• Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Purpose of Life



Man’s True Purpose in Life

Man attains his highest distinction only when he leads a purposeful life. Such a life characterizes the most advanced stage of human development. This does not mean that, by taking up just any task which is ostensibly significant, man’s life becomes truly purposeful. A really purposeful life is one in which man discovers his supreme status as a moral being. It is a life in which his personality makes manifest the unique and distinctive ability to make moral choices. An animal strives to obtain food; a bird flies in search of a better country when the season changes; a wasp busies itself building up its home from tiny particles of earth; a herd of deer takes measures to protect itself from wild beasts of prey. All of these appear to be purposeful actions. But when the phrase ‘a purposeful life’ is applied to man, it does not refer to practical efforts of this nature. Without doubt arranging for food, clothes and shelter are some of the tasks that man has to perform in this world; but this is a level of purposefulness at which men and animals, being concerned only with bare survival, are equal.Its true application in relation to man can only be that in which he appears in all his dignity: when it goes beyond common animalism and takes the form of superior humanism.


God’s creations in this world fall into two categories: animate and inanimate. Obviously, animate objects enjoy a certain superiority over inanimate objects. The former can be divided into three classes: the vegetable, the animal and the human. Modern scientific research has shown that plants also possess life, in that they nourish themselves, they grow and they have feelings.Modern biologists have come to the conclusion that it is man’s capacity for conceptual thought, which distinguishes him from other life forms. Animals lack this quality, whereas man is conscious of the fact that he is thinking

But animals and men surely represent a higher form of life. In what way does man excel animals? Many theories have been advanced in answer to this question over the ages, and great minds are still studying it. But modern biologists have come to the conclusion that it is man’s capacity for conceptual thought, which distinguishes him from other life forms. Animals lack this quality, whereas man is conscious of the fact that he is thinking. He consciously forms all plans of action in his mind. In his everyday life, his actions are determined by him. Whereas this is not the case with animals. Though many of their actions appear to be like those of men, these actions are not the result of thought; they all stem from pure instinct. Animals are simply led intuitively in a certain direction by their desires and their needs. Their actions are governed by environmental stresses from without and physical pressures from within.It is from this unique capacity of man to conceptualize that we can conceive of what his higher purpose in life should be: one which in no way results from the pressures of desire or of immediate exigencies. It must emanate from his own urge to worship God.Man’s true purpose in life can only be one which reflects the nobler side of his character; one which represents him as the superior being that he is.If one pauses at this stage to take note of what the Quran has to say, one will find that it gives us clear guidance in this matter.


Man’s purpose in life has been explained in the Quran in the following words:


I created the jinn and humankind only so that they might worship Me: I seek no sustenance from them, nor do I want them to feed Me—it is God who is the great Sustainer, the Mighty One, the Invincible. (51: 56-58)


These verses specify man’s purpose in life as worship. This is a purpose that highlights man’s uniqueness in its ultimate form. It raises man to a much higher plane than that of the animals. Not a trace of animal-ism contributes to the achievement of such a goal. God does not, as the verse states, demand of you a livelihood, rather He himself is responsible for your livelihood. This means worship of God is a purpose, which is motivated neither by inward desires nor outward influences but comes into being through conscious thought alone. Only when a person goes beyond self and his environment can he understand that there is a higher purpose on which he should focus his life. The motivating force towards the fulfillment of this purpose is not the urge to satisfy one’s needs or those of others. The worshiper seeks neither to gratify his own desires nor those of the Being he worships. It is a purpose which sets before man a goal far above all these things—a goal which does not follow internal needs or external pressures, but results purely from conceptual thought.Only when a person goes beyond self and his environment can he understand that there is a higher purpose on which he should focus his life.

When a person works, makes money, builds a house, and makes an effort to improve his standard of living, he appears to be engaged in efforts towards some worthy end. But a life of this nature cannot be called a purposeful life, for these activities do not demonstrate man’s unique status. It might seem as if they are the result of deliberation, but if one looks at the matter in-depth, one will see that in actuality the motivating force behind these actions is the same urge that motivates an animal in various ways, i.e. its concern for its own survival. It is the driving force of one’s desires, the pressure of one’s needs, and the wish to fulfill the demands of one’s self that underlie such a life. These are the considerations which, in fact, guide a person in his search for his livelihood.


When man grows up, he realizes that there are certain material necessities without which he cannot live. He requires food, clothes, a place to live; he requires a reliable source of income to sustain him throughout his life. He is forced by these considerations to obtain these things. Then he sees that those who have an abundance of these material things enjoy respect and apparently possess every form of happiness and luxury in this world. Thus, he is driven on to do more than just seek a livelihood; he desires to earn to a degree greatly in excess of his actual requirements.In bustling markets, grandiose offices, and opulent buildings, he is not really guided by deliberate thought. Rather, he is being guided by inflated ideas of his own needs, desires, longings, and ambitions to achieve fame and high status in this world. For this reason, these activities cannot be considered as being directed towards the purpose, which sets man apart from the animals and lends him a higher distinction.When man seeks the pleasure of his Lord, his human qualities are fully realized. This is a purpose loftier than the one towards which an animal directs its energies.

Man’s greater dignity cannot be based only on a purpose which emanates from inner desires and pressures of the environment. Man’s true purpose in life can only be to seek the pleasure of God. When man seeks the pleasure of his Lord, his human qualities are fully realized. This is a purpose loftier than the one towards which an animal directs its energies. It distinguishes man from the animals. It is the ultimate station of human dignity.To determine the purpose of life is, in short, to strive to make life meaningful. It must surely, therefore, be one which is in accordance with man’s unique status; it must be one which leads man on the path to success and progress in terms of his true nature.


Source: Spirit Of Islam

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