
A: Goodness as you said comes from God. God created us with a natural inclination to be and do good. I believe that there are good people who don’t believe in God because goodness is part of human nature. I don’t believe that one can be successful in the hereafter by simply being good. Belief in God is necessary for success in the hereafter. The Holy Quran repeatedly says that we need faith and good works to attain success in the next life.
Q: Many people who are married and have children see their primary purpose in life as being to earn money for their family. After they retire from their jobs and when their children are grown up and ‘settled’, they may feel that now their lives have no purpose. They might live without any purpose at all, just waiting for death to overtake them. Or, they may do all sorts of (even useless) things just to be ‘busy’ because they have no other what to do with themselves or to ‘pass’ time. How do you envisage a meaningful old age? What do you think is the role of faith in God in this regard?
A: Meaning is created by trying to please and worship God through whatever inspires you. Doing good deeds, seeking beneficial knowledge, and growing spiritually are all ways to create a meaningful life after retirement. I believe that faith in God is the driving force for finding meaning in old age.